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The Fell Pony owns a swift, balanced trot, and this combined with its courage, endurance and stamina make it an ideal driving pony. They have often been successful in the inter-breed obstacle driving competition instigated by HRH Prince Philip at the Royal Windsor Horse Shows, as well as in the very demanding discipline of combined driving.
The Fell Pony has traditionally occupied the northern edges of the English Pennines and the wild moorlands of Westmorland and Cumberland, while the neighboring and genetically related Dales Pony belongs to the other side of the Pennines in North Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham. Both ponies are branches with the same root and have developed according to the uses that have been made of them.
The black Friesian horse, descendant of Europe’s primitive Forest Horse, had an early influence on the northern breeds of Britain. The Frieslanders and their black horses were used as auxiliary cavalry by the Roman legions stationed in Northern Europe. Legend has it that when the Romans arrived in northern Britain they found the indigenous ponies too small for hauling the materials needed for building their walls, roads and forts. To infuse more size, they are believed to have imported a number of Friesians to cross with the native ponies and the resulting stock was said to be very similar to the Fell Pony of the present day.
The greatest influence on the Fell Pony however, was that of the strong, swift Galloway, which remains particularly evident in the modern Fell. The Galloway was the mount of the border raiders and then of the Scottish drovers. It was bred between Nithsdale and the Mull of Galloway and although it has been extinct since the 19th century, the qualities it gave to British stock are still evident. The Galloway was between 13 and 14 hands in height, hardy, sure footed and possessed great stamina and was very fast under saddle and in harness. The Galloway probably also formed part of the running horse stock that provided a base for the eastern sires of the 17th and 18th centuries and from which the English Thoroughbred sprang.
In its time, the Fell was a pack pony, like its neighbor the Dale Pony. The Fell, which is lighter than the Dales and a great trotter, was a much used under saddle as in harness on the rough fells.
The most famous of the early Fells was the 18th century Lingcropper, who might have been a Galloway. He was found during the Jacobite risings, cropping the ling, on Cross Fell after a border skirmish in which his rider died. He was taken by a farmer and spent the rest of his life at stud, founding the renowned Lingcropper strain of ponies.
The Industrial Revolution and the subsequent use of mechanized transport almost saw the end of the Fell Pony breed and between the two world wars only five stallions remained. Fortunately, generous support came from, among others, King George V and Beatrix Potter, and a revival ensued.
The Fell is noted for its small, quality head. The head is broad across the forehead and tapers down to the muzzle. The eyes are large, and the nostrils open. The prominent, bright eye speaks of intelligence and also reveals the wonderful temperament characteristic of the breed. The ears are small and neat. The Fell Pony does not exceed 14 hands.
The shoulder of the Fell pony is an important point of conformation, being well laid back and sloping, to give the riding action, without being too fine at the withers. Another feature of the breed is the measurement of good flat bone below the knee. The official standard lays down a minimum of 8 inches (20cm).
The breed standard states that the Fell Pony should be constitutionally as hard as iron. In the 18th century when Fell Ponies were used in pack trains, the average load was 224 pounds (95kg) and the ponies covered some 240 miles (384km) a week.
The action of the Fell is described as smart and true with good knee and hock action. The pony goes from the shoulder and strongly flexed, showing and shows great pace and endurance. The hocks, because of their strength and ability to flex, contribute to the powerful drive of the hind leg.
The hooves are hard, blue horn, round, well formed and capable of standing up to hard work over the high stony passes of the fells. Another characteristic is the generous growth of fine hair at the heals. The luxuriant mane and tail of the Fell Pony are left to grow long.
The Fell colors are black, brown, bay, and gray without white markings, although a star is occasionally seen.
The overall impression of the Fell Pony is that of enduring strength combined with quality and general alertness of outlook. The swift, balanced trot of the Fell combined with its courage, endurance and stamina make it an ideal driving pony, often successful at the Royal Windsor Horse Shows,in the inter-breed obstacle driving competition instigated by HRH Prince Philip, as well as in the very demanding discipline of combined driving. Fells are also used at trekking centers in many parts of Britain. It hasn’t been so long ago that the Duke of Edinburgh drove a Fell Pony team in competitive events. Yet this breed’s native good sense make a comfortable, safe ride for all ages.
The Fell Pony can tackle cross country fences competently, being very agile and clever, but they are certainly not built for speed. They do perform very well in handy pony classes.