They Try to be Helpful!

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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.

Two Mamas Face Off

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I now know that Chester, my one-month-old Fell Pony colt, has seen a moose.  I was mounted on his mom Shelley, and we were trail riding on the woods loop.  It was where the timber was its thickest, but I could see a brown form in the distance.  It was a cow with last year’s calf at foot.  From my high perspective, I was able to see them before either pony or my dog did.

Cows are known to be aggressive when they have calves at foot.  I could see that the cow was very close to our trail, so I announced our presence and asked her to move off.  She didn’t, just standing and watching us get closer.  I then felt, as well as saw, Shelley register that we had company in the woods.  I now had two mamas facing off.  If it had been just my dog and me on foot, I would have headed in the opposite direction, but somehow mounted, I felt that Shelley’s size, being three-quarters that of the moose, was enough margin for safety.

I called out a few more times in case the rumor of a moose’s poor eyesight was accurate.  When the cow finally began to move off with her calf in front of her, I saw Chester register that we had company, too.  He certainly wasn’t bothered at all, and Shelley never missed a step as we drew closer to where the moose had been.

I have taken detours enough times over the years when I’ve seen moose in the woods that I admit to feeling triumphant this time.  I was grateful for Shelley’s presence, and her mama’s protective posture, that allowed us to have the moose give way instead of us.  And of course I once again didn't have a camera with me!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

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

Riding a Powderkeg

Over the years, I’ve seen the phrase ‘riding a powderkeg’ on occasion.   Recently I’ve come as close as I’ll probably ever come to personally experiencing it mounted on an equine.  I’m pretty conservative and not inclined to mount an equine that is likely to be explosive.  And since I almost exclusively ride Fell Ponies, I’m of course fortunate to have usually calm and thoughtful mounts.

Restar Mountain Shelley III and Willowtrail Josie

I received some well-meaning feedback on the photo here.  I had submitted it with an application for a competition.  I was told it wasn’t acceptable because I was riding a mare with a foal at foot without wearing a helmet.  I knew the mare and the foal and their interactions at the time, so I knew as well as anyone can know that I wasn’t in any danger, but the photo was considered to send an inappropriate message about safety.  I found another photo for that competition.

More recently, it was first thing in the morning, and I was mounted on a mare with her week-old foal at foot.  And yes, I was wearing a helmet this time because once again I knew the mare and the foal and their interactions at the time, and I deemed a helmet necessary.  We were riding past the stallion pen where the foal’s father was running the fence, both because he hadn’t yet been fed and because there was a new pony, his son, on the move.  I could feel the mare under me becoming more and more tense, and while she continued to move where I wanted her to at the speed I wanted, I could tell she was far from content.  I considered dismounting because it felt like something big might happen – either I might get assistance in a dismount, or we might be departing at sudden and high speed.

After a few moments, we had progressed past the stallion pen, and I could feel the mare relax under me.  With the agitated stallion no longer nearby, she was less concerned about the safety of her foal.  Dismounting no longer seemed necessary.

These days ‘riding a powderkeg’ usually refers to being on a roller coaster or a motorcycle.  While I’ve done both those things and I understand how the phrase might apply, I would suggest that being on a mare with foal at foot riding past an agitated stallion is an even more thrilling application of that phrase.  Riding a broodmare means there’s another independent-thinking brain involved, capable of making decisions in fractions of seconds, decisions about which the rider may have very little input.  I have a much better understanding now why my photo was rejected for that competition.  I’m thankful for having had my 'riding a powderkeg' experience, and especially thankful I did it with a Fell Pony who remained thoughtful enough to mind my safety while also minding that of her foal’s.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More stories like this one can be found in my book What An Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

It’s the Personality of the Fell Pony

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There have been a few Fell Ponies whose personalities I could do without, but the two I’m working most with at the moment make up for all the questionable ones.  The title here is a shortened version of a quote by the late Mr. Henry Harrison, breeder of the Sleddale ponies.  “…it’s the personality of the Fell Pony that means so much, a kind natured pony, ever eager to please and provide good company.” (1)  That pretty much sums up the two I’m working with.

One of them I have just started under saddle.  I’ve maybe taken a dozen short rides on him.  And yet on my last one, the longest so far, you could have mistaken him for a seasoned trail pony.  He barely put a foot wrong despite going places he hadn’t gone in a year and never under saddle, despite footing varying from ice to mud to dry ground, despite occasional wind gusts, despite having to walk through a mud puddle at the gate, despite his paddock mate calling to him the entire time we were gone.  I gave him lots of praise at the end, and he licked and chewed for a long time.  I think he enjoyed our outing, too.

The other pony is just a few days old, but he comes to me whenever he sees me, appreciates scratches in his favorite places, and accepts lessons willingly.  Like the first pony, it’s motivating to work with him because he’s such a sponge for new information and experiences.  It’s very rewarding.

