The relationship between the Fell Pony and the Scottish Galloway has never been clear to me. I have read that they are one and the same, with Fells often called ‘galloways’ by older breeders. I have also heard that they are different, with the Galloway contributing to the Fell. An article in the latest issue of Equus magazine helped make some sense of the subject.
The Galloway is generally considered to be extinct. The pictures I have seen show an equine slightly larger than today’s Fell Pony with a little less bone and substance. Yet it has been said to have had many of the most valued characteristics of a Fell Pony, including being sure-footed, with flat and clean bone, equable temperament, and substantial endurance. (1) The Galloway also seemed to be valued primarily as a riding horse.
The article in Equus is spectacularly titled: “The World’s Most Important Horse Breed.” (2) The author posits that this most important breed is the Hobby, which manifested in many forms, with many of those forms now being extinct. The Hobby, suggests the author, resulted from crossing eastern-Mediterranean-type horses on western European types, often resulting in a gaited animal. The Hobby is said to have become extinct because of its very popularity. It was so sought after for cross-breeding that purebred animals became increasingly scarce, a problem with which rare breeds enthusiasts are well-acquainted. The Galloway, or Galway as identified in the article, was considered to be a Hobby type.
Andrew Fraser’s book The Native Horses of Scotland has been on my bedside stand for a few years now, so I picked it up to see what he had to say about Galloways and how it meshed with the Equus article. I found the following quote from an historical text from 1845: “A variety of horses, differing from the ordinary pack-horses in their greater lightness and elegance of figure, were termed Galloways. They exceeded the pony size, and were greatly valued for their activity and bottom. They were derived from the counties near the Solway Firth; and an opinion frequently expressed is, that they had been early improved by horses saved from the wreck of the Armada. There is nothing beyond tradition to support this opinion…” (3) This statement seems to clearly differentiate Galloways from Fells. It also describes an animal similar to ones I’ve seen in pictures and to those described in the Equus article. For now, I’ve concluded that Galloways and Fells were indeed distinct.
One question that remains for me is why the Galloway went extinct and the Fell Pony did not. I’m sure at least part of the reason is the dedicated stewards in Cumbria. And I’m sure I’ve more to learn about Galloways and their relationship to Fell Ponies. As always I look forward to the journey.
- Bennett, Deb, PhD. “The World’s Most Important Horse Breed,” Equus, issue 446, November 2014, p. 41.
- Fraser, Andrew F. The Native Horses of Scotland. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, Ltd, 1987, p. 159.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014
If you enjoy learning about Fell Ponies like I do, you might also enjoy the book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.