This website of photography and info is dedicated to the preservation of rare breed ponies native to the British Isles and rare heritage breed chickens. Our small herd of three ponies and flock of thirty-six chickens reside in Springfield, Oregon on twenty acres atop a steep foothill. No
Historically the Fell and Dales have thrived on similar hills with sparse forage in their native territory of Cumbria in Northern England. "Fell" is a Norse word for "hill" and Dales refers to "valley," in Scotland or the north of England. Click on Country File Magazine and Dales Pony Society website to read more about the history of the Fell & Dales pony. Fell and Dales ponies both originate from the now extinct Galloway pony, whose ancestors have been in existence since the iron ages. Fell and Dales ponies are both considered "all around" ponies in terms of equine ability. They are described as nimble, compact, well-boned and athletic. They are the essence of a hardy draft with a great work ethic. Historically they have excelled at driving for sport and work in long distance travel for the delivery of goods, and are excellent pack animals. By some accounts, they traveled up to 200 miles per week. They were also utilized as pit ponies long ago to work in the mines, as their short stature and strength make them appealing for this type of work.
In modern times, these ponies show finesse in trail riding being dependable and safe mounts even for beginners, as they take care of their rider. They are not easily spooked, cross water with ease, and most enjoy the intellectually and physical engagement of traversing obstacles. Jumping and dressage are also in their ever-expanding repertoire of talents. They are frequently used in therapy programs due their quiet, gentle temperaments and patience. I have heard of a few in training for search and rescue as well.
A Timeline for the Fell Pony
Pre-historic era: Predecessors of the Fell pony roamed the North of England mostly in Cumbria (1).
Iron Age (500 BC): Mostly resembled the Exmoor pony, with a slightly shorter build and were in common use in Britain by this time (1).
Roman Occupation (55 BC - 40s AD): Height increased (1).
Viking Age (793–1066 AD): Ponies were used to pull sledges, plough, ride, pack (1).
11th and 12th centuries: Long distance pack work carrying woolen goods, fresh food, preserves, metal ores and to hunt wolves that would attack flocks of sheep (1).
13th century - 18th century: Ponies were utilized for mass merchandise and imported goods transport in pack trains over long distances (1).
Mid 18th century to the mid 20th century: Some Fell ponies may have worked in coal mines following the death of 26 children. At that time, women and children under10yo were no longer permitted to work in the mines and equines took their place. The last surviving pit pony was named, “Tony” and lived to 40, dying in 2011 (3). Trotting races amongst ponies was more popular than thoroughbred racing in the 1880’s and Fells excelled at a good paced trot on level paths of up to a half mile (4).
20th century: In 1922 the The Fell Pony Society was formed in its modern form with the goal of preserving the “old type” of pony (1).
Mid-twentieth century: Driving becomes popular with affluence with the Fell pony (1).
21st century: Fells still present themselves as they have throughout history: for driving, as pack ponies, trotting races, hauling prey in from the moors of Scotland (1). And in new roles in the forestry services, conservation grazing (5), riding, endurance and as agile hunter/jumpers (1). Their sure-footedness and good judgement make them a safe mount.
Speaking from personal experience, there are times while on tricky trail where giving my mare “her head” is the best idea. This would be described as dropping the reins and trusting her to figure out the safest and most efficient path down a steep embankment or on questionable surfaces with little leeway to overthink the decision. She has yet to prove me wrong in her judgement.
Differentiating a Fell from a Dales
- Dales are slightly brawnier and taller and can be over 14hh tall, and the Fell pony is ideally limited to 14hh and below.
- Their histories differ slightly.
- Fell ponies can be black, brown, bay or gray, and Dales can come in the latter colors, added in bay or blue roan.
- Their gait differs slightly as does their conformation, and what they excel at and were bred for, but it takes a trained eye to tell them apart.
- Dales are critically endangered. Fells are on the threatened list for extinction. The breed registries are the expert on this topic and depending on your source, you may find differing numbers and opinions. Lack of registering stock and not reporting deaths to registries can skew real numbers. As a general rule, in the United States critical is defined as less than 200 annual registered ponies in the U.S. Threatened is defined as less than 1,000 annual pony registrations in the U.S.
