Hefting the Ponies at Scotty Springs Ranch

Drybarrows Calista surveys our progress so far while others graze. The ranch road to my house is behind the pine tree at upper right.

Drybarrows Calista surveys our progress so far while others graze. The ranch road to my house is behind the pine tree at upper right.

On their first morning at our new home at Scotty Springs Ranch in South Dakota, my Willowtrail Fell Ponies had yet another adventure before them.  The mares and foals, after our long trip and late arrival, spent their first night here in a paddock.  After checking and feeding them at dawn and then giving them their late morning feeding, though, it was time to acquaint them with their pasture.  I had planned it to be a special experience because where they now live is unlike anything I’ve ever been able to provide them.  It is so much like a Cumbrian fell that a few English friends who have seen pictures have indeed called it a fell.  And now after seeing the ponies on the ground here, it does feel much like my own experiences on the Cumbrian hills.

Fell Ponies on the fells in Cumbria are often referred to as extensively grazed.  They range over large tracts of land, able to wander to find the food that they want and return to water and minerals as needed.  Movement is a regular feature of their days, and hills are climbed as needed for forage and to cope with weather conditions.  I am so very fortunate to now have an extensive grazing situation for my ponies.  I have the ponies’ minerals in sheds near my home, and water is available in an automatic waterer several hundred yards away at the ranch paddocks.  Pockets in the hills above create diverse forage opportunities as well as providing shelter from the wind, while higher elevations are available to catch those same winds during warm weather and insect season.

My house is near the one seen in the distance above Calista’s rump. Willowtrail Henry looks ahead.

My house is near the one seen in the distance above Calista’s rump. Willowtrail Henry looks ahead.

To be hefted is to have a knowledge of and relationship with a piece of ground on which the animals are expected to live and thrive.  When I was doing research on hefting a herd of ponies to a new place a year ago, I learned that equines can become hefted to a piece of ground by learning from other equines there.  However, here, the Scotty Springs Ranch herd was moved off the pasture in order to give the ponies their own place, so the ponies would need to learn the boundaries and key locations another way – from me! 

My plan involved haltering the two lead mares and leading them around the perimeter of the pasture, along the way showing them where the minerals and water sources were.  I chose to lead two mares and not one because I feared that the second mare might not follow, and then others might choose to stay with her.  It ended up being a good choice to have a mare on each side as we were climbing and descending steep slopes; I often hung onto their necks to keep upright and to keep up!

It took us well over an hour to circumnavigate their pasture.  I don’t know its size, but I do know we didn’t get to the most distant corners.  The Murdocks told me that their horses rarely went that high, and when I climbed to the top earlier in the summer, it was true that I didn’t see horse manure past a certain elevation.

The fall colors are just now peaking here, especially the grasses.

The fall colors are just now peaking here, especially the grasses.

What a magnificent experience it was to see Fell Ponies climbing fell-like hills!  Four mares and three foals made the trip around the pasture with me, and I felt so blessed to see these ponies both free and yet with me.  I chose to walk with them rather than ride because there were so many unknowns:  new terrain, foals at foot, extreme steepness, etc.  While my legs at the end wished I’d ridden, I didn’t regret sharing the experience of walking the terrain the same way my ponies did.

My only fell-born pony, Drybarrows Calista, is usually a follower in the herd, but here she led us up and onward, often at a canter across ground that didn’t seem suitable for that gait.  She appeared truly in her element, and I had to think she was remembering running above Haweswater a year earlier.  None of the ponies seemed winded or hesitant about our trek.  I was especially appreciative of the senior mare Bowthorne Matty who was fell bred (Wansfell) but not born; she was quiet and accepting of being constrained by the halter and lead rope and also patient with me grabbing on when I needed help staying upright or matching her pace.

One of the sheds my late husband built for the ponies that the Murdocks so graciously transported here from Colorado.  The ponies’ minerals are out of the weather inside.  The boundary of the pasture is the ridgeline.

One of the sheds my late husband built for the ponies that the Murdocks so graciously transported here from Colorado. The ponies’ minerals are out of the weather inside. The boundary of the pasture is the ridgeline.

The only regret I had was that there wasn’t someone else with us to photograph me with my ponies on our adventure.  I tried as best I could to capture the ponies running with joyful abandon, stopping to enjoy grazing when we would take a break, and looking out at the vistas which were many and varied.  And when we were back down to the ranch paddocks and everyone was getting a drink, I assured Willowtrail Wild Rose that next time she’d be carrying me on Scotty Springs Fell!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

Welcome, Ponies, to Scotty Spring's Ranch!

Willowtrail Spring Maiden by Bruce Murdock

Willowtrail Spring Maiden by Bruce Murdock

Nearly six months of planning paid off on the day we transported nine Willowtrail Fell Ponies from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to our new home at Scotty Springs Ranch in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  One trailer with three box stalls housed the three mares with their foals, and another trailer brought the stallion and two more mares.  The trip took seven hours, with the first few in intense wind, first at the head, then at the tail.  My friend and Scotty Springs Ranch co-owner Linda Murdock drove the big load, and I drove the smaller one.  We got off later than I’d hoped and pulled in after dark at 9:30pm. 

