Is It Misbehaving When...?!

Willowtrail Wild Rose

One of the great benefits of owning Fell Ponies in the internet age is making human friends across the globe with people who also own Fell Ponies.  Many of these people I will never meet in person, but they enrich my life nonetheless.  One friend in particular made my day when they shared a story about their pony that is a close relation of one of mine.  Sometimes it feels like we four are much more in harmony than the distance between us should allow.

My management routine for my herd right now has me exercising Willowtrail Wild Rose daily.  For the past two weeks it’s mostly been me hand-walking her because I’ve had the flu (protect yourself – it’s awful stuff), and I haven’t been up to riding or anything else.  There have been a few times when I’ve been trudging along at my end of the lead rope, slower and slower, and I’ll feel Rose nudge my shoulder or elbow.  It could easily be interpreted as a domineering pony misbehaving, but this pony ‘listens’ and ‘communicates’ in special ways.  She’s urging me to mount and let her carry me up the road rather than exhausting myself any further.  I comply if I can, and she’s foot-perfect taking me home.

My friend shared the following story:  “Yesterday, H made me very happy. I had her in the arena to let her and another horse run loose.  We are not allowed to do that, but... Well I did it anyway. Someone came in, and I hurried to get a neckrope around her to pretend we were doing ground work, then I went to the door and called for H.  I wanted to go to the paddock, but she refused to come. I called again, and she just made a silly face. I offered a treat, and she still refused. Then I got the message!  My daughter is starting to ride without a bridle, just the neckrope, and H wanted to show off her new skills! I went to the mounting block and asked H to fetch me from there. She did and then carried me around the hall and in all the circles I could wish for. Sweet girl!”

Rose and H are first cousins, despite living on different continents, and they share this uncommon ability to observe and communicate with their chosen human.  They give us human partners incredible displays of insight and gifts of cooperation that we hardly get from our human friends!  While someone else might say these ponies were misbehaving with their nudges and refusals, I prefer to look at their behaviors as something entirely different and definitely in the blessing department.  How lucky H’s owner and I are to share our lives with our ponies and each other!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

Mean or Mouth-Expressive?

170731 Tracey.JPG

There is an often-used Fell Pony stallion whose temperament is sometimes called into question.  Early in my Fell Pony career, I heard and saw things that suggested the rumors were true.  Then there came a period when I got positive reviews about the stallion, and I was left wondering how all this seemingly conflicting information from both sides of the Atlantic could be about the same pony.  Now I think I’ve figured it out!

The early evidence I received included hearing that the stallion in question had bit its owner’s abdomen so hard as to leave a significant welt.  Then I saw one of the stallion’s daughters, who had a set to her jaw and look in her eye that suggested she wasn’t happy with the world.  I had met members of the mare side of that pony’s family, none of whom had temperament issues nor the hard look I’d seen in that mare, so it seemed clear to me the stallion was the source of the mare’s attitude.  Then I saw a son of the stallion being approached with a whip by its owner, and I heard of other temperament issues in second generation offspring of the stallion, so I vowed as a breeder to keep my distance from that stallion line.

Years later I happened to meet the owners of the stallion, and almost without prompting they said, “He’s not mean,” as if knowing in advance what I’d been told about him.  I immediately responded that he was heavily used enough that he must have an acceptable temperament, and the conversation moved on to other pony-related topics.  I was left wondering, though, how to square that comment about the stallion’s temperament, albeit potentially biased since it was from the pony’s owner, with all the other things I’d heard and observed regarding the stallion’s temperament.

The Fell Pony gene pool is relatively small, so it was only a matter of time before a pony entered my herd that was descended, several generations back, from this stallion that I’d vowed to avoid.  The blessing of the pony in my herd was learning how to make all the comments I’d heard about the stallion it was descended from make sense.  This pony had the set to its mouth and hard look to its eye that I’d seen in the daughter of the stallion.  And it wasn’t uncommon for this pony to walk up and nip me before I even knew what was happening, until we’d established a relationship where they understood that wasn’t acceptable.  Even then, on occasion, this pony would grab my jacket and jerk it if I didn’t pay attention to them first.  Yet the pony in my herd had good conformation for our breed and was easy to work with as long as I minded its mouth. 

I have realized now why the stallion’s owners said what they said.  The stallion isn’t mean.  Rather than mean, the stallion and his line must be mouth-expressive like the pony in my herd.  He and his line have other attributes that are useful to us as Fell Pony breeders.  So long as we can be mindful that they’re mouth-expressive, we can all get along fine!

