What is a Fell Pony?

Fell Ponies: The Hardy Mountain Breed

Fell ponies are a hardy and versatile breed of pony that originated in the rugged hills and mountains of Northern England. These ponies are known for their strength, stamina, and versatility, making them popular among equestrians for a variety of purposes.

Fell pony on a wintry mountainside

Fell Pony: Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

Where do Fell ponies get their name? What is a Fell?

Before delving into the history and characteristics of fell ponies, it is important to first understand what a fell is. The word “fell” comes from the Old Norse word “fjall,” which means “mountain.” In the context of Northern England, a fell refers to a high and barren landscape, often with steep slopes and rocky terrain. So in simple terms, a Fell pony is a Mountain Pony.

Fell landscape

Typlical fell landscape. This is where the name of the pony comes from. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Fell Ponies: A Brief History

Fell ponies have been a part of the Cumbrian landscape for over 2,000 years, with evidence of their existence dating back to Roman times. These ponies were used as working animals, tasked with carrying heavy loads and pulling carts and plows. They were also used for hunting and as transportation for the local people.

In the early 1900s, the popularity of fell ponies declined as larger breeds, such as Clydesdales and Shires, became more popular for heavy work. Fortunately, a few dedicated breeders kept the fell pony alive and in the 1940s, a breed society was formed to promote the breed.

Fell Ponies: Characteristics and Temperament

Fell ponies are a sturdy and athletic breed, with strong bones and well-developed muscles. They are typically between 13 and 14 hands tall and weigh between 400 and 800 kilograms. Fell ponies have thick, flowing manes and tails, which help to protect them from the harsh weather conditions in their native environment.

These ponies are known for their intelligence, courage, and gentle temperament. They are quick learners and are often used as driving ponies, riding ponies, and for showing. Fell ponies are also used for trekking and trail riding, as they are sure-footed and able to navigate rough terrain with ease.

Famous Fell Ponies

Emma the queens fell pony

Emma, the Queen’s Fell Pony. Photo courtesy of Buckingham palace

Born in 1996 to the Sire Tebay Campbell Ton Victor and the Dam Heltondale Daisy IV, Carltonlima Emma, a beloved pony, was acquired by the late Queen in 2004 when she was just 8 years old.

Despite her brief competitive career, Emma made a name for herself as Cuddy Supreme Champion at the Devon County Show in June 2006.

In addition, she earned a spot in the Horse of the Year Show Ridden Finals and the Mountain and the Moorland Supreme Championship Final at Olympia.

After retiring in December 2007, Emma returned to the Royal Mews at Windsor, where she was frequently taken out by the late Queen in the private grounds surrounding Windsor Castle. To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, the 90th Birthday celebrations, and the Platinum Jubilee, Emma participated in three Pageants at The Royal Windsor Horse Show.

The Queen had a deep love for horses and has been a passionate rider since childhood. She was often seen riding Emma or one of her other horses around the grounds of Windsor Castle, where she spent a lot of her time.

The queen riding her fell pony

The Queen riding her fell pony Emma. Photo Courtesy of Buckingham palace

Fell Ponies are known for their hardiness, intelligence, and athleticism, and Emma is no exception. She has a calm and gentle temperament and is said to be very affectionate towards the Queen.

Emma is just one of many Fell Ponies that have captured the hearts of horse enthusiasts all over the world. Their intelligence, loyalty, and hardworking nature make them great companions and working horses. And with their striking beauty and unique history, it’s no wonder that they continue to be a beloved breed among horse lovers everywhere.

Uses for Fell ponies

Fell ponies are an ancient breed of mountain ponies native to the rugged and challenging terrain of the Lake District in northwest England, particularly in Cumberland and Westmorland. They have been in existence for at least a thousand years and were originally used as versatile farm horses, pack horses carrying loads of bulky farm goods, and pack animals that helped in pulling sledges of local metal ores.

These sturdy mountain ponies were also used as pit ponies in the mines and for herding sheep on the steep fells. They were valued for their strength, hardiness, and endurance. Fell ponies were also employed in pack pony trains that delivered essential supplies and goods to isolated communities in the region.

In recent times, Fell ponies have become popular as pleasure riding horses and for endurance riding. They are generally good jumpers and have been used to hunt wolves in the past. They are also used as pack ponies, particularly for carrying grouse panniers during the hunting season.

The Fell Pony Society

The Fell Pony Society was established in 1916 to promote and protect the breed. The society maintains a register of breeding stock and promotes the welfare and preservation of the breed population. The society also organizes shows and events where breeders and enthusiasts can showcase their Fell ponies and share their knowledge and experiences.

Fell ponies have a distinct look, with a pony-like appearance, a broad forehead, and a moderate crest. They have a good long shoulder blade, which allows for a smooth and comfortable ride. They also have fair sloping pasterns, short cannon bones, and muscular loins. Their hindquarters are square and powerful, which makes them well-suited for pack work and climbing steep hills.