I couldn’t have been more pleased with how the ponies handled the trip.  The mares and foals all loaded into the unfamiliar trailer with little hesitation, despite it smelling strongly of cattle, which are its normal occupants.  Then in the other trailer, I devised a divider to allow two mares to lower their heads to eat without the dominant one picking on the lower ranking one.  At the other end of the trip, everyone unloaded without issue, taking deep breathes of their new surroundings while I walked them around their overnight housing and introduced them to automatic waterers which they’d never seen before and which the Murdocks graciously installed for the ponies’ use.  The Murdocks also removed as many of the unfamiliar weeds from the paddocks as possible so that burrs and dry bits wouldn’t get stuck in the ponies’ hair.  Nonetheless, a few ponies had adornments the next morning!

Bruce Murdock traveled ahead of us with hay bales from Colorado so the ponies would have familiar feed for the first few days.  I of course also supplemented their feed buckets the morning of the trip (and several of the previous days) with various edibles to improve the ponies’ ability to cope with the stress of the journey, trusting that the foals would get some benefit via their mothers’ milk.

Madie and Asi with a barn in the midground that we will be renovating for the ponies and the fell-like pony pasture in the background

Madie and Asi with a barn in the midground that we will be renovating for the ponies and the fell-like pony pasture in the background

It was with great relief that I watched everyone tuck into their hay piles immediately after entering their overnight paddocks.  I also was relieved when at least one mare in each paddock drank from the waterers, since I knew the others would follow suit at some point during the night. I was able to sleep peacefully after a tough drive.

With the long trip from old home to new complete, now we will get to explore this beautiful place and get to know it in depth.  It will be an exciting journey of a more grounded sort!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More stories about life with my Fell Ponies can be found in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Unexpected Returns

One of the big projects I have undertaken since my husband’s death is an auction of our business’s assets.  With the auction over, the items are now being dispersed to their new owners.  Due to my need to move and lighten my load, some of the items in the auction were pony-related, and I feared that when they went, it would be difficult for me to watch.  While there will be financial returns from the auction to offset the loss of these items, there have been returns in other forms that were unexpected and equally valuable.

Willowtrail Mountain Honey and her foal in the paddock my late husband built for me just a year ago.  The paddock fencing has now been sold and removed.

Willowtrail Mountain Honey and her foal in the paddock my late husband built for me just a year ago. The paddock fencing has now been sold and removed.

The first pony-related item to leave was a fence in one of the stallion pens that my husband had completed for me just a year ago.  It was the pen that my beloved stallion Guards Apollo occupied for nearly all of his fourteen years here and is shown in the picture.  When the purchaser of the fencing was due to arrive, I was concerned I would burst into tears.  Instead, when I learned that the purchaser ran an equine-assisted therapy program, our conversation was so inspiring that the expected sadness was replaced with excitement that the fencing would be helping facilitate such important work.

Another pony-related item to leave was a very large box of electric fence supplies.  I didn’t have the same emotional attachment to these items, so it was relatively easy to help the purchasers load them into their trailer.  I asked what they planned to do with the fencing, they replied that they too had horses.  I of course asked what kind, and they replied Friesians and Friesian sport horses.  It was easy to get them talking about their more-than-thirty-years as breeders of sport horses, and since I know nothing about that market, I learned a lot.  As they were about to leave, they asked what sort of horses I had.  When I answered, the response was, repeatedly, “You breed Fell Ponies!”  After three or four of these choruses, they said of course they’d like to meet my ponies, and we had fun meeting the whole herd in two different locations.  They were sufficiently appreciative of my stock to ask for a business card, a reminder to me of something else I must revise before I move!

A local rancher came to pick up some items for a friend, and they saw my ponies in a nearby paddock.  They shared that they feed with Percherons, including a Percheron-Friesian cross.  I enjoyed hearing their perspective on the conformation, temperament, and action of their drafts and draft-crosses.  The unexpected return from that visit, though, was hearing about the movie they’d just watched.  It was about pit ponies, so I shared about my first pony who was similar in conformation to pit ponies and about my first Fell Pony mentor who trained pit ponies when he was young.  You won’t be surprised to learn that I immediately came inside and ordered the movie!

One lot and its purchaser gave me a chuckle.  The lot contained a bunch of heavy duty free-standing fence panels.  I bought them nearly two decades ago when I purchased my first Fell Ponies.  Then I moved the panels here with me seventeen years ago.  And now I will see them at my new home after I move.  My hosts at Scotty Springs Ranch have purchased them!

Another purchaser wasn’t at all horsey, but I enjoyed their question about the ponies, who were watching us load timbers that my husband had milled.  They said, “Aren’t they too tall for ponies?”  I explained how tall ponies can be and how I appreciated their height when lifting harness and packs.  That was all they said, and we went on about our work. 

While it is still possible that I will be brought to tears by an auction item leaving, I now know that the visits by purchasers are bringing me unexpected returns, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

One Thing After Another

I needed to escape my desk, and the convenient excuse was to take my stallion Asi and his girlfriend Madie to pasture and to spend time writing while they grazed.  It was a good thing I wasn’t as tired as I thought I was because I had one thing after another happen that kept it from being the relaxing time I had hoped for!

190821 ponies at pasture.jpg

The first unexpected happening was when I arrived.  The mares and foals were lining the fence and watching with great interest as I unloaded the two newcomers.  Asi was reasonably well-behaved despite the mostly female audience, but I still had to modify where I was going to put he and his girlfriend because I didn’t want a lot of cavorting at the fence.  I thought I had a good solution, but it depended on the mares and foals respecting the river as a barrier.  That didn’t work!  Calista climbed up the three foot nearly-vertical river bank to tease Asi.  After trying to drive Calista back across the river, I realized I was faced with too many hormones, so I caught Asi and moved him to another pasture then I returned to the river bank to drive Calista across the river again. 