Here’s some parting food for thought:  I think it’s important if we’re Fell Pony Breeders to keep some things in mind:  1) traits skip generations as they did with the pony in my herd, so often we won’t know where something came from; and 2) if we were as breeders to eliminate from consideration any pony descending from a stallion with temperament problems, we’d stop breeding Fell Ponies.  Trust me, I’ve done the research!  And in defense of stallions, sometimes it’s their handlers who create the temperament problem.  If you’re interested in more on that line of thinking, click here to learn more about my article “Neither Carrot Nor Stick” from Rural Heritage magazine that includes in part a story about a Fell Pony stallion’s temperament.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More observations like this one 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 book cover.

Hopes and Desires and Dreams

I have been humbled by the interest in my Fell Ponies the past few years.  There is certainly increased demand throughout North America for Fell Ponies, and in recent years there has been more interest in the Rocky Mountain region where I’m located.  I know some people have been especially interested in my focus on a particular type of Fell Pony.  The interest is wonderful compensation for all the hard work that goes into breeding.

I’ve been keeping a waiting list of people interested in a Willowtrail Fell Pony, and someone recently asked how my waiting list works.  Good question!  It was helpful for me to stop and think about how I’m using it.

170729 Jen Lady.JPG

It is always my goal to match the right pony with the right person to try to beat the horse industry statistics of an equine having four or more owners in their lifetime.  I’m about to celebrate twenty years with my first pony, so I know good matches are possible.  While I have no control over how long someone keeps a pony they buy from me, I feel that if I do a good job matching the pony to the person, the match will last longer than if I do otherwise.

Everyone who contacts me has their own situation into which they hope to add a Fell Pony, so I don’t just take names.  I also try to understand each person’s desires and dreams where Fell Ponies are concerned.  For instance, someone expressed interest in a pony I had for sale, but it was very important to them to visit the pony in person before purchasing, and the person lived a long way from me.  I was able to point them to a pony closer to them that they could evaluate.  In another case, someone expressed interest not just in Fells but in another breed of equine.  It turned out I knew a Fell Pony person close by them that shared their interest in both breeds, and I put them in touch with the other Fell Pony enthusiast.

Sometimes it turns out that Fell Ponies won’t be a good fit for someone’s situation, so then I try to help them adjust their hopes accordingly.  Other times if I see that a good fit might be a pony from someone else, I will point them to the other Fell Pony owner so that hopes and desires can be met and Fell Pony dreams can come true.  And then when I do have a pony that meets a particular person’s hopes, and desires, and dreams, that’s a match I’m especially happy to make!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Circa 1980 Fell Pony Video

Very briefly, a video from around 1980 was posted on the internet showing Fell Ponies at that time.  Seeing video today is relatively commonplace, but it was a special joy to watch video of well-known ponies of that era that show up in so many of today’s ponies’ pedigrees.  The video was narrated by Jack Hargreaves, the late well-known television personality.  If the video was from 1980 as indicated, then it was likely from Hargreaves’ show Out of Town.  After 1981, he appeared in a similar series called Old Country

Guards Apollo

Guards Apollo

Kinniside Asi

Kinniside Asi

Had I know the video would be viewable only for a short time, I would have made a point of watching it more than once.  Fortunately I had the presence of mind to take some notes when I did watch it.  Here is what caught my attention:

  • The mare Lownthwaite Star Trek was filmed at the Lownthwaite stud, both with a foal at foot and under saddle.  Jos Dargue of the Peepings stud was present and remarked that Star Trek was the best Fell Pony living at that time.  Sadly Star Trek later suffered a shoulder injury that left her lamed for the rest of her life.  Nonetheless she lived to an old age, much loved and revered . (1)  Star Trek is behind many of today’s Fell Ponies including my stud colt Kinniside Asi.
  • The mare Waverhead Magic was shown put to a cart trotting up a hill.  Before I confirmed her identity, I noted that she ‘looked amazing.’  I was thrilled to later learn her identity because I had conjectured a few years ago that she must have a remarkable trot based on her owner riding her bareback in trotting races. (2)  Magic is behind my stallion Guards Apollo.
  • Earlier this year I wrote about “The Forgotten Hind End,” including how many back legs are quite straight, to the detriment of our breed.  I concluded from looking at historic photos that straight hind legs have been present in the breed for many decades, and one pony in the video unfortunately confirmed this observation.
  • At the end of the video, there was footage of a Dales Pony show.  In one class the ponies were trotting in-hand around a ring, and they all seemed to have very round muscular hindquarters.  I think the narrator remarked that those round hindends weren’t favored in the Fell Pony world.  Those hind ends made me think of wording in the Fell Pony breed standard about hind ends that isn’t clear to me:  “hindquarters square and strong.”  Someday I hope to better understand the preference Fell Pony people have for strong square hindquarters while disdaining round muscular ones on Dales Ponies!

