I’ve just had a chance to read the gloriously illustrated article about the Greenholme Fell Ponies in Landscape magazine. Landscape “brings you the very best of Britain.” The Greenholme herd was featured because it’s one of the last semi-feral herds of Fell Ponies.
While there were twenty-three breeders considered hill farmers by The Fell Pony Society in 2015, the article in Landscape points out that the Greenholme herd is one of only a few remaining that have more than 20 mares. The article says there are just three; I count as many as six, so more research is in order! The Greenholme ponies have been running on Birkbeck Common since at least 1972. Bill Potter bought his first Fell Pony in 1952.
I interviewed Bill several years ago, yet I still learned more about his life with Fell Ponies from this story. While I knew he had worked them when he was young, I didn’t know that he had taken milk to the milk stand on one on his way to school. I also didn’t know that one of Bill’s ponies is now Prince Philip’s off-side leader in his four-in-hand.
The article briefly described the recent interest in using Fell Ponies for conservation grazing. I appreciate the authors pointing out that because of the nature of conservation grazing, hefted ponies can’t be used. Hefted ponies are those that are bonded with their terrain, and conservation grazing schemes often require short duration grazing. Ponies that are bonded with their terrain shouldn’t be uprooted to do the grazing work, and ponies that are only allowed to graze a landscape for part of the year won’t become hefted to it.
One of Bill’s comments gave me pause: that Fell Ponies born and bred away from the fells aren’t true Fell Ponies. For breeders like myself who don’t have the opportunity to run these ponies on the Cumbrian hills, it’s a hard truth to hear. All we can do is try our best to keep our ponies true to the breed and lend our support to breeders like the Potters who are doing the hard, unprofitable but important work of keeping these ponies in their native environment. Here’s hoping the article in Landscape brings more awareness to the important work that hill farmers do with and for Fell Ponies.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017
You can read more stories like this one about Fell Ponies in my book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover image.