190821 Asi Calista trouble makers.jpg

My presence on the river bank had the opposite effect than I wanted, as all the mares and foals headed my way.  It was incredibly flattering, but I really didn’t want pressure on that fence line.  Claire created the second ‘event’ by climbing the river bank onto a narrow ledge where the fence was.  Again it was incredibly flattering that Claire wanted my attention, but I didn’t like her being on that narrow ledge along the river.  I realized the only way Claire was going to go back down into the river and not try to come through the fence to be with me was if I disappeared.  So I went and hid in the shed and watched her.  Eventually the rest of the herd went across the river and disappeared. 

190821 Claire Honey riverbank.jpg

Claire, though, stayed at the fence and kept looking in my direction (she could tell I was close because she could see my dog Tika who was near me).  But eventually when she realized the herd was gone, she scrambled down the river bank and crossed the river and called and ran to join them.  Finally I could retreat to the trailer and sit and do some writing (and video production) while Asi and Madie grazed without company. 

190821 Claire.jpg

There was to be one more bit of excitement.  Just before dark, Tika, who’d been laying near me, took off at a full run straight north.  I saw in front of her a flash of orange which suggested it was a fox.  They quickly disappeared.  I hastily wrapped up what I was doing, and when Tika hadn’t returned, I started calling her.  It was a long five minutes (and getting dark) before she came to me panting hard from behind me, from across the highway, and soaking wet.   Obviously the chase had taken her through the river and across the paved road.  I’m so thankful traffic was light and she wasn’t hit because she pays no attention to traffic when she’s on the scent of something. 

After all that, I was glad Asi and Madie weren’t too full of themselves at departure time.  They led and loaded easily to come home.  The upside of all the commotion was some beautiful photographs at day’s end.  And of course an improved attitude for dealing with my desk due to spending time with all my friends.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

You can read many more stories like this one about my life with Fell Ponies in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Help When I Need It Most

When I arrived at summer pasture with the first mare/foal pair of the day, I immediately saw that fencing was going to be added to my day’s to-do list.  A few weeks ago, the ranch manager had put cattle in the pasture to the north of the ponies and had secured all but the piece of fence that crosses the river.  When the cows were put in, the river was extremely high and the cattle were far to the north, so the gap in the fence wasn’t an issue.  Now, though, the river is lower, and the cattle were just across the fence from the ponies, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before they’d find the gap and enter the pony pasture.

On my way home I made a mental list of the tools I would need when I returned to pasture with the second pony load.  I also realized I would need to call the ranch manager to ask for help because while the river was lower, it was still high enough that I couldn’t stretch the fence by myself.  I just hoped I’d be able to catch him on the phone on the first dry day for haymaking of the week.

As has been the case since my husband died earlier this year, help has been offered when I need it most.  Just as I turned on my blinker to turn into my driveway, a pickup and horse trailer came towards me down the county road.  I stopped, and I realized my logistical prayer had been answered.  It was the ranch manager.  He assured me he’d have someone there to help me immediately.  It was good that I had asked because I fell face first into the river while working with his ranch hand stretching fence.  No harm done, but good that someone was there just in case.

The larger pattern of my life has been that when my life is in transition, everything seems to be in transition:  job, home, life partner.  It’s happened this way twice before, and this time is no different.  Due to losing my husband, I lost my job, and I have to move my farm before winter.  But just as has been the case since things tragically changed earlier this year, help has been offered when I needed it most.  Bruce and Linda Murdock of Scotty Springs Ranch outside Hot Springs, South Dakota have invited Willowtrail Farm to relocate there.  I am so incredibly grateful.  I met Bruce and Linda through my dog.  They bred Scotty Springs Taptika, an Australian Shepherd, and we’ve gotten to know each other the past three years because of Tika.  The place they have offered is ideal for raising Fell Ponies, and I am humbled by the opportunity they have given me.

I so appreciate the many people who have asked how I’ve been doing and where I’m going and extending their well wishes.  Each and every one of those gestures has been just the help that I needed at the moment.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

190803 Honey Claire Rose Henry pasture.JPG

Pony Shuffle 2019

190804 Henry trailer.JPG

This summer we’ve been fortunate to have abundant grass here at home.  I’ve been able to put the mares out with their foals here for several hours a day while I’ve been consumed by tasks related to moving my farm this fall.

Summer pasture is a four mile trailer trip from home, and being adjacent to a hay meadow, the grass is lush.  Therefore each year I undertake what I call the pony shuffle to accustom my ponies’ metabolisms and digestive tracts to the change in roughage from hay to green.  I progress them from 2 hours a day to four then eight then sixteen and finally twenty four, about four days per interval.  I usually do the two hour interval here at home, but this year with abundant grass I’ve been able to do the four hour interval here, too, a huge time and travel saver.

When I have foals, there’s a great advantage to the pony shuffle.  They get very accustomed to loading into, unloading from, and traveling in a trailer.  I always make sure my mares are excellent loaders and travelers so the foals can learn good habits from their moms. 

This year, I have a pony other than a foal new to the pony shuffle.  To introduce Drybarrows Calista to the sequence of intervals, I began by putting her out here with an old hand with the process, Bowthorne Matty.  Matty and her foal Ross and Calista grazed around here, and I was pleased but not surprised when the first day and every day since, Calista has followed Matty’s lead, coming to me to be put back in the paddock at the appropriate time.  Sometimes Calista has even just followed Matty and Ross through the gate without a halter and lead rope!  When she first arrived at summer pasture, I felt rather than saw her eyes bug out at all the grass!