Perhaps the video will be posted to the internet again, and I’ll get to watch it once more.  If I do, I’ll be certain to take better notes than I did the first time around.  And I’ll certainly enjoy watching Waverhead Magic and Lownthwaite Star Trek again and seeing if I see them in my boys here at home.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

1)      “History of Lownthwaite Fells,” at http://www.lownthwaitefellponies.co.uk/index-8.html
2)      Morrissey, Jenifer.  “A Fell Trot,” Willowtrail Farm Musings, January 10, 2014.

If you enjoyed this story, you'll also enjoy the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

 

Those Tricky Statistics

Fell Pony stallion Lunesdale Mercury

Fell Pony stallion Lunesdale Mercury

I received a call from a student at one of my alma maters.  It was of course about fundraising, but then she asked for advice as a soon-to-be-graduating senior.  I asked what she was studying, and she answered that she was majoring in statistics.  My advice to her was to always use statistics honestly, to know what was truly meaningful and useful as information and to know what was not.

Around the same time, I read an article in Equus magazine about heritability of traits. (1)  It discussed the difference between dominant and recessive and homozygous and heterozygous genes.  It then tried to simplify things for the reader, and that’s where things unfortunately went astray.

It was because of Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome (FIS) in Fell Ponies that I learned about the trickiness of statistics.  By making the same mistake that the article did, I learned how statistics are applied to recessive traits in equines like FIS.   If a clear and a carrier pony are bred, then each foal they produce has a 50/50 chance of being clear.  Sometimes, as happened in the article, it is stated that the foals resulting from this cross will be 50% clear and 50% carrier.  That is not the case, though.  It is a subtle but important distinction (each foal versus all foals) and one that illustrates how easy it is to misinterpret statistics and hence why I gave the advice to my caller that I did.

The Equus article talked about the inheritance of the gray color, which is dominant.  It stated that “…when heterozygous gray horses are mated to noncarriers of the gray gene, only half of the offspring will be gray.” (2)  As an example of the error in this statement, one can consider the progeny of Lunesdale Mercury, the gray Fell Pony stallion pictured here.  As of this writing, Mercury has sixty offspring registered with the Fell Pony Society.  The statement in the article would lead you to believe that thirty of the offspring would be gray, but in fact only 26 have been, or 43%.  That’s because each foal - not all the foals collectively - has a 50/50 chance of being gray when one parent is heterozygous for gray and the other is non-gray.

I knew a Fell Pony breeder once who played with the gray statistics in our breed.  They wanted a gray foal, so they purchased a gray mare in foal to a gray stallion.  In Fell Ponies, grays are typically heterozygous, having only one gray parent.  Therefore the chances of any foal being gray are typically 75% when two grays are bred to each other.  As you will have no doubt guessed, the breeder ended up with a non-grey (black) foal!

My collegiate caller indicated she intended to go into criminal justice, a field where statistics are heavily reported and used in decision-making.  She seemed very aware of how easily statistics can be misinterpreted.  Hopefully then she’ll avoid the mistake that was made in the Equus article that might incorrectly inform someone making a decision.

1)      Jeffries, Abigail.  “Applied Genetics,” Equus #479, August 2017, p. 37.
2)      Jeffries, p. 41.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Thankful 2017

This year I am once again thankful
For the ponies in my care.
And also for their broader world
And how they connect me there.

Part I

0505 Bybeck herd.jpg

Of late I’ve been preoccupied
By the landscape Fell Ponies call home.
And the many and several dynamics
Shaping the place they traditionally roam.

I am thankful for the hill breeders
That I’ve met and gotten to know.
It’s a delight to see how conversations
About ponies start and then how they go.

These people keep their ponies
Where and how they’ve historically been
Despite pressures and complications
That would have made their ancestors’ heads spin!

Yet these people still keep their ponies.
Their passions run deep and strong.
They nurture land and relationships
To keep their ponies where they belong.

