The Fell Pony is one of five native pony breeds of England, the others being the Dales, Dartmoor, Exmoor and New Forest. These breeds descend from the ancient Celtic horses of northern Europe that had 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.) Until the 1800s, this hardy pony carried loads of lead ore down to the coast from the mines, and then returned carrying coal, traveling 200 miles per week over rocky, rugged terrain.
The early ancestry of the Fell is obscure. These ponies survived on the rugged hills, or fells, of Britain. As the mining industry turned to the railroad for transportation the Fell Pony 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 for trekking (a northern English term describing cross-country riding on an easy-moving, comfortable animal), jumping and in driving competitions.
Most Fells are still bred in the north of 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 13-14 hands (52 – 56”) at the withers, and is smaller and lighter than the Dales pony, to whom it is closely related. 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 on the breed at the Fell Pony Museum site.
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