Better Than Breeding Stock

180213 Lady Madie Honey.JPG

I have a pony here now that has made me think hard about what sort of pony is the most ‘valuable.’  For some people breeding stock is the most valuable.  For some people a pony that can be shown at the highest levels is the most valuable.  The pony I have here now is neither of those types, but for me she’s more valuable than either of them. 

I’ve had a number of experiences over the years with ponies and their owners and dogs and their breeders that suggest that ‘valuable’ is definitely in the eye of the beholder.  There was once a Fell Pony that I admired, and I was surprised when it came on the market.  When I inquired about purchasing it, the owner said, “Oh, no, I have a number of people wanting him.  Thank you anyway.”  But then a year later, the pony was back on the market, again for sale by the same owner.  It appeared that the owner, while asking for a five-star home, didn’t consider a breeding home, like I would give it, good enough.  Because the owner was in the showing fraternity, I was left with the impression that showing was the owner’s view of ‘valuable.’

Several years ago, I was in the market for a purebred dog, and I inquired with a colleague about available puppies.  When I was pointed to their business partner, I was asked if I would be showing the dog, and I said no.  Then I was asked if I was a breeder, and again I said no.  I was then immediately told, “We’re not interested; our puppies aren’t for pet homes.”  For this person, apparently, the most valuable sort of animal was a show animal first, a breeding animal second, and a pet (or in the pony world a ‘using’ pony) a lowly third.

I sometimes do a thought experiment to double-check my selection criteria of ponies that I decide to keep or sell.  The experiment is to ask myself the question: if I could only keep one pony, which pony would it be?  Then I ask, if I could only keep two ponies, which ponies would they be?  And then, if I could keep only three ponies, which ponies would they be?  The first time I did this thought experiment, the results surprised me.  If I could keep only one pony, it wouldn’t be breeding stock or the fanciest looking or best moving one.  It wasn’t until I got to keeping three and four ponies that showing or breeding stock made the list.

The pony I have here now is the sort that if I could only have one pony in my life, she’d be the one I’d want.  She is kind, entertaining, and easy to get along with.  She always greets me at the fence, is always ready to receive scratches in her favorite places, is easy to halter and lead, and easy to train.  Even if this pony is never shown and never bred, for me, she’s more valuable than any showing or breeding animal because she’s such a joy to be around.

When I went looking for pictures of this pony, I realized all my recent ones have a fence in the foreground.  When she was younger I had a fair number that were close ups of her nostrils.  Rather than standing watching at a distance, posing in some majestic way, I’m inclined to think that my most valuable kind of pony is the one that has fence rails in front of it because they’d rather be with me than showing themselves off at a distance.  Or they’d rather be so close to me that the only pictures possible are of nostrils!

The Fell Pony market in North America has been a growing one since I got involved, and many customers have wanted ponies they could breed from.  I’ve tried hard to produce proper ponies for breeding use, not just for the market but also for the future of my own breeding program, since I’ve retained many of my own ponies for breeding.  But because of the way I steward my herd – very hands on – I haven’t been able to - nor wanted to - ignore what makes a pony I’d want to have around if it’s the only one I could have. 

While I take great joy in producing ponies that can excel in a breeding program or in a show ring, I take as much or more joy from producing a pony like the one I have now.  In the end, the number of breeding and showing homes will always be fewer than the number of pet or using pony homes.  Therefore, producing the type of pony like the one I have here now will always be a goal of my breeding program.  For me, a pony that is a joy to be around will always be better than breeding or showing stock.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

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

A Question Answered

 Lady greeting me at the fence like she usually does

Lady greeting me at the fence like she usually does

Sometimes the universe has interesting ways of answering questions, including those that we sometimes aren’t consciously asking.  Willowtrail Moonlit Lady’s buyer asked how Lady was doing leading.  I said she was haltered and led one to two times a day with no problem, just as I expect at 9 months old.  In the back of my mind, though, I wondered how she would do in a challenging situation.

