Why So Few Fell-Crosses?

A Fell-Shetland-Welsh cross, inspired by pit pony breeding

A Fell-Shetland-Welsh cross, inspired by pit pony breeding

My first pony was a Shetland-Welsh cross.  From where I sit, the most common cross to a British Native breed is to a Welsh, with a distant second going to the Connemara and then distant again going to the New Forest.  The other day I read about a Highland cross, which got me wondering why one so rarely reads about Fell crosses.

An email from a friend earlier today reminded me of one well-known use of Fells in cross-breeding, the ‘Wilson Pony’ that eventually was named the Hackney Pony.  “Christopher Wilson began breeding ponies with the aim of producing a harness pony with quality, substance, and stamina, extraordinary action and great presence and most importantly plenty of pony character.  He specifically did not want to produce a horse breed.  He began by selecting a small number of purebred Fell pony mares, and he traveled extensively all over Cumberland and Westmorland to find exactly what he wanted….

“The potential of the Fell Pony as foundation stock for creating other breeds or types had been recognised by Christopher Wilson’s grandfather….  He used Fell mares to produce a type of animal known as the turf pony.  Before grandstands became a standard provision at race courses, turf ponies were to be seen at most race meetings.  Rather than watch the race from the rails or from the top of a coach or char-a-banc which was the usual practice, owners, spectators and even representatives from the press mounted on turf ponies would take up a position on the rails and gallop alongside the runners for as long as possible.  This necessitated a pony that had tremendous stamina coupled with weight-carrying ability, as many of the riders were portly gentlemen.  For the same reason, a pony that was not too big facilitated mounting and dismounting, and an animal that was a comfortable ride was an added bonus.  A large number of turf ponies were bred in the north from Fell stock and then sold out of the region.”  (1)  Click here to see an image of a turf pony on the Fell Pony Museum website.

Fells bred to Shetland-Welsh cross ponies were another historic instance of crossing, in this case to provide ponies of suitable size and substance to work in the coal mines (pits).

These historic uses of the Fell are interesting to be sure, but again I was wondering why we don’t hear about Fells crossed with other breeds the way we do some of the other British Natives in modern times.  I asked Joe Langcake that question, and his response made sense.  Fell Ponies were always more or less a work pony.  Children didn’t bother with them because the ponies were always going to work.  The ponies didn’t migrate out of the area much because they were being used for work.  When they did make it down south, it was often to be used for work, not bred.  Geographic isolation may have also played a role; with a denser population of humans in the south, Welsh Ponies were definitely more conveniently at hand to them.

That the Fell is now considered a rare breed, there are different reasons given for not crossing.  We should be promoting purebreds not crosses, for instance, and breeding quality mares should only be put to Fell stallions, not to some other type of stallion.  This evening I was talking to a draft pony enthusiast who encouraged me to go find a traditional-type Percheron mare to breed my Fell stallion to.  I have to admit this is a cross I’m very curious about, but not enough to do myself.  Perhaps someone someday will bring a good traditional Percheron mare to me to be bred.  Until then, I’ll just keep watching for what other people find when crossing Fells.

1)      Richardson, Clive.  The Fell Pony.  J.A. Allen, 1991, pages 70-72.

This post is an example of the sorts of questions I ask and answer in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding.  The book is available on amazon.com, including internationally, (click here)
or you can get a signed copy from me (click here).

(c) Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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