Fell ponies are classified as a rare breed, with a breed population of around 6,500 worldwide. However, their popularity is increasing as more people discover their many positive attributes and their suitability for various activities, including pleasure riding, endurance riding, and pack work.

What do Fell ponies eat?

Fell Ponies are known for their hardiness and ability to thrive in harsh conditions, including limited access to food. As a result, they can survive on a relatively simple diet of grass and hay.

During the winter months when grass is scarce, Fell Ponies may also be given haylage, which is a fermented forms of hay that can provide additional nutrition.

It’s important to note that Fell Ponies, like all horses, require access to clean, fresh water at all times. They may also benefit from the addition of minerals and vitamins to their diet, depending on their individual needs and the quality of the forage they have access to.

Owners of Fell Ponies should work closely with their veterinarian and equine nutritionist to ensure that their horses are receiving a balanced and appropriate diet based on their individual needs, level of activity, and other factors. This may include supplemental feeds such as grains or pellets, but it’s important to remember that Fell Ponies have evolved to thrive on a simple diet of forage and may not require as much supplementation as some other horse breeds.

Fell cross breeding.

While the Fell pony is generally not crossbred with other breeds, some breeders have experimented with crossing them with other pony breeds, such as Welsh ponies or Connemaras, to create larger ponies or small horses. These crosses are usually used for riding or driving, and may have traits that are desirable for particular disciplines such as jumping, dressage, or eventing. However, it’s worth noting that many breeders and enthusiasts prefer to maintain the purity of the Fell pony breed and do not participate in crossbreeding programs.

In addition to crossbreeding, the Fell pony has also been used to create other breeds, such as the Dales pony, which is a larger and more substantial breed than the Fell, but still retains many of the characteristics of the original breed. The Dales pony is used for a variety of purposes, including riding, driving, and farm work, and is known for its strength, stamina, and good temperament.

It’s important to note that while crossbreeding can sometimes produce desirable traits, it can also dilute the characteristics that make a particular breed unique and valuable. For this reason, many breeders and enthusiasts of the Fell pony prefer to focus on maintaining the purity of the breed, and may be wary of crossbreeding programs.

Frequently asked questions about the Fell pony

What is a Fell Pony?

The Fell pony is a native British breed of horse that originated in the northernmost part of England, specifically the Cumberland and Westmorland region, which is now known as Cumbria. They were initially used as farm horses, pack horses, and for herding sheep. With their muscular build, tough feet, and calm temperament, they became the ideal choice for transporting bulky farm goods, pulling sledges, and herding flocks of sheep through the rough terrain of the Lake District.

What were Fell Ponies traditionally used for?

Fell Ponies were used for a variety of tasks, including farm work, pack work, and as pack animals for carrying loads in the hilly and mountainous terrain of the Lake District. They were often used to pull pack pony trains, transporting goods and metal ores across the region. They were also used as pit ponies in the coal mines. In addition to their pack and farm work, Fell Ponies were also used for pleasure riding, endurance riding, and for hunting wolves.

What are the breed characteristics of a Fell Pony?

The Fell Pony is a sturdy and muscular breed of pony, with a deep and broad chest, short cannon bones, and strong hindquarters. They have a good long shoulder blade, a fair sloping pastern, and muscular loins. They are generally good jumpers and have a fine and dense coat of hair that protects them from the harsh mountain weather. They have a pony-like head with a broad forehead and a moderate crest. The breed is generally between 12 and 14 hands high.

Are Fell Ponies good for jumping?

Fell Ponies are known for being good jumpers, especially for their size. They are also great at negotiating rough terrain and are commonly used for endurance riding. However, like any horse, their jumping ability can vary depending on the individual.

Can you ride a Fell Pony?

Yes, Fell Ponies are ridden and are known for their comfortable ride due to their sturdy build and calm temperament.

Are Fell Ponies rare?

Fell Ponies are considered rare, with a breed population of around 3,000 individuals worldwide. However, their numbers have been steadily increasing in recent years due to conservation efforts by organizations such as the Fell Pony Society.

How big is a Fell Pony?

The Fell Pony breed typically stands between 12 and 14 hands high, with a weight between 300 to 500 kg.

What is the difference between a Fell Pony and a Dales Pony?

While both Fell Ponies and Dales Ponies are native breeds of pony from the northern part of England, they have some differences. Dales Ponies are slightly taller than Fell Ponies, standing between 13 and 14.2 hands high.

Why are they called Fell ponies?

Fell Ponies are named after the Fells, the hilly and mountainous terrain of the Lake District in northwest England, where they originated. The term “fell” is an Old Norse word meaning “mountainous,” which accurately describes the terrain of the region.

Are Fell ponies rare?

Yes, Fell Ponies are considered a rare breed, with a population of around 6,500 individuals worldwide. However, their numbers have been increasing in recent years due to conservation efforts.

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