What Color is THAT?

This is the foal that got the whole conversation going!

This is the foal that got the whole conversation going!

Another breeder suggested that I was wrong about the color of one of my foals (see picture).  And then a potential buyer of the foal suggested the foal was grey.  I know from color genetics that the foal isn’t grey.  Responding to the breeder, though, required me to respond differently.  I had to say that based on my decade’s experience with this line and my nearly two decades experience with breeding Fell Ponies, that the foal is indeed black.

This foal out of the same mare seemed to have the mealy effect of her mother, making her brown, but she ended up black.

This foal out of the same mare seemed to have the mealy effect of her mother, making her brown, but she ended up black.

I understand why the breeder questioned my judgment.  When my first foal out of this line was born, I thought she was brown.  In this breed, the brown color is characterized by the mealy effect on a dark background (see mare in first and second pictures), and I thought that was what I was seeing in the foal (see second picture).  But as the foal aged, the lighter areas that I thought were mealy darkened.  In the end, I had to ask a breeder who had experience with brown ponies what color my foal was, and she said it was definitely black.  And she was right.  That foal has matured into a beautiful black Fell Pony.

The foal who began these conversations now is out of a non-black mare.  To most people’s eyes, she is bay, though in the Fell Pony she could be called brown with black points because she has the mealy effect on a dark background with black mane, tail, and lower legs.  When this mare is bred to a black stallion, then, every foal has the chance to be black, brown, or bay.  So far she has only had one non-black foal, and fortunately for me, that foal’s color was obvious from birth (see picture)!

This foal’s color was obvious, thank goodness:  mealy effect on bay.

This foal’s color was obvious, thank goodness: mealy effect on bay.

Being a breeder of Fell Ponies can be confusing when colors other than black are bred.  The confusion comes in part from the fact that there are at least two colors of black Fell Ponies:  jet black and summer or fading black.  Because my first two Fells were jet black and only produced jet black foals, I knew that black color well, but when a summer black joined my herd, I was in for an education.  It was her first foal for me fifteen years ago that informed my opinion of the foal before me now.

This foal was out of two black parents, so he is black but looks similar to the first foal above.

This foal was out of two black parents, so he is black but looks similar to the first foal above.

In that case, both parents were black, so I knew the foal was black, because that’s how color genetics work.  Nonetheless, he was very light in color, as the picture here shows.  Back then I wasn’t surprised when he matured into a black pony, as the picture at 9 months old shows.  Today, though, I might not be so certain, except experience is a great teacher!

This is the same foal as just above but at nine months, clearly black.

This is the same foal as just above but at nine months, clearly black.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More stories about the joys of owning and breeding Fell Ponies 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.

Burn Moor

Linnel Doublet and Don Ewy being passed by hikers on Burn Moor

Burn Moor in Lake District National Park in Cumbria can be traversed via a 5 mile hike between the villages of Wasdale Head and Boot.  It is a route used by mountain bikers and fell walkers.  But it also has two historic pack horse connections.  The first was for trade: moving goods from farm to market and from town to town.  The second was as a corpse road.  Until the early twentieth century, Wasdale Head didn’t have consecrated ground for burials, so bodies had to be transported through Boot to Eskdale to be interred.

Numerous stories exist about this corpse road when pack horses were used to carry coffins.  The stories usually include the route’s hazards of bogs and fog, as well as the loneliness of the route.  And the stories include bolting equines, lost bodies, and ghosts.  Even today, walking across Burn Moor it is easy to imagine the truth of these stories.

To read more about Burn Moor and corpse roads, click here to request the August 2015 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

A Footing Sense Reminder

I learned about the footing sense of Fell Ponies several years ago thanks to a long time breeder and a particular Fell Pony mare.  This characteristic of Fell Ponies came up in a conversation with the breeder about what fell-bred ponies know that is lost over generations when the ponies are bred away from the fells.  It is the sense to know where to place their feet to be safe in crossing terrain.  For ponies on the fells, it can be a knowledge of how to cross bogs that is important.  In my case it is usually how to navigate over snow and ice.

181222 Shelley pony ears2.jpg

I’ve been using that same Fell Pony mare as my chore pony this winter.  And I’ve been trying to use her more than in the past, my thinking being putting miles on her legs is beneficial for her and saving miles on mine is beneficial for me.  Where I used to ride her up and down the driveway for chores once a day, I’m now doing it as often as three times a day.  I figure I’m saving myself nearly three miles of walking a week!