Work called me away unexpectedly late one day, so it was dark when I arrived back to feed the ponies.  I had missed one feeding, so I expected everyone to be a little on edge, but it had been a nice afternoon, and nothing seemed particularly amiss.  That is, until I went to the mares’ paddock, and Lady wasn’t at the fence to greet me as she normally does.  I entered the paddock, scanning the dark shapes against the snowy background looking for one smaller than the rest.  When I still didn’t see her, I then began calling her name.  Normally this will rouse her if she’s been napping.  But still no Lady.  Now I was getting concerned.

I went back to the house for a flashlight and searched the entire paddock, and still Lady was nowhere to be found, so she was clearly outside the paddock somewhere.  A few minutes more searching located her along the paddock fence in a stand of small trees.  She had apparently gone over a low spot in the fence (I’ve been planning the rebuild of that fence for this spring), but she then floundered in deep snow.  The snow was very shallow under the small trees, and she had spent her freedom wandering from one tree shadow to the next.  I had her feed bucket with me, but she was reluctant to follow her feed bucket out of her captivity in one direction, showing me that the required postholing through the packed snow was unacceptable to her.  I found another route where the snow was softer, and she followed me willingly to a plowed area and started working on her feed bucket, during which time I scanned her with the flashlight for any signs of injury.  After she finished, I repeated the scan with my hands and was relieved to find that she was just fine.

Now began the opportunity for me to find out how well Lady would lead in a challenging situation.  Haltering her was no problem as usual, but I had to lead her around a stallion pen out onto the driveway to get to a gate not blocked by deep snow.  I couldn’t have asked for better cooperation!  On top of that, when she had been eating her feed, I slipped on ice next to her and fell down, and she didn’t even flinch.  I love this pony!

Our light winter in the snow department has deprived Lady of a lesson most of my ponies get in their first year.  When we have normal snowfall, they have the opportunity to learn that they can get mired in deep snow, so they should avoid it.  Lady got this lesson that night when she jumped the fence, and she hasn’t ventured out again.  And I got the answer to that back-of-my-mind question.  She leads just fine!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

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

Pondering Prepotency

When I produced my first filly in my breeding program, I decided to keep her to use as a broodmare.  I assumed, therefore, that the breeding life of a stallion in my herd would be a single generation.  When the first crop of his daughters were old enough to breed, I’d move that stallion on and bring in another that was unrelated to the daughters of the first.  Managing one stallion is hard enough, and two is a definite workload.  In addition that strategy is what I’d watched a number of breeders in Cumbria do, so it seemed like a reasonable strategy.  A problem with this strategy has arisen, though. 

Guards Apollo

I was talking to a gentleman who trains his sled dogs here in the winter.  When we talk, we inevitably get onto the subject of breeding.  In this case, he pointed to one of the dogs in his team, an intact male, and he said, “That dog is the sire of all my best racers.”  He then pointed to another dog and said, “That dog is the mother of most of my best dogs.  I spayed her so I’d quit breeding.”  John says he wants to retire, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

John then went on to say, “That male dog is prepotent.  You know Secretariat wasn’t.  He couldn’t breed anything as good as he was.”  John went on to tell me another horse-related story and then it was time for him to attend to his dogs.  What he said, though, crystallized a thought in my mind.

Prepotency is the ability of one parent to impress its hereditary characteristics on its progeny. One of the best known examples in the horse world of prepotency is Justin Morgan, the sole founding sire of the Morgan horse breed.  His ability to repeatedly and reliably stamp his offspring with his own desirable characteristics is the reason given for the breed’s existence.

In the Fell Pony, we don’t have a dominant ancestor stallion like Justin Morgan, but I do occasionally see stallions that leave their mark.  One that comes to mind has a number of daughters that I greatly admire.  Another seems to be leaving consistently good offspring of both genders.  In the case of the first stallion, I’ve wondered if the reason so many of his daughters are good is that good mares were put to him, or said another way, the breeder who controlled his breeding calendar had a very good eye for what the stallion would cross well with.

