My sister asked, during our recent heavy snow period, what happens if the snow covers the fences of the ponies’ paddocks. The first answer is: I don’t know because it’s never happened before. The second answer, which I bored her with, covered the various information that the ponies have given me over the years about what they think about snow that approaches the tops of their fences.
My favorite story is of my first stallion Midnight Valley Timothy. It was spring time and there was a mare in heat, and he decided he could clear the fence because it was short. On his side of course the snow was packed hard so he could launch. After he did, though, he got so mired in the deep snow on the other side that he never tested a fence in winter again! I suspect all of the ponies at some point have ventured into undisturbed snow so they know not only what it looks like but that the footing is non-existent. In some ways undisturbed deep snow is a form of fencing. The pictures here show my ponies and short fences: at top, the present; middle 2007; and bottom 2005.
When I tried to ride Rose the other day on a path that was only partially packed, she refused. I had seen her on that path earlier in the day, so I knew she could walk it. She seemed to know, though, that while she can navigate it solo, my added weight meant that together we would flounder.
Fences are not only physical but also visual and mental barriers. While most of my fences are wood and are therefore physical and visual barriers, electric fences are more mental than physical or visual once a pony learns that there is a shock associated with touching them. In some places in my one electric fence paddock the wire was below the snow level and no longer a visual barrier. The ponies though showed no inclination to test it. It was of course covered by undisturbed deep snow that has its own consequences.
One pen that is along the driveway gets plowed snow piled up around it on three sides. I often put stallions in that pen because I know that even if my fences get short, the snowbanks, which right now are ten feet high, are an additional visual and physical barrier.
One problem with fencing getting shorter has occurred not with boundary fencing but with the fence around my haystack inside one paddock. One pony figured out that they could lean across the top of a pipe fence and reach the end of a hay bale. The action had multiple rewards. Not only did they get a mouthful of hay, but the pipe fence bent a little more each time so they got closer and closer each time they reached for hay, giving them more and more opportunity for mouthfuls. I had to put a stop to this pattern, of course. I dug a piece of plywood out of two feet of snow and used it as a wall between the fence and the bale. I’ll be more careful next year when storing hay and erecting fence around it to make sure there’s plenty of clearance. Now, though, the ponies are watching for a slightly different opportunity. When I fill a tub of hay for the next feeding, they check to see if I’ve put it close enough to the fence that they can reach over and get appetizers. Normally, with a five foot fence, I don’t have to take precautions to stop this activity, but this year is of course different.
We have had a week’s respite from continuous snow accumulation, and the snow has settled some. The electric fence has appeared from under the snow, and it’s a little more challenging to go over the fences instead of through them. The weather is still unusual, though in a different way. It’s been slightly cloudier and cooler than normal, so snow has stayed in the trees and on the roofs of sheds when normally it would slough off both. Normally I count on shining sun and settling for snow management around my haystacks. I usually shovel the snow to the south side for the sun to do its magic, but this year my six-foot haystacks seem nearly buried and I’m throwing snow away from them rather than just pushing it off the sides.
The answer to my sister’s question – what happens if the snow gets so deep it covers the fences – is still ‘I don’t know.’ From what the ponies have told me, though, barring a stallion thinking he can get to a mare in heat, I don’t think the ponies will try their luck at freedom. And honestly I hope we don’t get enough snow that they show me the answer to the question. We’ll have plenty long before we get that much!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017
There are lots of stories about sharing life with Fell Ponies in the book What an Honor: A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here.