April Thirty and Zero Degrees

Shelley and her frozen feathers on April 30

The house popped loudly at 4am and woke me up.  The house only makes that noise when it’s extremely cold.  While it’s common to hear the sound in January, I’m not used to hearing it in April.  Sure enough, when I got up and looked at the thermometer it was zero degrees Fahrenheit on the last day of the month.  I dressed quickly and headed out to feed.  The ponies were of course happy to see me.

It’s tough to have temperatures this cold this late in the season.  The ponies are shedding, so they don’t have the same protection they do in the middle of winter.  The previous morning it had been twenty degrees warmer, though still well below freezing.  More of the ponies were shivering then than now.  The ground had been soft and wet the night before, so the mud had collected on the ponies’ feathers and then frozen.  When they walked my direction, the tinkling sound of ice balls greeted me.  I’m convinced that that coldness along their coronary bands makes them get cold easier than just straight cold temperatures.  Because I know that, as soon as I heard the house pop, I began making plans to go out to feed.

I’ve called this winter that is, in theory at least, now ending our whiplash winter.  We’ve had nice weather then challenging, cold weather then warm, heavy snow then none at all.  Last week we had warm temperatures that had dried the mud and allowed me to wear my hiking boots to do chores.  At zero degrees I was back in snow boots, and I donned mud boots by the afternoon.  I wonder how long the whiplash weather will last.  Regardless, I will be ready to adjust my feeding schedule to whatever the ponies need.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

There are more stories like this one in the book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

Elimination Habits

I love getting questions from people about Fell Ponies because in answering them I inevitably learn something new.  So I was thrilled to find a question in my inbox.  And I must admit it was a different sort of question than any I’ve gotten before.  Nonetheless, I responded to the Fell Pony owner saying their pony was lucky to have them because they were paying such good attention to their pony.

The question was whether Fell Ponies are known to be adverse to pooping on trail rides.  I’ve taken more trail rides on Fell Ponies than I can count, and I can honestly say I’ve never noticed this ‘problem.’  I have, however, noticed that many Fells have very discernible elimination habits, likely based on physiological as well as psychological factors.  I asked my inquirer to consider the following questions:  Are trail rides new to this pony?  Perhaps they are uncomfortable with this new activity and will change their defecation pattern when they are more comfortable?  Is there a change in the feeding regimen on trail ride days versus other days that might explain the ‘problem?’  Does the pony have set elimination habits on other days?

Many of my Fell Ponies come to greet me at feeding time, but some walk away.  Initially I was bothered when those ponies walked away from me, thinking they weren’t interested in interacting with me.  Soon, though, I realized they knew I was there to feed them, and they were going off to relieve themselves before eating.

It’s not just Fell Ponies, of course, that have elimination habits.  I have a pony who is like clockwork when he gets in the horse trailer.  Not exactly what I would choose since it means I have to clean the trailer every time I haul him, even for a short distance!

I understand my inquirer’s concern about their pony’s elimination habit, since on a trail ride of any significant length, a pony really should eliminate at least once.  I’m sure the two of them will eventually get ‘the problem’ sorted out, since the owner is so clearly interested in their pony’s welfare.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

I’ve put the asnwers to many questions I’ve received about Fell Ponies in my books, including What an Honor, available internationally by clicking on the book image or by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Health, Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM)

Celebrating a Training Success

Many years ago, one of my first natural horsemanship instructors told me that while, yes, when we train our own ponies, we are responsible for their shortcomings, but on the other hand we can also take credit for their successes.  At the moment I’m celebrating a success.

I’ve been told that some farriers consider it difficult to trim the hooves of Fell Ponies because they aren’t cooperative.  I am not a very big person and not terribly strong, so when it comes to trimming hooves, I need all the cooperation I can get from the pony that I’m working on.  That’s why I’m celebrating a success.

I’ve just come in from trimming Willowtrail Mountain Honey’s hooves.  She is rising four years old and has never had anyone trim her hooves but me.  She’s also not received any training from anyone but me.  And she was fabulous for her hoof trimming.  Happy owner, happy breeder, happy me!

