I have always felt that Fell Ponies chose me rather than me choosing them, and the most recent newsletter of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) reminded me of this. On the front page was an announcement that the traditional Morgan horse has been added to their conservation priority list in the Study category. This news caught my eye because I’ve seen three traditional Morgans in the past three months, and their size, bone, substance, and eye were all appealing to this small draft enthusiast.
It is of course interesting to me that it is not the Morgan Horse breed that ALBC has listed but the traditional type. As one traditional Morgan website states, “Modern Morgan breeders were ashamed of the old type Morgan and their working roots.” (1) The Morgan has been outcrossed to Saddlebreds substantially, and these types of Morgans don’t catch my eye at all. ALBC’s listing is limited to Morgans “absent of outcrosses after 1930.” (2) What distinguishes traditional types besides the lack of outcrosses – and the characteristics that catch my eye – are “their compact, close ribbed bodies, substance of bone, deep well-rounded quarters, oblique shoulders, broad forehead with soft kind eye and short ears, medium length neck nicely crested.” (3) No breed registry is listed on the ALBC site yet; there appear to be several groups working to preserve old-type Morgans. One even uses the Shetland Pony as an example of breeds that diverge from the old working lines! (4)
That traditional Morgans are now considered a rare breed brings to mind a question I occasionally ponder: why am I stewarding Fell Ponies and not an American breed? Of course as a child I knew of the Chincoteague ponies, thanks to Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague, and Stormy, Misty’s Foal. I had a Breyer model of Misty, and I remember being thrilled when my U.S. Senator responded to a letter from me asking about the Chincoteague ponies. The annual swim and auction of these ponies occurred a few days ago.
When I first went looking for a large draft pony thirteen years ago, I was already aware of the rare breeds of equine that were on ALBC’s radar, and there wasn’t a North American draft pony breed included (the Newfoundland Pony was only put on the conservation priority list in the past few years after DNA studies confirmed the genetic uniqueness of the breed. (5)) Chincoteague Ponies never came to mind when I was looking since they don’t have a working tradition associated with them. And Morgans didn’t come to mind because they’re a horse breed.
I have to chalk it up to fate that Fell Ponies were the breed that found me when I was looking. Not only was there an article in the ALBC newsletter at the time, but a large percentage of the North American population was located in my home state. At the time I was already aware that conserving rare breeds requires a lot of time, energy, and dedication, and I would have chosen to steward an American breed of draft pony if there had been one in need. But it was Fells that chose me. I got a good laugh when I went to the website of the Morgan Horse registry the other day and discovered their tag line: “The Horse That Chooses You.” Morgans aren’t the only ones that do the choosing!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013