Willowtrail Farm Fell Ponies
Thank you for your interest in Fell Ponies and those here at Willowtrail Farm. I know you have lots of choices when it comes to Fell Ponies, and I appreciate your consideration of those I have selectively bred from imported and homegrown stock. My focus is on an old type that is increasingly rare within the breed. Please enjoy your visit to my website and feel free to contact me for more information.
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Video: Willowtrail Josie
Willowtrail Farm is located at 9,000 feet in elevation in the Colorado Rockies. I began breeding Fell Ponies in 2000 when I went looking for a large, versatile pony for riding, driving, packing, and draft work, similar to my Norwegian Fjord Horse gelding. Since I was involved with rare breeds of livestock, the Fell Pony came to my attention. There were only about 30 Fell Ponies in North America at that time, but the breed claimed me, changing my life forever. Since then, my ponies have become my best friends in ways I never would have imagined possible. I continue to work them in harness, as well as study the breed, the breed standard, and breeding. My ponies give me ample opportunity to also study natural horsemanship and write about the Fell Pony breed.
Natural horsemanship isn’t something I do with ponies; it’s who I am with them. It informs all of my time with them, from feeding to leading to hoof trimming to riding to driving. And they have definitely taught me that I must be willing to continue to learn; they remind me daily that they’re always thinking about new ways to communicate and play with me. It’s especially touching when they want to engage with me instead of eat their hay or be with their buddies. I don’t think one lifetime will be enough. What an honor and privilege it is to at least share this life with them.
-- Excerpt from "Being Natural with Fell Ponies" by Jenifer Morrissey
Click here to see what natural horsemanship looks like with my ponies.
In my first few years of breeding, I discovered that creating another pony like my favorite one wasn't easy. Since then I've immersed myself in learning about the breed, the breed standard, and breeding, including trips to Cumbria, the Fell Pony's home in England, and multiple visits to breeders in the United States. I'm now focused on breeding this old type of Fell with plenty of hardiness, bone, substance, and beautiful movement. I've imported a stallion and two mares and am in regular contact with master breeders in England.
An Old Type
The type of Fell that I fell for is sometimes called the traditional or Cumberland or Mountain and Moorland type. Long time breeders and judges have told me that actually this type is the true Fell Pony, " constitutionally as hard as iron and showing good pony characteristics with the unmistakable appearance of hardiness peculiar to mountain ponies," as the Fell Pony Society breed standard says. Some of the Fells I've seen on my journey with the breed so far are lacking pony characteristics, some lack bone and substance, and some lack hardiness. Many can't move as well as they should; proper movement is both the most difficult trait to recognize and to breed. Finding all the characteristics of the old type in a single pony is difficult, and for some reason I’ve decided to take on the challenge!
I've often thought that the best way to describe the old type of Fell Pony that I admire is in poetry. Here's my current attempt:
An Ode to the Old Type
A leg at each corner, standing strong.
Deep and wide through the heart,
With tail and mane long.
Back like a table broad enough to set,
Eyes bright and knowing,
The wisest I've met.
Quarters well filled with strength and bone, too.
Ears that say 'pony'
And legs that track true.
Feet round and hard to carry a load.
A foot sole that flashes
When going down the road.
Hocks that are used, knees with some lift,
Nostrils large and expressive
A constitution that shouts, 'Thrift!'
This old type Fell Pony, tough and enduring,
Rare in the breed,
I find quite alluring.
For Future Generations
I came to the Fell Pony in part because they are a rare breed and in part because they have a history of being used for work. The breed is not nearly as endangered now as it was when I bought my first pony, but the old type that I prefer is indeed rare within the breed. Working ponies in harness, or any animal for that matter, is also something that is increasingly rare in our world. It is my goal to put these ponies to use as they have been in the past so that future generations can enjoy them as a living working partner.
In the book Managing Breeds for a Secure Future, published by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, several strategies are recommended for conserving rare breeds of livestock. Some of these strategies include understanding what a breed is and where it originates, identifying and studying with master breeders, supporting breed organizations, identifying and managing rare bloodlines, and understanding breeder responsibilities. My involvement with rare breeds began in 1998, and I’ve studied breeder responsibilities since then. However, it wasn’t until I got involved with the Fell Pony that I began to explore the other conservation strategies, beginning with membership in The Fell Pony Society in 2000.
Who is a master breeder? A master breeder has an eye for good stock and can identify what to select for in breeding and explain why. They have a passion for the breed and are willing to listen and learn from just about anyone. I have been very fortunate to get to spend time with a few master breeders on each of my trips to Cumbria. I also correspond via phone and email with them several times a month. In addition, I am the principal author of the ‘Breeder Profile’ series in the The Fell Pony Express. The exchanges I have with all of these breeders have helped me immeasurably in my quest to breed the old type of Fell with which I fell in love.
I am also a co-founder of the Fell Pony Pedigree Information Service on raresteeds.com. Based on the studbooks of the Fell Pony Society, this service provides pony owners with information about the pedigrees of Fell Ponies and the degree of inbreeding that may result from certain matings of stallions and mares. The service also helps identify rare bloodlines within the breed.
Conserving the old type of Fell Pony has become a passion, and I’m gratified when visitors knowledgeable about the breed remark on the size and substance of my ponies. I know the study of these ponies will occupy me for the rest of my days, and I’m endeavoring to capture what I learn for the benefit of future generations in my books and newsletters.