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horse The Fell Pony

The Fell Pony has been recognisable as a breed since Roman times when they were employed as draught animals in the north of England within local industry and the building of the Roman walls. In addition, they were the main form of transport for the raiding Picts and later on, the Border Reivers - both of whom needed sure-footed ponies with great stamina to assist in the success of their raiding campaigns in the Border country.
Fell Ponies ascending a snowy slope Continuing through the course of history, Fells were used by smugglers along the northern coastlines who recognised that the ponies were an ideal mode of transport to stow away their contraband - especially with sacking clad hoofs to quiet their footsteps! Fells were also employed in less contentious circumstances - including ownership by Cistercian Monks and it is quite probable that the colour grey was introduced at this time, as a 'white' stock was a sign of their monastic ownership.

Despite the Fell Pony's active role in our recorded history, the continuance of the Fell as one of Britain's nine native breeds was severely under threat in the post-war years of the twentieth century. This was due to the reduction of horse power in villages, towns and farms where formerly they had been employed but were being replaced by machinery. Fortunately, the widespread increase of interest in pleasure riding and driving has very much reversed the demise of the Fell Pony - which has undoubtedly attracted renewed interest because of the breed's qualities of versatility and tractability. Gray Fell Pony being ridden

A Fell Pony with rider jumping The number of Fell Ponies now being bred and registered has escalated and, paralleled with increasing membership of the society, the future of the Fell Pony now seems assured.

Fell Ponies vary a good deal in weight and size, so that ponies may be found to carry almost any rider. Being very hardy they keep fit running out all year round, though of course hay should be provided in winter unless running on a very extensive range. Hard feed should be given if the pony is in regular work. Hereditary unsoundness is practically unknown.

Fell Ponies skidding logs The biggest demand is for the family riding pony, but registered Fells at the present time are being used for pleasure and competitive riding, showing, driving, hunting, trekking, shepherding and are very suitable for riding and driving for the disabled. In temperament they are kindly and docile, though full of life and energy. In fact it has been said that "you cannot put a Fell Pony to the wrong job".

Early History

The Wild European pony migrated to the British Isles approx 1500BC. One type predominated in northern England, and can be credited as the progenitor of the Fell Pony. When crop farming and animal husbandry replaced hunting, wild ponies were drastically reduced to conserve available pasture. In northern England ponies became almost extinct in some parts and those that remained existed in small pockets which encouraged inbreeding and so led to regional characteristics.

By the time the Romans were well established in the North there must have been a definite type of dark coloured pony, standing perhaps just over 13hh, bred within the local catchment area of Hadrian's Roman Wall. Bred from Fresian stallions and indigenous pony mares the resulting progeny inherited the strength and quiet nature of the Fresian along with the hardiness, thriftiness and pony character of the north country ponies. Most of the ponies were black, dark brown or bay, white markings were very rare, and as the size of the pony was governed by the quality of grazing, it is unlikely that ponies exceeding 13hh could have survived on the northern moorland.

Fell Pony The early fell pony type of animal made an ideal fell pony, it was strong and sure-footed, placid in nature and not too big to make loading and unloading difficult while being up to the weight of a full load. Unlike the small native ponies of pre-Roman times, the improved Fell type was large enough for a man to ride and was recognised as a dual-purpose breed.

The Vikings used the ponies for ploughing and sledge pulling, the Normans for shepherding, by the thirteenth century there was a brisk trade in wool to Belgium, and local ponies were used to transport merchandise around the country, old packways can still be seen today.

The advent of the Industrial Revolution was a comparatively rapid innovation but one that, directly or otherwise, affected the whole country. Its initial effect on the Fell Pony came by way of iron-ore mines situated in the north-west of England. Once excavated the ore had to be transported across country to the smelting works of the north-east coast, and because of the uneven topography of the country and complete lack of suitable roads and canals, other feasible methods of transport had to be found. The coming of the railways meant redundancy for many of the pony teams and their dependant tradesmen, within an incredibly short period of time hundreds of ponies disappeared, many being sold abroad for slaughter. Fortunately the Fell Pony was still surviving in its native Lakeland home, and despite its dramatic rise and fall at the hands of the industrialists, as a breed it was quite unchanged, for the disbanding of pony teams had not affected the true pony breeding stock at home on the Cumbrian hills.