With three foals this year, and just a 3 horse trailer, there’s lots of hauling going on to get all three mare/foal pairs plus Calista transitioned to summer pasture.  I won’t miss the time consuming nature of the pony shuffle after I move, but I do enjoy being forced to spend time with my ponies!

190804 Calista Ross Matty.jpg

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

That Worked Out!

I’ve been stewarding my ponies long enough that I can usually make a pretty good guess about their behavior in a new situation.  Nonetheless, there’s always that little bit of doubt, usually because some other pony at some other time has done something I completely didn’t expect!  Today I had a challenging start to my day, so I wasn’t able to put the mares and foals out to graze like I usually do.  When I finally got freed up about 2:30 in the afternoon, I decided to do something new for them.  For a while I questioned my decision, but in the end it worked out!

Willowtrail mares and foals

The something new was to take them to a part of the property they hadn’t grazed before which is quite a ways away from where they’ve been grazing the past month.  To begin the adventure, I haltered the two most dominant mares but let six ponies total out the gate, one additional mare and the three foals.  We then began walking down the road.  All three foals cavorted around us, but the third mare was quickly left behind as she grazed along the verges.  When we went farther than usual and disappeared from sight, I heard her call to us and then come trotting down the road to rejoin us just as we were getting to the destination.  So far, so good!

I let my two haltered friends loose, and all six seemed happy with the new grazing opportunity.  I returned to the house and fed the last three ponies, scoring a really nice hug from my stallion in the process.  Then I went in to get a much needed and overdue lunch. 

I needed to run to town to do some errands, so I headed out after lunch.  I drove through the gate, then a nagging thought wouldn’t leave me.  The ponies hadn’t been where I’d left them when I passed by, and I hadn’t seen them anywhere else.  I got halfway to the highway and turned around, thinking I’d best know where they were before being gone for an extended period. 

I found them fairly quickly; they had moved around a corner of the clearcut into an area I’d never seen them graze before.  All was well, but since it was a new area for them, I didn’t know where they might move to next.  They could choose to move closer to the house or farther away, and I needed to know which they would choose as the day transitioned toward evening.  I once had a mare and stallion who went away from the house and went visiting neighbors, an experience I wasn’t interested in repeating.  I aborted my trip to town and instead ran a short errand and came back to check on them, then did the same again.  By that second check, they had moved slightly towards the house, with the lead mare headed toward an area she was familiar with, so I decided I could move on to other things and didn’t need to check on them again.  The discovery of some wild strawberries that were incredibly tasty confirmed that things were heading in the right direction!

Around 7:30pm, before the sun began to set, I went outside to begin my last chores of the day.  I was about 45 minutes early, but I wanted to give myself plenty of time in case the ponies had done something unexpected.  Almost immediately that concern was put to rest when I heard a foal call at a distance and then a mare answer similarly far away.  If I could hear them, I could easily find them before dark, so I continued with my chores.  I put hay in the first mare/foal paddock, and as I was filling a tub for the second paddock, I heard a strange noise.  Then I realized it was rapid and multiple hoofbeats.  Very soon thereafter my heart pony and her foal cantered straight to me and stopped.  I led them to their gate and put them in after thanking them for making my life easy.  Then a second mare and her foal presented themselves, and I led them to their paddock and put them in, also thanking them.  And then the third mare arrived with her foal and I did similarly, again with no tack, just cooperation.  I felt triumphant!  I’d tried something new, and it had worked out well for all of us!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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


They Try to be Helpful!

190628 Rose Henry.JPG

I’ve been putting this mare and foal out each day at 4:30pm to graze until sundown.  I walk them down the driveway a ways to release them in a clearcut, and they are free to find grass anywhere they like; there’s plenty for them to choose from.  The standing forest bounds them on one side and a fence on the other; the rest of the herd is a magnet that keeps them from going too far away.  I have learned, after doing this with mares for many years, that they have patterns.  Usually I know where they will be one, two, and three hours into their grazing period.

The past two nights Rose and Henry have come up to graze outside the office window just before sundown.  Last night I thought I was too busy to go out when I saw them, so I finished what I was doing before going out to put them in.  It was perhaps a half hour from when I saw them out the window, and since I hadn’t taken advantage of the helpful opportunity they had given me, they had wandered a quarter mile away.  It made a long day a little longer.  The only benefit was that I got to ride Rose in, and I really enjoy that.  Earlier tonight I was thinking I should take a camera with me to capture our end-of-day ride.

But as daylight gave way to sundown, I tried to be more mindful of the length of my day.  This time I was on the phone when Rose and Henry appeared out the window.  I quickly told my caller that I had to go; I didn’t want to miss tonight’s helpful opportunity!  And I forgot the camera, so I didn’t capture the light of the setting sun behind my ponies that was so gorgeous.  But I did tell them how much I appreciated them trying to be helpful!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

Welcome Willowtrail Henry!

Willowtrail Henry at 31 hours

Willowtrail Henry at 31 hours

I didn’t realize how much tension I was holding, awaiting the birth of my first foal this year.  All that tension vanished, though, when Willowtrail Henry entered the world.  I was blessed to be able to act as midwife for his birth, and as always it was amazing to watch how quickly he began getting to his feet.  His abundant energy made for a long wait before he got serious about nursing, though!

