As a pony enthusiast I love hearing about people putting ponies to use. I was thrilled, then, when I learned that an adventure a Fell Pony colleague was about to embark on had a pony connection beyond our mutual involvement with Fells.
We have all probably heard at some point about the 49’ers, the people who flocked to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California in the mid-19th century in search of gold. Some of the 49’ers approached the gold fields through Death Valley, a desert basin in the southeastern part of the state. It got its name from the near-death experience of some of the 49’ers.
The pony connection to the 49’ers comes by way of a commemoration of the original Death Valley 49’ers. A group of aging equestrians in the 1960s were finding that riding their horses was more challenging, so they were looking for a way to stay involved with equines that was easier. They decided to do a wagon train through Death Valley, and Shetland Ponies were their chosen horsepower. Today larger equines participate in the annual Death Valley 49’ers event, but my Fell Pony friend Pam Andrews stayed with the original theme and went with a friend who had 13hh pony mules Judy and Kate.
“Death Valley wagon train was an amazing experience! 11 days -100 miles – sleep out under the most stars you will ever see! So many spectacular views of the valley & mountains. Things I don’t think you will see anywhere else! Wonderful people & great teams of mules & horses. Started at the Wade Monument 32 miles north of Baker & ended at Furnace Creek.”
Pam’s photos are breath-taking, both for the landscape and for the wagons and equines traversing the desert. She kindly agreed to share the ones here.
Shortly after Pam embarked on her trip and I began reading about her adventure, I also stumbled across another, albeit non-pony, connection to the 49’ers. I was surprised to learn that many successful miners were responsible for the development of the area where I grew up. They brought their new wealth to the Portland, Oregon area to invest in new businesses, real estate, and industries that had a profound impact on the neighborhood where I spent my formative years. The neighborhood is the subject of a book I am currently writing. The world suddenly felt small with 49’ers connecting my Portland past and my pony present.
My Fell Pony friend Pam will soon have a pair of Fell Pony fillies that she hopes to drive. Perhaps someday a Fell Pony pair will be seen on the Death Valley 49’ers Wagon Train!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016
There are similar stories about ponies being put to use in The Partnered Pony: What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking on the title or cover.