Hefting the Ponies at Scotty Springs Ranch

Drybarrows Calista surveys our progress so far while others graze. The ranch road to my house is behind the pine tree at upper right.

Drybarrows Calista surveys our progress so far while others graze. The ranch road to my house is behind the pine tree at upper right.

On their first morning at our new home at Scotty Springs Ranch in South Dakota, my Willowtrail Fell Ponies had yet another adventure before them.  The mares and foals, after our long trip and late arrival, spent their first night here in a paddock.  After checking and feeding them at dawn and then giving them their late morning feeding, though, it was time to acquaint them with their pasture.  I had planned it to be a special experience because where they now live is unlike anything I’ve ever been able to provide them.  It is so much like a Cumbrian fell that a few English friends who have seen pictures have indeed called it a fell.  And now after seeing the ponies on the ground here, it does feel much like my own experiences on the Cumbrian hills.

Fell Ponies on the fells in Cumbria are often referred to as extensively grazed.  They range over large tracts of land, able to wander to find the food that they want and return to water and minerals as needed.  Movement is a regular feature of their days, and hills are climbed as needed for forage and to cope with weather conditions.  I am so very fortunate to now have an extensive grazing situation for my ponies.  I have the ponies’ minerals in sheds near my home, and water is available in an automatic waterer several hundred yards away at the ranch paddocks.  Pockets in the hills above create diverse forage opportunities as well as providing shelter from the wind, while higher elevations are available to catch those same winds during warm weather and insect season.

My house is near the one seen in the distance above Calista’s rump. Willowtrail Henry looks ahead.

My house is near the one seen in the distance above Calista’s rump. Willowtrail Henry looks ahead.

To be hefted is to have a knowledge of and relationship with a piece of ground on which the animals are expected to live and thrive.  When I was doing research on hefting a herd of ponies to a new place a year ago, I learned that equines can become hefted to a piece of ground by learning from other equines there.  However, here, the Scotty Springs Ranch herd was moved off the pasture in order to give the ponies their own place, so the ponies would need to learn the boundaries and key locations another way – from me! 

My plan involved haltering the two lead mares and leading them around the perimeter of the pasture, along the way showing them where the minerals and water sources were.  I chose to lead two mares and not one because I feared that the second mare might not follow, and then others might choose to stay with her.  It ended up being a good choice to have a mare on each side as we were climbing and descending steep slopes; I often hung onto their necks to keep upright and to keep up!

It took us well over an hour to circumnavigate their pasture.  I don’t know its size, but I do know we didn’t get to the most distant corners.  The Murdocks told me that their horses rarely went that high, and when I climbed to the top earlier in the summer, it was true that I didn’t see horse manure past a certain elevation.

The fall colors are just now peaking here, especially the grasses.

The fall colors are just now peaking here, especially the grasses.

What a magnificent experience it was to see Fell Ponies climbing fell-like hills!  Four mares and three foals made the trip around the pasture with me, and I felt so blessed to see these ponies both free and yet with me.  I chose to walk with them rather than ride because there were so many unknowns:  new terrain, foals at foot, extreme steepness, etc.  While my legs at the end wished I’d ridden, I didn’t regret sharing the experience of walking the terrain the same way my ponies did.

My only fell-born pony, Drybarrows Calista, is usually a follower in the herd, but here she led us up and onward, often at a canter across ground that didn’t seem suitable for that gait.  She appeared truly in her element, and I had to think she was remembering running above Haweswater a year earlier.  None of the ponies seemed winded or hesitant about our trek.  I was especially appreciative of the senior mare Bowthorne Matty who was fell bred (Wansfell) but not born; she was quiet and accepting of being constrained by the halter and lead rope and also patient with me grabbing on when I needed help staying upright or matching her pace.

One of the sheds my late husband built for the ponies that the Murdocks so graciously transported here from Colorado.  The ponies’ minerals are out of the weather inside.  The boundary of the pasture is the ridgeline.

One of the sheds my late husband built for the ponies that the Murdocks so graciously transported here from Colorado. The ponies’ minerals are out of the weather inside. The boundary of the pasture is the ridgeline.

The only regret I had was that there wasn’t someone else with us to photograph me with my ponies on our adventure.  I tried as best I could to capture the ponies running with joyful abandon, stopping to enjoy grazing when we would take a break, and looking out at the vistas which were many and varied.  And when we were back down to the ranch paddocks and everyone was getting a drink, I assured Willowtrail Wild Rose that next time she’d be carrying me on Scotty Springs Fell!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

Welcome, Ponies, to Scotty Spring's Ranch!

Willowtrail Spring Maiden by Bruce Murdock

Willowtrail Spring Maiden by Bruce Murdock

Nearly six months of planning paid off on the day we transported nine Willowtrail Fell Ponies from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to our new home at Scotty Springs Ranch in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  One trailer with three box stalls housed the three mares with their foals, and another trailer brought the stallion and two more mares.  The trip took seven hours, with the first few in intense wind, first at the head, then at the tail.  My friend and Scotty Springs Ranch co-owner Linda Murdock drove the big load, and I drove the smaller one.  We got off later than I’d hoped and pulled in after dark at 9:30pm. 

I couldn’t have been more pleased with how the ponies handled the trip.  The mares and foals all loaded into the unfamiliar trailer with little hesitation, despite it smelling strongly of cattle, which are its normal occupants.  Then in the other trailer, I devised a divider to allow two mares to lower their heads to eat without the dominant one picking on the lower ranking one.  At the other end of the trip, everyone unloaded without issue, taking deep breathes of their new surroundings while I walked them around their overnight housing and introduced them to automatic waterers which they’d never seen before and which the Murdocks graciously installed for the ponies’ use.  The Murdocks also removed as many of the unfamiliar weeds from the paddocks as possible so that burrs and dry bits wouldn’t get stuck in the ponies’ hair.  Nonetheless, a few ponies had adornments the next morning!

Bruce Murdock traveled ahead of us with hay bales from Colorado so the ponies would have familiar feed for the first few days.  I of course also supplemented their feed buckets the morning of the trip (and several of the previous days) with various edibles to improve the ponies’ ability to cope with the stress of the journey, trusting that the foals would get some benefit via their mothers’ milk.