After my last encounter with these boys, I chuckled as I thought about Mr. Harrison’s statement .  I’m convinced it’s the personality of the Fell Pony that makes it so hard for so many of us to have just one.  They’re addictive!

1)      Harrison, Mr. Henry.  January page, 2005 Fell Pony Society calendar.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

There are more stories about how Fell Ponies bring joy to my life in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Better Than Breeding Stock

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I have a pony here now that has made me think hard about what sort of pony is the most ‘valuable.’  For some people breeding stock is the most valuable.  For some people a pony that can be shown at the highest levels is the most valuable.  The pony I have here now is neither of those types, but for me she’s more valuable than either of them. 

I’ve had a number of experiences over the years with ponies and their owners and dogs and their breeders that suggest that ‘valuable’ is definitely in the eye of the beholder.  There was once a Fell Pony that I admired, and I was surprised when it came on the market.  When I inquired about purchasing it, the owner said, “Oh, no, I have a number of people wanting him.  Thank you anyway.”  But then a year later, the pony was back on the market, again for sale by the same owner.  It appeared that the owner, while asking for a five-star home, didn’t consider a breeding home, like I would give it, good enough.  Because the owner was in the showing fraternity, I was left with the impression that showing was the owner’s view of ‘valuable.’

Several years ago, I was in the market for a purebred dog, and I inquired with a colleague about available puppies.  When I was pointed to their business partner, I was asked if I would be showing the dog, and I said no.  Then I was asked if I was a breeder, and again I said no.  I was then immediately told, “We’re not interested; our puppies aren’t for pet homes.”  For this person, apparently, the most valuable sort of animal was a show animal first, a breeding animal second, and a pet (or in the pony world a ‘using’ pony) a lowly third.

I sometimes do a thought experiment to double-check my selection criteria of ponies that I decide to keep or sell.  The experiment is to ask myself the question: if I could only keep one pony, which pony would it be?  Then I ask, if I could only keep two ponies, which ponies would they be?  And then, if I could keep only three ponies, which ponies would they be?  The first time I did this thought experiment, the results surprised me.  If I could keep only one pony, it wouldn’t be breeding stock or the fanciest looking or best moving one.  It wasn’t until I got to keeping three and four ponies that showing or breeding stock made the list.

The pony I have here now is the sort that if I could only have one pony in my life, she’d be the one I’d want.  She is kind, entertaining, and easy to get along with.  She always greets me at the fence, is always ready to receive scratches in her favorite places, is easy to halter and lead, and easy to train.  Even if this pony is never shown and never bred, for me, she’s more valuable than any showing or breeding animal because she’s such a joy to be around.

When I went looking for pictures of this pony, I realized all my recent ones have a fence in the foreground.  When she was younger I had a fair number that were close ups of her nostrils.  Rather than standing watching at a distance, posing in some majestic way, I’m inclined to think that my most valuable kind of pony is the one that has fence rails in front of it because they’d rather be with me than showing themselves off at a distance.  Or they’d rather be so close to me that the only pictures possible are of nostrils!

The Fell Pony market in North America has been a growing one since I got involved, and many customers have wanted ponies they could breed from.  I’ve tried hard to produce proper ponies for breeding use, not just for the market but also for the future of my own breeding program, since I’ve retained many of my own ponies for breeding.  But because of the way I steward my herd – very hands on – I haven’t been able to - nor wanted to - ignore what makes a pony I’d want to have around if it’s the only one I could have. 

While I take great joy in producing ponies that can excel in a breeding program or in a show ring, I take as much or more joy from producing a pony like the one I have now.  In the end, the number of breeding and showing homes will always be fewer than the number of pet or using pony homes.  Therefore, producing the type of pony like the one I have here now will always be a goal of my breeding program.  For me, a pony that is a joy to be around will always be better than breeding or showing stock.

© 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.

Solace 2

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I was sitting next to a paddock fence observing a pony that wasn’t feeling well.  I was deep in thought, so the nudge on my shoulder surprised me.  It was my heart pony, Willowtrail Wild Rose, in the adjoining paddock, who had reached her nose through the fence, wanting my attention.  I said hello and turned back to the object of my concern.  Rose then began playing with a piece of baling twine near where I was sitting.  I caught the movement of the twine out of the corner of my eye, and I realized she was trying to engage me, to distract me, to help me not be so troubled.  I thanked her, remembering another time when she had offered her proverbial shoulder to lean on.

Rose’s cousin H, a pony overseas, often has behaviors similar to Rose’s.  It seems H too has a knack for giving solace.  Her owner relates this story:  “My son was telling H about how sad he was that my Granny had died. H said nothing, but passed her bucket of feed over to him. Never ever has she been seen to offer food to anybody else, before or after.  Of course it worked! She managed to cheer him up for sure!”