The inspiration for Henry’s name comes from three places.  His father’s grandsire was Lunesdale Henry, an esteemed stallion from that longtime stud, whom I was fortunate to spend time with in 2006.  The breeder of my Henry’s mother’s mother was Henry Harrison of the no-longer Sleddale stud.  I was blessed to talk to Mr. Harrison and receive historic photos of his ponies in 2011.  Finally, the picture on the May 2019 page of the Fell Pony Society calendar is of Waverhead Henry with the late Miss Mary Longsdon, MBE.  I had great respect for Mary’s work as chairman of the Fell Pony Society and for the many things she did on either side of that part of her service to our breed.  I first spoke with Mary in 2007 and was thrilled to meet her in 2015 when I visited England.

Henry is out of Willowtrail Wild Rose, the daughter of my first Fell Pony Sleddale Rose Beauty.  I am sentimental about this line for many reasons, and I am very interested in continuing it.  Now begins the long wait to get a filly like Henry!  While my pH-of-the-milk foaling predictor was off by a few days, Rose had an incredible amount of wax an hour before Henry was born.  Long time Cumbrian Fell Pony breeder Christine Robinson called it ‘candles’ and I can see why!  I appreciate that Rose chose to foal at noon and when I was on hand to help.

Rose waxing

Henry is my first foal by Kinniside Asi.  While I did as much research as I could in choosing Asi as a stallion, there remained uncertainty about my choice until Henry hit the ground.  No longer!  I have told Papa he did good several times!  Asi’s mother threw three colts in a row.  I sure hope Asi and Rose don’t have that sort of pattern; it will be hard to wait that long to get a filly I can keep!  I can certainly see some of Lunesdale Henry in Asi’s face; maybe someday I’ll see it in my Henry’s too.

The late Lunesdale Henry

The late Lunesdale Henry

Henry is proving to be one of the friendliest foals I’ve ever had.  And pictures are becoming harder to take as his eyesight improves; he comes to see me as soon as I get anywhere close!  What a blessing it is to share life with these ponies!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

Stories about other ponies born at Willowtrail Farm can be found in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here and on the book cover.

So Much to Look Forward To

Willowtrail Mountain Honey

I admit to having a chronic case of the human condition known as ‘a search for meaning.;  I find life to be incredibly rich and rewarding due to this condition, but when something unexpected happens, it tends to set me back on my heels until I can discern a reason for the event.  When my husband was killed in an accident, it threw everything in my life into question. At the time, I had more Fell Pony foals due than ever before. It didn’t take long, though, for the meaning of this to become quite clear.

Of course, had I known I would be alone come foaling season, with an increased work load and an estate to settle and a business to close, I wouldn’t have bred as many mares.  That I did breed them and that I am now alone says to me that stewarding these ponies is something I’m meant to continue doing.  And that it will likely be an important part of my new life.

Willowtrail Wild Rose

From this perspective, then, there is so much to look forward to!  These foals will include the first by my new stallion as well as the last by my previous stallion, and I am anxious to compare the two.  There will be a foal from a line that I’m particularly sentimental about, and I’m hopeful it will be something I can be proud of.  I’m hoping for a foal from a line that is charismatic and has movement to die for.  And there will be two foals from a line that right now is eye candy for me.  I’m very much looking forward to more eye candy!  And I’m not just looking forward to this year’s foals but also to what they will tell me about my breeding program.  I’m always striving to produce better Fell Ponies with each generation, so I’m anxious to see what this foal crop will tell me about my progressive breeding goals.

So while my ‘search for meaning’ condition has been quite flared up of late, at least where my ponies are concerned, there is less uncertainty.  And as foaling season nears, I have much to look forward to!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

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

Shelley Goes Visiting

What a blessing it is to be having a real winter!  Normal amounts of snow that will hopefully keep the fire danger down this summer and will provide plenty of irrigation water for hay crops.  And what interesting timing.  With my husband gone, I’m now solely responsible for snowplowing and filling stock tanks and moving hay bales and all the other chores of the farm in winter (and I’m grateful for all the help I’ve been offered, too).  It didn’t take me long, though, to know that there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Restar Mountain Shelley III

It’s normal when practicing progressive breeding to have ebbs and flows in the size of a breeding herd.  As one works to produce better ponies with each generation, it’s common to retain daughters.  Then a need for a second stallion emerges, and the population grows.  Then when those daughters begin to produce offspring, it becomes time to select which females to retain and which to rehome to keep the herd size realistic.  

I knew I was reaching the point where I was going to have to make some difficult decisions this year.  With my husband’s passing, though, I began to see opportunities to reduce my pony population that I might not have seen otherwise.  For instance, I had kept my Fell Pony mare Restar Mountain Shelley III open (unbred). While I wasn’t interested in selling her, an idea occurred to me. My friend Tina has a two year old Fell that she hopes to eventually use for riding and driving. I thought Tina might find it appealing to have a full grown mare to ride until the filly is ready to go to work.

While the idea made sense logically, I wasn’t fully prepared for how much I would miss Shelley.  Fortunately, letting her go temporarily is already producing gifts.  Tina asked for some video of me working with her, so she would better know what Shelley responds to.  My heart was warmed when Tina observed how much Shelley enjoys being with me.  The feeling is definitely mutual!  Then I got the pictures here of Shelley encountering new beings in her life with quiet acceptance and curiosity.  That’s my girl!

Having Shelley go visiting has definitely freed up some time each day.  Her departure is the first of several.  My goal is to get from five paddocks of ponies down to two while I adjust to life without my husband.  It won’t surprise me at all if I’m back up to five paddocks again a few years out!

