Footing Sense 5

Burnmoor, Lake District National ParkFooting sense is a characteristic of Fell Ponies that I learned about from a long time Fell Pony breeder.  It came up when we were discussing how important fell-bred ponies are to the preservation of the breed. Footing sense is one of the characteristics retained by fell-bred ponies but lost in many ponies reared away from the fells.

When footing sense was first described to me, it was implied that once Fell Ponies were kept away from the fells for several generations, footing sense was irretrievably lost.  I was thrilled, then, to learn of a Fell Pony that might be a counter example.  This pony was born away from the fell but returned to fell living as a four year old.  Her owner says she always puts her feet right, finding safe routes, and takes care of her rider.  Perhaps it’s possible that a Fell Pony can learn footing sense when given the right opportunity.

According to Dr. Paul René van Weeren, professor in the department of equine sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, varied terrain is better for equines than lush green pastures, both physically and mentally.  “Evidence shows us that horses want to explore, but that explorative behavior is restricted in grass pastures of only two or three acres.  A more natural habitat, with woods, hills, bushes, creeks or ponds, and a variety of forage, is obviously better.” (1)

Because more and more ponies are reared away from the fells, strategies for retaining fell-induced characteristics such as footing sense are important.  Dr. van Weeren’s observation about exploratory behavior and the Fell Pony who showed footing sense after returning to fell living suggest that providing Fell Ponies with opportunities to explore and learn about varied terrain on their own terms may be an important management strategy.  Perhaps it is indeed possible that footing sense can be learned and that it isn’t irretrievably lost to our breed as fewer ponies remain on the fells.

I have experienced footing sense in a Fell one generation removed from the fell when riding on our icy driveway in the winter.  Now that I know what footing sense is and have experienced it while riding one particular pony, I will be watching for it in all my Fells.  It will be interesting to observe which have it and which don’t so that I can develop appropriate management strategies to try to conserve this important breed characteristic.  It’s certainly been my experience that these ponies are curious and willing to learn.  Perhaps that very nature is what makes footing sense possible.

  1. Lesté-Lasserre, Christa. “Managing Young Horses,” at

Book Fell Pony ObservationsFooting Sense is discussed in a chapter in Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.


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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