I have heard Fell Ponies called miniatures of many things, but I admit that when I heard the other day that they are miniature Clydesdales, it was a first. The Fell Pony Society, of course, is correct in adamantly asserting that Fell Ponies are not miniatures of anything. They are a unique breed, and genetic studies have confirmed that fact. (1)
Because I stand on the fringe of the draft horse world, I occasionally have visitors who are acquainted with the draft horse breeds. Usually when they see a Fell, they think miniature Percheron, at least in part because of color. Clydesdales, though, make more sense, not in the color department but from a perspective of geography. Clydesdales are from Scotland and were used on farms in Cumbria when real horsepower was in common use. When I perused the beautiful book Cumbria: True to the Land by Tony Hopkins, I was surprised by how many Clydesdales were shown and how few Fells. For me Fells and Cumbria are synonymous; apparently not so for everyone.
The connection between Clydesdales and Fells goes further. For instance, I’ve heard of Fell/Clyde crosses; I’m not familiar with Fells being crossed to any other draft breed. And when excessive white markings appear on a pony, it’s often remarked that there’s Clydesdale blood somewhere in its background, often theoretically via a Dales Pony. (Interestingly, in one genetic study, Clydesdales do appear on the same branch of a phylogenetic tree as Fells, Dales, and Highlands. (2))
So when I heard the statement that Fells are miniature Clydesdales, while it was a new one, it made more sense than many of the other ‘miniature’ statements I’ve heard. In the end, though, Fells are of course Fells and nothing else.
- See for instance the chapters on Genetic Diversity in Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available by clicking here.
- Prystupa, et al. “Genetic diversity and admixture among Canadian, Mountain and Moorland and Nordic pony populations,” Animal, The Animal Consortium, May 2011, p. 1
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014