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

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

  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

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

  2. Evans, Rhys, et al.  A Good Practice Guide to Equine Tourism.  HLB Rapport Nr. 2 – 2015, as accessed 3/31/19 at , 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

  2. Evans, Rhys, et al.  A Good Practice Guide to Equine Tourism.  HLB Rapport Nr. 2 – 2015, as accessed 3/31/19 at  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.

So Much to Look Forward To

Willowtrail Mountain Honey

I admit to having a chronic case of the human condition known as ‘a search for meaning.;  I find life to be incredibly rich and rewarding due to this condition, but when something unexpected happens, it tends to set me back on my heels until I can discern a reason for the event.  When my husband was killed in an accident, it threw everything in my life into question. At the time, I had more Fell Pony foals due than ever before. It didn’t take long, though, for the meaning of this to become quite clear.

Of course, had I known I would be alone come foaling season, with an increased work load and an estate to settle and a business to close, I wouldn’t have bred as many mares.  That I did breed them and that I am now alone says to me that stewarding these ponies is something I’m meant to continue doing.  And that it will likely be an important part of my new life.

Willowtrail Wild Rose

From this perspective, then, there is so much to look forward to!  These foals will include the first by my new stallion as well as the last by my previous stallion, and I am anxious to compare the two.  There will be a foal from a line that I’m particularly sentimental about, and I’m hopeful it will be something I can be proud of.  I’m hoping for a foal from a line that is charismatic and has movement to die for.  And there will be two foals from a line that right now is eye candy for me.  I’m very much looking forward to more eye candy!  And I’m not just looking forward to this year’s foals but also to what they will tell me about my breeding program.  I’m always striving to produce better Fell Ponies with each generation, so I’m anxious to see what this foal crop will tell me about my progressive breeding goals.

So while my ‘search for meaning’ condition has been quite flared up of late, at least where my ponies are concerned, there is less uncertainty.  And as foaling season nears, I have much to look forward to!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

Chestnuts and Fell Ponies

A chestnut on a Fell Pony

A chestnut on a Fell Pony

In the Fell Pony breed, when we hear the word ‘chestnut,’ most of us think of the vestigial toe above the inside of the knee (and sometimes hock).  However, a recent change to the Fell Pony Breed Description brought another chestnut to mind: the color.  Previously, chestnut-colored Fell Ponies were not allowed to be registered; now if they are born to registered parents, they are eligible for registration in Section X of the stud book.

In addition to chestnut, treatment of the skewbald and piebald colors also changed similarly.  Chestnut made sense to me because it is recessive to black, so two black Fell Ponies who carry the recessive gene, when mated, have a chance of throwing a chestnut foal.  I had heard, rarely, of chestnut foals being thrown before, but only recently through the wonders of the internet was I introduced to a breeder who has one.  The picture here by Michaela di Nanni of her black mare with its chestnut foal is quite a sight!  And the picture of the same chestnut pony full grown certainly looks like a Fell Pony except for the color.

A chestnut Fell Pony as a foal and an adult courtesy Michaela di Nanni

A chestnut Fell Pony as a foal and an adult courtesy Michaela di Nanni

I know what it’s like to be completely surprised by the color of a foal.  When I first decided to cross my silver dapple Shetland/Welsh mare on my Fell stallion, I looked up in the book Equine Color Genetics what colors I should expect.  There is a table in an appendix that says that a black bred to a silver dapple will ‘always’ produce a silver dapple.  But the first foal from this cross wasn’t a silver dapple at all; it was a black!  “Other colors are expected to occur frequently in most breeds if certain fairly common recessives are present in the parents.” (1)  Obvious my silver dapple mare had a black recessive!  The table indicates that black is a common color resulting from this cross.  The two subsequent foals from that mare, to a different Fell stallion, were silver dapples.  Chestnuts are in the ‘occasional’ column of the table for a black x black mating so would be even less likely to result in Fell Ponies than black was in my Shetland/Welsh/Fell.

When I read about the change in the color section of the Fell Pony Breed Description, I was confused.  I understood why chestnut should be an allowed color now, but I was puzzled why skewbald and piebald were included.  I know ponies with those colors can be found way back in the stud books, but my understanding of color genetics indicates that those colors shouldn’t ever show up in our breed today because they’ve been bred out.  On the other hand, I do know that Fells and Gypsy horses/coloured cobs are often interbred, so it wouldn’t surprise me if a piebald or skewbald pony was presented as a Fell at some point.