Madie and Asi with a barn in the midground that we will be renovating for the ponies and the fell-like pony pasture in the background

Madie and Asi with a barn in the midground that we will be renovating for the ponies and the fell-like pony pasture in the background

It was with great relief that I watched everyone tuck into their hay piles immediately after entering their overnight paddocks.  I also was relieved when at least one mare in each paddock drank from the waterers, since I knew the others would follow suit at some point during the night. I was able to sleep peacefully after a tough drive.

With the long trip from old home to new complete, now we will get to explore this beautiful place and get to know it in depth.  It will be an exciting journey of a more grounded sort!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More stories about life with my Fell Ponies can be found in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Unexpected Returns

One of the big projects I have undertaken since my husband’s death is an auction of our business’s assets.  With the auction over, the items are now being dispersed to their new owners.  Due to my need to move and lighten my load, some of the items in the auction were pony-related, and I feared that when they went, it would be difficult for me to watch.  While there will be financial returns from the auction to offset the loss of these items, there have been returns in other forms that were unexpected and equally valuable.

Willowtrail Mountain Honey and her foal in the paddock my late husband built for me just a year ago.  The paddock fencing has now been sold and removed.

Willowtrail Mountain Honey and her foal in the paddock my late husband built for me just a year ago. The paddock fencing has now been sold and removed.

The first pony-related item to leave was a fence in one of the stallion pens that my husband had completed for me just a year ago.  It was the pen that my beloved stallion Guards Apollo occupied for nearly all of his fourteen years here and is shown in the picture.  When the purchaser of the fencing was due to arrive, I was concerned I would burst into tears.  Instead, when I learned that the purchaser ran an equine-assisted therapy program, our conversation was so inspiring that the expected sadness was replaced with excitement that the fencing would be helping facilitate such important work.

Another pony-related item to leave was a very large box of electric fence supplies.  I didn’t have the same emotional attachment to these items, so it was relatively easy to help the purchasers load them into their trailer.  I asked what they planned to do with the fencing, they replied that they too had horses.  I of course asked what kind, and they replied Friesians and Friesian sport horses.  It was easy to get them talking about their more-than-thirty-years as breeders of sport horses, and since I know nothing about that market, I learned a lot.  As they were about to leave, they asked what sort of horses I had.  When I answered, the response was, repeatedly, “You breed Fell Ponies!”  After three or four of these choruses, they said of course they’d like to meet my ponies, and we had fun meeting the whole herd in two different locations.  They were sufficiently appreciative of my stock to ask for a business card, a reminder to me of something else I must revise before I move!

A local rancher came to pick up some items for a friend, and they saw my ponies in a nearby paddock.  They shared that they feed with Percherons, including a Percheron-Friesian cross.  I enjoyed hearing their perspective on the conformation, temperament, and action of their drafts and draft-crosses.  The unexpected return from that visit, though, was hearing about the movie they’d just watched.  It was about pit ponies, so I shared about my first pony who was similar in conformation to pit ponies and about my first Fell Pony mentor who trained pit ponies when he was young.  You won’t be surprised to learn that I immediately came inside and ordered the movie!

One lot and its purchaser gave me a chuckle.  The lot contained a bunch of heavy duty free-standing fence panels.  I bought them nearly two decades ago when I purchased my first Fell Ponies.  Then I moved the panels here with me seventeen years ago.  And now I will see them at my new home after I move.  My hosts at Scotty Springs Ranch have purchased them!

Another purchaser wasn’t at all horsey, but I enjoyed their question about the ponies, who were watching us load timbers that my husband had milled.  They said, “Aren’t they too tall for ponies?”  I explained how tall ponies can be and how I appreciated their height when lifting harness and packs.  That was all they said, and we went on about our work. 

While it is still possible that I will be brought to tears by an auction item leaving, I now know that the visits by purchasers are bringing me unexpected returns, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

Breeds Have Unique Brain Traits

Willowtrail Fell Pony mares and foals

Research from Harvard University has shed some fascinating light on the impact we humans have in animal breeding.  Specifically, we have influenced the organization of the brains of dogs by the selection we do to create and maintain breeds.  Dr. Erin Hecht, an assistant professor of neuroscience in the department of Human Evolutionary Biology, found that “the breed differences weren’t randomly distributed, but were, in fact, focused in certain parts of the brain.” (1)   Companion-animal type breeds had different brain organizations than did herding breeds, for instance.  As one example of the way brains in breeds are organized, skill in scent hunting (think Bassett Hounds) is not “about having a brain that can detect if the scent is there. It’s about having the neural machinery to decide what to do with that information,” Hecht says.  In addition, “brain regions involved in movement and navigation were bigger in dogs bred for coursing, such as Greyhounds, than in dogs bred for companionship, such as the Maltese.” (2)

What might this research suggest about Fell Ponies?  Many Fell Ponies are hefted, having a knowledge of and relationship with a piece of ground on which they are expected to live and thrive.  Is it possible that hefted Fell Ponies have a particular brain organization that Fell Ponies living somewhere besides the fells might not have?  The researchers found that the brain organization changes occurred relatively recently in dog evolution, suggesting it didn’t take many generations for selection to have impact.  Is it possible that if fell-bred ponies continue to become rarer within the breed, we could lose relatively quickly the ability of Fell Ponies to be hefted to the fells?

In the Harvard research, working breeds had different brain organization than companion-type breeds.  Over its history, our breed has been bred to be multi-talented, to be used not only as a mount but also driven, packed, and in harness for work.  Today, the work that our ponies do, however, has changed.  What might we lose in our ponies’ brains as we select for this new type of work?  What might we gain?

Our breed standard calls for broad foreheads which are often thought to allow our ponies to have great intelligence.  That intelligence is needed for them to survive on the fells but also makes them adept at any job we put them to, hence the Fell Pony Society’s motto, “You can’t put a Fell to the wrong job.”  Researcher Hecht diplomatically points out that “This research suggests there’s not one type of canine intelligence… There are multiple types.”  No doubt the same will be found to be true in equines if and when our breeds are studied similarly. 

I had a visitor who runs an equine-assisted therapy program.  They said they prefer to use the more primitive types of equines because of their brains.  More commonly bred equines don’t interact with the clients in the same way.  In their case, they use Haflingers.  When I told a fellow Fell Pony enthusiast about this research, their reaction was that it was telling us what we already know: the brains of our ponies are different!  The therapy program person has certainly found that to be the case.

