I often get questions about Fell Pony temperament. The easiest ones to answer are when they are about a particular pony I know well. Often, though, they are about the Fell Pony breed generally. I of course always start with the caveat that there is more variation within breeds than between breeds. Then I try to share what I have learned so far (there are 6 chapters in the Temperament section of my book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here).
I also try to draw on what long-time Fell Pony enthusiasts say. So I was delighted to run across a short description by Roy Ottink of the Dutch Wildhoeve stud, quoting the late Chris Thompson of the Drybarrows Fell Pony stud in Cumbria:
“At Drybarrows you were presented with diamonds in the rough straight from the fell and wild as the hills, however once over in Holland they changed rapidly into reliable ponies who you could do anything with. As long as (and I quote Chris Thompson) you ‘don’t put your will against the ponies – they will always win.’” (1)
Sometimes I get questions that ask me to compare the Fell to other breeds. Usually the requested comparison is to other similar-sized breeds such as the Fjord or Haflinger which are popular in this country. Since I own a Fjord horse, it’s easy for me to make some comparisons there. Usually I have to defer on comparisons to the Haflinger. Now, though, I have some words to share with inquirers from one of the most well known Fell Pony enthusiasts. In Fell Diamonds, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, shared the following:
“Since I had decided to give up polo on reaching the age of 50, I decided that carriage driving might be my next ‘sport’. We also had Haflingers and Highland ponies at Balmoral, so I decided that I would try a team of each in turn. I found the Haflingers too precocious and self-willed, while the Highlanders, although willing to please, were not exactly enthusiastic about the demands of the competition. The Fells proved to be willing to learn, forgiving and prepared to have a go. This was back in 1970, and I have been driving teams of Fells ever since.
“Having taught myself to drive with the Fells, I borrowed 4 Cleveland Bay/Oldenburg crosses from the Royal Mews and drove them at national and international events for the next 13 years. At the same time, I entered a Fell Pony team for events in Scotland and northern England, and then at National Events all over the country until I gave up competing altogether in 2006. However, I kept the ponies and I still enjoy driving them as a team or a tandem. Considering that Fells are generally not as flashy, nor appear to be as nimble as Welsh ponies, their speed of reaction in the obstacles was impressive and they did remarkably well, even in the Dressage tests! Needless to say, not every individual was a success, but some of them were really brilliant.” (2)
As Prince Philip points out, Fell Ponies vary, as do individuals of every breed. To know, though, that they can become ‘reliable ponies’ even when they’ve started ‘as wild as the hills’ is a great testament to this breed.
- Miller, Francis.“Drybarrows Fell Ponies”, The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Spring 2015, Volume 30, p. 78
- The Fell Pony Society. Fell Diamonds: celebrating 90 years of the Fell Pony Society, 1922-2012. Daw Bank, Greenholme, Cumbria: Jackdaw E-books, 2013, p. 5
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015
If you enjoy articles like this one, you’ll also enjoy the book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.