In the language of color genetics, piebald and skewbald are types of the tobiano pattern.  “Piebald refers to any black and white horse….  Skewbald refers to white spotting on any color other than black.”  Equine Color Genetics goes on to say, “The tobiano pattern is caused by the tobiano allele which is dominant to its absence.…  it is very rare for the tobiano allele to be present and not betray its presence in the coat.” (2)   So unlike the chestnut color that can stay hidden for generations in our breed, piebald and skewbald would likely be visible immediately.  I was very pleased to hear from the Fell Pony Society secretary that any pony of these colors (including chestnut) would likely be asked to have confirmed parentage via DNA testing. 

A black foal was a surprise from a silver dapple mare crossed on a black Fell Pony stallion

A black foal was a surprise from a silver dapple mare crossed on a black Fell Pony stallion

Often, breeders are interested in focusing on particular colors.  I remember hearing one family say they hoped to revive the roan color in the Fell Pony which could be found a few generations behind my first Fell Pony mare.  Chestnut could inspire a similar goal, but with Section X registration only, there are likely too many obstacles to overcome. For me, the Fell Pony is defined by type, not color, so I am likely in the minority in thinking a chestnut or roan pony could be a good Fell! 

The current change to our Breed Description was forced on the Fell Pony Society; FPS is required to register any foal born from two registered parents.  And since chestnut can result from crossing two black ponies, chestnut should be an allowed color for registration.  I’m pleased that our Breed Description is closer to reflecting the current understanding of color genetics.

  1. Sponenberg, D. Phillip.  Equine Color Genetics, Second Edition.  Ames, Iowa:  Iowa State University Press, Blackwell Publishing, 2003, p. 183.

  2. Sponenberg, p. 74, 76.

 With thanks to Michaela di Nanni, Sue Millard, and Fell Pony Society Secretary Katherine Wilkinson.

 © Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More articles like this one 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.

The Fell Pony is Fortunate

One of the first foals I saw a picture of this spring was conceived by artificial insemination (AI).  An article from The Livestock Conservancy about assistive reproductive technologies including AI said that since 2008, rare equine breeds have seen a 50% decline in registrations of new animals. (1)  The Fell Pony is fortunate compared to its rare brethren.  We’ve only gone below 50% once during those years, and in 2018 were at 68.3% of 2008 levels.  After year over year declines since 2008, we’ve been gaining since 2016.

Willowtrail fillies conceived by AI

As registrations of rare equine breeds drop, there’s a fear of losing blood lines, hence the article about assistive reproductive technologies to assist in preserving lines that might otherwise be lost.  I learned about some of them at Colorado State University several years ago when we took a seminar about them, but there have been many advances since then.  The technologies discussed in the article include:

  • Fresh semen collection for use in artificial insemination.  This is allowed in the Fell Pony breed.

  • Semen collection for freezing, which can also occur in the event of injury or death of a stallion by harvesting the testes and extracting the sperm.  Frozen semen is allowed to be used in the Fell Pony breed.

  • Embryo flushing when a mare can conceive but not carry to term.  The embryo is transferred to a recipient mare for gestation.  This has been done in the Fell Pony but the resulting foal was not eligible for registration.

  • Oocyte harvesting when a mare cannot conceive or has died recently.  The embryo is fertilized in a lab using a technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection and then transferred to a recipient mare.  Foals produced using this method are not eligible for registration in the Fell Pony breed.

  • Cloning.  This has successfully been done in equines but is not allowed in Fell Ponies.

The Livestock Conservancy article went on to discuss the role of tissue banks in breed conservation.  Some Fell Pony semen is being stored in a tissue bank.  Optimally, says the Conservancy, the stored tissues will be representative of all blood lines and with representation of more mares than stallions.  We have a ways to go in our breed toward that goal.

Of course if the Fell Pony is above 50% in registrations then other breeds are sadly much worse off.  We are fortunate to have AI available for use, with many stallions in North America permitted for AI by the Fell Pony Society.  I’ve used AI to progress my own breeding program and was happy with the results.  Hopefully our breed’s situation will continue to improve so that more aggressive assistive reproductive technologies won’t be needed.

1)      Couch, Charlene, PhD and Katrin Hinrichs, DVM PhD. “Applying Assisted Reproductive Technologies for Conservation of Valuable Equine Genetics,” The Livestock Conservancy News, Autumn 2018, p. 3.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More articles like this one about stewarding the Fell Pony 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.