There is still a void here that Shelley used to occupy.  It is hard to see her stall empty, her tracks still in the snow, her voice not greeting me at feeding time.  But I take great solace from knowing Shelley will be coming back to me before long, and in the meantime Tina will have lots of stories to tell me about my girl.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

Luck Isn't Random

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I am often told how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place surrounded by beautiful ponies.  I am indeed grateful for this amazing life I lead and that people find it admirable, but I’ve always been a little hesitant to acknowledge the other aspect of ‘luck’ that’s sometimes inferred, its randomness.  I was pleased to read about some research, then, that says that indeed luck isn’t random.  Dr. Tina Seelig, a professor in management science and engineering at Stanford University, says that luck “is something you can create for yourself by identifying and developing opportunities.” (1)

Two decades of research have led Dr. Seelig to find three things we can do to increase our chances of having good things happen to us.  The first is to take small risks.  When I got involved in sustainable agriculture, taking a small risk to steward rare breeds instead of conventional ones seemed a small chance with large rewards.  Never would I have imagined I’d end up with a herd of Fell Ponies in the mountains of Colorado and friends worldwide who love them!  I think of ‘taking small risks’ as poking the universe to see how it responds.  Shortly after I bought my first Fell Ponies (before email and social media were prevalent) I sent a paper letter to a long time breeder in Cumbria, not knowing if I would hear back.  Not only did I get a response, but that initial letter led to regular correspondence then more ‘penpals’ and eventually trips to Cumbria to visit the people I’d been corresponding with.  That small risk of sending a letter definitely had long term ramifications, nearly all positive.

The second thing Dr. Seelig recommends is to show appreciation.  “When someone does something for you, they’re taking that time that they could be spending on themselves or someone else, and you need to acknowledge what they’re doing.” (2)  I am grateful to my parents who were persistent in requiring a “thank you” whenever a courtesy was shown to me.  I’ve been surprised how many people don’t practice that simple custom.  I try to always give credit and express appreciation for all I learn about these ponies (as well as other things in life), and I have definitely benefited in ways I would never have imagined.

The third thing Dr. Seelig recommends is to embrace crazy ideas.  “Ideas that seem the craziest often have a seed of something powerful, and if you take a few minutes to think about how it might work, you open yourself up to really interesting possibilities.”  (3)  When I got involved in sustainable agriculture, using draft animal power was quite common in that community.  But I had the crazy idea that using ponies made more sense.  Talk about ‘really interesting possibilities’ opening up!  The fact that the same animal can be used in harness, ridden, driving, and for packing is truly more sustainable than having different animals for different uses.  I’ve never been sorry nor been tempted to get a bigger equine.

While luck may not be random, it isn’t necessarily easy to cultivate, either.  My mother, rest her soul, thought my change from a high tech career to one in agriculture and land stewardship was ill advised, and she reminded me of her opinion every time she talked to me (she grew up on a farm, so she spoke from first hand experience). Of course my mind was pretty good at amplifying that nay-saying from an important person in my life.  It takes consistent effort to continue taking small risks, showing appreciation, and embracing crazy ideas.  So while I’ll always wrestle with nay-sayers, including myself, there’s no question I’ll keep trying to cultivate luck.

  1.  “Out of Luck?  Try This,” Stanford Magazine, December 2018,p. 25.

  2. Seelig, Tina, in #1

  3.   Seelig, Tina, in #1

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More stories like this one can be found in my books What an Honor: A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies and The Partnered Pony: What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book covers.

No Longer Wild as the Hills?

Drybarrows Calista hasn’t ever been too wild for a Fellfie!

Drybarrows Calista hasn’t ever been too wild for a Fellfie!

Roy Ottink once described the Drybarrows Fell Ponies as “diamonds in the rough straight from the fell and wild as the hills….” (1)  This description was very much on my mind when I decided to import Drybarrows Calista.  I took reassurance from David Thompson’s description of Calista as the friendliest pony in his herd of youngstock.  Nonetheless, the journey from fell-living in Cumbria to Rocky Mountain living in Colorado requires transit via truck and plane and days of standing in stalls, so I wondered what the pony would be like that I received compared to the one that David sent me.

The pony that arrived here, despite the rigors of travel, was indeed the pony that David sent away.  I don’t think I’ve ever called a Fell Pony “sweetie” as often as I have Calista in the month that she’s been here.  It somehow seems unfair to all the other Fell Ponies I have here to so enjoy this newly arrived one.

It would be easy to assume, based on how David described Calista to me initially, that she is an anomaly in being so easy to get along with.  But a story in the recent Fell Pony Society Magazine and another on Facebook suggest that perhaps the Drybarrows Fell Ponies are no longer as ‘wild as the hills’ as they used to be.  David took his youngsters to the Fell Pony Society & Northern Dartmoor Group Study Day in April 2018.  One of the ponies “had only been brought in off the fell and haltered the previous week.”  (2)  Then Penny Walster says of Drybarrows Dissident who took 2nd in the Fell, Highland, and Dales class at the British National Foal Show in November 2018, “What a fabulous little man he has been today a massive long day at The British National Foal Show…  A month off the fell, and you could not buy this temperament…he showed like a pro!” (3)

It appears that Calista is not an anomaly but instead just another representative of the type of pony that David is producing at Drybarrows these days.  I agree with Penny’s assessment:  “Credit to you for superb breeding!”  I look forward to watching the continued evolution of the Drybarrows stud under David’s stewardship, with a little help locally from Calista to interpret it all!

