Like other ponies that are native to Great Britain, the Fell Pony has survived thousands of years of living in a harsh environment and the whims of man. Thanks to traits such as versatility, intelligence and a high capacity for adaptation has helped the Fell Pony become the strong, well loved pony of Northern England of today. Here we'll take a look at just some of the obstacles the Fell Pony had to overcome over the centuries in order to survive.
It is estimated that the wild European pony arrived on what today is Great Britain around 15,000 BC, when the island was still connected to the continent. When men made the change from hunting and gathering to agriculture, many ponies were reduced in order to have more access to planting fields. The ponies that survived this first adaptation were forced to live in areas where planting was impossible or not worth the effort. Those ponies that settled in the area of the Cumbrian Mountains, where today is found the border of England and Scotland, were the ancestors of today's Fell Pony.
The next change for these ponies came with the Romans, who spent many years defending the border of England and Scotland on what is still called Hadrian's Wall. When the Romans abandoned the British Isles, they left behind many of the horses they had brought with them, which were then bred with the native ponies. Despite crossing with larger horses, the ponies would have retained a somewhat smaller size in order to better survive on the amount and types of grasses available to them. However, the crossings did make the pony stronger, able to carry a full grown man and be able to drive, combined with the pony's existing characteristics of being very sure footed and able to resist the harsh environment.
As invaders settled on the British Isles, they used the native ponies for various uses. The Vikings used the Fell Pony for plowing and driving sleds, while the Normans used the Fell Pony in shepherding. In the 13th century, with the wool trade with Belgium becoming very important, the Fell Pony began its career as a pack horse, which it would continue all the way until railroads were introduced. Unfortunately, the industrial revolution meant that man was less dependent on these strong, versatile ponies, and many were destroyed. Two factors helped the Fell Pony survive once again: the Fell Pony was still living in the wild, ensuring that the breed still existed in its pure form, and the Fell Pony Society was created at the beginning of the 20th century in order to help protect and conserve the traditional breed.
Today, thanks to conservationists and enthusiasts alike, the Fell Pony is growing in popularity as a sports and pleasure horse. In many ways, the Fell Pony is continuing its long history of adaptability as the pony finds new ways to be useful. Popular for its smooth ride and its ability to jump, the Fell Pony is popular for sports such as cross country as well as performance trials. Thanks to its impressive trot, the Fell Pony is also popular for driving and is used in a variety of driving competitions.