Similarly, a colleague has a passion of her own
That will uproot her life through and through.
But The Fell Pony Heritage Centre will undoubtedly bring
To the breed a focus that’s important and new.

Her Majesty has also given of herself
For these ponies we all admire.
A sizeable gift to our registry
Will certainly kindle some project’s fire.

Part II

Here at home I am also thankful
For how my own ponies enrich my days.
One-on-one or collectively,
Working, playing, or out to graze.

I am thankful for opportunities
To put my ponies to useful work.
This year it was packing gravel;
Any job gives them extra perk.

I am thankful for the lessons
That came from losing a four day old foal.
I am grateful for the few days we had
With his wise and wonderful soul.

170815 Tracey Lady Laura.jpg

I am thankful for two first-time mothers
Who took the delivery-thing in stride.
It wasn’t all easy sailing,
But together we got to the other side.

I am thankful for two hearty filly foals
Who resulted from breeding off-farm.
It was something I hadn’t done before.
The reward has been their charm.

I am thankful for the English pony
Who traveled here when not very old.
His grandmother is a special favorite of mine.
I hope he’s cast from that same great mold.

I am thankful for the rest of my ponies
Who make up the balance of the herd.
They speak and greet and joke and ask
Without ever uttering a word.

Part III

I am once again incredibly thankful
For how my ponies make the world seem small.
I need not leave them or the farm;
I know here’s the best place of all.

Yet I also know they’ve connected me
With stewards far from here
Whose dedication motivates, provokes and inspires
And expands my Fell Pony career.

Many have generations -
Both of ponies and of their own kin -
To which they’ve devoted themselves
To persevere through thick and thin.

I am thankful for these ponies
That inspire their people to do such great things.
It will be exciting, as time goes on
To see just what their future brings.

Thanksgiving poems from past years can be found in my many books on Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here or on the book covers.

Bells

I've always associated bells with sleighs, and I even have a string of sleigh bells.  I took them out to my ponies one day after reading an article about bells that expanded my perspective on them.  Highlights from my article about bells include:

Willowtrail Spring Maiden
  • Fell Ponies are generally considered to have served as pack ponies in the 18th century and earlier.  
  • The lead pony on a pack string traditionally wore bells to warn oncoming traffic of the approach of the string.
  • An article in Driving Digest magazine stated that bells were sometimes used on traveling stallions.  I’ve never heard of this use of bells in stories about Fell Pony history, though it’s certainly easy to imagine how they might have been used in this way.

To request the full article as well as a link to a video of my ponies with my string of sleigh bells, click here.

Mind Grandma!

This story originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

Highlights:

  • When choosing a breeding stallion, it pays to look at not only the stallion, but also the stallion's dam.
  • It turns out that Grandma has a significant influence on the quality of the stallion's offspring.
  • Three photo pairs in the essay, one of which is shown here, illustrate the influence.

To request the complete article, click here.

Shelley Prince.jpg

Articles like this one make up the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Mama’s Protective Move

171020 Rose Lady.JPG

Part of morning feeding in my largest pony paddock is tying the mares to the fence to give them their feed buckets.  When I have foals in the paddock, this routine is a little more challenging because I have to make sure the foals don’t become entangled in their dam’s lead rope.  I once had a foal and mare who were a near-lethal combination in this regard.  The foal would put its head over the lead rope, the mare would lift her head and then lower it, circling the foal’s neck with the rope, then the mare would back away, pulling the rope tight around the foal’s neck, at which point both of them started panicking, pulling the rope even tighter.  I obviously quickly learned not to leave those two unattended, and I was fortunate that the foal didn’t suffer any physical injury or emotional trauma around ropes.

My current foals don’t seem inclined to mess with their dams’ feed buckets, but as a safeguard I’ve been putting hay out close by to entice the foals away from the mares.  I did watch one of the foals move towards her dam, though, so I quickly began moving in that direction to intervene before catastrophe struck.  Imagine my relief then, when the mare dealt with the situation on her own.  She made a protective move that kept her foal from getting between her and the fence and becoming entangled in her lead rope.  I have no idea if the protective move was just luck or intentional, but mama got a treat in appreciation!

I surely won’t assume that that mare will always watch over her youngster’s well-being as she did that time, so I’ll continue to watch carefully when the mares are tied and their foals are loose.  Before long, when weaning time arrives, the routine will change and the foals will start to stand tied, too.  Then I become watchful in a different way!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

If you like stories like this one, you'll also like the stories in the book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

The Mares are All Home

Five mares and two filly foals had been at summer pasture for more than two months, and it was time for them to come home.  With just a three-stall trailer, it meant three trips back and forth, taking all of one morning plus part of the afternoon when I made one last trip to fetch the temporary fencing.  As I made one trip and then another, I pondered the good news and the bad news of this transition.