In the Fell Pony breed, as in the dog breeds in the study, we humans who are selecting breeding stock are influencing how our ponies’ brains are organized.  Even if the work they do is changing and the place they are being raised is changing, our ponies will likely remain intelligent.  How might that intelligence manifest, though?  And will it mean our breed is changed?  Breeders making selection decisions have these questions to keep in mind.

  1. Radsken, Jill.  “Hunters, herders, companions: Breeding dogs has reordered their brains,” The Harvard Gazette, 9/3/19, at https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/09/harvard-researcher-finds-canine-brains-vary-based-on-breed/

  2. “A dog’s breed is a window onto its brain,” Neuroscience, nature.com, 9/2/19.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More about the Fell Pony breed, breed standard, and breeding can be found in my book Fell Pony Observations, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

One Thing After Another

I needed to escape my desk, and the convenient excuse was to take my stallion Asi and his girlfriend Madie to pasture and to spend time writing while they grazed.  It was a good thing I wasn’t as tired as I thought I was because I had one thing after another happen that kept it from being the relaxing time I had hoped for!

190821 ponies at pasture.jpg

The first unexpected happening was when I arrived.  The mares and foals were lining the fence and watching with great interest as I unloaded the two newcomers.  Asi was reasonably well-behaved despite the mostly female audience, but I still had to modify where I was going to put he and his girlfriend because I didn’t want a lot of cavorting at the fence.  I thought I had a good solution, but it depended on the mares and foals respecting the river as a barrier.  That didn’t work!  Calista climbed up the three foot nearly-vertical river bank to tease Asi.  After trying to drive Calista back across the river, I realized I was faced with too many hormones, so I caught Asi and moved him to another pasture then I returned to the river bank to drive Calista across the river again. 

190821 Asi Calista trouble makers.jpg

My presence on the river bank had the opposite effect than I wanted, as all the mares and foals headed my way.  It was incredibly flattering, but I really didn’t want pressure on that fence line.  Claire created the second ‘event’ by climbing the river bank onto a narrow ledge where the fence was.  Again it was incredibly flattering that Claire wanted my attention, but I didn’t like her being on that narrow ledge along the river.  I realized the only way Claire was going to go back down into the river and not try to come through the fence to be with me was if I disappeared.  So I went and hid in the shed and watched her.  Eventually the rest of the herd went across the river and disappeared. 

190821 Claire Honey riverbank.jpg

Claire, though, stayed at the fence and kept looking in my direction (she could tell I was close because she could see my dog Tika who was near me).  But eventually when she realized the herd was gone, she scrambled down the river bank and crossed the river and called and ran to join them.  Finally I could retreat to the trailer and sit and do some writing (and video production) while Asi and Madie grazed without company. 

190821 Claire.jpg

There was to be one more bit of excitement.  Just before dark, Tika, who’d been laying near me, took off at a full run straight north.  I saw in front of her a flash of orange which suggested it was a fox.  They quickly disappeared.  I hastily wrapped up what I was doing, and when Tika hadn’t returned, I started calling her.  It was a long five minutes (and getting dark) before she came to me panting hard from behind me, from across the highway, and soaking wet.   Obviously the chase had taken her through the river and across the paved road.  I’m so thankful traffic was light and she wasn’t hit because she pays no attention to traffic when she’s on the scent of something. 

After all that, I was glad Asi and Madie weren’t too full of themselves at departure time.  They led and loaded easily to come home.  The upside of all the commotion was some beautiful photographs at day’s end.  And of course an improved attitude for dealing with my desk due to spending time with all my friends.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

You can read many more stories like this one about my life with Fell Ponies in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Help When I Need It Most

When I arrived at summer pasture with the first mare/foal pair of the day, I immediately saw that fencing was going to be added to my day’s to-do list.  A few weeks ago, the ranch manager had put cattle in the pasture to the north of the ponies and had secured all but the piece of fence that crosses the river.  When the cows were put in, the river was extremely high and the cattle were far to the north, so the gap in the fence wasn’t an issue.  Now, though, the river is lower, and the cattle were just across the fence from the ponies, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before they’d find the gap and enter the pony pasture.

On my way home I made a mental list of the tools I would need when I returned to pasture with the second pony load.  I also realized I would need to call the ranch manager to ask for help because while the river was lower, it was still high enough that I couldn’t stretch the fence by myself.  I just hoped I’d be able to catch him on the phone on the first dry day for haymaking of the week.

As has been the case since my husband died earlier this year, help has been offered when I need it most.  Just as I turned on my blinker to turn into my driveway, a pickup and horse trailer came towards me down the county road.  I stopped, and I realized my logistical prayer had been answered.  It was the ranch manager.  He assured me he’d have someone there to help me immediately.  It was good that I had asked because I fell face first into the river while working with his ranch hand stretching fence.  No harm done, but good that someone was there just in case.

The larger pattern of my life has been that when my life is in transition, everything seems to be in transition:  job, home, life partner.  It’s happened this way twice before, and this time is no different.  Due to losing my husband, I lost my job, and I have to move my farm before winter.  But just as has been the case since things tragically changed earlier this year, help has been offered when I needed it most.  Bruce and Linda Murdock of Scotty Springs Ranch outside Hot Springs, South Dakota have invited Willowtrail Farm to relocate there.  I am so incredibly grateful.  I met Bruce and Linda through my dog.  They bred Scotty Springs Taptika, an Australian Shepherd, and we’ve gotten to know each other the past three years because of Tika.  The place they have offered is ideal for raising Fell Ponies, and I am humbled by the opportunity they have given me.

I so appreciate the many people who have asked how I’ve been doing and where I’m going and extending their well wishes.  Each and every one of those gestures has been just the help that I needed at the moment.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

190803 Honey Claire Rose Henry pasture.JPG

Pony Shuffle 2019

190804 Henry trailer.JPG

This summer we’ve been fortunate to have abundant grass here at home.  I’ve been able to put the mares out with their foals here for several hours a day while I’ve been consumed by tasks related to moving my farm this fall.

