The Fell Pony is a rare native British breed known for its beauty, strength, and versatility. Once used as pack horses in Northern England, Fell Ponies are now popular mounts for Pony Club kids and monarchs alike.

While they may appear similar to other English breeds, Fell Ponies are a distinct breed with a long history that traces back to Roman times. The Fell name comes from the Norse word for hill, describing the terrain their sure-footed ancestors evolved to roam.

This hardy breed has the strength and temperament to excel in many jobs. After demand for working animals declined, Fell Ponies found new purpose as hardy riding and driving ponies.

While generally of robust health, this breed is susceptible to a unique genetic disorder, once called Fell Pony syndrome (FPS). Now referred to as Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome, this inherited condition can be prevented with genetic testing and breeding management.

This breed profile will review the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Fell Pony breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Fell Ponies.

Fell Pony History

Nestled in the rugged fells of northern England, the Fell Pony is considered one of the purest native breeds in Britain, second only to the Exmoor pony.

The Fell Pony, known for its strength, endurance, and gentle temperament, has been an integral part of the region’s culture and history. While influenced by imported horses throughout their history, they have maintained a recognizable type for nearly two thousand years

Origin

All native British pony breeds descended from prehistoric ponies that migrated to the British Isles in the late Pleistocene period. Specifically, Fell Ponies originate from the wild ponies that inhabited the hills of Northwest England. [1]

By the Iron Age (1200 BC), humans had domesticated native ponies across Britain, and around 1,000 BC, Celtic ponies brought to the British Isles began to influence domestic breeding programs. [1]

Historical records describe ponies with a Fell Pony type that inhabited Northern England during the Roman occupation of Britain. Roman cavalry horses likely crossed with the native ponies, adding height and strength to these hardy equines. [2]

Nordic horses brought to Britain by Vikings in the 9th century also impacted the development of British ponies. Arabians and Draft horses influenced British breeds in later centuries.

Genetic studies show foreign influences on the Fell Pony breed were male-biased, meaning that foreign stallions were bred with native Fell Pony mares. [1] These studies found Fell Ponies had significant maternal diversity with rare ancestral haplotypes.

This male-biased genetic influence indicates that the maternal lineage of the Fell Pony has been largely preserved, with genetic diversity introduced primarily through male bloodlines. [1]

Although Fell Ponies share some characteristics with Friesians, it is incorrect to describe them as a mini-version of that breed. Horses brought to Britain from Friesland may have influenced the Fell Pony’s development, but the two breeds are not closely related. [1]

Historic Use

The Fell Pony’s ancestors served as multipurpose working horses in Northern England for centuries. The sparse vegetation of the local moorland could not support larger horses, so farmers relied on small ponies for everything from light draft work to shepherding in the Lake District. [2]

During the Viking Period, the animals were used for packing loads of fleece and food over long distances on the fell. The strong, steady ponies also worked in pack trains that regularly transported imported goods across the country in the Middle Ages.

Demand for the breed’s packing ability grew as the British mining industry developed. The Fell’s ancestors transported copper, lead, and iron ores across the country from mines in Northwest England.

Eventually, the dark-coloured ponies that predominated the counties of Westmorland and Cumberland became known locally as Galloways. Praised for their trotting ability, Galloways were frequent contenders in the popular trotting races of Cumberland. [3]

The Fell Pony name first appeared in Westmorland publications in the mid-19th century. Around this time, local agricultural fairs began hosting show classes for ponies bred on the fell, and breeders began recording pedigrees for Fell Ponies.

The Fell pony population declined sharply after the industrial revolution when new forms of transportation replaced pack trains of ponies. The breed survived partly thanks to rural communities that relied on Fell Ponies in the first half of the 20th century. [4]

Breed Registry

Founded in 1922 to preserve purebred ponies of this breed, the Fell Pony Society (FPS) has helped the breed find a new calling as pleasure ponies. Since then, registration numbers for Fell Ponies have risen steadily as this once-endangered breed gained popularity worldwide.

The Fell Pony Society of North America (FPSNA) is an officially registered overseas branch of the FPS. Established in 2001, the FPSNA supports breeders and promotes Fell Ponies in the United States and Canada.

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