Lownthwaite Fell Ponies

History of Lownthwaite Fells

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29 September 2003

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History of Lownthwaite

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Today the Lownthwaite ponies are the last semi-feral herd of Fell Ponies to roam the Northern Pennines, much as nature intended and tradition decrees. Their story spans five generations of a family and more than a hundred years in the life of a farm in Cumbria. There have been Fell Ponies at Lownthwaite since at least 1889, when Mr Thomas (Thos) Wales (1849 – 1926) and his mother Mary (1811 -) moved from Melkinthorpe to Lownthwaite at a time when equines were the “power house” of agriculture. While the heavy horses were the mainstays of that power, there was a part to play for the Fell Ponies. Fell Ponies which roamed Milburn Fell, living outdoors on relatively poor keep were an invaluable asset, especially at a time when the horses ate at least half of all the farm’s crop production. The Fell Ponies were used for shepherding and both ridden and trap duties. They could also be utilised, with thought and ingenuity at busy times in the agricultural calendar to subsidise the work of the Clydesdales. They were a good reserve for the farm.

The Lownthwaite semi-feral herd of ponies was, and still is, gathered in from the nearby Milburn Fell twice yearly. Once in late spring/early summer when the mares would be kept in-bye for covering, together with any pony which was to be sold and or ‘broken in.’ Before the First World War the mares would be covered by a travelling stallion. Who would visit the farm once or twice weekly, on a pre-arranged round. After a short covering season the mares and foals returned to the fells for the summer. The herd was gathered in again in early autumn, when the foals would be weaned. Tradition decrees that the foals must only be weaned on a fine day, when their backs are dry, to minimise the possibility of either mares and/or foals catching a chill. Immediately after weaning the mares, together with ponies to be retained, were returned to the fell. A number of foals were sold. The foals to be retained, kept in bye until the following spring when, all branded and the colts gelded, when they too would be turned out onto the fell in late March or early April. Many of these ponies would stay on the fell, until they were two, three or four years old, when many would be sold either as broken or unbroken ponies; the best fillies retained for brood mares.