Burn Moor

Linnel Doublet and Don Ewy being passed by hikers on Burn Moor

Burn Moor in Lake District National Park in Cumbria can be traversed via a 5 mile hike between the villages of Wasdale Head and Boot.  It is a route used by mountain bikers and fell walkers.  But it also has two historic pack horse connections.  The first was for trade: moving goods from farm to market and from town to town.  The second was as a corpse road.  Until the early twentieth century, Wasdale Head didn’t have consecrated ground for burials, so bodies had to be transported through Boot to Eskdale to be interred.

Numerous stories exist about this corpse road when pack horses were used to carry coffins.  The stories usually include the route’s hazards of bogs and fog, as well as the loneliness of the route.  And the stories include bolting equines, lost bodies, and ghosts.  Even today, walking across Burn Moor it is easy to imagine the truth of these stories.

To read more about Burn Moor and corpse roads, click here to request the August 2015 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

The Benefits of the Breyer Fell Pony Model

Breyer model of Fell Pony “Carltonlima Emma”  courtesy Karen Hess

Breyer model of Fell Pony “Carltonlima Emma”
courtesy Karen Hess

Were you like me and had Breyer horse models as a kid?  I remember going to Village Drug in Lake Oswego, Oregon with my mother and longingly looking up at the window sill where all the Breyer models were displayed.  On those rare occasions when my savings allowed me to indulge, I would purchase the only type of horse I was allowed to own as a child.  Of course the very first one I bought (you won't be surprised to hear this! ) was a pony - Misty of Chincoteague!

A friend apparently still has Breyer models on her mind because she exclaimed with enthusiasm when she discovered that there is a Breyer model of a Fell Pony.  The Breyer model is named Carltonlima Emma, after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite riding pony.  It is a part of Breyer’s “Best of British” series. 

The path to this first Fell Pony Breyer model began in 2000, according to Mary Jean Gould-Earley of Laurelhighland Farm in Pennsylvania. (1)  It took several years, but eventually sculptor Kathleen Moody created a clay model in 2014 based on the Fell Pony stallion Waverhead Model IV owned by Laurelhighland. (2)  A year later, resin copies colored in bronze and black were created of the model, and Breyer bought the rights to the sculpture. (3)  Breyer then worked with Her Majesty to name the model after the Queen’s pony.  In January of 2016, the first Fell Pony Breyer models went on sale in the United States (2015 in England).

Live Fell Ponies are a part of Breyerfest, the annual event at the Kentucky Horse Park.  Littletree Tia Maria of Scalfell Pike Fell Ponies and Littletree Born Supremacy owned by Alison Wolfe are annual attendees, with other ponies occasionally joining in.

Of course, to the practiced Fell Pony eye, the Breyer model is a bit of a conundrum.  It’s odd to see a stallion’s body with a mare’s name on it.  Apparently Breyer removed the obvious male parts when they decided to name the model after the Queen’s mare.  It also appears that limited edition versions of the model were produced in other colors not representative of Fell Ponies – chestnut and silver dapple – and were still called Fell Ponies.  Seventy six of the chestnut were made for an event in 2016 called Chasing the Chesapeake, a collector’s event.  Only one of the silver dapple was made for Breyerfest 2017.

The good news is that, regardless of gender or color, a portion of the proceeds of sale from the Carltonlima Emma model are being donated to the Fell Pony Society in England.(Her Majesty is Patron of the Fell Pony Society.) Girlguiding, another of the Queen’s favorite charities, also receives donations similarly.  In the Autumn 2018 edition of the Fell Pony Society magazine, our Secretary reported, “We are continuing to receive royalty payments on sales of the Breyer model of the Fell Pony ‘Carltonlima Emma’ the pony that HM The Queen rides.” (4)  You can see the most recent pictures of Her Majesty riding Emma by clicking here.

All the benefits of Breyer’s choice of a Fell Pony to be a model and to include Fell Ponies in Breyerfest are still to be discovered.  At present, at least, the choices speak highly of our breed’s position in the equine world.   And that our Society is receiving payments from sales of the model is a benefit for which we can all be grateful.

  1. Email to the author from Mary Jean Gould-Earley dated 11/29/18.



  4. Wilkinson, Katherine.  “Secretary & Treasurer’s Report – Autumn 2018,” The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Autumn 2018 – Volume 37, p. 10.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

Conservation Grazing

This is Section 6 (Conservation Grazing) of Part 2 (Supporting Information) of A Fells on the Fells Action Plan.  You can see the entire plan by clicking here.

Nicola Evans’ Fell Ponies at an open day courtesy Claire Simpson

Nicola Evans’ Fell Ponies at an open day courtesy Claire Simpson

Conservation grazing is the use of grazing animals to manipulate landscapes towards certain conservation goals.  Sometimes there are also incentives for using rare breeds of livestock.