Rather than heading straight down the driveway, which is covered with packed snow, I noticed that my mare was starting to weave from side to side to middle to side to middle to side of the road.  We were taking longer to get to our destination, and I concluded my pony was asserting her independence rather than following my instructions about where to go.  Clearly I needed to take control of the situation, my thinking went.  So the next time she started to wander from one side of the road to the other, I took up the reins and asked her to continue on the line down the road that we’d been on.

Perhaps you’ve already guessed where this is going.  You would think I wouldn’t need to be reminded about the footing sense of a Fell Pony because I value their intelligence so much.  Within a few strides of me forcing my pony to stay on a line that I had in mind, she started slipping.  She hadn’t slipped on our rides for weeks before that!  Apparently that weaving from side to middle to side of the road was about finding good footing, and she was using her footing sense rather than being disobedient.  I chuckled at the comeuppance I’d been dealt (not the first time by a Fell Pony), and I’ve gone back to letting my pony choose our path down the drive.  Hopefully I won’t need a reminder about footing sense ever again but somehow I’d bet I will!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

You can read my previous stories about footing sense in my book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

The Evolution of Fell Ponies and the Lake District

In 2017 when the Lake District was awarded World Heritage Site status, Lake District National Park Chief Executive Richard Leafe said, “The Lake District is an evolving landscape that has changed over time and will continue to do so.”  (1)  In the Fell Pony world we know of this evolution because of its impact on our ponies.  For more of the human history of the Lake District than not, the local native ponies provided the ‘horsepower’ for the region’s economy.  Uses ranged from plowing and pulling sledges to shepherding and hunting wolves.  When used for pack work, their loads of local goods included fleece, fish, metal ore, and more.  (2)  It is unlikely that any facet of the Lake District’s economy or history were untouched by the Fell Pony and its ancestors.

Of course, like most working equine breeds, the Fell Pony’s work changed with the advent of the internal combustion engine (as well as the construction of railroads, roads, and canals).  Since then, the Fell Pony has more often been put to use in recreational riding and driving.  Stables for pleasure riding in the Lake District have existed at various places through the decades, and occasionally more adventurous outings have been possible when small enterprises have offered Fell Ponies re-enacting their historic role as pack ponies on Lakeland trails. 

The author and two Fell Ponies at Maiden Castle on Burnmoor in the Lake District in 2015.

The author and two Fell Ponies at Maiden Castle on Burnmoor in the Lake District in 2015.

I learned of the evolving landscape of the Lake District when I had the great good fortune to walk over Burnmoor in the Lake District.  One of the first milestones of the trip was Maiden Castle above Wasdale Head.  The presence of Maiden Castle in what today is an uninhabited landscape seems odd.  One theory says it was a residence during the Bronze Age.  Its location up on the fell where not a soul lives today was due to the fact that living down in the wooded valleys was dangerous for humans because of large predators including wolves.  It was safer to live up on the relatively barren landscape where predators and other dangers could be more easily seen at a distance.  Today of course the uplands are considered uninhabitable by humans because of that barrenness and remoteness, and instead the valleys are preferred since the woods have been cleared, and the landscape has been domesticated for life. 

I did that walk over Burnmoor with two Fell Ponies, so I got to experience the evolution of both the Lake District and the Fell Pony first hand.  The route was once a corpse road over which pack ponies carried bodies for burial in Eskdale because there wasn’t a proper burial place in Wasdale.  When I first had the idea to traverse an historic pack horse route in the Lake District with Fell Ponies, I had no idea how hard it would be to find a route open to equines in modern times.  I’m thankful that the Lake District landscape will continue to evolve so that perhaps more historic packhorse routes will again be available as bridleways in the future.

Richard Leafe’s comment about the evolving landscape of the Lake District is both a statement of fact and a statement of political necessity.  Naysayers about the World Heritage designation point to environmental health issues that they feel were unaddressed in the bid for World Heritage site designation.  Leafe went on to say, “Improving landscape biodiversity and looking after our cultural heritage underpin the [Lake District National Park] Partnership’s management plan which sets out how, together, we will look after the National Park as a World Heritage Site for everyone to enjoy.” (3) 

The Fell Pony is already playing a role in improving landscape biodiversity as a conservation grazer.  (4)  And the Fell Pony clearly is part of the Lake District’s cultural heritage through its many roles as horsepower and recreation in the region.  While the Fell Pony community may not have been involved in the creation of the management plan, it seems likely that the plan, too, can evolve so that together we can ensure that the Fell Pony’s part in the Lake District’s story is not forgotten.