Summer pasture is a four mile trailer trip from home, and being adjacent to a hay meadow, the grass is lush.  Therefore each year I undertake what I call the pony shuffle to accustom my ponies’ metabolisms and digestive tracts to the change in roughage from hay to green.  I progress them from 2 hours a day to four then eight then sixteen and finally twenty four, about four days per interval.  I usually do the two hour interval here at home, but this year with abundant grass I’ve been able to do the four hour interval here, too, a huge time and travel saver.

When I have foals, there’s a great advantage to the pony shuffle.  They get very accustomed to loading into, unloading from, and traveling in a trailer.  I always make sure my mares are excellent loaders and travelers so the foals can learn good habits from their moms. 

This year, I have a pony other than a foal new to the pony shuffle.  To introduce Drybarrows Calista to the sequence of intervals, I began by putting her out here with an old hand with the process, Bowthorne Matty.  Matty and her foal Ross and Calista grazed around here, and I was pleased but not surprised when the first day and every day since, Calista has followed Matty’s lead, coming to me to be put back in the paddock at the appropriate time.  Sometimes Calista has even just followed Matty and Ross through the gate without a halter and lead rope!  When she first arrived at summer pasture, I felt rather than saw her eyes bug out at all the grass!

With three foals this year, and just a 3 horse trailer, there’s lots of hauling going on to get all three mare/foal pairs plus Calista transitioned to summer pasture.  I won’t miss the time consuming nature of the pony shuffle after I move, but I do enjoy being forced to spend time with my ponies!

190804 Calista Ross Matty.jpg

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

That Worked Out!

I’ve been stewarding my ponies long enough that I can usually make a pretty good guess about their behavior in a new situation.  Nonetheless, there’s always that little bit of doubt, usually because some other pony at some other time has done something I completely didn’t expect!  Today I had a challenging start to my day, so I wasn’t able to put the mares and foals out to graze like I usually do.  When I finally got freed up about 2:30 in the afternoon, I decided to do something new for them.  For a while I questioned my decision, but in the end it worked out!

Willowtrail mares and foals

The something new was to take them to a part of the property they hadn’t grazed before which is quite a ways away from where they’ve been grazing the past month.  To begin the adventure, I haltered the two most dominant mares but let six ponies total out the gate, one additional mare and the three foals.  We then began walking down the road.  All three foals cavorted around us, but the third mare was quickly left behind as she grazed along the verges.  When we went farther than usual and disappeared from sight, I heard her call to us and then come trotting down the road to rejoin us just as we were getting to the destination.  So far, so good!

I let my two haltered friends loose, and all six seemed happy with the new grazing opportunity.  I returned to the house and fed the last three ponies, scoring a really nice hug from my stallion in the process.  Then I went in to get a much needed and overdue lunch. 

I needed to run to town to do some errands, so I headed out after lunch.  I drove through the gate, then a nagging thought wouldn’t leave me.  The ponies hadn’t been where I’d left them when I passed by, and I hadn’t seen them anywhere else.  I got halfway to the highway and turned around, thinking I’d best know where they were before being gone for an extended period. 

I found them fairly quickly; they had moved around a corner of the clearcut into an area I’d never seen them graze before.  All was well, but since it was a new area for them, I didn’t know where they might move to next.  They could choose to move closer to the house or farther away, and I needed to know which they would choose as the day transitioned toward evening.  I once had a mare and stallion who went away from the house and went visiting neighbors, an experience I wasn’t interested in repeating.  I aborted my trip to town and instead ran a short errand and came back to check on them, then did the same again.  By that second check, they had moved slightly towards the house, with the lead mare headed toward an area she was familiar with, so I decided I could move on to other things and didn’t need to check on them again.  The discovery of some wild strawberries that were incredibly tasty confirmed that things were heading in the right direction!

Around 7:30pm, before the sun began to set, I went outside to begin my last chores of the day.  I was about 45 minutes early, but I wanted to give myself plenty of time in case the ponies had done something unexpected.  Almost immediately that concern was put to rest when I heard a foal call at a distance and then a mare answer similarly far away.  If I could hear them, I could easily find them before dark, so I continued with my chores.  I put hay in the first mare/foal paddock, and as I was filling a tub for the second paddock, I heard a strange noise.  Then I realized it was rapid and multiple hoofbeats.  Very soon thereafter my heart pony and her foal cantered straight to me and stopped.  I led them to their gate and put them in after thanking them for making my life easy.  Then a second mare and her foal presented themselves, and I led them to their paddock and put them in, also thanking them.  And then the third mare arrived with her foal and I did similarly, again with no tack, just cooperation.  I felt triumphant!  I’d tried something new, and it had worked out well for all of us!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

You can find more stories like this one in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

They Try to be Helpful!

190628 Rose Henry.JPG

I’ve been putting this mare and foal out each day at 4:30pm to graze until sundown.  I walk them down the driveway a ways to release them in a clearcut, and they are free to find grass anywhere they like; there’s plenty for them to choose from.  The standing forest bounds them on one side and a fence on the other; the rest of the herd is a magnet that keeps them from going too far away.  I have learned, after doing this with mares for many years, that they have patterns.  Usually I know where they will be one, two, and three hours into their grazing period.

The past two nights Rose and Henry have come up to graze outside the office window just before sundown.  Last night I thought I was too busy to go out when I saw them, so I finished what I was doing before going out to put them in.  It was perhaps a half hour from when I saw them out the window, and since I hadn’t taken advantage of the helpful opportunity they had given me, they had wandered a quarter mile away.  It made a long day a little longer.  The only benefit was that I got to ride Rose in, and I really enjoy that.  Earlier tonight I was thinking I should take a camera with me to capture our end-of-day ride.

But as daylight gave way to sundown, I tried to be more mindful of the length of my day.  This time I was on the phone when Rose and Henry appeared out the window.  I quickly told my caller that I had to go; I didn’t want to miss tonight’s helpful opportunity!  And I forgot the camera, so I didn’t capture the light of the setting sun behind my ponies that was so gorgeous.  But I did tell them how much I appreciated them trying to be helpful!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

What Color is THAT?

This is the foal that got the whole conversation going!

This is the foal that got the whole conversation going!

Another breeder suggested that I was wrong about the color of one of my foals (see picture).  And then a potential buyer of the foal suggested the foal was grey.  I know from color genetics that the foal isn’t grey.  Responding to the breeder, though, required me to respond differently.  I had to say that based on my decade’s experience with this line and my nearly two decades experience with breeding Fell Ponies, that the foal is indeed black.