I am inclined to be critical of what I do with my ponies, but at the moment, I’ll do as my natural horsemanship instructor suggested and take some credit.  It is possible for a Fell Pony to be good while having her feet trimmed!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Stories like this one about the Fell Ponies at Willowtrail Farm can be found in the book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover photo.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM)

Hope for Lowercase Fell Ponies

It is commonly thought in the Fell Pony world that once Fell Ponies leave the fells, they can never return.  Often they grow too large, and they don’t have the wisdom or the hardiness to survive on the rough open terrain that has shaped the breed.

This situation is a challenge for the breed because the number of hill-bred ponies is in decline because the number of hill breeders is dropping.   And even if fell ground becomes available to put ponies on, there may not be breeders willing to do the work of keeping the ponies on the fell because it is very hard work with little financial reward.  As the late Chris Thompson once said, “You’ve got to be interested in them to carry the Fell ponies on; it’s got to be in the blood.” (1)

I got a sliver of hope in the face of this difficult situation when talking to someone who has fell ground on which they run their equine herd.  While it isn’t currently a herd of Fell Ponies, they have however witnessed what many Fell Pony stewards have: that putting an animal on the fell that wasn’t born there causes that animal significant physical stress.  Yet the good news is that while the first year is rough, after that, they seem to adapt and begin to thrive there.  My friend obviously chooses their equines with this management scheme in mind; not every equine could adapt to fell living.  Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to know that an equine born away from the fell can become a lowercase fell pony.

Every bit of fell ground is different of course.  One of the most challenging fell environments is Birkbeck Common where the Greenholme herd runs.  While it is a good place to cure a pony of sweet itch, which Bill Potter has done a  number of times for frustrated owners, Bill says it can take as long as three years for a pony that leaves there and then returns to reacclimatize. (2)

If somehow we can reverse the trend of losing hill breeders, then Fell Ponies will still be able to call the terrain that bears their name home.  And if necessary, perhaps Fell Ponies reared away from their native ground can be returned there, carefully, becoming fell ponies in both the upper case and lower case sense of the term.

  1. Millard, Sue. “The Drybarrows Ponies – Legacy of Chris Thompson,” People & Ponies page of Fell Pony Society website, http://www.fellponysociety.org.uk
  2. Personal communication with Bill Potter, 2009.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Other things that I’ve learned about Fell Ponies can be found in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations about the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Single Issue Voter

I have watched a Fell Pony extract itself from of a Cumbrian bog, comfortably sat a traditional trot bareback, benefited from a speedy walk, and put hock and knee action to use in rough terrain. Fell Pony traditional movement is for me something quite real and to be cherished and preserved.  I never thought, though, that it would make me a single issue voter.

I grew up in a political family where campaign strategy was a regular part of each election year.  Single issue voters were sources of frustration because they were uninterested in comprehensive platforms and nuanced policy positions, and they often defied efforts at compromise.  Now though, I’m on the other side and can see why they chose to stand steadfast.

I received my ballot in the mail for the election of the Fell Pony Society (FPS) council.  While I always participate in the annual council elections when given the chance, this year was unusual.  After going down the list voting the names of people I knew and respected for their service to our breed, it came down to filling the last of four spots by choosing between two candidates.  One made showing and dressage an emphasis in their candidate statement, and the other mentioned the need to preserve traditional movement.

In a conversation with another breeder that I thought was unrelated, I had asked how they liked what a particular stallion had done with their mares.  I was somewhat surprised at the answer.  The breeder appreciated the less-active movement of the foal crop “because it’s better for showing and dressage.” I’d heard before that showing and dressage have different preferences for how an equine moves than is standard for our ponies, but this was the first time I’d really had evidence for the allegation.

The candidate that emphasized the need to preserve traditional movement in our breed also expressed concern that preferences in the dressage and showing worlds and the use of our ponies in those realms was adversely impacting traditional movement in the breed.  Suddenly I found the choice for the final slot on the ballot easy.

I have ridden Fell Ponies through deep snow.  I have needed them to jump downed timber at a walk.  I have appreciated their comfortable and speedy gaits on pony express runs to our distant mailbox.  Rarely a day goes by that I don’t find reason to appreciate traditional Fell Pony movement.  I’m usually not a single issue voter, but the traditional movement of Fell Ponies gave me reason to become one.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

There are many stories like this one about the Fell Pony breed in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Not Bored Yet!