  1. Leake, Richard.  As quoted in “Euphoria as Lake District Becomes a World Heritage Site,” 09 July 2017 blog post at lakesworldheritage.org.uk, as accessed 20 November 2018

  2. “Early History,” on “About Fell Ponies” page at www.fellponysociety.org.uk as accessed 20 November 2018.

  3. Same as #1.

  4. See, for instance, Morrissey, Jenifer, “Fells on the fells and Wild Horses on the Range,” Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm, April, 2015.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

The author’s exploration of matters relating to the Fell Pony can be found in her book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

The Good News for the Fell Pony about the Lake District World Heritage Site

courtesy Bill Potter, Greenholme Fell Ponies

courtesy Bill Potter, Greenholme Fell Ponies

The Lake District National Park was awarded World Heritage Site status in July 2017.  Many comments in the Fell Pony community since then have been critical of the process that led to the designation because the Fell Pony wasn’t included, in contrast to fell-dwelling sheep such as the Herdwick.  Two people have told me, however, that the World Heritage designation is good news for the Fell Pony despite the breed not having been explicitly included.  It has taken me several months of study to understand why they were so emphatic in their opinion.  In short, the success of the Lake District bid for World Heritage Site status addresses one of the worst threats to keeping Fell ponies on the fell.

We all know the Fell Pony on the fell is threatened.  It’s threatened by the declining number of hill breeders.  It’s threatened by other hill farmers not wanting ponies on the fell.  It’s threatened by the costs not matching revenue.  But there’s another threat that’s probably the worst threat of them all.   That threat is the belief by some people that the proper state of the fell is to have no domesticated animals living there at all. 

This recent success of World Heritage Site designation for the Lake District was the result of a third application.  The first application was made in 1986 and was as a mixed state of cultural and natural values.  The second was in 1989 in the cultural category.  The successful application submitted in 2016 was for cultural landscape which recognized the role of farming and industry in shaping the area, as well as the area’s impact on artists and writers and on the conservation movement.  

The fells we have today, including the uplands of the Lake District, have largely been shaped by the presence and grazing of domestic animals.  In an article in The Guardian, fell farmer Annie Meanwell describes what happens when domestic grazing animals are removed from the fell.  “There are some areas near our farm that have ‘rewilded’ themselves where people did not have the heart to restock their sheep after the foot and mouth outbreak. These are now wildernesses of bracken and brambles, and I have never seen a single ‘eco tourist’ up there among the impenetrable vegetation. The views over Coniston Water have been obscured; although it is common land, it is now largely inaccessible.” (1)

From the perspective of the Fell Pony, it is the recognition of the role of farming and domestic animals in shaping the landscape and culture we know today that gives hope.  Had the focus of the designation been instead on a natural landscape, then the future of domestic animals on the fells would be bleak.

While the World Heritage Site designation gives hope, work is required for the Fell Pony to benefit.  Fell-dwelling sheep are well integrated into the Lake District National Park’s Farming initiatives.  Sheep-related events are listed on the Park’s website.  Given the Fell Pony breed’s part in the region’s cultural heritage both as a fell-dweller and the source of early horsepower for industry, the breed certainly can and should become a part of the World Heritage Site story.  I believe it can be if we as a community want it to be.

  1. Meanwell, Annie.  “As a shepherd, I know we have not ‘sheepwrecked’ Britain’s landscape,” The Guardian, 21 Jul 2015, as found on 17 Oct 2018 at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/21/farmers-sheep-lake-district-preserve-environmentalists?CMP=share_btn_fb

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

Information like this about the Fell pony breed 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.

Our Good-Minded Stallions

Kinniside Asi

The kindness and relative docility of most Fell Pony stallions is often remarked upon.  One multi-supreme champion stallion was especially valued because he threw good-tempered offspring that young women could easily handle in the show ring.  And with the majority of Fell Pony owners today being female, good-tempered ponies of all genders are important for the safety of pony and people alike and for the reputation of our breed.

