Horse Isle 3: Big Book of Breeds
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Big Book of Breeds
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[ INDEX ] Equine Type: Horse Breed: Fell Pony (Fell)   [ PREV ] [ NEXT ]
The Fell Pony is a British pony breed, who is also one of the most ancient pony breeds still in existence. Fell ponies are known for their appearance, which resembles that of a small Friesian, and is almost identical to the appearance of Dales Ponies. However, it is important to note that Fell Ponies and Friesian horses are not necessarily linked to each other.

Small ponies have roamed Britain back in the pre-historic era. They were domesticated by the pre-historic men, and during the Iron Age they were already commonly used for various tasks. Thousands of years later, in 55 BC, the Romans arrived at Britain, and travelled all the way north to the Cumbrian region. They brought with them various of foreign horses such as Spanish horses, French horses, and more, including Friesian horses. We know that Fell Ponies probably originated about 2,000 years ago from crossings between these foreign horses and the local British horses, but there is a disagreement regarding the exact identity of the foreign horses who played a role in the development of the Fell Pony.

According to the first of the two main theories on the subject, the Fell Pony wasn't created until the Romans left some of their Friesian horses behind when they left Britain. These Friesian horses were free to breed with the local British ponies, and that's how the Fell Pony was created. According to this theory, the Fell Ponies inherited the general appearance of their Friesian ancestors, and the overall size of their pony ancestors, and that's why the Fell Pony looks like a "small Friesian". However, there are a couple of problems with this theory. First, there are no actual evidence that the only large breed who influenced the Fell Pony was a Friesian. Secondly, back in the Roman days, Friesian horses had a different appearance than the appearance they have today, and therefore we can't rely on the appearance of today's Fell Ponies as an evidence for Friesian ancestry.

The second theory on this subject suggests that a number of different horse breeds played a role in the development of the Fell Pony, with the Friesian being only one of them. In addition, according to this theory, the Fell Pony could have been developed during the time of the Roman rule in the Cumbrian region. This is based on the fact that, before the Romans arrived at Britain, the height of the local ponies in Cumbria was approximately 12hh, and that by the end of the Roman occupation, the height of the ponies had already increased to 13hh. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the Romans indeed crossbred the local ponies with larger horses, and it was probably then that the Fell Pony was created. As for the appearance of the Fell Pony, we have evidence for significant changes in the appearance of Fell Ponies which occurred over the 20th century. For example, today's Fell Ponies have thick feathering, while Fell Ponies from the beginning of the 19th century had little feathering if any at all. Another example is the color range found within this breed, which was originally larger and included piebald, pinto, and dun. The active selection for dark colors, especially that of black, started only in the 20th century. Therefore, we can't rely on today's ponies' appearance when assuming which breeds originally created it 2,000 years ago.

Regardless of their exact ancestry, Fell Ponies played prominent roles in the everyday life of every civilization or house that controlled Britain. The Vikings who arrived at Britain found the Fell Ponies very useful for ploughing and riding, as well as for serving as pack ponies. Since they were strong for their size and had excellent endurance, Fell Ponies continued to serve as pack ponies, under different regimes, until the 20th century. In addition, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the natural talent of Fell Ponies to trot fast led to them being used as race-ponies in trotting races, and as cart-ponies for pulling mail-carts as well as carts full of various products. Furthermore, Fell mares were used to create the Hackney Pony, which is a trotter pony breed (see the 'Hackney Pony' for more info).

Today, Fell Ponies are popular for trekking, because of their comfortable gaits and their ability to walk easily over rough terrains. In fact, as part of the breeding program for Fell Ponies, the ponies are tested for their ability to cross various terrains, from walking in water and bogs, to climbing over hills and walking over fallen logs. In addition, Fell Ponies are also used in driving competitions, endurance riding, and trotting races. Last, the British royal family breeds Fell Ponies at Hampton Court Stud Fell, and use them as mounts.

In terms of appearance, Fell Ponies have thick and long manes and tails which can be wavy. They also have thick feathering that partially covers their characteristically bluish hooves. In the past, many colors were found within this breed, such as piebald, skewbald, dun, roan, and chestnut. However, these were bred out in favor of black, dark bay, and grey.

Fell Ponies usually come in black, though dark bay (termed as 'brown' in Horse Isle) and grey colors exist but are rare. White markings are kept to a minimum, with the ideal pony having no markings at all. Fell Ponies stand between 13hh and 14hh.

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