Sleddale Rose BeautyA comment from a caller brought a smile to my face. We had been talking about Fell Ponies of course and in particular about the bloodlines of one they were considering purchasing.  They had previously owned traditional Morgan Horses.  I have seen just a few traditional Morgans, and they are amazingly different from modern Morgans, so I knew my caller was familiar with how type can change.

My caller had been reading my book about the breed and found it interesting enough that their spouse was asking if anything else was going to get done before reading the book was complete.  I think that’s a compliment?!  My caller expressed appreciation for all the information about the breed that I’ve written down to share with others.  They concluded by saying, “You’re not bored yet!”

They are right of course, and I understand why the comment was worded in that way.  In my relatively short (seventeen year) history with the breed, I’ve seen a number of people dive in with both feet and be enthusiastic only to leave the breed behind a few years later, on to some other breed or activity.  While this is probably a natural progression for a person, I worry about the ponies, since I know Fells get to know their people if given a choice.  I especially worry when several ponies are exported from England in the enthusiasm of the moment, only to be set aside when they’re no longer of interest, sometimes lost to the gene pool entirely.

No, I’m not bored yet.  I’m still trying to breed something close to and eventually better than my first Fell Pony mare.  There are fewer and fewer ponies like her in the breed, so the search for breeding stock to recreate her keeps me from being bored.  I suspect rather than boredom I’ll either be frustrated because it’s too hard to do what I’m trying to do on this side of the pond, or I’ll find contentment from making progress with each succeeding generation that I breed.  Regardless, I’m fairly certain one lifetime won’t be long enough.  No, I’m not bored yet.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Book Fell Pony ObservationsMuch of what I’ve learned about the Fell Pony breed can be found in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover image.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Ponies, Promenades and Parades

I’m working on a chapter for a book I’m writing; the chapter is on Portland, Oregon’s bygone White House Road.  The chapter has required extensive research about the Riverside Driving Association which for many years advocated for and maintained the White House Road for pleasure driving and “showing the mettle of fast trotters.”

Take note of the pony front and center!  From The West Shore, 1890.  Courtesy University of Oregon Historic Newspapers collection

Take note of the pony front and center! From The West Shore, 1890. Courtesy University of Oregon Historic Newspapers collection

In the course of my research, I found a number of lithographs from The West Shore, an early Portland magazine.  As a pony enthusiast, my favorite is one showing a pony front and center pulling a cart amidst bigger horses and vehicles, promenading down the White House Road in 1890.

In 1904 the driving association was feeling victorious about getting the road widened to make it safe for simultaneous speeding and pleasure driving.  “The fight that the Riverside Driving Association has made to have the road widened has not been merely for the benefit of the club members, but it was made for the benefit of the city and every lover of a driving horse, whether it be owned privately or hired from a livery.” (1)  Of course, the widening benefited more than just the lover of the driving horse.

Not long after, the club argued before city council about automobile speed limits.  “The members of the Riverside Driving Association are hot on the trail of the automobiilsts who on account of their reckless driving on the White House road have made that driveway too dangerous to drive horses on at night.” (2)

As we will have guessed, the driving association’s battle was fruitless.  Automobilists took over the road, and the association’s members turned their energies to race meets on tracks and participation in Portland’s Rose Festival Parade.

I grew up in Portland, the City of Roses, and was always aware of the Rose Parade.  I had never pondered what the parade was like, though, before internal combustion engines powered the floats.  Again as a pony enthusiast I was thrilled to find the photograph here of a pony and cart decorated with flowers for the parade.  Ponies and carts also merited their own class in an associated driving show.

Pony cart float at the 1911 Rose Festival Parade in Portland, Oregon.  Courtesy University of Oregon Historic Oregon Newspapers collection

Pony cart float at the 1911 Rose Festival Parade in Portland, Oregon. Courtesy University of Oregon Historic Oregon Newspapers collection

One of the joys of doing research for my book is discovering things that I hadn’t previously known or seen.  And when those newly discovered things have to do with ponies, the joy is even greater!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

  1. “To Hold Harness Races,” The Morning Oregonian, 4/20/1904, p. 8.
  2. “Speed of Autos to be checked,” The Morning Oregonian, 5/28/1904, p. 9

Both citations courtesy the University of Oregon Historic Newspapers collection.

Book The Partnered PonyThere are many stories about ponies and what they can do in the book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the picture.

Posted in Partnered Pony (TM)