This foal out of the same mare seemed to have the mealy effect of her mother, making her brown, but she ended up black.

This foal out of the same mare seemed to have the mealy effect of her mother, making her brown, but she ended up black.

I understand why the breeder questioned my judgment.  When my first foal out of this line was born, I thought she was brown.  In this breed, the brown color is characterized by the mealy effect on a dark background (see mare in first and second pictures), and I thought that was what I was seeing in the foal (see second picture).  But as the foal aged, the lighter areas that I thought were mealy darkened.  In the end, I had to ask a breeder who had experience with brown ponies what color my foal was, and she said it was definitely black.  And she was right.  That foal has matured into a beautiful black Fell Pony.

The foal who began these conversations now is out of a non-black mare.  To most people’s eyes, she is bay, though in the Fell Pony she could be called brown with black points because she has the mealy effect on a dark background with black mane, tail, and lower legs.  When this mare is bred to a black stallion, then, every foal has the chance to be black, brown, or bay.  So far she has only had one non-black foal, and fortunately for me, that foal’s color was obvious from birth (see picture)!

This foal’s color was obvious, thank goodness:  mealy effect on bay.

This foal’s color was obvious, thank goodness: mealy effect on bay.

Being a breeder of Fell Ponies can be confusing when colors other than black are bred.  The confusion comes in part from the fact that there are at least two colors of black Fell Ponies:  jet black and summer or fading black.  Because my first two Fells were jet black and only produced jet black foals, I knew that black color well, but when a summer black joined my herd, I was in for an education.  It was her first foal for me fifteen years ago that informed my opinion of the foal before me now.

This foal was out of two black parents, so he is black but looks similar to the first foal above.

This foal was out of two black parents, so he is black but looks similar to the first foal above.

In that case, both parents were black, so I knew the foal was black, because that’s how color genetics work.  Nonetheless, he was very light in color, as the picture here shows.  Back then I wasn’t surprised when he matured into a black pony, as the picture at 9 months old shows.  Today, though, I might not be so certain, except experience is a great teacher!

This is the same foal as just above but at nine months, clearly black.

This is the same foal as just above but at nine months, clearly black.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More stories about the joys of owning and breeding Fell Ponies 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.

What's In A Fell Pony Name?

It took me six days to land on a name for this handsome boy!

It took me six days to land on a name for this handsome boy!

It took me several days to figure out what to call my third foal of the year.  My first two foals were named fairly quickly, within in a day or so of their birth.  The third one, though, took me longer than usual.  In part it was because he was born just two days after the previous one, and I had my hands full taking care of all the new life.  And then there was the fact that the third foal chose not to nurse for nine hours after birth, so for those first critical hours my thoughts were centered more on keeping him alive than what to call him.

When I name my foals, I try to choose a name that is reasonably consistent with Fell Pony naming practices.  Because I regularly peruse the stud books of the Fell Pony Society, I have become aware of what those naming practices are by watching how other breeders, especially long time ones, name their ponies.

Fell Pony names typically have two parts:  the prefix and the name.  In most cases, prefixes are related to the breeder’s location in some way.  My prefix, for instance, is Willowtrail.  Willow trees/shrubs/bushes (and their close relatives such as cottonwoods) grow along water in this part of the world.  Water is an incredibly vital resource here, so I am always watching where it flows.  Often willows are clues to where there is water, even if you can't see the water on the surface. So willows mark the trail of water, hence Willowtrail!

Somewhere I once read that pony names need to be limited to three words following the prefix.  I can’t find that rule in any regulation now, but generally speaking, names are simple.  Often they are names that people also might have:  Tom, Alice, etc.  Or they are about landscape features:  Heather, Mountain, etc.  I ran across a series of foal names from one breeder that were Caraway, Cardamom, and Chervil, which I found delightful since I also love to cook!  Sometimes themes are combined, such as Heather Belle or Mountain Lad.  Or names are somehow descriptive of a pony’s character, whether actual or fictional, such as Ranger or Warrior or Jester.  Or names are repeated from ponies-past in the pedigree:  Prince II or Model IV, for instance.  Some breeders choose to name all their foals in a given year with a common first letter:  Lily, Liz, and Lancelot for instance.  And some breeders choose names that don’t follow any of these conventions!

I consider naming my foals an important part of my responsibility as a breeder.  Because I use their names every time I see them, the foals learn to recognize their names.  Therefore I try to choose names that subsequent owners will want to use so the ponies aren’t confused by name changes.  To try to give the names lasting power in the human realm, then, I try to choose names that have meaning for that particular pony.  As a result, there’s a story behind every name, a story which I enjoy sharing with new owners to introduce them to the wonderful world of Fell Ponies!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More stories about Fell Pony culture 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.

Fell Ponies and Tourism

courtesy Fell Pony Adventures

courtesy Fell Pony Adventures

The Fell Pony’s value to tourism in Cumbria has much room to grow. Its place as an iconic breed of the region can always be better promoted. Here is information on equine tourism and how it relates to Fell Ponies in Cumbria, including a list of ways Fell Ponies are already involved in tourism in the region.

  • An estimate of the economic value of a semi-wild Fell Pony to tourism in Cumbria has been calculated. To read more, click here.

  • There are numerous ways that equines can be involved in tourism activities, and the Fell Pony is already a part of several tourism activities in Cumbria.  To read more, click here.

  • The Fell Pony is well poised to address many current trends in tourism. To read more, click here.

  • Developing equine tourism doesn’t necessarily come naturally.  Equine tourism businesses are still businesses, and good business practices are therefore important and at the same time may not be well understood by equestrian entrepreneurs.  To read more, click here.

  • To read what ponies have to teach us about business, click here.

  • Sometimes the question is asked whether tourism is positive for a local economy. Research suggests that some equine tourism does play a positive role. Similarly, some equine tourism enterprises may be considered sustainable, attracting additional support. Click here to read more.

Equine tourism is more than just trail-riding, and the Fell Pony has demonstrated that it can inspire many types of tourism activities.  Britain’s national parks are apparently being told to increase their visitation by 10%. (1)  For the Lake District National Park, at least, there is ample opportunity for the Fell Pony to help with that tourism goal.