  1. Ottink, Roy, as quoted in Miller, Francis.“Drybarrows Fell Ponies”,  The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Spring 2015, Volume 30, p. 78

  2. Simpson, Claire.  “Fell Pony Society & Northern Dartmoor Group Study Day,” The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Autumn 2018 – Volume 37, p. 79.

  3. Walster, Penny.  Facebook post 26 November 2018 at 12:14AM

© 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.

Thank You Sleddale Fern V!

Sleddale Rose Beauty in 2006

Sleddale Rose Beauty in 2006

I became acquainted with the Sleddale Fern line of Fell Ponies through a friend who owned one.  I was intrigued, then, when another Fern was mentioned in the Chairman’s Report in the Autumn 2018 Fell Pony Society newsletter.  It appears we have a lot to thank this pony for.  Her late owner Anne Carslaw bequeathed £100,000 to the Fell Pony Society.  This pony must have had a special relationship with her owner to inspire that sort of legacy.

I appreciate Chairman Peter Boustead helping me figure out which of the Ferns was owned by Mrs. Carslaw.  Before long I understood how Fern might have had such influence on her owner.  One of Fern’s half-sisters was my first Fell Pony Sleddale Rose Beauty, and Beauty certainly inspired me.  That strength of character must be in their genes!

The Sleddale ponies are no longer being bred, but their influence obviously continues.  Thank you Beauty and Fern and all the rest for your gifts to the humans in your lives.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

There are lots of stories about Beauty and her strength of character in my books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book covers. That’s Beauty on the cover of What an Honor!

I Am Grateful

I am tired.  We’ve had a several-days’ run of cold weather, when everything is harder, including pony chores.  I am very grateful for this life with ponies, but there are these times when I wear thin.  Inevitably, though, something happens to remind me how lucky I am and how important the work I do on behalf of Fell Ponies is.  That has been the case the last few days.  Words of thanks, support, and encouragement have come from multiple directions, and I am extraordinarily grateful.  Then a gift that I can hold in my hands carrying similar sentiments arrived, and it took my breath away.

To most people, a pair of socks wouldn’t seem very exciting.  But living where winter occupies as much as half the year, wool socks are very dear to me.  And the socks I’ve just received aren’t ordinary.  They are works of art, with all the inspiration and craftsmanship that that moniker requires.  From their maker:  “I found the wool for the ‘Fell Pony in first morning light’ colored socks and thought of you.  Please keep up your work for the Fell Pony breed!!!  You rock!!!”

Then when I showed them the picture I’d taken of my ponies a few days before, they replied, “That’s exactly what I had in mind when I saw the ball of wool!”  I have never had the pleasure of meeting this person and may not ever because we live across an ocean from each other, but they are uncannily aware of why I do the work I do with and for Fell Ponies.  They are always there, however remotely, when I need to celebrate or need encouragement.  A friend like that is priceless.  The Fell Pony breed is stronger because of connections between people that it weaves, and for that I am grateful, too.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More stories about the blessings of life with Fell Ponies can be found in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here .

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The Reward of a Nicker

I was spreading hay for the ponies midday when my young dog started barking.  I was pretty sure I knew why.  She’s decided part of her mission in life is to herd moose.  Sure enough there was one lying down on the south-facing flank of the compost pile, and my dog felt it needed to recline elsewhere.  For my part, I was thankful for the fence between us as it watched me continue spreading hay, especially when my dog had succeeded in getting it to its feet and it started moving in our direction!

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It occurred to me to wonder whether my newest pony had seen a moose yet and what she might have thought of a wild animal bigger than her.  And I wondered what the largest wild animal was that she’d ever seen on the fell in Cumbria.  Then it occurred to me that she might not understand the concept of wild animals.  Here my ponies know them as the ones who live on the forest side of the fences. 

I much prefer encountering moose during daylight hours, especially this time of year when snow covers the ground, making their dark form more obvious.  Usually at least I have a little more notice.  A few days before, I was walking a pony down the driveway when a cow moose made her presence known, and she had no interest in moving off.  My pony and I therefore modified our route instead.  I let my pony run up the driveway on her own, and she didn’t veer away from the moose as she passed at a gallop.  When I returned up the driveway, though, I did veer away until I realized the moose had finally done the same.

At night I rely on my dogs to tell me if moose are about, and I often have no idea how close or far off they are.   I’m most likely to encounter them on the long walk down the driveway to the farthest pony paddock.  The walk isn’t leisurely if the dogs are barking since I’m actively processing where the object of their attention is.  More often than not, though, it’s a quiet walk. 

Moose are definitely bigger than I am and while I’ve never been charged by one, they do charge the dogs who are usually with me, so I always consider myself potentially in danger.  For that reason, when I do get to that last paddock at night without an encounter, I feel myself relax.  And it seems a special reward for my efforts when my arrival is met with a nicker.

© 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.

I Must Have Needed A Hug

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I went through the gate and greeted each of the mares there individually.  It was after dark, and I knew who was who as much by their positions relative to each other as by their appearance.  It had been a long day with unexpected interruptions from a nail in a tire of my pickup necessitating a trip to town for repair and my husband needing help an hour away loading a recalcitrant piece of equipment.  I had squeezed in a pony training session between sundown and dark, putting off my dinner probably longer than I should have.

I made my way between the mares and headed toward the hay yard to get them their last feeding of the day.  I felt, more than saw, a pony walking close beside me.  I stopped and so did she, instantly.  We were already nearly touching, so it was natural to reach out and pet her, and then all of a sudden my arms were around her neck, and I was leaning heavily on her shoulder.  She stood completely still, letting me take a moment to release and receive.  I hadn’t realized how much I needed a hug.