Fell Pony The affluent 1950's saw the beginnings of the popularity of riding for pleasure, a pursuit that has gained momentum ever since and in its wake guaranteed the future of many native breeds. The number of ponies being registered with the Fell Pony Society has risen gradually ever since.

Ref: "The Fell Pony" - Clive Richardson 1981, 1990

The Fell Pony Today

There is a demand for an all-round family pony capable of carrying all members of the family and versatile enough to fulfil a wide variety of jobs previously done by two or three more specialised animals. In this capacity the Fell Pony is ideal being well up to the weight of a heavy adult, yet quiet enough and not too big for a child. In many respects the present day family Fell Pony is mainly continuing to apply to modern demands, the same adaptability which endeared it to the Lakeland farmers of approximately a hundred years ago.

As a hack and general riding pony, the Fell's fast walk and easy paces make it a pleasant and comfortable ride, and its sure footedness ensures a safe passage over the roughest country. It is possible to ride a Fell pony through places where other lighter bred ponies would come to grief and Fells seem to have a sixth sense which alerts them to possible danger, they seem to know which is the soundest track through soft marshy ground or the safest descent of a rocky hillside.

Fell Pony

Fell Pony The rediscovery of Driving as a recreational sport has given the Fell Pony the means of continuing in a job which it has traditionally done for centuries. They are well suited to this work, having great stamina. The fact that the Fell Ponies breed very true to type makes it very easy to find matched pairs than is the case with many of the other breeds. Their main limitation in competitive work is their lack of speed, but their tireless energy compensates amply and several acquit themselves well in combined driving events. A few Fell Ponies are still used in Scotland carrying the stags and grouse panniers down from the moors.
Some of HM The Queen's ponies are sometimes used for this purpose at Balmoral while others are used for both riding and driving by the Royal Family. Large numbers of Fell Ponies are used in riding and trekking stables throughout the country because of their docile temperaments and useful size. The Riding for the Disabled movement employs a number as mounts for both disabled children and adults.

All these attributes make the Fell Pony an Ideal Family Pony.

Ref: The history of the Fell Pony The Modern Fell Pony - Fell Pony 2000

Breed Standard

HEIGHT: Not exceeding 14 hands (142.2 cms).

COLOUR: Black, Brown, Bay and Grey, preferably with no white markings, though a star or a little white on the foot is allowed.

HEAD: Small, well chiselled in outline, well set on, forehead broad, tapering to nose.

NOSTRILS: Large and expanding.

EYES: Prominent, bright, mild and intelligent.

EARS: Neatly set, well formed and small.

THROAT AND JAWS: Fine, showing no signs of throatiness nor coarseness.

NECK: Of proportionate length, giving good length of rein, strong and not too heavy, moderate crest in case of stallion.

SHOULDERS: Most important, well laid back, and sloping, not too fine at withers, nor loaded at the points a good long shoulder blade, muscles well developed.

CARCASE: Good strong back of good outline, muscular loins, deep carcase, thick through heart, round ribbed from shoulders to flank, short and well coupled, hind quarters square and strong with tail well set on.

FEET, LEGS AND JOINTS: Feet of good size, round and well formed, open at heels with the characteristic blue horn, fair sloping pasterns not too long, fore-legs should be straight, well placed not tied at elbows, big well formed knees, short cannon bone, plenty of good flat bone below knee eight inches at least, great muscularity of arm.

HIND LEGS: Good thighs and second thighs, very muscular, hocks well let down and clean cut, plenty of bone below joint, hocks should not be sickle nor cow-hocked.

MANE, TAIL AND FEATHER: Plenty of fine hair at heels (coarse hair objectionable) all the fine hair except that at point of heel may be cast in summer. Mane and tail are left to grow long.

ACTION: Walk, smart and true. Trot well balanced all round, with good knee and hock action, going we from the shoulder and flexing the hocks, not going too wide nor near behind. Should show great pace an endurance, bringing the hind legs well under the body when going.

GENERAL CHARACTER: The Fell Pony should be consitutionally as hard as iron and show good pony characteristics with the unmistakable appearance of hardiness peculiar to mountain ponies, and, at the same time, have a lively and alert appearance and great bone.

horse This article was kindly provided by The Fell Pony Society, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen

To learn more about the Fell Pony please click here

H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, in competition driving H.M. The Queen's team of registered Fell Ponies

H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh,
in competition driving H.M. The Queen's
team of registered Fell Ponies.

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