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.