The Accidental Shetland
Freddie came to our “homestead” as an afterthought. He was the first equine to set feathered hoof on our farm. Coming off the sale of a horse that proved to be "too much horse" for me, leaving a fifty acre training ranch, we could not leave him behind. He had been breaking through poor almost non-existent fencing and joining up with the Mule herd behind the ranch. He was taken from his full-size horse herd that he grew up with and penned in a small area with a bucket of frozen water. The rest is history. Freddie came to us in December of 2013 to live in the company of our few remaining rabbits and small chicken flock. He has always done well in any kind of company. He is a spry, funny, witty, spunky gelding that runs with glee with my Old English Sheepdogs, Oliver and Penelope that serve as resident livestock guardian dogs. We know nothing of his history except that he was about three years old when he joined our family.
The Shetland as a breed are considered the most powerful of equines. They are also native to the British Isles (nine breeds total). Because of their native habitat, and isolation on the Shetland Islands (north of Scotland), they are considered the purest of native breeds. They range 38-40 inches at the wither and are not measured in hands, but inches. Like the Fell and Dales they can survive well in difficult weather and on sparse forage. They are nimble, strong, social and curious. They can carry small riders and have been known, in ancient times, to carry heavier riders over a short distance. They can pull a cart, but historically excelled at packing in seaweed and peat for fires as well as pit ponies in coal mines which is no longer a practice. They are known for having a strong build, a neat head, broad foreheads and deep rib cages. They came to America in 1885 and the American type has changed quite a deal. They can jump and race with small riders as well. It is thought that they may have came from a type of primitive pony called the Tundra which existed in the North of Siberia, and may have crossed from Iberia and over a continental shelf to where they are now. One feature that Shetlands still have, with a nod to their ancestors, is their large nasal cavities, used to warm cold air. This feature is not found in equines that originated in warm areas. He grows a massive heavy coat in winter which keeps him warm. The smaller the surface area on a horse, the longer the coat will grow in winter to retain warmth (2).
Fred loves mud, any kind of food, a sip of beer, to lick your shoulder, to roll, to wander. He is, without a doubt, the comic relief of the farm.
Freddie, in my opinion, resembles a more traditional Shetland than an American version of one. With all my ponies, my goal is to keep them hardy and promote them as such living in an area similar to their native territory which challenges them. Freddie exemplifies this quality. He never needs shoes, his feet stay worn by our rocky hills and he does more than well on sparse forage (note belly) with added hay seasonally. We have never had a vet bill for him outside normal exams and vaccines. He is the one that at times does not need a trim from the farrier or a floating of teeth from the vet. The exercise he gets and the foraging he does keeps him in shape, hooves worn, teeth worn. This is how the British native ponies typically fare and one reason why they are a joy to keep. You can spend more time training, enjoying, and letting them be ponies in a happy herd, than primping and worrying about them.
Goals at Our Farm
Currently we are focusing on raising a critically endangered Dales filly, Fiddlehead Astrid. If all goes as planned she will be bred to Ziggy (Envoy de Kingmaker), a rare bay roan Dales stallion, via artificial insemination. He currently resides in Maine with his new owner as a stud. He is from a line of Kingmaker Dales in France. His foundation training was done by Zana Jackson, his prior owner who relocated back to the U.K. Thanks to her generous contribution to our country, we may have some new genetics in the Dales population, not to mention the opportunity to see some beautiful roans out there.
Fiddlehead Astrid's herd-mates are: Freddie, an adopted unregistered Shetland gelding whom came to us as he was wreaking havoc on another horse boarding facility and sneaking into a neighboring pasture of Mules. Growing up with full size horses in a herd environment, he is fairly fearless. He is seven years old and is still a spit-fire, but well-contained. JKL Istas, a Fell pony mare is 8 years old. JKL Istas is registered with the Fell Pony Society in the UK. Fiddlehead Astrid is registered with the Dales Pony Society in America.
We will be adding more photos, stories and education to this site in time. This site was originally published in July of 2018. Check back for more, remember to hit your refresh button as this will be an ongoing work-in-progress. In time, we plan to create a more traditional website. But our focus for now is land/obstacle course development and training (and working a lot!). Breeding will be planned for Astrid in 2020 for a 2021 foal.
