The Fell Pony is one of five native English pony breeds, the others being the Dales, Dartmoor, Exmoor, and New Forest. These breeds descend from the ancient Celtic horses of northern Europe that migrated to the British Isles. The Fell originated in the uplands of northern England where they were used as pack animals for the lead-mining industry on the western slopes of the Pennines. Their close cousin, the Dales Pony, was used on the eastern slopes. Up until the 1800s, these hardy ponies carried loads of lead ore down to the coast from the mines. Then, they returned carrying coal, traveling 200 miles per week over rocky, rugged terrain.
The early ancestry of the Fell is obscure. They survived on the rugged hills, or fells, of Britain. As the mining industry turned to the railroad for transportation, Fell Ponies found new employment on the hill farms as a small draft animal. It was used in the field, for transportation, for herding sheep, and for pleasure. As carriage driving became popular, Yorkshire and Norfolk Trotter blood was introduced. A popular Welsh Cob stallion was used as well. With the advent of gasoline-powered engines, the Fell Pony lost most of its jobs which led to the breed’s dramatic decline to dangerously low numbers.
Today the breed is utilized in driving competitions, and for jumping and trekking – a northern English term describing cross-country riding on an easy-moving, comfortable animal.
Most Fells are still bred in northern Great Britain, and a few breeders maintain their ponies in the traditional way in loose, wide-roaming herds on the fells. The pony has seen some resurgence in popularity in the last 20 years, as breeders in Europe and North America have found value in these versatile ponies.
The Fell Pony stands 13 to 14 hands (52 – 56”) at the withers and is smaller and lighter than the Dales pony. While primarily solid black, its dense coat may also be bay, brown, or gray. White is permissible only as a small star or below the hind fetlocks. It has feathered fetlocks, and a heavy mane and tail. Its sturdy, well-muscled legs, large strong cannon bones and strong, broad feet contribute to its surefootedness and stamina. This thrifty pony can live off the sparse vegetation of the fells.
Find more info about the breed on the Fell Pony Museum’s website.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.