Driving Fell Ponies
Updated: Mar 6
Cathi Cline driving Llancloudy Elisha
Are you thinking about driving your Fell Pony? Most Fell Ponies are great candidates for the task. The Fell Pony Connection queried 3 North American teamster Fell Pony enthusiasts asking for their perspective and insight on driving Fell Ponies. Thanks to Kimber Bishop (Kimberlake Farm), David Mikko (Drycreek Farm), and Dawn Pontz, we offer the following insights.
FPC: Based on your experience with the breed, tell us some common traits that make them good candidates for driving/harness work?
Naturally calm and accepting temperament makes them level headed at an early age. This makes training them to drive easier than other breeds I have worked with. Have successfully trained older Fells age 10+ to also drive that had no prior driving experience.
Ponies that can see something new and quickly adjust to it after the second or third time. They need to be aware of things in the environment, but quickly adjust to new things.
Although our experience is still limited by a few years with Fells, we have found them to be intelligent and quick to learn. They are agile with their feet/hooves in placement and use, as well as steady and have found them to do well with endurance at this point. They are an admirable partner to work with.
FPC: Have you noted any challenges with driving Fell Ponies?
Although easier to train they need more time to mature physically, we can do groundwork such as long line as early as 2 but do not hitch till age 3 and only light work till over age 4. They are also not as fast as other breeds so we often need to push a bit to make time in the timed events.
The biggest challenge when getting a new Fell Pony into driving is sizing the harness. The harness will need to be switch out with different sizes as the pony grows. As a 2-year-old, many parts of the harness will be large pony, but in the third and fourth year a lot of parts will need to be switched to Cob size. I prefer Zilco harnesses due the ability to interchange parts. Also, the synthetic nature of the harness allows for quick cleaning.
I've had some training challenges which we have worked through. If there is one characteristic that may come up, it could be a slight stubborn streak. As for driving challenges everything we have exposed our 2 ponies to, they both have done exceptionally well with.
FPC: What kind of driving are you doing with your ponies? What types of driving do you think the breed would do best at?
Combined driving, single, pairs, and tandem. Cross-country pleasure shows, Timed obstacles and driven dressage. Scores are always very high with driven dressage and cross-country pleasure driving.
I always start my ponies with ground driving. This is a good introduction for any pony regardless of discipline that may take up as the training progresses. Once ground driving is underway the ponies will start pulling light objects moving up to a sled and a sled with weight. Only after they are sure of what is going on with dragging objects do I move into a 2 wheeled cart as a single. I always start them in a small arena in the beginning with the cart.
We're trying it all! We have done recreational drives which included a camp over, invitational pleasure drives, cones competitions, driving derbies, pleasure shows from the 4H level to ADS and regional shows, driven dressage and we are now preparing to expand our exposure to marathons. I have not found one discipline that they are not good at yet, but I do think that they can excel where they are challenged in events like cones, derby's or CDE's.
FPC: Tell us one of your most enjoyable events or moments involving driving your ponies?
Most enjoyable moment would be as a breeder seeing our homebred ponies as a team of four at combined driving events and the first year they won their division. I get to start them but rarely keep them long enough to see them achieve that level of success. Always great to see them go on to do great work.
The most enjoyable times driving a pony is when I take a new pony from the first stages of training to a point where they are safe, happy and confident when traveling out on public roads. That brings me a lot of satisfaction. The icing on the cake is when the public pulls over and want to take pictures when we drive by.
This year we had several highlights but one of the most memorable was attending the Devon Horse Show in PA and winning the Country Pleasure Drive Single Pony Division. In an area where welsh ponies are predominant, our junior gelding made quite a presence on the drive and was enjoyed by the many spectators, and later in the ring with my husband as whip.
FPC: Please share some good advice on picking a good Fell pony candidate for driving. You could include physical structure as well as temperament.
Temperament is key, not all Fells enjoy being driven. I have only come across 2 that simply did not relax when hitched and that were better suited to being ridden only. Wide chest, good foot, short back, wide hip are the things I look for along with round and relaxed at the trot movement.