In the case of the second stallion, he’s linebred, and I’ve wondered if that is the reason that his offspring are so consistently good.  Both of these stallions might be considered prepotent, having the ability to impress their favorable characteristics on their offspring.  When I’ve heard stallion prepotency discussed, I’ve never heard if line-breeding or careful mare selection were in play, but from what I'm seeing, they certainly could play a role.

Each day when I enter my mare paddock, I encountered three daughters by my senior stallion, and I love the type of all of them.  And when I enter the paddock where my senior stallion lives, I love his type, his personality, his movement, his easy-keeping qualities.  Under my original breeding program strategy, because I have three daughters, this stallion should now be considered obsolete.  But the problem is I can’t part with him; I like him too much.

After talking to John about prepotency and especially when he mentioned that a great stallion like Secretariat couldn’t throw anything as good as he was, I reached a tipping point.  My stallion is throwing stock as good as he is.  As I’ve pondered this, I’ve realized he is both line-bred, and the mares he breeds are carefully selected.  He is therefore like both those other Fell Pony stallions whose stock I admire.  In addition, another breeder whom I admire has bought my stallion’s close relation for breeding, another affirmation of the line.

I have no idea how long the breeding life of a stallion is in my climate.  I know more than one stallion that has produced stock past the age of twenty, so in theory I have several more years left.  So I’ve decided to find another mare to put my senior stallion to.  Sometimes the best laid plans have to be modified!  I’ll be keeping two stallions after all!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

Solace 2

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I was sitting next to a paddock fence observing a pony that wasn’t feeling well.  I was deep in thought, so the nudge on my shoulder surprised me.  It was my heart pony, Willowtrail Wild Rose, in the adjoining paddock, who had reached her nose through the fence, wanting my attention.  I said hello and turned back to the object of my concern.  Rose then began playing with a piece of baling twine near where I was sitting.  I caught the movement of the twine out of the corner of my eye, and I realized she was trying to engage me, to distract me, to help me not be so troubled.  I thanked her, remembering another time when she had offered her proverbial shoulder to lean on.

Rose’s cousin H, a pony overseas, often has behaviors similar to Rose’s.  It seems H too has a knack for giving solace.  Her owner relates this story:  “My son was telling H about how sad he was that my Granny had died. H said nothing, but passed her bucket of feed over to him. Never ever has she been seen to offer food to anybody else, before or after.  Of course it worked! She managed to cheer him up for sure!”

In my first story about Rose giving solace, she too bypassed her feed to give me her attention.  In that story, I discussed one thing that was troubling my heart at that time, the death of a friend’s pony.  Yet there was also another cause for my grief:  the death of my mother.  Despite being much younger then, Rose demonstrated the same willingness to give her time and attention when I was distressed.  I wonder if I will ever completely discover how much these ponies have to offer.  The exploration is heartwarming regardless.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

The first "Solace" story can be found in my book The Partnered Pony:  What's Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Semi-Feral Pony!

 Rose eating her hay on a normal chore ride.  Her tracks into the clear cut as a semi-feral pony are shown!

Rose eating her hay on a normal chore ride.  Her tracks into the clear cut as a semi-feral pony are shown!

She’s not really a semi-feral pony, since the photo clearly shows her tacked up to be ridden.  But I got such a kick out of what Willowtrail Wild Rose did when I let her loose before breakfast one morning.  It was snowing hard when I went out to feed, so I couldn’t tack her up as I normally do prior to our chore ride down the driveway.  So I changed my chore routine.  Normally I give her something to eat before our ride, but this morning I put her hay and feed bucket in her paddock but didn’t allow her to have them.  Instead, I hand-walked her down the driveway and let her loose, encouraging her to run back up the driveway to her breakfast (I’d left her paddock gate open).

Our normal twice-daily chore routine is to ride down to a paddock where I dismount and tie her and feed the ponies there while she eats hay that I put out for her where she’s tied.  When I let her loose on this morning, though, instead of going up the driveway, she jumped a snowpile and ended up right where I normally tie her, settling in to eat what hay was left from the previous afternoon’s chore ride.