  • The Fell Pony is currently being used as a conservation grazer in parts of its native terrain.  Click here to read more.

  • However, other breeds are also being used as conservation grazers in northern England and southern Scotland, suggesting there may be room for expanded use of Fell Ponies in the role.  Click here to read more.

  • Land managers in need of conservation grazers often need things to be easy.  Some organizations have created business models around conservation grazing.  Click here to read more.

There is good news about Fell Ponies and conservation grazing, and there is also work to be done to utilize more Fell Ponies on the landscape for conservation work.  Other breeds are utilized through not-for-profit organizations that are turnkey solutions for land stewards.  Could a similar not-for-profit utilize Fell Ponies?

The Business of Conservation Grazing

Nicola Evans' Fell Ponies perform conservation grazing at Oxenholme. Courtesy Claire Simpson

Nicola Evans' Fell Ponies perform conservation grazing at Oxenholme. Courtesy Claire Simpson

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

Most if not all the Fell Ponies doing conservation grazing at this time are doing it for their owners or close associates.  Some other mountain and moorland pony breeds, though, are being used for conservation grazing where cash may change hands and where an organization is a middleman between a breeder or breed association and a land owner.  I have been curious how those businesses have been set up to be successful.

Conservation grazing is the use of grazing animals to manipulate landscapes towards certain conservation goals.  Sometimes there are also incentives for using rare breeds of livestock. 

Much work must be done before conservation-grazing animals hit the ground of course.  The Thorpe family’s project with the Wellbrow Fell Ponies took a full twelve months of planning.  What the grazing animals choose to eat and how they impact the landscape must be known in advance to ensure that a particular conservation grazing project meets its objectives.  The Fell Pony is fortunate to have a passionate researcher, David Anthony Murray, researching and documenting Fell Pony grazing patterns to inform conservation grazing projects, including the one at Wellbrow.

There are opportunities for other conservation grazing projects for Fells, but one of the difficulties for the Fell Pony Society as the breed’s registered organization is that “Land is owned and managed by so many different organisations and private landowners that there is no single easy place or person to inform [that] you would like to be involved.”  (1)  In addition, “there are several grazing tasks out there but they need suitable ponies and flexible owners.  Some tasks are only for a few weeks, and might only need two ponies while others are much larger and may be over a longer period of time.” (2)

Two other native pony breeds are benefiting from taking conservation grazing to the next level:  from individuals involving their own ponies to a service that is a one-stop-shop for conservation grazing.  It is evident from reviewing materials from the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust and the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust (which uses Exmoor ponies) that there is much more to running a conservation grazing service than just performing the ecological job.  The logistics of sourcing ‘suitable ponies’ and dealing with varying durations are examples of the ‘more’ that’s involved.

Sometimes education is needed before ponies can be considered for conservation grazing.  In their 2015 Prospectus, the Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust makes the case for native breeds of ponies as conservation grazers:

Many of the important wildlife habitats that exist in Britain today have been created through centuries of human management, often associated with grazing by livestock.  The effect of these activities is to consistently halt the natural plant ‘succession’, that is, the progression from lower plants through to the ‘climax’ vegetation’, usually woodland.  This creates what is called a ‘plagio-climatic’ or ‘semi-natural’ habitat, meaning a human-influenced habitat…  Over time, many species have evolved interdependently with these environments and therefore cessation of grazing and resultant habitat loss threatens their continued survival. (3)

Because native ponies have been part of shaping the environment and therefore the species that live there, they can also be appropriate choices for helping maintain the environment on which those species depend.

Here are common characteristics for the two native pony conservation grazing organizations, each of which has been underway for nearly a decade or more.

  • Organization:

    • The organizations are not-for-profits so that they can make use of volunteer labor, cash donations, and grants and don’t have to rely solely on charging a fee for service.

    • Each has an individual involved who has been the driving force behind the organization since its inception and before.

    • Each provides a turnkey solution, providing not only the ponies for grazing but also the staff and expertise for developing and then implementing a conservation grazing plan acceptable to all parties.

  • Pony Sourcing and Stewardship

    • Each is focused on a single breed of pony.  They understand intimately the behaviors and capabilities of that breed and can choose projects well suited to their ponies and their organization.

    • Each owns their own ponies.

    • Each emphasizes that the ponies need management if conservation grazing goals are to be achieved, and the organizations are set up to do the necessary management.