I train all ponies that I have raised on my farm. The temperament is much more important than any physical structure. When working with 2-year-old ponies they still have a lot of growing up to do before they are mature. With that being said they are going to change a lot in structure. A calm sensible pony is much more important to me than what a pony looks like at 2 years old when I start my ground training.
The breed itself is solid and from my limited experience is well suited for driving, from their intelligence to their sure footedness and stamina. I've learned a lot since buying my first two in general. I personally like a neck that balances the body, and isn't too short which goes into a back that is coupled nicely and not too long. I like them to be able to track up under them selves and have a ground covering gait.
Temperament is very important for driving, I truly believe with any horse (or person) they have a discipline which they are best at, and that is what you develop. A driving horse above all other disciplines must be obedient. One that may be on the 'hot' side may not be the best candidate for driving, or may be better suited for a more experienced driver and competing in CDE's. It's about the right fit for the right job and with the right driver.
FPC: Anything else, personal story or guidance, you would like to share about driving Fell ponies?
I prefer to teach them to bend and push into pressure prior (chest and rear breeching) to first hitch, you get more relaxed ponies (Go and Whoa) if they get a chance to learn this prior to having weight of the vehicle.
Don't rush training a pony, take small steps, get as much help as possible for others. This can be people that live near you, videos, or some contributors on YouTube. Please buy quality harnesses and equipment.
When we made the decision to up size in driving from our prior VSE and when my husband decided to join me in the sport is while doing breed research I found the Fell Pony, which was perfect for our needs and life. Little did we know then how much we would come to appreciate the breed, and while we are not breeders we embrace them as a heritage breed and support promoting them in our area through driving. When we decided to get a Fell pony little did I know what a challenge it was going to be. Thinking the only real resource for sales was Facebook, I was glued to it to find one at the age I was looking for and within the price range I had. After months finally a mare came up, we flew out to see her and not knowing much more about the breed we bought our first Fell. That same trip we doubled up and ended up shipping home not only the mare but a yearling as well. We're all in now! The Fell pony offers so much to the driving discipline whether you prefer pleasure or to be more competitive. Disposition, size and physical attributes makes them suitable for most anyone. If you are new to driving or buying a pony for driving, seek out experienced support or a professional trainer in driving. When buying a pony with training, learn all you can about the previous training, in some situations re-training or additional training may be necessary. Always be safe!
FPC: Tell us about the Fell ponies you drive: names and a bit about their personalities, temperament, etc.
Fell breeder and driving trainer so we have had many over the past 15 years. Although similar they each will have a unique personality. The fun part is after single training, figuring out who likes to be in front, off, or near sides. Putting teams together has everything to do with it being their idea.
Royalcrest Ariel is the mare that is presently my schoolmaster that assists with my young ponies when starting pairs. She is very methodical and doesn't get upset with the young ponies.
Moonlit Violet Rose (Rosie), an 8 year old mare, we bought her as a 5 year old with driving training but had been sitting for several years in a pasture. Rosie has had retraining and advanced driving training where we have driven her for recreational and competitively. She was even featured on the cover of the ADS magazine, The Whip while we were attending the ADS Mid Atlantic Recreational Drive at the Fair Hills Resource Area in MD. She is a forward and bold moving Fell, as we found out a little atypical of the breed. To keep her challenged we recently found that she really is excelling under saddle work and currently is preparing to go to a fox hunt in the fall. Chappelows Reserve Porter (Porter), a 4 year old gelding, we have brought along and this is his first year out. If he was a character from a movie we would have thought he was Spicolli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, he's just laid back and has the 'hey dude' attitude. Don't let that fool you though, he's smart and athletic. We are continuing to guide him in his training process which we balance with recreational driving for the young mind. We'll watch him to see where he's going to excel based on what he enjoys doing.
Post by Kimberly Dunn
Note: The Fell Pony Connection provides a resource list of Fell Pony driving enthusiasts. If you would like to be added as a resource, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.