  1. Hibbs, Joss.  “Public Payment for Public Goods, Semi-wild Dartmoor Hill Pony herds,” Written submission to: HOUSE OF COMMONS AGRICULTURE BILL COMMITTEE, November 2018, p. 5.

Examples of Fell Pony Tourism

FPS Stallion Show 2005

FPS Stallion Show 2005

Equine tourism is more than just trail-riding.  “Equine tourism is travel inspired by the horse, for recreation, leisure and business, encompassing all activity that has the horse as its focus.” (1)  Here is a list of the many types of activities that are considered equine tourism:

  • Guided rides

  • Farm stays

  • Auto tours

  • Riding clinics and camps

  • Competitions, races, demonstrations

  • Conferences and meetings

  • Museums and exhibits

  • Carriage rides

  • Wellness/therapeutic

There are numerous tourism activities in Cumbria related to Fell Ponies.  If you know of a tourism activity related to Fell Ponies that is not shown here, please contact me (click here).

  • Our breed society’s shows and its promotion team’s demonstrations attract people from out-of-town so can fall under the tourism umbrella.  Click here for more information.

  • The Fell Pony Museum at Dalemain, when it attracts people from out-of-town, is one obvious example of Fell Pony tourism (click here to learn more about the museum). 

  • Another example is a brochure created in 2005 that facilitates auto tours to see Fell Ponies grazing on the fells (click here if you haven’t seen it and would like to). 

  • Bradley’s Riding Centre in Cleator, Cumbria offers guided rides on Fell Ponies (and other breeds), and it is also a bed-and-breakfast so could be considered a farm stay as well (click here). 

  • Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre offers rides on Fell Ponies and other equines on the beach near Silecroft.  Click here for more information.

  • The Fell Pony Experience Centre offers rides traversing the side of Lake Windermere.  Click here for more information.

  • Fell Pony Adventures is a new wild camping company using Fell Ponies.  Click here for more information.

  • Haweswater Cottage is a self-catering accommodation on a fell farm where Fell Ponies are raised.  Click here for more information. 

  • The Heritage on the Fells exhibit in Shap in 2018 is another example of a Fell Pony-inspired tourism activity.  A similar event is being planned by the Fell Pony Heritage Centre for 2019; click here for more information.

  • In 2019, a Fell Pony-themed guided tour of England is being offered to North American breed enthusiasts.  Click here for more information.

  • Fell Ponies are being used in riding for the disabled and equine-facilitated coaching and therapy programs; to the extent that these bring people in from out-of-town, they could be considered tourism-related, too. 

The Fell Pony has inspired these tourism activities already.  With all the creativity and dedication we have in the Fell Pony community, more tourism activities related to our breed are bound to be born soon!

  1. “Equine Agritourism,” Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Iowa State University, as accessed 3/31/19 at https://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/agritourism/equine-agritourism

Trends in Equine Tourism

The view from Haweswater Cottage

The view from Haweswater Cottage

Current trends in equine tourism suggest that the Fell Pony’s contribution to tourism is only in its infancy.  Here are some of the trends and how they relate to Fell Ponies:

  • Voluntourism:  (Yes, that’s an intentional misspelling.)  People are increasingly interested in traveling with a purpose, and especially traveling with the intent of volunteering for the greater good.  One example of how voluntourism related to Fell Ponies could be implemented is The Fell Pony Society is always in need of volunteers to assist with set up and take down of events.

  • New experiences:  Travelers are looking for once-in-a-lifetime or unique experiences.  This trend bodes well for businesses like Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre with their rides on the beach, for instance.

  • Ecological and education experiences:  From a 2018 tourism survey, “These are usually rare experiences that educate and share inside information on the area, and how to protect it for the future. Tours that use proceeds to fund ecological projects such as forest or animal habitat restoration are chosen above alternatives without a cause.”  If and when the Fell Pony Heritage Centre establishes a physical presence, it’s easy to imagine how it might address demand for this type of tourism, for instance.

  • Local experience:  People want to become better acquainted with the local culture.  Fell Ponies are ideal ambassadors for that in Cumbria with their heritage of living on the fells and helping do the work of the hill farms. And…

  • History and culture:  And continuing from the above, Fell Ponies are ideally suited here because they also helped do the work of the area’s industrial past in the mines, woods, and on pack horse tracks.

  • Adventure:  People are willing to travel for experiences that raise their adrenaline.  It’s no wonder that Fell Pony Adventures adopted the name that they did for their wild-camping experiences in the Lake District!  (1)

The Wellness/Therapeutic segment of equine tourism is just emerging.  “[Research] concludes that opportunities for combining equestrian tourism, slow adventures, wellness and outdoor activities in focused product development do exist. However the small lifestyle entrepreneurs, who form the majority of the equestrian tourism industry, need more external financial and epistemic support to entering the highly developed and demanding market of health tourism.” (2)

  1. Kutschera, Stephanie.  “Travel trends that will drive the tourism industry in 2019,” Trekk Blog, as accessed 3/31/19 at https://www.trekksoft.com/en/blog/9-travel-trends-that-will-drive-the-tourism-industry-in-2019

  2. Ingibjörg Sigurðardóttir.  Wellness and equestrian tourism – new kind of adventure?, Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, Volume 18, 2018 - Issue 4, as accessed 3/31/19 at https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/A9yfGsknbFSWyZs9vcjF/full

Developing Fell Pony Tourism

Developing equine tourism doesn’t necessarily come naturally.  In Kentucky, considered the heart of horse country in the United States, tourist interest in tours of the horse-breeding area were an unmet need for many years.  However, when a company was formed to organize such tours, both tourists and horse farms benefited:

  • “Horse Country has been a good liaison to the farms in understanding the needs of tourists – like restrooms, varied tour times, information about the farm – and helping tour operators appreciate the expectations of the farm, since they are working farms and the safety of their horses is always a top priority.”

  • “These experiences are as authentic as it comes. This isn’t an amusement park or fabricated attraction. This is simply our way of life. Visitors appreciate our authenticity.”

  • “The average stay is about three days, so we know they’re booking hotel rooms, eating at restaurants and shopping, spending dollars in our local economy.”