Why might it be that our stallions are generally so well-regarded?  Here’s what Dr. Deb Bennett said in an article about the evolution of mountain horses in North America.  I think it applies just as easily to the history of the Fell Pony in Cumbria.  “Our pioneer ancestors had no time for difficult horses.  They valued good-mindedness as much as soundness.”  (1)  I think it’s very likely that today we are blessed with good-minded stallions because for generations they have been selected for by hill breeders who had no time for challenging temperaments, no matter how good the pony was otherwise. 

Dr. Bennett then touched on a business case for producing good-minded equines.  “All sectors of the horse industry would do well to remember that today, comparatively few people have the knowledge or experience to work successfully with horses who are flighty or aggressive.  Any breed that consistently markets good-minded horses who are easy to break in and train is at an advantage now even more than in our great grandfathers’ time.” With fewer and fewer people taking up the equestrian life, it seems paramount to the success of any breed that good-mindedness be a focus.  We with Fell Ponies may have an advantage!

1)      Bennett, Deb, PhD.  “In Praise of Good-Mindedness,” Equus, #489 June 2018, p. 70.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More ponderings like this one 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.

Lost in the Landscape

A Fell Pony colleague recently repeated an often-asked question.  Why is the Fell Pony not considered a regional treasure in its homeland?  For instance, the Fell Pony was not included in the application by the Lake District National Park for World Heritage Site status.  Further, in countless books about the Lake District and the natural beauty of northern England, the Fell Pony rarely is mentioned, and especially is a poor cousin to its fellow fell dweller the Herdwick sheep.  Why is it that the Fell goes unrecognized?

0505 RoundthwaiteCommon.jpg

I’ve finished reading yet another book about the Cumbrian countryside and the Lake District.  This one dates from the late nineteenth century, and there is not a mention of a Fell Pony anywhere.  Packhorse bridges are mentioned, as is the oft-repeated statistic about packhorses leaving the historic wool center of Kendal at the height of its influence.  “…for four centuries the Kendal cloth was the common clothing of the poor of the country.  As a proof of the vast importance of the Kendal trade, during the early part of the 18th century, it is on record that 354 packhorses, carrying goods passed to and from the town every week.” (1)   But the native ponies of the region are never referred to nor mentioned by name.  Sheep are mentioned a few times, but the author’s interest and focus is more on ecclesiastical and political construction.

Back in the modern day on modern media, I read a post on Facebook by a Fell Pony colleague who was exclaiming about the beauty of the Cumbrian landscape.  Many people travel to Cumbria and the Lake District because of its natural beauty and in fact the author of the book I’ve just finished spent a good part of his words describing and extolling upon the beauty of that area.

These exclamations of admiration for the scenery got me thinking that perhaps the Fell Pony gets metaphorically lost in the landscape of its home and hence goes relatively unnoticed.  Having walked there on numerous occasions myself, the landscape is in places out-sized and breathtaking and mesmerizing.  I took the photo here when Bert Morland of the Lunesdale Fell Pony Stud took me up onto Roundthwaite Common and he pointed in that direction indicating there were ponies to see (I didn’t see any!)  I can certainly imagine that if you lack a love and appreciation for these ponies away from their home terrain that it would be difficult to see and appreciate them there when visiting, especially since so few ponies actually run on the fells anymore.

There’s undoubtedly work that can be done to improve the Fell Pony’s image in its home terrain.  Given how most people seem to experience that home terrain, work on behalf of the Fell Pony will best be done if it remembers how easy it is to lose the ponies in the scenery.

  1. Bogg, Edmund.  A Thousand Miles of Wandering Along the Roman Wall, the Old Border Region, Lakeland, and Ribblesdale.  Leeds, England, self-published, 1898, p. 226.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More about the Fell Pony 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.

Fell Pony Listed as Critical with The Livestock Conservancy

Matty and Theo at Willowtrail Farm

The latest issue of The Livestock Conservancy’s newsletter landed on my desk and immediately caught my attention.  The cover article explained changes to the organization’s Conservation Priority List for 2018.  I of course scanned it for the equine section and was surprised to read that the Fell Pony had been moved from Watch to Critical “based on global population numbers of less than 2,000.” (1)  This reasoning didn’t pass my common sense test, so I decided to learn more.

