One day my husband said to me, “I think we should focus on breeding mountain ponies.” My mind immediately went to the fact that Fell Ponies are one of Britain’s mountain and moorland pony breeds, but I had the sense that wasn’t what my husband was talking about. So I asked him what a mountain pony was.
He began by talking about his first years working on the Colorado State Forest in the 1970s when Bill Reilly was riding cows on the grazing permit there. The State Forest lies on the east side of a spine of the Rocky Mountains, rising several thousand feet above the basin of North Park. Streams cascade down the mountain front in numerous places, and rocks are ever present, as you would expect given the name of the mountain range.
Bill Reilly’s mounts were always on the small side for horses, and they had to be able to go up and down the steep ground of the Forest. They had to have strong shoulders for braking power going downhill, and they had to have hindquarters with power to push themselves and their rider and his pack up the mountain or across a stream. They had relatively short backs putting their front and back legs closer together compared to many horses, and they had to be agile so they could both push cows but also avoid being kicked by them. Finally, of course, they had to be pleasant to ride since Bill was in the saddle all day every day in the summer.
There is, of course, not much difference between a traditional Fell Pony and what my husband’s mind’s eye says is a mountain pony. For him, the true test, though, as it should be, is how a particular pony performs in the mountains. He points out that there’s a difference between riding on trails and riding cross-country. I was reminded of cruising timber riding my first Fell stallion Midnight, work which was decidedly off trail. He negotiated downed trees and low branches and crackling brush and steep hillsides with ease.
My husband began his logging career working with a mule named Pete and even before that he had much broader experience in the equine world than I have. He often has practical insights that astound me when I’ve forgotten how much he’s seen that I haven’t. I’m learning to encourage his sharing whenever I can. Now with his leadership role in our county’s search and rescue, he’s thinking how handy it would be to have an equine partner for that work. I know there are Fells who have done that work in other places. I look forward to working with him and my ponies to see how my Fells meet his standard for mountain ponies.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016