  • “Horse farms have been largely pleased with their foray into equine tourism, with several eager to expand not only what they offer to the public but how they offer it.”  (1)

Happy tourist in Iceland

Happy tourist in Iceland

The most-studied connection between equines and tourism is in Iceland. Not surprisingly, then, there is a very useful report from Iceland for aspiring equine tourism entrepreneurs called the Good Practice Guide to Equine Tourism Business. This document is of special interest to the Fell Pony community because it was focused on the use of native equine breeds in tourism. The guide’s overall message is that equine tourism businesses are still businesses, and good business practices are therefore important and at the same time may not be well understood by equestrian entrepreneurs. “…a lifetime of learning about horses is necessary but not sufficient to build a sustained successful equine tourism business. Operating a successful tourism enterprise is not necessarily like operating a riding school or other core equine enterprise. Relations with customers can be very different, and the use to which horses are put can be so too. Further, equine tourism businesses exist within a tourism sector and are subject to competition from other types of activities.” (2)

The Good Practice Guide discusses an initiative to create a Breed Centre for native equine breeds that is similar to the proposed Fell Pony Heritage Centre. “A model for such a visitor center is for instance the Center for the history of the Icelandic horse in Hólar where a compact multimedia exhibition with historical artefacts tells the story of the breed and its role in Icelandic society. The center also collects photographs and other reference material about this topic and hosts art exhibitions with the horse as theme. The center has a small and focused selection of souvenirs; photographs, horse hair products and publications featuring the Icelandic horse.” (3)

  1. Roytz, Jen.  “Taking Up the Equine Tourism Reins,” August 9, 2017, Lane Report, Lexington, Kentucky, as accessed 3/31/19 at https://www.lanereport.com/80211/2017/08/equine-tourism-taking-up-the-tourism-reins/

  2. Evans, Rhys, et al.  A Good Practice Guide to Equine Tourism.  HLB Rapport Nr. 2 – 2015, as accessed 3/31/19 at http://hlb.no/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/HLB_rapport_2_2015_final.pdf , p. 103.

  3. Evans, p. 23

Equine Tourism, Local Economies, and Sustainability

0505 Stallion Show2.jpg

It can be rightfully questioned whether tourism is truly helpful to a local economy and therefore whether it is worth investment and encouragement.  One study about equine tourism suggests that the least profitable equine businesses – riding schools and breeders for instance – have the best impact on the surrounding community (via economic multipliers) because they tend to spend most of their income locally.  “Activities needing to allocate some revenue to returns on capital and wages, e.g. boarding enterprises and professional trainers, had somewhat lower multipliers.” (1)  So how helpful an equine tourism enterprise is to a local economy depends on the type of enterprise that it is.

One question that has been asked by equine tourism researchers is whether equine tourism can be considered sustainable tourism. This is an important question because in some places sustainability merits special investment.  The answer to the question is ‘it depends.’  “Sustainability is based upon three key aspects, something called the ‘Sustainability Triangle’.  These are: Environment, Society, Economy.  Horse tourism contributes to keeping people ‘on the land’, providing income in areas which often have few sources of it.  Further, much of the income from horse tourism businesses is spent locally, into the local society, providing direct local economic benefits.”  (2)  Where it can be demonstrated that equines contribute positively to the health of the environment, as is the case with Fell Pony conservation grazing, for instance, then a second leg of the triangle is created.  Finally, when the native breeds being used in the tourism enterprise have cultural value, such as the Fell Pony does, then the sustainability triangle has the potential to be completed.

  1. Lindberg, G. et al.  “Input-output analysis of the Swedish and Norwegian horse sectors: modelling the socio-economic impacts of equine activities,” The new equine economy in the 21st century.  EAAP Scientific Series, Volume 136, as accessed 3/31/19 at https://www.wageningenacademic.com/doi/abs/10.3920/978-90-8686-824-7_2

  2. Evans, Rhys, et al.  A Good Practice Guide to Equine Tourism.  HLB Rapport Nr. 2 – 2015, as accessed 3/31/19 at http://hlb.no/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/HLB_rapport_2_2015_final.pdf  p. 14.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Sleddale Rose Beauty at Willowtrail Farm in 2010

Sleddale Rose Beauty at Willowtrail Farm in 2010

I do not enjoy movies, so I do not watch them very often.  To take time away from my ponies or my creative writing, there has to be a pretty compelling reason.  When a writing colleague told me about a movie that has a connection to my first Fell Pony, though, the film made it to my to-watch list and eventually arrived in DVD form.

Looking upstream under Wet Sleddale packhorse bridge

Looking upstream under Wet Sleddale packhorse bridge

My colleague warned me that Withnail and I was a dark comedy, so I knew I had to watch it with an open mind.  My primary motivation was to see how Sleddale Hall, on the farm in Cumbria where Sleddale Rose Beauty was born, had been used for one of the film’s locations.  As my colleague had expected, the humor wasn’t much to my liking, but I very much enjoyed seeing places that I recognized.

One scene was filmed in a creek that went under the arch of a stone bridge.  After reviewing my photographs from my trip there in 2015, it sure looks like it was filmed upstream and under Wet Sleddale Bridge, a place I had also ventured.  Other scenes in the movie were filmed on stone-wall-lined roads that also looked familiar.

Looking up to Sleddale Hall

Looking up to Sleddale Hall

Another scene was set in a telephone booth, supposedly in Penrith but actually in Bampton according to my colleague.  That brought back a flood of memories.  I recognized a street scene in Bampton and then I remembered how inept I felt in 2006 trying to use a pay phone in Penrith.  I’m surprised I actually got the call to go through to the person I intended!  Since then we’ve learned how to take our own cell phone to Cumbria!

The movie’s outdoor scenes of Sleddale Hall were primarily close up or looking from there down to the reservoir.  My views when I visited in 2015 were from the far side of the reservoir looking up toward the hall.  Beauty’s breeder’s family, the Harrisons, lived in Sleddale Hall at one time.

Some of the movie’s scenes were of torrential downpours.  Those certainly felt authentic to me.  In 2006 just such a storm kept me holed up in my bed and breakfast in Shap instead of getting out for an early morning walk at Wet Sleddale before heading to the airport to return to Colorado.  Thankfully the weather was very nice when I finally made it there nine years later.

For me, sitting down and watching a movie was something completely different, especially a dark comedy like Withnail and I.  And while it isn’t a movie I would recommend, I’m so grateful to Margaret Dickinson for telling me about it and letting me relive my connections to the film’s Cumbrian locations and to remember with great fondness my first Fell Pony Sleddale Rose Beauty.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

Welcome Willowtrail Henry!