The bad news is that the ponies no longer roam over tens of acres at will in search of food; the good news is that they roamed for a good part of the summer over tens of acres being ponies.  

The bad news is that there are now more mouths to feed four times a day.  The good news is I’m no longer on the highway at dusk when distracted hunters are making the roads dangerous.  

The bad news is that the ponies are now here where they want attention every time they see me.  The good news is that they want attention every time they see me, even the little girls!  

The bad news was that the little girls hadn’t loaded into a trailer in more than two months, and the good news is that they loaded like they’d just done it the day before!  

The good news is that my stud colt Asi seemed excited to see the girls when they returned.  The bad news is that he wasn’t the only young male interested; there was a bull moose hanging about, too!

The good news is that now the girls are here where I can see them more often than I did all summer.  They seem to like that, too.  Life with ponies is very much a good news story!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017
 

Lots of stories like this one can be found in the book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Preserving Night Vision

As the fall equinox approaches, darkness is nearing my last feeding of the day, so I’m contemplating lighting assistance.  I’ve always had solar lights at the pony paddocks, and I’ve relied on my good night vision to navigate between paddocks.  That’s especially easy on moonlit nights or when there’s snow on the ground (plus our sole security light that cuts the darkness in many places).  On those rare occasions when my husband goes out to feed with me, he wears a headlight or uses a flashlight, and my eyes have a hard time adjusting to that light and then the darkness and then back again.

Many of the solar lights at the pony paddocks need to be replaced, as is normal every few years.  I have been using path lights that I mount over the gates to my hay yards because they are economical and shine broadly but not necessarily brightly.  My husband has been advocating for lights mounted elsewhere because often when we move the gates when stacking hay, the lights fall off the gates and break.  Most of the other solar lights I’ve looked at that could be mounted on the pony sheds are more expensive and are motion-sensitive.  I’ve been hesitant to go that route.  I’ve also considered just using a headlamp, but my experience when with my husband has made me hesitant to use that solution either.  To this point, then, I haven’t replaced my lights because a) I haven’t needed to with the long days, and b) I haven’t landed on a solution that felt right.

I’ve just learned something about equine eyesight that is helping me finally make the decision I need to make about lighting at last feeding (and some morning feedings in the dead of winter). (1)  Our human eyes adapt from light to dark in a matter of minutes.  We all know it isn’t instantaneous; we’ve walked from sunshine into a dark barn and can’t see, or out of the house into bright sunshine and have to shield our eyes from the glare.  Nonetheless, our eyes do adapt relatively quickly.  It turns out that equine eyes take nearly a half hour to adapt to changes in lighting.  They obviously can get along quite well as the sun makes its daily round because the transition from sunlight to twilight to dusk to dark for instance takes enough time that their eyes can adjust.  I do wonder, though, how the copious forelocks of some Fells might make eye adjustment to changing light even more interesting.  For instance, does lifting my stallion’s forelock to expose his eye mean he can’t see well because of the sudden change in light?  Interesting food for thought!

Applying this new information to my lighting problem, I’ve decided that motion-sensitive lights aren’t a good solution because the ponies’ eyes would take significant time to adjust to the sudden light, possibly many times during the night as the motion detector was triggered by moving ponies or wildlife.  Similarly, a headlamp or flashlight will disrupt their eyesight for a significant period after I would appear.  The lights I have been using are on all night (batteries willing), so the constant light is likely easier for the ponies to deal with since there isn’t an abrupt transition.  So I’ll go back to the solution that’s been working for several years and try to remember to take the lights down whenever my husband needs to move the gate they’re attached to.  Glad that decision is made!

1)      Eyesight chapter in Williams, Wendy.  The Horse:  The Epic History of Our Noble Companion. New York:  Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Guards Apollo

The World Large and Small

170828 ponies at pasture.jpg

The rain gauge contained a half inch of water, and it was clear from the washing on the ground in the pony paddocks and the rivulets in the driveway that most of the rain that had come when we were gone had come in a very short period of time.  Yet at the ponies’ summer pasture four miles away, no rain of any significance had fallen.  It’s amazing how something as big as a rainstorm can nonetheless affect a relatively small area.  It’s a reminder that despite something large like a rain cloud, our world is a much, much bigger place where some ponies went into the evening with damp coats while their relations were dry not very far away.