I felt fortunate when the organization’s executive director, Alison Martin, answered the phone when I called.  I explained that I felt there were more than 2000 Fell Ponies in the world, so I was curious about her organization’s reasoning.  The answer seems to be that The Livestock Conservancy used numbers from its British counterpart, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, extrapolating from annual registrations of foals.  It appears from our conversation that either RBST had preliminary annual registration numbers that were far below the final count for 2017 or they were tracking hillbred foal registrations.  Certainly the latter is cause for concern based on my own research and anecdotal comments from UK breed enthusiasts.  RBST lists the Fell Pony as Vulnerable, the third tier in their list, while the Livestock Conservancy has just moved the breed to their first tier.   In my opinion, the US organization shouldn’t be this out-of-step with the breed’s home conservation organization.

Since I had her ear, I asked Alison whether her organization would consider tracking hillbred Fell Ponies separately from the breed as a whole, just as the organization does with Traditional Morgans.  She reminded me that in the case of Morgans, an open stud book led to crossing with other breeds so there is a genetic distinction identifiable by DNA testing between Traditional Morgans and others equines in the breed.

I then led the conversation into losing traits from a landscape-adapted breed like the Fell when the ponies are removed from their home terrain.  She used a rare chicken breed as an example saying that the traits are still there in the DNA, so, for instance, returning non hillbred ponies to the fell should be theoretically possible.  I said that for welfare reasons this was rarely done, and she pointed out that it could be done with good management; it’s done with wildlife species regularly.  I appreciated this perspective.  She went on to say it would make a great graduate research project to study ‘refelling’ ponies.

As Alison emphasized, being back on the Critical portion of the conservation list isn’t a good thing.  I agreed.  Generally being there is an indication that there aren’t enough breed stewards.  That isn’t necessarily the case with the Fell Pony, but we are lacking hill breeders, people who steward ponies on their native fells.  Alison requested that I send my current research on hillbred ponies to her.  It will be in my June newsletter, so if you want to receive it and aren’t subscribed, click here!

  1. Couch, C.R., et al.  “Changes in the Conservation Priority List for 2018,” The Livestock Conservancy News, Spring 2018, Volume 35, issue 2, p. 1.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More information about the Fell Pony breed 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.

The Edinburgh Prize for Driving

Here are highlights from this article in the February 2018 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm:

2015 Edinburgh prize courtesy Libby Robinson
  • The Edinburgh Prize for Driving was created in 2014.  His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh intends it to “to be awarded internationally to a single or multiple turnout of registered Fell Ponies, for achievement in Driving.”
  • For 2017, the award went to a North American for the first time.
  • Upon my reading of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh’s book 30 Years on and off the Box Seat, it’s no surprise that he would establish this prize.
  • I was warned that the book might be boring for someone like me who isn’t involved in competitive driving.  On the contrary I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the sport, and I especially appreciated the second half of the book when he transitioned from horses to Fell Ponies. 
  • I’ve always been curious about the lineage of the ponies that HRH the Duke of Edinburgh has driven over the years.  I learned that only rarely were ponies bought particularly for his team...
  • The Fell Pony breed is very fortunate that HM the Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh take such an active interest in our ponies.

To request the entire article, click here.

Fell Ponies and Milk Floats

Darkie in Silloth, 1974, courtesy Christine Robinson

Darkie in Silloth, 1974, courtesy Christine Robinson

First, a definition.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a float is “a low-bodied dray for transporting heavy goods.”  It has been suggested to me that the word in this context is of Scottish origin.  A milk float then is a low-bodied cart or wagon for transporting milk.

Two Fell Pony colleagues have shared with me that their first experience with Fell Ponies was with milk floats, so I had to learn more.

Here are excerpts from "Fell Ponies and Milk Floats" in the May 2015 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm (a similar story was published in the newsletter of the Fell Pony Society):

  • My first memory of the association between Fells and dairies is from talking to Bob Charlton of the Linnel stud.
  • Judith Bean shares, "A black Fell walked up the vicarage drive where I grew up and parked (without direction from the farmer/milkman) beside the back door."
  • Joe Langcake says Fells were ideal for this work.
  • Helen Gallagher shares about her grandfather's milk float.

To read the entire article, click here.