After I stood up on my own again, I stepped back to say thank you.  I realized, though, that I wasn’t entirely sure which mare deserved my appreciation.  I cheated to find the answer by flipping her forelock up to reveal a star. It was Willowtrail Wild Rose, my heart pony, of course.  I should have known since I often give her a hug so she knows I like them.  Usually, though, when Rose offers something, it’s a tease such as attempting to take my hat as in this picture.  Her offer of a hug meant a lot by comparison.  What a blessing life is with these ponies.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More stories about life with Fell Ponies can be found in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Sometimes It's the Little Things

I had tacked up my Fell Pony to go on a trail ride.  As I usually did, I threw open the paddock gate without having a hand on the reins.  What my pony did next speaks volumes about Fell Ponies and this one in particular.

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Green grass was there to be had just out that gate, so my pony certainly had enticements to move off.  It would have been in keeping with the pony character for her to pursue food.  On the other hand, I do train my ponies to stand to wait to be mounted, so she should have remained where she was.  My mare didn’t do that either, so I suppose you could say she misbehaved.  The choice she made, though, I found humbling.  She chose to move parallel to the fence.  She knew I needed to climb the fence to mount her.  This pony chose to facilitate our trail ride instead of eat green grass or stand still as she’d been taught.  Sometimes it’s the little things about these ponies that make them so special.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More stories like this one can be found in my Fell Pony books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking on the book covers or titles.

Invisible Uses

A visitor remarked that they wished more Fell Ponies were being put to use.  The comment came back to my mind when the end of the day took some unusual turns. 

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We stopped at pasture on our way home from work to see Matty and her son Theo.  I decided to turn them into a larger area.  It was new to Theo, but known to Matty, and almost immediately she crossed the river to get to her favorite grazing areas.  Just as I was about to leave, I realized that Theo hadn’t crossed the river, and Matty was ignoring his anxious cries.  I dug a halter and lead rope out of the truck and went to find Matty, crossing the river on the road bridge.  Matty came to me as I approached, and I haltered her and led her to the river.  It had been a long time since I’d ridden her, and I’d never ridden her across the river, but I hopped on and we crossed to the other side and soon found Theo.  I put them back in the pasture Theo was accustomed to, putting off Theo’s lesson about river crossing until another day.

I had Shelley and her son Chester at home for a day of stall rest after Chester’s castration, but when we got home it was time for Chester to have some exercise.  On our way up the driveway when we got home, I had started a generator to charge the batteries for our Airbnb trailer.  The generator needed to be shut off, and the paddock of ponies down the drive needed to be fed, so riding Shelley to do these three chores seemed like a perfect solution.   I tacked her up at dusk and we headed out for our first ride in a couple of months.  My seven month old puppy is showing herding instincts, and she kept Chester moving; he was a little reluctant due to post-surgical soreness.  But he soon go into our old riding routine, and we headed down the driveway.  We went to the generator first, and both ponies willingly approached the noisy machine.  I dismounted to flick the switch then re-mounted, and we headed back up the driveway towards the nearby pony paddock.  Shelley paused briefly to nip a flower off a thistle; our freezing temperatures the morning before hadn’t been quite severe enough to arrest the weed’s blooming, so I appreciated Shelley’s “treatment” of the problem.

When we arrived at the pony paddock, I tied Shelley to the fence while Chester grazed nearby, and I put out hay for the night.  Then I remounted and we continued up the drive to the house, where Chester followed his mom back into their stall, making things easy.

Later, as I was cleaning up manure, Chester came to say hello as he used to do when he was younger, and we had a good session of scratches-in-his-favorite-places.  I pondered my visitor’s desire to see more Fell Ponies put to use, and I wondered whether riding a mare across a river to reunite her with her abandoned foal or riding a mare to do chores at day’s end would count.  No one witnessed these ponies at work except me and their foals and my dogs.  I wonder if more Fell Ponies are being put to use than my visitor realizes.

© 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.

Mixed Blessings

I admit to feeling a little melancholy this time of year.  When I walk out the door I’m no longer greeted by a nicker from a mare in the foaling pen.  Sometimes I even got a higher pitched nicker from a young occupant of the pen too.  The foaling pen is empty because the mares and their foals are now at summer pasture.

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It’s a little later than usual for them to have made the move, so I got even more used to them being at home and being talked to many times a day.  A very dry spring and hot dry summer have meant summer pasture has less than half its normal forage.  Fortunately I had put in extra hay last fall so that keeping the mares at home longer was an easy option.

While I may be a little melancholy, the mares of course are anything but.  They are thrilled to be on green grass, first for a few hours a day and now 24/7.  And trailering them to and from pasture is a great way to get their foals used to riding in big metal boxes on wheels.  I am always so impressed when these flight animals so easily and regularly load into trailers to be transported.  It helps of course that they know, at least in the case of my mares this time of year, that green grass is on the other end of the trip!

The salve for my melancholy is of course knowing that my ponies are content.  Green grass makes them happy, especially the mares with foals at foot.   And I still get greetings, this time when I get out of the pick-up truck when I arrive to check on them.  It really won’t be that long before frost nips the air and the ponies are all home again.  Until then I am grateful for the blessing that summer pasture is and the mixed blessing that missing them is as well.  It’s a good reminder how much I enjoy having them in my life.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

You can find more stories like this one in my book What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.