I laughed and went about feeding the ponies in the paddock, thinking that Rose would head up the driveway eventually.  I expected she’d go up the driveway at speed since normally I keep her at a walk when we’re riding because I’m holding feed buckets and stretching her legs would probably be a welcome change.  This is, after all, what my other chore pony Shelley does.  But Rose hadn’t left by the time I did, and she hadn’t returned to her breakfast by the time I got back to the top of the road and began putting feed buckets together for the next pony paddock.  She did eventually return and settle into her breakfast normally, and I shut the gate behind her.

Later in the day I discovered, however, that Rose hadn’t come up the driveway after all (it was easy to see her route through the snow!)  The driveway is plowed, but instead Rose chose to circle out into the clearcut where there are a couple of feet of snow then where she could have rejoined the driveway she again veered away from it through the log yard where there was more than a foot of snow.  She visited both gates of the mare paddock before going to her breakfast, using the plowed driveway only for a short portion of her journey.  She definitely didn’t take the easy or direct route, instead choosing to blaze a trail of her own through ‘wild’ territory.  I laughed when I saw the route, thinking she was harkening back to her ancestors who were in the semi-feral herds of ponies in Cumbria.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

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

The Curiosity Gene

Willowtrail Fell Pony filly
  • A correlation has been identified between a particular strand of genetic material and certain traits, specifically curiosity and vigilance.
  •  If curiosity and vigilance are indeed genetically based and at opposite ends of a spectrum, I can definitely say that both are present in the Fell Pony.

  • Two different interpretations of curiosity and vigilance that I’ve found demonstrate that there is much more to be learned about what a genetic basis for temperament means and how it is used.

To read my complete article about "The Curiosity Gene" in Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm, click here

More stories like this one can be found in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations in the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Which Way Will She Go?

Willowtrail Fell Pony filly

When Fell Pony breeders apply for registration of their foals, identifying characteristics must be noted on the passport application.  Whorls are one characteristic that is to be noted, with several different whorl shapes to be distinguished between.  I find the whorl portion of the passport application to be the most challenging because I inevitably wait into the fall to fill the application out, and the foals’ winter coats have come in, making the whorls harder to find.  Fortunately I take lots of baby pictures, so I am able to go back and look at hair coats at a younger age to answer questions about whorls.

A 2016 study at Colorado State University gave new interest to whorls, especially those on the forehead which are common in Fell Ponies.  “New research suggests there’s a surprisingly simple way of predicting whether a spooking horse will turn to the right or left:  Check out his facial whorls.” (1)  Fell Ponies aren’t particularly spooky, so the research may not be of significant interest to Fell Pony owners.  The general idea, though, was that an equine with a whorl whose hairs turn in a counterclockwise direction when viewed straight on was more likely to spin left when startled with an opening umbrella.

In 2017 I had a foal with a whorl pattern on its forehead that I’d never seen before.  There were two whorls side by side with the hairs radiating out in different directions.  When I read about the ‘whirls and whorls’ research, I curiously wondered, which way will this filly go?  Will she go straight up?  I did see her take an amazing flying leap over a brush pile once.  Will she go one way or the other depending on the situation?  Or is there another possibility?  She was definitely one of the mellower foals I’ve ever had, so maybe she’ll just calmly take in a startling event, standing still.  I never tried the umbrella experiment on her when she was here to find out, but I’ll certainly pay more attention to ‘whirls and whorls’ in my ponies in the future!

  1. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey.  “Whirls and Hair Whorls,” Equus #470, November 2016, p. 18.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

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

Mares and Temperament

It has been my experience in breeding Fell Ponies for the last fifteen years that stallions have a significant influence on the temperament of their foals.  And since traits can skip generations, I’ve also seen an influence in the second generation.  Having noticed this pattern regarding temperament, I have made breeding decisions towards or away from certain stallions.  After a conversation with another breeder on the topic, though, I saw a pattern in some of my foals that pointed to the mare side of the breeding equation instead when it came to temperament.

