Fell Pony Breed Guide
The Fell is one of the nine indigenous native breeds of pony to be found across the United Kingdom. As its name might suggest, it is a pony that originates from the north of England. The Fell pony was used as a pack animal to carry copper, iron and lead from mines in the north west of England although the existence of these ponies pre-dates the industrial age and can be traced as far back as prehistoric times in Cumbria and Westmorland. It is suspected that the Friesian had some influence on the development of the Fell pony. The other early breed influence on the Fell was the Galloway which was a Scottish pony, now extinct.
Fell ponies have a very near neighbour called the Dales pony, also from the north of England, not dissimilar to look at and a pony that often performed the same job. At that time, there was little distinction between the two breeds.The Fell and the Dales are now two quite separate breeds and there probably always were differences between them which run deeper than their geographical point of origin reflected in their names. The Fell is also renowned for its trotting action which has made it a popular choice both in harness and as a riding pony. Via a type called the Wilson pony, the Fell is to be found at the root of the modern Hackney breed, further testament to its capabilities as a driving animal.
The Fell Pony Society was founded in 1922 although Fell ponies had been registered prior to that date with the Polo and Riding Pony Studbook. The Fell Pony Society began in order to protect the Fell pony as it then was and to rebuff the trend of crossing the Fell with other breeds. After the Second World War, the Fell pony began to find real popularity as a riding pony; like many of the native ponies, the Fell is a tough and hardy creature and makes a wonderful dual purpose ride and drive pony.
There is a thriving native pony scene in the UK today with many competitions for native ponies at all levels and across the disciplines. Showing, native working hunter classes can be found at many shows from the local agriculture show through to county level. A comfortable, sure footed pony with good gaits, the Fell pony is an attractive mount and is also capable of jumping. Because of the pony’s size which should not exceed 14hh, the Fell is a popular choice as a family pony able to carry either an adult or a child. The Fell pony has also proved a common choice for the Riding for the Disabled Association who can mount either a child or an adult and also take advantage of the Fell’s excellent temperament.
The Fell Pony Society holds an annual performance trial which is a sort of endurance test but for horses. The competitors have to complete a course over varying and often challenging terrain including natural obstacles such as water and fallen trees. The trial is designed to test fitness and stamina and also the ponies’ surefootedness across its original native ground.
Fells have retained their popularity as driving ponies most famously being driven by HRH Prince Philip. Fell ponies have long been used on the royal estate at Balmoral in addition to Highland ponies and Prince Philip is reputed to have borrowed some having had not much luck with some carriage horses from the Royal Mews. Because Fell ponies are quite uniform in colour, it is relatively easy to find a matching couple to drive as a pair.
Black is the predominant colour with minimal if no white markings at all. Brown is also common and though grey ponies were once unusual, in recent years many more grey ponies have been bred. Piebald and skewbald are not permitted colours and nor is chestnut.
As a family friend, a Fell pony is an excellent choice as long term companion. Capable of being ridden by more than one family member, excelling in sports and also as a driving pony, it is difficult to think of something that the Fell pony can’t do. Add to this an excellent temperament and a tough and hardy constitution, the Fell seems to be an attractive pony on all fronts.