That was the question a caller posed one evening. They had sold a pony to a pony novice who had the pony in training, and the pony had bolted on both the new owner and the trainer. Answering the question was a delicate matter so as not to offend my caller nor criticize the trainer or new owner.
The obvious answer is that yes, of course, Fell Ponies bolt. The picture shows me on my first stallion Midnight Valley Timothy. One winter day I was riding Midnight to the mailbox. My husband was about fifty yards in front of us mounted on Midnight’s paddock mate Torrin. Ahead of them were some children with sleds. When the children started sliding down the hill towards Torrin, he did an abrupt about-face, and Midnight followed suit. Until then I hadn’t known I could sit a gallop bareback. I arrested the bolt by pointing Midnight into a snow drift after about 100 yards.
It is certainly within the realm of possibility that a pony newly broken to ride, when mounted by a novice rider, could find reason to bolt. In the case presented by my caller, it seems likely that there was inadequate preparation of pony and rider for the situation they were in. That the pony also bolted on the trainer brings to mind other possibilities. In my experience it’s possible for a pony to be put through a structured training regimen, which it appears to accept, but then inexplicably it can’t handle the next step in training. It has been my experience that Fells can be difficult for some horse people to read because they are mellow but sometimes unconfident, a combination that is unfamiliar to some equestrians. So while a pony may be uncomfortable with a situation, they won’t express it in easily recognized ways. It’s necessary to look for more subtle signs – rather than moving feet, it can be the set of the ears, a braced neck, or a reluctance to move that indicate lack of confidence. A pony not showing typical signs of discomfort can then be pushed past their comfort zone and end up doing unpredictable and unwanted things like bolting.
In the situation presented by my caller, it was important to me to suggest a solution that didn’t cast blame on the pony, the owner, the seller or the trainer. These sorts of situations can easily turn off someone new to the breed or create a bad reputation for Fells: ‘they bolt.’ While the caller expressed willingness to take the pony back, the right answer ended up being finding a training situation better suited to this pony and their person. I was able to point my caller to two trainers in their area that I knew had worked with Fells and understood the importance of developing the pony-person partnership, not just the pony’s skill set.
After the phone call, I thought about the times that a pony has bolted on me. While there have been a few due to the pony being startled, there have been more where I misread the pony’s attitude and the bolt was an expression of disregard for our partnership and taking joy at a run. I’m thankful that I often have deep snow on hand to arrest behavior that I misread and can’t otherwise redirect.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015
If you are interested in learning more about Fell Ponies, you’ll want the book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.
If you enjoy life with Fell Ponies or want to, you’ll enjoy the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.
If you are a pony lover, then you’ll find the book The Partnered Pony of interest. It’s available internationally by clicking here.