And while the world can seem like a huge place, on the other hand it can feel like a smaller place when things impact people and ponies we know.  At the moment, the world is feeling smaller due to the hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  My pony family is now large enough and scattered enough that these storms have touched my pony family members and therefore me.  Two people who bought ponies from me are dealing with Irma in Florida.  And two ponies I bred are recovering from the effects of Harvey in Texas.

I am thankful that breeding Fell Ponies has made these storms feel more personal and the world feel smaller.  As I check in with my own ponies here at the end of the day, I will think of the other members of our farm family who are displaced from home and farm and routine, wishing for them some peace as they ride out the tumult they’ve been dealt.  It is not an easy time for anyone.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

High and Low Blood Pressure

I headed as usual to summer pasture to check on the two mares with their foals there.  As I approached, I looked into the pasture to see if everyone was where they were supposed to be.  Both mares were visible but just one foal.  As I walked in their direction, the mares started toward me, again with only one foal following.  My blood pressure began to rise.  Where was the other foal?

I greeted the mares and the older foal, then walked past them into the pasture, calling the younger foal’s name.  The grass was tall, so it was possible the foal was lying down somewhere.  I kept walking and calling, my anxiety increasing with each step.  Then I saw the foal, lying in the grass, unmoving.  Because I’d had a foal die earlier in the year, suddenly, without notice, my thoughts turned to the worst.  Then the foal’s tail flicked.  As I got closer, she lifted her head, and by the time I was by her side, she was on her feet, stretching her hind legs out behind her and arching her neck as she awakened.  It took a few minutes for the anxiety to leave my system.

Both of my foals this year have pulled this routine on me more than once, yet my blood pressure still rises with alarm.  I’ve wondered if they inherited unusually low blood pressure from their sire.  Since I’ve never met him, the temperamental characteristics that he may have passed to these girls are unknown to me.  His daughters are perfectly content to lay asleep, completely oblivious to the world around them, letting their dams walk off a hundred yards or more without being concerned for their safety.  Then I remembered that one of their mothers did something similar once.  It was the same routine on my part, six years before:  walking faster, calling out, scanning the pasture, seeing a still form laying in deep grass.  Then the foal gets up perfectly normal, while we refrain from chastising it for raising our blood pressure so high.

What helps my blood pressure come down, of course, is the same thing that caused it to go up.  After the foal has finished stretching, and sometimes I have to wait until after it’s nursed, they come to me to say hello and get scratches in their favorite places.  The sweet innocence is so captivating, how could I not relax and smile and enjoy!  In the end, life with these ponies, despite occasional cause for high blood pressure, is a blessing indeed.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

The story of high and low blood pressure six years before is in the book My Name is Madie, available by clicking here or on the book cover.  More stories like this one can also be found in the book What an Honor, available by clicking here or on the book cover

Later Life with Fell Ponies

Raisburn Lettie II and Judith Bean.  Courtesy Judith Bean

Raisburn Lettie II and Judith Bean.  Courtesy Judith Bean

One of my best Fell Pony friends has turned ninety years old.  Whenever we talk, there seems to be an opportunity for them to say how young I am.  I certainly don’t feel young, but it’s always nice to hear nonetheless.  And of course it’s relative since I’m just over half their age.  Another blessing of that friendship and several others I have with septuagenarians and octogenarians is that I get to watch how they manage their later life while staying involved with Fell Ponies.

After thinking about my own later life with Fell Ponies, I’ve come up with what I think is my best option.  Since I don’t have children, I don’t have anyone to hand my herd off to, so keeping them isn’t an option.  Therefore, I know there will come a time when I’m unable to do the heavier work – trimming hooves, hefting hay, dragging hoses – so I will have to sell my ponies to new and like-minded stewards.  (Since my husband is eight years older, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to help me with the ponies in my later life.) 

For me, though, life without ponies isn’t an option I want to consider.  So I’ve decided that my best option is to relocate near the new steward so that I can still spend time with ‘my’ ponies.  I don’t put much stock in fancy surroundings for myself, so a little cottage or apartment adjacent to the farm where my ponies will live is my ideal later life.

Hopefully my transition to that later life is a few decades off yet, but I was nonetheless thrilled when I received a phone call indicating my ideal may be much easier to achieve than I’d imagined.  A mother-daughter pair of Fell Pony enthusiasts called to pick my brain about an idea they want to pursue.  They have a vision for combining Fell Ponies with senior care.  The specifics that they shared lined up so well with what I’d been envisioning for myself that I was almost giddy when I put down the phone!