More stories like this one 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 cover image.

Another Way Facebook Connects Us

Willowtrail Fell Ponies

It didn’t seem to matter what I did that morning; Facebook was involved.  My husband and I were discussing travel plans, so I needed to send a message via Facebook.  Then I needed to schedule a telephone conference, so I sent another message.  In the process I checked my news feed for anything Fell Pony related as well as glancing at what Facebook thought were the pertinent headlines of the day.  Then of course the radio news was full of Facebook because the company’s CEO was testifying before Congress.

During CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress, as reported on the news that morning, he was asked about the new requirements under the European Union (EU) data protection law called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect on May 25, 2018.  He said his company was working towards compliance and that it might be a good starting point for similar efforts in the United States.

Later that day, I was speaking to someone with knowledge of the Fell Pony Society.  Most of the work of the Society is of course done by volunteers, with just a small staff in the office.  Whenever I talk to the office, I try to ask what is currently occupying the staff’s time because in the past I’ve been surprised by how much of that scarce resource goes into things the Society membership rarely knows about.  Years ago I remember learning about the amount of effort that was required to comply with European Union (EU) regulations around equine registration.  It seemed strange to me that the EU would be involved in this sort of minute detail.  I wasn’t surprised by the Brexit vote more recently as a response to this sort of burden due to membership in the EU. 

During the phone conference I had scheduled via Facebook, I learned that once again the office staff was having to spend some of their scarce time on something the membership might never be aware of.  It turned out it was that same topic that Mr. Zuckerberg had been asked about during his testimony before Congress:  compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation.  The connection with Facebook went beyond that, of course, because it is in part because of Facebook’s use of user data that the GDPR was put into effect in the first place.  Rather than spending time on more pony-related matters, the Society office was having to comply with yet another EU regulation.  The world felt small and very inter-connected as I began my day.

Shortly after I became involved with Fell Ponies, what I think was the first internet-based community for Fell Pony people was created as a Yahoo group.  I still have printouts of things long time breeders like Carole Morland and Christine Morton shared there. At the moment, the vast majority of sharing amongst the international Fell Pony community is done on Facebook.  It’s hard to imagine that changing, though a decade ago I might have said the same about the Yahoo group!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

Fell Pony Breed-Specific Health Issues

Willowtrail Fell Ponies

People new to the Fell Pony breed often ask if there are breed-specific health issues they should know about.  We are so fortunate with this breed that these ponies are so tough and hardy and generally very healthy.  There are of course the common (and usually preventable) health issues with easy keepers such as founder and Equine Metabolic Syndrome.  And then there is our breed-specific problem of Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome (FIS).

FIS is usually just a concern if someone wants to breed their Fell Pony.  It affects foals from 8 to 12 weeks of age and can be avoided by not breeding two carriers of the condition to each other.  We know now of course that FIS isn’t specific to the Fell Pony; it has also been identified in the closely-related Dales Pony and Gypsy Horse.  And we are fortunate now to have the FIS carrier test so that breeders can make informed decisions where FIS is concerned.

There are certainly implications for the future of the breed due to the presence of FIS and the availability of the test.  To read more about these implications and for more detail about FIS in the Fell Pony, click here.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

You can learn about the Fell Pony breed, including about FIS and its implications, in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Bells

I've always associated bells with sleighs, and I even have a string of sleigh bells.  I took them out to my ponies one day after reading an article about bells that expanded my perspective on them.  Highlights from my article about bells include:

Willowtrail Spring Maiden
  • Fell Ponies are generally considered to have served as pack ponies in the 18th century and earlier.  
  • The lead pony on a pack string traditionally wore bells to warn oncoming traffic of the approach of the string.
  • An article in Driving Digest magazine stated that bells were sometimes used on traveling stallions.  I’ve never heard of this use of bells in stories about Fell Pony history, though it’s certainly easy to imagine how they might have been used in this way.

To request the full article as well as a link to a video of my ponies with my string of sleigh bells, click here.

Regarding the Power of Pen and Position

One of the greatest assets the Fell Pony breed has is its ardent enthusiasts.  A friend asked how anyone tells the ponies apart in a herd:  they all seem to look alike, often black, hairy, and no markings.  I replied that I know more than one breeder who can stand in a pasture with twenty mares around them and identify each one individually and correctly.  They know their ponies that well. The relationships these ponies give us inspire us not only to know them individually but also to defend their history, their heritage, and their type. 

