The other day I haltered one of my Fell Ponies and led her to the fence to tie her. As usual she out-walked me. Sleddale Rose Beauty is 27 this year, and since the first day I met her, her walk has been notable and even with age it’s still impressive. It’s easy for me to imagine that an active walk was desirable when these ponies were used in pack trains. Time was money then.
In the May 2013 issue of the Carriage Journal, Tom Ryder tells of encountering Fell Ponies in London in 1938 when he was headed to the National Pony Show at Islington. Ryder had just unloaded the two Welsh ponies in his charge off the train, with his companion handling a high-value Arabian colt. “Our new companions had come from the far north of the country and they had brought five Fell Ponies. The owner was Roy Charlton… Roy Charlton and his man put saddles on two of the ponies and between them led the three others. When they were ready, Mr. Charlton turned to us and said, ‘I suppose you’re off to Islington, so just follow us and we’ll show you the way. We’re only going to walk.’ Off we went, with Rogers leading [the Arabian colt], followed by me with the two ponies, onto the London streets! We set off half expecting the worst as these young things found themselves in unfamiliar, busy, and noisy surroundings, but all went reasonably well; cars slowed down as they passed us, and the most alarming things on the road were the ‘trotting vanners,’ which were pairs of half-bred horses trotting merrily away with their iron-tired parcel vans and rattling chains. The Fells were smart walkers and they soon left us behind, but we reached the Agricultural Hall safely….” (1) I had previously read about the amazing transit of London required of ponies going to the national show, so what struck me in this story was the author making particular note of the smartness of the Fell walk.
I recently took a pony to my veterinarian for a pre-purchase exam. Part of the exam is to move the pony at liberty in the round pen so the vet can assess gaits and look for any signs of lameness. As expected, no signs of lameness were evident. I did appreciate, however, the spontaneous comment the vet made to his assistants: “Look at him pick up his feet!” The vet punctuated his words with active movement of his hands and arms. I was reminded of a tidbit I found last month on the Fell Pony Society Museum website: “The late Bob Atkinson, farrier and horsebreaker of Brough, used to say a Fell should move as though the ground was red-hot.” (2) During the pre-purchase exam, my pony wasn’t demonstrating particularly high knee action (since that’s not what is characteristic of Fells), but he was definitely picking up his feet ‘as though the ground was red-hot.’ I would never have thought to describe it that way… Leave it to a farrier!
- Ryder, Tom. “My First London Show,” The Carriage Journal, Vol. 51, No. 3, Carriage Association of America, May 2013, p. 161-2.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014