The voices of my senior citizen pony friends are always brighter and lighter when they have spent time with Fell Ponies.  Hearing that brightness and contrasting it with how they sound when they haven’t had any pony time has greatly informed my thinking about my own future.  I’m thankful I’m not the only one working on ways for people to have pony time in later life.

© Jenifer Morrissey 2017

More stories like this one can be found in my book What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Regarding the Power of Pen and Position

One of the greatest assets the Fell Pony breed has is its ardent enthusiasts.  A friend asked how anyone tells the ponies apart in a herd:  they all seem to look alike, often black, hairy, and no markings.  I replied that I know more than one breeder who can stand in a pasture with twenty mares around them and identify each one individually and correctly.  They know their ponies that well. The relationships these ponies give us inspire us not only to know them individually but also to defend their history, their heritage, and their type. 

It is good that the breed has its ardent enthusiasts and passionate breeders because there are times when action is required.  Of late there have seemed to be more numerous opportunities than usual.  In one case I found a very outdated description of the breed on a conservation website.  After informing a friend of the problem, the organization was contacted and was ‘mortified’ about the inaccurate portrayal of our breed.  In another case, a writer in a national magazine incorrectly identified an equine in a photograph as a Fell.  I informed a colleague well qualified to address the problem so that appropriate action could be taken.

In a breed newsletter, I was interested to read public apologies from the chair and vice-chair of the Fell Pony Society to a specific member.  I admire the member who had the fortitude to call out those in power and ask for appropriate behavior.  It is sometimes difficult but always important to confront those with the power of pen or position in defense of our ponies.  Just because they are in positions of power or are able to wield a pen doesn’t mean they necessarily have any better perspective on what’s best for our breed than we do. 

One area of focus for me has been intelligently interpreting the breed standard.  I’m even more motivated now after reading an article interpreting the breed standard that was published in a breed newsletter.  The article was a major feature and intended to inform people new to the breed.  Unfortunately the article contained a number of statements not supported by the breed standard it was attempting to explain.  Sadly, because of the social status of the author, it is likely that their published interpretation of the breed standard could be accepted without question.  I’ve written three articles so far to provide better information; it’s the least I can do.

Another situation has me vexed.  An article in a national magazine portrayed a Fell Pony stallion unfavorably, though factually the account was accurate.  In time I’m sure the right opportunity will come along to share with a national audience the true character of our breed’s male members.

I received the following comment from someone new to the breed.  “The admiration and love I see people have for Fells Ponies is so outstanding.”  These ponies inspire and motivate us to be vigilant.  We stand up to the power of pen and position when necessary to ensure that stories and conduct in the name of the Fell Pony are indeed worthy of the breed.  These ponies deserve nothing less.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

You can find more stories about the Fell Pony breed in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover image.

The Forgotten Hind End

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

Highlights:

  • One of the criticisms my husband has of many modern day Fell Ponies is that they lack power in the hind end.  A mountain pony, to his way of thinking, should have a sufficiently muscular hind end to enable them to carry themselves (and a rider or load) strongly up steep inclines and hold back those same loads on the way back down.  Many modern day Fell Ponies, in his estimation, have hind ends inadequate to that task.
  • There is an important question to answer of course.  Is the strong, round, well-muscled hindquarter that I like consistent with the breed standard?
  • After considering the breed standard from various perspectives, I conclude that the hind end I liked on my first Fell mare falls within the breed standard and may even have been a good representation of it.
  • It turns out that light hind quarters and straighter-than-desirable hind legs like I’m seeing in my search for males isn’t just a Fell Pony problem.
  • I received a phone call from a Fell Pony owner, and after asking me several other questions, they asked if sticky stifles were common in the breed.
  • Stifle issues may be as much or more a management issue than a conformation one; a good colt in one person’s hands/management situation may develop stifle issues and in another person’s hands/management situation be just fine.
  • It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that if work on hills is a first-line of defense against sticky stifles, then Fell Ponies who are raised on their native fells are getting the movement-on-hills work in the course of their daily life that they need to have to avoid the problem. 
  • Because of the presence – and perhaps prevalence - of straight hind legs and less-muscled hindquarters, we modern day Fell Pony enthusiasts have an opportunity to make a contribution to the breed.  We can and must make strengthening the hind quarters of our ponies a priority – through managing them for movement and selecting better breeding stock - especially since more and more ponies are living away from the fells where their bodies evolved.