Thank you for coming to see us at the Mother Earth Magazine Fair, August 4 & 5th, 2018 in Albany, OR.
In the words of Ray Hunt:
- Let your idea become the horse‘s idea.
- Make the wrong thing difficult, and the right thing easy.
- Confidence is knowing you are prepared.
- The horse is a reflection of the rider‘s ability.
- The slower you go the faster you will learn.
- You need to have a picture in your mind of what you want your horse to do.
- The horse will teach you if you‘ll listen.
Other influential horseman/women: Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli, Carson James, William Steinkraus and local trainers Kim Ewalt and Mary Ka.
Words to Live By
Stay committed to your program, but flexible in your approach. Good horsemen treat their program and vision for a horse’s development like a loose guideline, instead of a strict regimen. Their goal is to get each horse to a certain level of competence on multiple fronts and gradually build; unlocking as much talent as the horse is capable of offering. They have the intuition to predict where a horse is likely to fall short and need more focus on a particular maneuver. But they’re also prepared for the horse to throw up resistance out of the blue from time to time, even in areas they have a solid grasp on.
Often times a work session simply amounts to warming the horse up; running through several exercises or maneuvers and feeling the horse out, taking note of the areas where he’s offering resistance, then spending the majority of the session focused on improving those weak spots. A good horseman is like a firefighter who goes up to the horse and asks: “Anything on fire today?” And the horse says, for example: “Well I know you wanted to work on changing leads today, but I’m having an issue with bowing my rib cage out while spinning that really needs to be addressed.” Thus the horseman spends more time putting out ‘fires’ and fixing problems or weak spots, and less time working on what he originally intended.
But that’s the game. Horses are maintenance with legs. What makes this job tricky is that the horse won’t always blatantly show you where he’s struggling, either. You have to feel it out by running through multiple exercises and putting enough pressure on the horse to test where his vulnerabilities actually are. That’s why we’re so big on getting our horses to accept a lot of pressure and not just coasting around being fake. If you don’t test and expose your horse, those pockets of resistance lurking under the calm surface turn into land mines over the long term: You don’t know they exist until you step on one by accident and get a nasty surprise.
If you’re always challenging your horse and exposing him to new things, you’ll always know what’s in front of you and you’ll never be caught off guard. Plus, your horse won’t regress or get rusty because you’re always keeping his mind engaged and learning.
Even if you’re riding a well broke horse, or if you’re showing, this mindset can really work to your advantage because you’re always addressing weak spots in your schooling, or teaching something new. Either way, you’re constantly breaking new ground. This prevents you from falling into a rut of always nagging and harping on the same old things the horse knows, until he’s bored to death.
Whether you’re showing or hitting the trail this week, we hope you’re finding new ways to challenge and expand your horse’s comfort zone (6).
Freddie the Shetland. Freddie's color is silver dapple. Dapples also show up on JKL Istas though her color is bay. They can be a sign of good nutrition. It is no secret Freddie has partook in the bounty.
Fiddlehead Astrid showing off her fading black coat. She is black but not blue black (genetically no difference). With sunshine and/or sweat, her coat will fade to a brown or copper in the mane, tail and body seasonally. She is continually changing colors as a youngster too. Photo from 2017.
Fiddlehead Astrid in pasture, 2017.
Enjoying some spring grasses. Her first spring on this land. McKenzie River to the left.
Freddie the Shetland (left), Fiddlehead Astrid (middle), JKL Istas, the Fell pony (right), 2017. Istas has been a wonderful lead mare of the group, keeping a watchful eye out for safety. Native British ponies thrive on difficult terrain and sparse forage, spring greens do not last long with long dry summers ahead.
