I have heard more than once that non-fell-bred ponies who are returned to the fells do not do well and may die. I saw a pony once who’d been born on the fell then lived away for several years and then returned. Her hooves were dangerously long. The hill breeder saw me gaping at them and told me that when ponies live all their lives on the fell they rarely need their hooves trimmed, but when they go away and come back, it’s a different story.
I queried one long-time fell breeder about retaining hardiness off the fells. The response was that it depends on type and age. The larger types bred away from the fells probably can’t survive there if returned, nor can older ponies who have been gone most of their lives.
One long-time non-fell breeder has said, “I think you would find that generation to generation [the ponies] would grow up to height because they’re not having to strive to survive on the fell which is why it’s so important to keep ponies running in semi-feral herds in the Cumberland fells. A stud like us here has to keep returning to the Cumbrian fells to bring in the old blood and the new blood that live up on the high Cumberland fells.“ (1) Another long time non-fell breeder confirms, “Retaining the hardiness and type by using fell-bred ponies is very important. I have seen ponies bred two to three generations away from the fell start to change and definitely lose type.” (2)
Most of us probably haven’t seen Fell Ponies bred two or three generations off the fell. Most of us probably have ponies that, if they weren’t born on the fell, then their parents or grandparents were. So most of us probably don’t realize how much the fells shape what a Fell Pony is, and therefore we don’t realize that when the fell is taken out of the pony, the pony is changed. Our breed requires all of us to keep this in mind in order to ensure the future of the Fell Pony we so admire.
For a more detailed discussion about non-fell breeders returning to fell-based herds for outcrosses, click here.
Charlton, Sarah, on Lord of the Fells: A Celebration of the Lakeland Pony, BBC, circa 2007.
Robinson, Christine, in “Returning to the Fell,” in Morrissey, Jenifer, Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, 2013, p. 202