Nature and Nurture

Restar Lucky JoeIt’s such a thrill when my youngest pony has absolutely stellar foot-handling manners.  And then when my youngest is also a soon-to-be stallion, it means even more!  I was told recently that one farrier considers Fell Ponies brats because of their manners at hoof trimming time.  That’s so unfortunate.  It obviously doesn’t have to be that way.  Imagine what that farrier might be telling other people about the breed.

Restar Lucky Joe’s ‘family’ did well at the Fell Pony Society Stallion & Colt Show over the weekend.  His half brother was Supreme Champion.  I appreciate even more that another half brother was Driving Champion because it was a pony doing traditional work of the breed.  Since both those ponies are Lucky Joe’s half-brothers on the sire side and I’ve found that the sire contributes a lot to temperament, the Driving Champion especially says a lot about trainability.  I’m certainly seeing that trainability with Lucky Joe.

Balancing the ‘nature’ or genetic side of temperament, there is of course always the ‘nurture’ side, too. Lucky Joe’s breeder emphasizes how important it is to be gentle with the ponies because you can go so much farther with them.  That doesn’t mean coddling them, of course; they have to have manners, for instance, when it comes to foot handling.  But being rough isn’t necessary.  Unfortunately one person’s definition of rough is another’s normal handling.  When Lucky Joe was coming through quarantine last year when entering this country, because he was a stud colt, they put a nose chain on him.  He’d never had that sort of handling and he protested by striking out at a handler with his front foot which undoubtedly caused rougher handling.  Fortunately Lucky Joe was handed off quickly to my transporters who share my approach to handling.

I think Lucky Joe’s experience illustrates one of the challenges of ‘natural’ horsemanship.  When someone practices ‘natural’ horsemanship, their equines are used to being handled in a respectful way.  Then when someone else handles them differently, they become confused and can act out which is considered misbehavior when in reality it’s really them communicating confusion about the way they’re being treated.  Things aren’t necessarily as they seem.

Lucky Joe has shown me repeatedly that he is quiet and cooperative, just as his breeder told me he was before Lucky Joe left there.  The behavior Lucky Joe exhibited at the quarantine center was obviously communication about treatment that he didn’t understand and not a temperament problem.  Sometimes we don’t have control over how our ponies are handled or behave, such as I didn’t at the quarantine facility.  But we certainly do have control over how our ponies are handled and behave at other times, such as during hoof trimming.  Regarding that farrier that considers Fell Ponies brats, the owners have an opportunity to improve the perception of the breed.  Lucky Joe’s stellar performance demonstrates what is possible.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

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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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