Fell & Dales pony Information: Farms, Breeders, trainers & Stock
(click on the links to visit the other websites)
- Angel Meadow Farm Fell Ponies, Anita M. Castricone, Ballston Spa, NY, www.facebook.com/angelmeadowfellponies/, email@example.com
- Black Pony Farm, John Rutledge, Cortez, CO, www.blackponyfarm.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dream Hayven Farm, Melissa Kreuzer www.dreamhayven.com, email@example.com
- Fell Legend Farm, Rene Bender; Lincoln, CA, www.felllegendfarm.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fiddlehead Farm, Get Grounded Equine, Kimberly Dunn, Pleasant Hill, OR, www.getgroundedequine.com, email@example.com
- Hardenberg Feathered Horse Farm, Will & Jenni Moser, Gilson, IL, www.hfhfarm.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- LastDime Ranch, Lee Ann Loughlin, Floresville, TX, TheFellPony.com, email@example.com
- Laurel Highland Farm, Drs. Edward Earley DVM & MJ Gould-Earley MD, Cogan Station, PA, www.laurelhighland.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Moonlit Fell Pony Farm, Elise Miller, Snohomish, WA, www.moonlitfellponies.com
- Triple Creek Farm, Barbara Levchak, Chatham, Virginia, www.triplecreekfarmva.com
- Oakalley Fells, Helen Rich, Odessa, FL, email@example.com
- Willowtrail Farm, Jenifer Morrissey, Walden, CO, www.fellponiescolorado.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Firefly Farm, Laura Hamilton, Roxbury, VT, www.figure8riding.com, email@example.com
- Fiddlehead Farm, Get Grounded Equine, Kimberly Dunn, www.getgroundedequine.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Raspotnik Farm, Ken and Darlene Raspotnik, Ashland, WI, www.raspotnikfarm.com, email@example.com
More info on Fell and Dales ponies on the Internet
- Dales Pony North America Appreciation Page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/670393929757433/
- Fell Ponies: Events & Promotions in North America, https://www.facebook.com/groups/170820556441345/
- Fell Pony Heritage Centre
- Fell Pony Society, www.fellponysociety.org
- Fell Pony Society of Northern America, www.fpsna.org
- Dales Pony Society of America, www.dalesponies.com
- The Fell Pony Museum, www.fellponymuseum.org.uk
- Caballo Stables (Fell Pony), Laurel Highland Jack of Diamonds, Dwight and Tracey Barton, www.caballostables.ca, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fell Pony Society of Northern America, www.fpsna.org > Stallions (extensive list).
- Envoy de Kingmaker a.k.a. Ziggy, bay roan stallion. Planned A.I. with Fiddlehead Astrid for a ~2021 foal. Owner: Sheila Enochs of Maine.
Jane, Lead Wanna-be Horse Whisperer and Poo-Picker Extraordinaire is a Registered Nurse specializing in the field of neurology and neurosurgery (wear your helmet!). She has been working with ponies going on five years. An early experience in college with a lesson horse jumping in Michigan sowed the seed for a passion that would not take root 'til later in life when opportunity presented itself. She learned the true meaning of "green on green means black and blue," after apprenticing first with a natural horsemanship specialist and an uber green, neglected Percheron. Later in this somewhat haphazard journey, it was kismet when she met her first Fell pony just by happenstance while running at a local wilderness area. Her jaw dropped at at the beauty and calm demeanor of this creature in-training. Shortly thereafter, Jane embarked on a mentor-ship with her pony and enjoyed participating in the development of other green Fell ponies with a trainer specializing in Fell and Dales ponies (whom also trained Istas).
Jane's horsemanship is a blend of truths, strategies, and wisdom gleaned from spending many hours studying mentors, as well as reading as much as she can about equine behavior. With an inventive approach and a nod to equine science, she has reached beyond past errs, sifted through half-truths. It has been, and will forever be, an infinite learning curve with these creatures as they are deep, soulful, willful, curious and complex with their own stories to tell. One just has to listen. And take the time it takes.
Jane's life partner, Robert, a.k.a. In-house Renaissance Man, Lead Trail Excavator and Lord of Land Management, along for this crazy ride, is a practicing neurologist that wears many hats. These hard-working mid-westerners still on this great Western adventure have relished (and at times requested mercy) molding and taming the steep rocky terrain of their initially blackberry-&-poison-oak-covered-oak-savanna-on-a-foothill terrain. They have called Oregon home for over a decade now.