The first Fell Pony herd I ever saw was unusual from a color standpoint. There were six black ponies and two grays. What made it unusual was not the dominance of black ponies, which is typical of the breed, but that grays made up 25% of the herd. Typically grays are much more rare, though they’ve been more numerous in recent years.
When I began with Fell Ponies, my herd was all black and then I added a brown with black points. When her brown-with-black-points daughter was born, my herd became unusual just like that first herd I saw because I then had more (non-black) color than the breed-wide norm. My herd has now become even more colorful, with the arrival of Moonlit Stargazer Lily, a three-year-old gray filly. I’m very excited by all the color questions I now get to ask and, with Lily’s help, hopefully answer.
This morning my husband suggested, rightly, that I need to take pictures of Lily regularly. The first color question is how fast she will lighten to the color of her dam who is white. And how will the white emerge? Right now Lily has white patches on her face that are much lighter than the rest of her body. It’s already hard to distinguish her star that contributed to her name!
A second color related question was asked by an acquaintance when they first saw a picture of Lily. Do all gray Fell Ponies eventually turn white? All the ones I know have lightened with age, but I’ve never researched in the broader Fell Pony population whether this is universally true. I also don’t know whether there is an equine gray color, genetically, that stays gray – another question to answer!
Another color question was inspired by pictures I saw of Lily several months ago when I was first given the opportunity to bring her here. She appeared almost lavender in color, especially in her mane and tail. I think this coloring was because her black hairs were faded. I have seen other gray Fells her age with a similar lavender appearance. Now only Lily’s tail shows that coloring, and at her tail’s root it’s looking gray rather than lavender, as you can see in the picture here. My color question here is whether the lavender color does indeed manifest because of a faded black background color and if so whether copper supplementation returns the pony to a gray color from lavender just as it makes faded black ponies become blacker.
Another color question is related to our climate here. I’ve always been biased against gray ponies because I’ve believed that they will be hard to keep clean during our spring mud season, afternoon summer thunder showers, and dusty dry lots in summer. My black ponies also get muddy and dusty but it doesn’t seem noticeable. Will a gray pony (especially in the white phase) be any more noticeably muddy and dusty than the blacks? Another climate question is whether Lily will be able to stay as warm in the winter as the dark-colored ponies whose coats absorb warmth readily from the weak winter sun.
I brought Lily here to breed to my stallion Guards Apollo. The last color question currently on my mind is related to future foals. I’ve already made one mistake with foal color when my brown-with-black-points mare had her first. I thought the foal was brown when it was actually faded black. Grays may be more tricky since they’re born black and then turn. The mare Lunesdale Silver Belle whom I owned for a few years fooled her breeder, despite her breeder having decades of experience. Ellie was named assuming she was a gray, hence the silver in her name, but she never turned and stayed black. So the color question here is whether I’ll be able to accurately tell Lily’s foal colors. I’m not optimistic!
I love questions that I can learn answers to (the unanswerable ones I find more frustrating.) I’m looking forward to learning the answers to the color questions I already have and I look forward to any others that may present themselves!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016
There are more stories about the colors of the Fell Pony in the book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard and Breeding, available on Amazon and by clicking here.