In my first story about Rose giving solace, she too bypassed her feed to give me her attention.  In that story, I discussed one thing that was troubling my heart at that time, the death of a friend’s pony.  Yet there was also another cause for my grief:  the death of my mother.  Despite being much younger then, Rose demonstrated the same willingness to give her time and attention when I was distressed.  I wonder if I will ever completely discover how much these ponies have to offer.  The exploration is heartwarming regardless.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

The first "Solace" story can be found in my book The Partnered Pony:  What's Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Semi-Feral Pony!

Rose eating her hay on a normal chore ride.  Her tracks into the clear cut as a semi-feral pony are shown!

Rose eating her hay on a normal chore ride.  Her tracks into the clear cut as a semi-feral pony are shown!

She’s not really a semi-feral pony, since the photo clearly shows her tacked up to be ridden.  But I got such a kick out of what Willowtrail Wild Rose did when I let her loose before breakfast one morning.  It was snowing hard when I went out to feed, so I couldn’t tack her up as I normally do prior to our chore ride down the driveway.  So I changed my chore routine.  Normally I give her something to eat before our ride, but this morning I put her hay and feed bucket in her paddock but didn’t allow her to have them.  Instead, I hand-walked her down the driveway and let her loose, encouraging her to run back up the driveway to her breakfast (I’d left her paddock gate open).

Our normal twice-daily chore routine is to ride down to a paddock where I dismount and tie her and feed the ponies there while she eats hay that I put out for her where she’s tied.  When I let her loose on this morning, though, instead of going up the driveway, she jumped a snowpile and ended up right where I normally tie her, settling in to eat what hay was left from the previous afternoon’s chore ride.

I laughed and went about feeding the ponies in the paddock, thinking that Rose would head up the driveway eventually.  I expected she’d go up the driveway at speed since normally I keep her at a walk when we’re riding because I’m holding feed buckets and stretching her legs would probably be a welcome change.  This is, after all, what my other chore pony Shelley does.  But Rose hadn’t left by the time I did, and she hadn’t returned to her breakfast by the time I got back to the top of the road and began putting feed buckets together for the next pony paddock.  She did eventually return and settle into her breakfast normally, and I shut the gate behind her.

Later in the day I discovered, however, that Rose hadn’t come up the driveway after all (it was easy to see her route through the snow!)  The driveway is plowed, but instead Rose chose to circle out into the clearcut where there are a couple of feet of snow then where she could have rejoined the driveway she again veered away from it through the log yard where there was more than a foot of snow.  She visited both gates of the mare paddock before going to her breakfast, using the plowed driveway only for a short portion of her journey.  She definitely didn’t take the easy or direct route, instead choosing to blaze a trail of her own through ‘wild’ territory.  I laughed when I saw the route, thinking she was harkening back to her ancestors who were in the semi-feral herds of ponies in Cumbria.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

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

Which Way Will She Go?

Willowtrail Fell Pony filly

When Fell Pony breeders apply for registration of their foals, identifying characteristics must be noted on the passport application.  Whorls are one characteristic that is to be noted, with several different whorl shapes to be distinguished between.  I find the whorl portion of the passport application to be the most challenging because I inevitably wait into the fall to fill the application out, and the foals’ winter coats have come in, making the whorls harder to find.  Fortunately I take lots of baby pictures, so I am able to go back and look at hair coats at a younger age to answer questions about whorls.

A 2016 study at Colorado State University gave new interest to whorls, especially those on the forehead which are common in Fell Ponies.  “New research suggests there’s a surprisingly simple way of predicting whether a spooking horse will turn to the right or left:  Check out his facial whorls.” (1)  Fell Ponies aren’t particularly spooky, so the research may not be of significant interest to Fell Pony owners.  The general idea, though, was that an equine with a whorl whose hairs turn in a counterclockwise direction when viewed straight on was more likely to spin left when startled with an opening umbrella.

In 2017 I had a foal with a whorl pattern on its forehead that I’d never seen before.  There were two whorls side by side with the hairs radiating out in different directions.  When I read about the ‘whirls and whorls’ research, I curiously wondered, which way will this filly go?  Will she go straight up?  I did see her take an amazing flying leap over a brush pile once.  Will she go one way or the other depending on the situation?  Or is there another possibility?  She was definitely one of the mellower foals I’ve ever had, so maybe she’ll just calmly take in a startling event, standing still.  I never tried the umbrella experiment on her when she was here to find out, but I’ll certainly pay more attention to ‘whirls and whorls’ in my ponies in the future!

  1. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey.  “Whirls and Hair Whorls,” Equus #470, November 2016, p. 18.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

If you enjoy stories like this one, you'll also enjoy the book What An Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.