Willowtrail Henry at 31 hours

Willowtrail Henry at 31 hours

I didn’t realize how much tension I was holding, awaiting the birth of my first foal this year.  All that tension vanished, though, when Willowtrail Henry entered the world.  I was blessed to be able to act as midwife for his birth, and as always it was amazing to watch how quickly he began getting to his feet.  His abundant energy made for a long wait before he got serious about nursing, though!

The inspiration for Henry’s name comes from three places.  His father’s grandsire was Lunesdale Henry, an esteemed stallion from that longtime stud, whom I was fortunate to spend time with in 2006.  The breeder of my Henry’s mother’s mother was Henry Harrison of the no-longer Sleddale stud.  I was blessed to talk to Mr. Harrison and receive historic photos of his ponies in 2011.  Finally, the picture on the May 2019 page of the Fell Pony Society calendar is of Waverhead Henry with the late Miss Mary Longsdon, MBE.  I had great respect for Mary’s work as chairman of the Fell Pony Society and for the many things she did on either side of that part of her service to our breed.  I first spoke with Mary in 2007 and was thrilled to meet her in 2015 when I visited England.

Henry is out of Willowtrail Wild Rose, the daughter of my first Fell Pony Sleddale Rose Beauty.  I am sentimental about this line for many reasons, and I am very interested in continuing it.  Now begins the long wait to get a filly like Henry!  While my pH-of-the-milk foaling predictor was off by a few days, Rose had an incredible amount of wax an hour before Henry was born.  Long time Cumbrian Fell Pony breeder Christine Robinson called it ‘candles’ and I can see why!  I appreciate that Rose chose to foal at noon and when I was on hand to help.

Rose waxing

Henry is my first foal by Kinniside Asi.  While I did as much research as I could in choosing Asi as a stallion, there remained uncertainty about my choice until Henry hit the ground.  No longer!  I have told Papa he did good several times!  Asi’s mother threw three colts in a row.  I sure hope Asi and Rose don’t have that sort of pattern; it will be hard to wait that long to get a filly I can keep!  I can certainly see some of Lunesdale Henry in Asi’s face; maybe someday I’ll see it in my Henry’s too.

The late Lunesdale Henry

The late Lunesdale Henry

Henry is proving to be one of the friendliest foals I’ve ever had.  And pictures are becoming harder to take as his eyesight improves; he comes to see me as soon as I get anywhere close!  What a blessing it is to share life with these ponies!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

Stories about other ponies born at Willowtrail Farm can be found in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here and on the book cover.

A Conversation Between A Mare and A Stallion

Asi and Madie

Because I breed almost exclusively by live cover, I do a lot of teasing, watching for how the mare and stallion communicate with each other.  Is the mare interested in the stallion’s flirtations?  Does the stallion sense the mare will be receptive to his advances?  Or is the opposite the case?  I realize that I’ve considered teasing to have two possible messages – interest and no interest - but a mare recently showed me there could be a third.

As I watched this mare over the course of several weeks of teasing, she showed me the two messages I was expecting.   At first she was uninterested in the stallion.  If I were to put words to her communication, they would be, “Don’t even dare coming any closer to me, or I’ll turn and kick your brains out!”  Then she came into heat, and if I were to put words to her behavior, they would be, “Come here pretty boy and let’s see what we can do together.”  The third message came after her heat cycle had ended.  I realized when she expressed disinterest in the stallion, it had a different character.  If I had to put words to her message, they would be, “Thank you for our interactions.  I’m no longer interested, but I appreciate your cooperation.”  The mare’s disinterest was less intense, and she tolerated the stallion’s company seemingly because she appreciates being in foal. 

Not all mares enjoy a stallion’s company after they’re bred.  I suspect that’s why I’ve never previously realized my inaccurately narrow view of the conversations between mares and stallions during teasing.  Now though, I realize that one other mare had a similar threesome of teasing communications.  She too enjoyed a stallion’s company while she was in foal.

I was speaking to an acquaintance the other night and expressing my envy at his multiple generations of animal husbandry experience.  Because I’ve been doing this for just twenty years, his 60 plus seems eons longer.  I was surprised by his response.  He said even though he has more years of experience than I do, nothing’s really ever the same, and he’s always learning how to steward his animals better.  Good to know!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More thoughts about breeding Fell Ponies 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.

Breeding for the Best

180726 ponies at pasture.jpg

It’s foaling season, so I have pony breeding on my brain anyway.  Then two conversations within the space of a week with long-time Cumbrian Fell Pony breeders touched on the same topic from different perspectives.  I always try to pay attention to those types of coincidences.

The topic was about how to breed for the best Fell Pony possible.  And in both cases the breeders presented evidence against a strategy that otherwise seems quite logical:  if you have a really good pony, and you breed it to a really good pony, then surely you’ll end up with a really good foal.  Yet both these breeders with a lifetime of experience said otherwise.  While it might make sense in theory, they said, it rarely proves out in practice.

From experience, they said that often the best won’t reproduce themselves.  It may be because they are already so good that anything they produce will be a come-down.  Or it may be that there are faults hidden behind them that manifest in the next generation.  Or it may be because they are sterile and just won’t reproduce at all. 

And also from experience, they said that matching a mare to a stallion is about a lot more than matching a good animal to a good animal.  It needs to be more about matching strengths in one to areas needing improvement in the other.  It needs to be about recognizing that the perfect pony, one without need of improvement, has yet to be born.

I have heard these ideas before, but I never really believed them.  Breeding the best to the best just seems so logical.  This time hearing them, though, I am in a different place.  I am watching the topic play out before my eyes in my own herd.  I have one mare line that I’ve always considered to be ‘the best.’  But it is proving tricky to breed the next generation.  And at the same time, I have a mare line that isn’t quite as spectacular to look at when only the matriarch is considered, but when she’s surrounded by her offspring, it’s hard to argue that there could be much better to look at.  These experiences and these conversations are making me look at my herd with new eyes.  That’s a good thing!

In both my conversations with these veteran breeders, we agreed that breeding is more art than science, more craft than logic.  It is that creative part that keeps breeding interesting and what adds richness to conversations with other breeders.  I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to talk to them.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More thoughts about breeding 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.