  • Networking

    • Each has relationships with the key conservation organizations, including Natural England, the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and wildlife organizations.

    • Each has also developed relationships with local authorities, private landowners, and law enforcement organizations.

  • Marketing/Promotion

    • Each organization has a website for promotion, but most of their referrals come from Natural England or their own clients.

  • Value Propositions

    • The value of these organizations to breeders is:

      •  a market for ponies, sometimes including non-breeding stock

      • increased awareness of the breed.

    • The value of these organizations to breed organizations is to be:

      • the focal point for inquiries about conservation grazing

      • the networker who connects opportunities with pony resources

    • The value of these organizations to landowners is three-fold:

      • No need for landowners to have their own stock year round when they may only be needed part of the year.

      • No need to develop specialized staff skills in-house to design and implement conservation grazing projects.

      • No need for capital outlay for stock and equipment.

Regarding the pony part of the service, providing ponies for grazing doesn’t mean just having a herd to loan.  For instance:

  • The organizations have to plan each project not only with the conservation goals of the project in mind but also the ponies.  Where will they get water, for instance?  Will they be able to reach all the areas that need their attention?  Are facilities in place to enable handling of the ponies when necessary?

  • Many conservation grazing locations are open to the public, so the ponies must have a suitable attitude towards people – wary enough to stand off and not be threatening to un-horse-savvy visitors but not so wary as to be afraid and unable to do the job they’re meant to do. 

  • Some projects are of limited duration and precise timing, so ponies must be delivered and then picked up on a particular schedule. 

  • The organizations retain responsibility for the ponies’ welfare – hooves, worming, general health, etc.  Often the ponies are checked by volunteers who may need training on equine stewardship, training which is usually developed and delivered in-house.

As the Fell Pony Society Conservation Grazing sub-committee pointed out in their article cited above, there are opportunities for conservation grazing out there but there is not a single place to go to find out about the opportunities.  Perhaps an enterprising Fell Pony enthusiast can create something similar to what has been created for the Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies, a not-for-profit focal point for Fell Pony conservation grazing.  The interest is obviously there from both the pony and the landowner side.

  1. Walker, Eileen A.  “Conservation Grazing,” The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Spring 2016 Volume 32, p. 66.

  2. Same as #1

  3. Prospectus 2015.  The Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust,, p. 4/13

With thanks to Fell Pony enthusiasts Eddie McDonough and Judith Bean for providing pointers to Exmoor and Dartmoor pony conservation grazing projects.

Other Breeds in Use for Conservation Grazing

Nicola Evans' Fell Ponies perform conservation grazing at The Helm. Courtesy Nicola Evans

Nicola Evans' Fell Ponies perform conservation grazing at The Helm. Courtesy Nicola Evans

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

One might assume that British native ponies such as the Fell would be logical choices as conservation grazers where such grazers are needed.  Especially when such grazers are needed in the native ponies’ home terrain.  Not always, though, as Heidi Sands documented after visiting a reserve in Aberdeenshire in Scotland.

Prior to going to Strathbeg I couldn't understand why on earth they'd use Polish ponies in preference to using British native breeds (especially Scottish ones as it's in Scotland) but having been and seen the set up and their aim at Strathbeg it all becomes clear….The Konik breed… was successfully brought to Strathbeg for use as a conservation grazer two years ago….After considering other native breeds for the job, the Konik was chosen due to its largely quiet friendly nature and the ability to thrive in the wetland conditions without obvious damage to hooves and lower limbs. At times the ponies wade out belly deep in the water to avail themselves of grazing and are often to be seen moving from sandy spits of land through the wetlands. (1)

Heidi acknowledged in her article that the native pony breeds Eriskay and Kerry Bog may have been good choices for this particular project, but they are likely too rare to be available.  Availability is an important criterion in selecting conservation grazers, according to Ian Baker, Chief Land Agent of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2). 

Any of us who have land management responsibilities know the attraction of easy, convenient solutions, so it’s understandable why readily available conservation grazers might be chosen over native breeds that may be local but aren’t necessarily easy to find or manage.  Certainly, though, there’s opportunity here for Fell Ponies, as pictures have been posted on Facebook of Fells wading belly deep in water to find something worth eating!

  1. Sands, Heidi.  “Visit to RSPB Reserve,” The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Autumn 2013, Volume 27.  The Fell Pony Society:  Great Asby, Appleby, Cumbria, England, p. 65.

  2. Murray, David.  “Letter to the editor,” The Fell Pony Society Newsletter Spring 2014 Volume 28, Appleby, Cumbria:  The Fell Pony Society, p.12.