To read the full article, click here.

To subscribe to Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm, click here.

Greenholme Ponies in Landscape Magazine

I’ve just had a chance to read the gloriously illustrated article about the Greenholme Fell Ponies in Landscape magazine.  Landscape “brings you the very best of Britain.”  The Greenholme herd was featured because it’s one of the last semi-feral herds of Fell Ponies.

While there were twenty-three breeders considered hill farmers by The Fell Pony Society in 2015, the article in Landscape points out that the Greenholme herd is one of only a few remaining that have more than 20 mares.  The article says there are just three; I count as many as six, so more research is in order!  The Greenholme ponies have been running on Birkbeck Common since at least 1972.  Bill Potter bought his first Fell Pony in 1952.

I interviewed Bill several years ago, yet I still learned more about his life with Fell Ponies from this story.  While I knew he had worked them when he was young, I didn’t know that he had taken milk to the milk stand on one on his way to school.  I also didn’t know that one of Bill’s ponies is now Prince Philip’s off-side leader in his four-in-hand.

The article briefly described the recent interest in using Fell Ponies for conservation grazing.  I appreciate the authors pointing out that because of the nature of conservation grazing, hefted ponies can’t be used.  Hefted ponies are those that are bonded with their terrain, and conservation grazing schemes often require short duration grazing.  Ponies that are bonded with their terrain shouldn’t be uprooted to do the grazing work, and ponies that are only allowed to graze a landscape for part of the year won’t become hefted to it.

One of Bill’s comments gave me pause: that Fell Ponies born and bred away from the fells aren’t true Fell Ponies.  For breeders like myself who don’t have the opportunity to run these ponies on the Cumbrian hills, it’s a hard truth to hear.  All we can do is try our best to keep our ponies true to the breed and lend our support to breeders like the Potters who are doing the hard, unprofitable but important work of keeping these ponies in their native environment.  Here’s hoping the article in Landscape brings more awareness to the important work that hill farmers do with and for Fell Ponies.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

You can read more stories like this one about Fell Ponies in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover image.

Fells on the fells and Wild Horses on the Range

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.  The image here was kindly lent by Alison Wales Bell of the Lownthwaite Fell Pony Stud.

Summary:

  • Fell Ponies get their name from the hills in the north of England. 
  • Many of their defining characteristics have formed from their presence there.   
  • In the last five years, there have been seemingly conflicting reports about Fells on the fells and their future on the hills that give them their name. 
  • In two cases environmental stewards have made decisions that adversely affected Fell Pony herds. 
  • In two other cases environmental stewards have embraced Fell Ponies to help them with their conservation work. 
  • I have found the situation complex to watch at a distance.

This thorough treatment of the status of Fell Ponies on their native fells is a must-read for all passionate stewards of our breed.

To request and read the full article, click here.

To subscribe to Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm, click here.

 

The Importance of the Shoulder

150826 Ennerdale Show3.jpg

This article first appeared in the February 2015 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

Highlights:

  • No matter the role a pony plays in our lives, its ability to move is involved.
  • Ponies are special because they move in ways that make them suitable for many different disciplines.
  • Ponies provide us with a special opportunity to appreciate the shoulder, as their versatility requires that the shoulder be just right in conformation for the work they have traditionally done. 
  • In the Fell Pony in particular, shoulders count for 15 points in judging guidelines out of a total of 125.  Movement, which is related, counts for 25 more points.  One could argue, then, that the shoulder influences nearly one third of Fell Pony quality.

To request the entire article, click here.

To subscribe to Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm, click here.

Stallion Genetic Concentration in North America

This article first appeared in the January 2015 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

Highlights:

  • Because the most prolific North American Fell Pony breeder had used just three stallions for many years, it seemed possible our North American population could have a high genetic concentration from them.
  • To determine stallion genetic concentration, I looked at the pedigrees of all the registered ponies in North America through 2013 to see how many had the three stallions from the ‘big’ breeder in them.
  • I learned that the older the pony, the more likely it will be prominent in the pedigrees of other North American ponies. 
  • The oldest of the stallions from the big breeder shows up in 23% of pedigrees of ponies on this continent.
  • None of these stallion statistics are necessarily cause for alarm.  It will, however, be important to monitor how the genetic concentration changes over time.

To read the entire article, click here.

To subscribe to Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm, click here.