Here are highlights from this article that appeared in the October 2017 issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm:

  • It was after a third foal was born that exhibited disinterested behavior at a young age that I spoke to the breeder on the topic of mares and temperament.
  • This breeder was seeing a pattern of temperament inheritance on the dam side, and sometimes the particular behaviors were even seen in the grandchildren. 
  • Suddenly a lightbulb went off in my brain, and I saw a pattern in my disinterested foals.

To request the complete article on Mares and Temperament, click here.

The book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding contains many stories like this one.  It is available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Willowtrail Mare and Foal


It was one of those mornings when my chore pony’s coat hadn’t yet seen enough sun to rid itself of the previous night’s snow.  She still needed exercising, though, so we began our walk down the driveway side by side instead of me on top of her.  It didn’t take long before she had outwalked me.

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By outwalking me, I mean she had gotten ahead of me to the extent that the lead rope would allow.  I keep the rope pretty loose, so she was in front of me by about three feet.  I tried to speed up, but she’s a good walker, so eventually I turned her in a circle around me to bring her alongside me again.  There’s a reason why we both prefer doing chores with me on top of her; I don’t slow her down that way!

When I got my first Fell Pony, my mentor had me hand-walk her somewhere, saying, “She’s a fast walker.  You want to walk at her speed, not slow her down.  You don’t want her to learn to walk slow.  A fast walk is too valuable to lose.”  My chore pony is that pony’s daughter.  She obviously inherited her mother’s good walk.

Riding my chore pony of late I’ve really noticed her good walk.  It’s an important characteristic of the Fell Pony breed, of course, since when the ponies were in the packhorse trade, they needed to move along at a good speed at the walk to make the distance they needed to make each day.  It’s one of the ground-covering gaits the breed is known for.

A few years ago we took pack ponies over Burn Moor in the Lake District.  Upon our return to our bed-and-breakfast, our host asked why we’d walked the ponies rather than ridden them.  There were several reasons for our choice on that day, but it would have perhaps been more authentic to have ridden a pony and led a pony.  It would take a special pair of human legs to keep pace with a string of Fell Ponies walking.

Back here at home, the day was mostly sunny, so by the time late-day chores came around, my chore pony’s coat was ice free.  There was no question where I was going to be on our trip down the driveway this time, and I enjoyed marveling again at the speed of her walk from a mounted position.  This winter we need the snow, so I can’t really complain about having been outwalked because of my pony’s icy coat in the morning.  It just makes me more thankful for that good walk when I can experience it from on top!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

Stories like this one abound in the book What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Is It Misbehaving When...?!

Willowtrail Wild Rose

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

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

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

Rose and H are cousins, despite living on different continents, and they share this uncommon ability to observe and communicate with their chosen human.  It does appear there’s something hereditary, since Rose’s daughter, Willowtrail Moonlit Lady, already at just six months old, observes and communicates with me, too, approaching me differently than my other ponies do.

These ponies give us human partners incredible displays of insight and gifts of cooperation that we are lucky to get from our human friends.  While someone else might say that Rose and H were misbehaving with their nudges and refusals, I prefer to look at their behaviors as something entirely different and definitely in the blessing department.  How lucky H’s owner and I are to share our lives with our ponies and each other!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

Mean or Mouth-Expressive?

170731 Tracey.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More observations like this one about the Fell Pony breed can be found in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Hopes and Desires and Dreams

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

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

170729 Jen Lady.JPG

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

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

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

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Circa 1980 Fell Pony Video

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

 Guards Apollo

Guards Apollo

 Kinniside Asi

Kinniside Asi

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

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

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

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

1)      “History of Lownthwaite Fells,” at
2)      Morrissey, Jenifer.  “A Fell Trot,” Willowtrail Farm Musings, January 10, 2014.

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


Those Tricky Statistics

 Fell Pony stallion Lunesdale Mercury

Fell Pony stallion Lunesdale Mercury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Thankful 2017

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

Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Mind Grandma!

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


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

To request the complete article, click here.

Shelley Prince.jpg

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

Mama’s Protective Move

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

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

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

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

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

The Mares are All Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

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

Preserving Night Vision

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

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

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

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

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

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Guards Apollo