It is good that the breed has its ardent enthusiasts and passionate breeders because there are times when action is required.  Of late there have seemed to be more numerous opportunities than usual.  In one case I found a very outdated description of the breed on a conservation website.  After informing a friend of the problem, the organization was contacted and was ‘mortified’ about the inaccurate portrayal of our breed.  In another case, a writer in a national magazine incorrectly identified an equine in a photograph as a Fell.  I informed a colleague well qualified to address the problem so that appropriate action could be taken.

In a breed newsletter, I was interested to read public apologies from the chair and vice-chair of the Fell Pony Society to a specific member.  I admire the member who had the fortitude to call out those in power and ask for appropriate behavior.  It is sometimes difficult but always important to confront those with the power of pen or position in defense of our ponies.  Just because they are in positions of power or are able to wield a pen doesn’t mean they necessarily have any better perspective on what’s best for our breed than we do. 

One area of focus for me has been intelligently interpreting the breed standard.  I’m even more motivated now after reading an article interpreting the breed standard that was published in a breed newsletter.  The article was a major feature and intended to inform people new to the breed.  Unfortunately the article contained a number of statements not supported by the breed standard it was attempting to explain.  Sadly, because of the social status of the author, it is likely that their published interpretation of the breed standard could be accepted without question.  I’ve written three articles so far to provide better information; it’s the least I can do.

Another situation has me vexed.  An article in a national magazine portrayed a Fell Pony stallion unfavorably, though factually the account was accurate.  In time I’m sure the right opportunity will come along to share with a national audience the true character of our breed’s male members.

I received the following comment from someone new to the breed.  “The admiration and love I see people have for Fells Ponies is so outstanding.”  These ponies inspire and motivate us to be vigilant.  We stand up to the power of pen and position when necessary to ensure that stories and conduct in the name of the Fell Pony are indeed worthy of the breed.  These ponies deserve nothing less.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

You can find more stories about the Fell Pony breed in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover image.

Slow Sleddales 2/Maturation

This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

Highlights:

Bowthorne Matty and Willowtrail Mountain Ranger

Bowthorne Matty and Willowtrail Mountain Ranger

  • This past winter, Matty visibly changed and matured as she turned from seven to eight years old.
  • I watched Matty’s bone increase, leaving her in wonderful proportion throughout in the bone and substance department.

  • Willowtrail Mountain Prince, Matty’s two year old son, gave me reason this spring to ponder the slow maturing rate of ponies with Sleddale blood.

  • One of the concerns I had about Prince as stallion potential was that he seemed to lack bone.  

  • At the same time that I was scheduling Prince's castration appointment at two years old, I realized his bone was increasing.

  • I began pondering how we choose stallions in this breed today..

  • Colts must mature in the bone department relatively quickly if they are to pass the licensing exam at two years old. 

  • After my experience with Prince, I began wondering how many good quality colts are neutered just because they are slow to mature.

To read the complete article, click here.

To subscribe to Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farmclick here.

The Fell Pony Enclosure Scheme and a Narrow Gene Pool

This article appeared in the April 2014 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

Highlights:

Wet Sleddale enclosure circa 1970.  Photo courtesy the late Henry Harrison

Wet Sleddale enclosure circa 1970.  Photo courtesy the late Henry Harrison

  • In place from 1945 to 1976, the enclosure scheme was unique to the Fell Pony breed.  It was used to encourage breeding of ponies in the post world-war years
  • The enclosure scheme involved the Fell Pony Society securing land where a stallion could run with a herd of mares during the breeding season. 
  • The stallions were chosen at the Stallion & Colt Show each year, often by people planning to send mares to the enclosure for breeding.
  • Three consequences of the enclosure scheme could have led to a narrowing of the Fell Pony gene pool. 
  • It’s certainly likely that some narrowing of the gene pool resulted from the enclosure scheme.  However, we as modern stewards of the breed are fortunate that this adverse impact of the enclosure scheme hasn’t left us with a dangerously narrow gene pool.  We can thank past breeders for their breeding practices, whatever they were, that have ensured a healthy genetic diversity in the breed today.

To read the complete article, click here.

To subscribe to Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm, click here.