Figure 1 shows my best estimate of fell-bred ponies from 1981 to 2017 alongside data based on the Fell Pony Society’s list of hill breeders from 2007 to 2017. For years prior to 2007, in addition to my own knowledge of fell bred herds, I inquired of people with long experience with the breed.
The differences between my numbers and the FPS numbers are usually because a breeder wasn’t known to the FPS or a breeder previously on the list didn’t make sure they made the most recent list. In some cases the breeder may not have been a member of the Society at the time the list was compiled. For a list of prefixes by year behind the foal data, click here.
A trendline is shown for my count of fell-bred foals. That it is trending upward could be considered good news, although the last ten years have seen some disturbing variations in numbers. And as we’ll see below, there is another way to look at this information that isn’t good news.
Figure 2 shows the percentage of registered foals that were fell born from 1981 to 2017. The average has been 39%; a trendline shows that the share of fell-bred ponies has been slowly dropping over the last three-plus decades.
Both fell-bred and non-fell-bred ponies have been a part of our breed since its founding. In the first volume in the Fell Pony Society stud book (circa 1898), as many as half the ponies registered were bred outside Cumbria. (1) In the first volume of the stud book that contains ancestors of today’s ponies, twenty-five percent of the ponies registered were bred outside Cumbria. (2) So the Fell Pony breed, as measured by registered stock, has never been exclusively made up of fell-bred ponies.
The trendline in Figure 2 highlights an important fact about the Fell Pony breed currently. The ponies we have today are a product of all the generations of selection that have gone before. At least for the past three plus decades, over one third of the breed population has been fell-born.
While numerically the number of fell bred ponies may be going up, the share of the breed they represent is going in the opposite direction, and this is not good news. The ponies we love and admire today are a mixture of both fell-bred and non-fell-bred stock. If the proportion of fell-bred stock in the breed keeps decreasing, the ponies of the future are likely to be different from the ones we have today because the proportion of their ancestors who are fell-bred will have decreased.
The first volume of ‘The Black Book’ (Fell Pony Stud Book Registrations 1898-1980. Penrith, England: The Fell Pony Society) is actually labeled volume V. Some entries do not show who bred the pony but the owner is listed as outside Cumbria.
See “Inspection Schemes and Grading Up” in Morrissey, Jenifer, Fell Ponies:Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, Willowtrail Farm, 2013 for information on oldest registered ancestors of today’s ponies.