Working ponies that thrive out on the fells

Look for feet that sound like a ring of bells as they trot down the road towards you - so much hair the farrier has to part it to rasp their feet - and bone - plenty of bone. After that a bit of fat will cover up any faults.
— Walter LLoyd

The Hades Hill Fell Pony Stud was established in 1957 by Walter LLoyd when he purchased two Heltondale mares. These were recorded in Volume XXX of the Stud Book, and included a black mare, Heltondale Firefly 11651 (f. 1953), and a brown mare, Heltondale Polly Perkins 11937 (f. 1952). Subsequently, in Volume XXXI, the first ponies registered with the “Hades Hill” prefix were recorded: Hades Hill Blossom 12180 (f. 1959) and Hades Hill Sally 12181 (f. 1959).

Walter and Caroline LLoyd. Duckworth Farm, Shawforth 1968

“Our family has been involved with horses for generations. My great grandfather rode all around Europe as well as Britain, keeping a diary. My grand-father was in the Navy, but also hunted, surviving the York and Ainsty Hunting disaster because his horse had a loose shoe, although his cousins were drowned. My father rode in the army in the 1914-18 war in France – I still have his bridle.

My brother and sister had ponies, and I started with a donkey called Darling when I was 8 or 9. There was an open fire in the house and the donkey and I would bring firse down off the moors to burn using traces, a swingle-tree and chains. I spent a lot of time with heavy horses in Cornwall as a boy, and when I started farming at Duckworth Farm in Lancashire in 1949, I had a ‘Welsh Vanner’ of about 15hh, and also a cross-bred pony for harness work.

Walter LLoyd (left) stands beside "Darling" and shetland sheepdog "Leuth" with Rex Whelan on "Dixie" at Zennor, Cornwall

Hades Hill (Hades rhymes with shades) is part of the unenclosed Shawforth Common. A pack horse trail runs across Hades Hill called Limer's Gate which goes from Rochdale to Clitheroe. There is a Bronze Age barrow on top of Hades Hill. There is an old photograph in existence of a local farmer riding a grey pony across the moor taken around 1890 - so there were certainly fell ponies there long before I established our herd. This would have been before the Fell Pony Society was established and it would have been a "fell pony" rather than a "Fell Pony".

As my children grew, I thought we should have a pony, and when I saw a report of the annual sale at Brampton in Devon, when a Registered Exmoor mare in foal sold for £1, I thought it was time to start breeding ponies. An old farmer used to say to me “Always follow a bad year!” At about that time there was a letter in Horse and Hound saying that there were no pure bred ponies running wild in the country. Miss Peggy Crossland, who was then Secretary of the Fell Pony Society, wrote to Horse and Hound saying that there were still herds of Fell Ponies on the Lake District Fells. I got in touch with her, and she introduced me to Sarge Noble who kept “the old riding type”. I eventually bought two of his mares in foal – Heltondale Polly Perkins and Heltondale Firefly.

Gathering the Hades Hill Ponies 1961

In 1959, the mares ran with Peggy Crossland’s stallion, Packway Royal, at the Society’s enclosure at Coniston. The following year I bought Heltondale Lucifer from Sarge, and later, several Heltondale mares. One of them, Daisy, had a good black colt — Hades Hill Delta — that I kept as a stallion. He was stolen (I think in 1972). I then used homebred colts.

At about this time,  although I kept sending registration applications to Peggy Crossland, she didn’t complete the registrations. After she retired, the Society found a drawer stuffed with unanswered correspondence she had not dealt with. The Society eventually got the system going again, and the stallion I was then using, Hades Hill Charlie, was registered, but only by registering his sire who was already dead! I had used only the Heltondale line until I bought Sleddale Bertie from Thomas Capstick, as I felt the Hades Hill ponies were getting too inbred. It has always been difficult finding a stallion of the proper Fell type that is not too-closely related.

Hades Hill Charlie with coppice sledge loaded with bracken for potash

When the Society was first formed, very few of the hill farmers who had feral herds bothered to register them – the Nobles being one of the few exceptions. Before the Dales Pony Society formed, Dales breeders were registering in the Fell Society’s book, so many Fells have a Dales ancestry quite legitimately. The Dales society at one time split into the Dales Pony Improvement Society, that crossed with Clydesdale to get some size, and the Northern Dales Pony Society that bred a type very similar to the proper Fell. Later they recombined.

I think about 1968, Sarge Noble decided that his ponies were getting too inbred, and he wanted to breed bigger ponies to satisfy his customers, so he used Glenwelt, who was a registered Fell, but Dales on both sides — “a big ugly pony with a big ugly head” as he was described to me. At the time of his dispersal sale (1995), of the 80 mares and fillies in the catalogue, 78 were descended from Glenwelt.

Sarge Noble, Heltondale 1964

At one time I used my Fells with a pack saddle – the old traditional wooden type of two arches joined with old barrel staves and padded underneath. I have two original ones that are on loan to the Shibden Hall museum at Halifax. They were used on the hill farms for taking out cows’ muck and lime in wooden boxes with a hinged bottom slung either side. Nowadays I use Fells to pull my Bow-top living wagon to Appleby Fair. One pony in the shafts with a ‘sideliner’ on a single trace on the off- side, tethering them out on verges wherever we stop.” (Walter LLoyd)

Heltondale Polly Perkins Xll (Sideliner) and Hades Hill Oscar (Shafts) en the road to Appleby Fair circa 1998

Walter’s youngest son Tom took over the Hades Hill herd in 1994, a few years after his father moved from Lancashire to Cumbria. (Walter recently celebrated his 90th birthday and “chasing (semi) wild ponies is a young man’s game!”).

“The original stock bought in 1957 were Heltondale by Heltondale Roamer, who had survived the very bad winter of 1947. We also bought 2 Heltondale mares at Sarge's dispersal sale in 1995 so they all go back to that line eventually. Sleddale Bertie brought the browns into our herd. When I took over the herd from my father in 1994, we owned Lownthwaite Drake who was a fantastic looking driving stallion with a great temperament and sired most of the mares I am breeding from now. For the last few years I have been using Lunesdale stallions and Lunesdale Tarquin in particular has been throwing foals of the Hades Hill stamp. We have recently licensed our home bred stallion Hades Hill Geronimo  by Lunesdale Tarquin out of Urwins Ruby.

Hades Hill Oscar, who died aged 29, taught me just about all I know about driving. He was such a character and standing at only 12.2 hh but game for anything. I have snigged timber with him, he has done riding with the disabled, and travelled many times to Appleby Fair pulling a bow-top wagon. In 1994 with Oscar and Hades Hill Fenella, I drove from Cumbria to Cornwall and back again over a long hot summer. His unofficial title became “His Majesty King Oscar The Magnificent” and he truly lived up to that name.

Tom Lloyd with Hades Hill Oscar

We now run mares and a stallion on 100 acres of fell looking out over Morecambe Bay. When I took over the stud from Walter there were about 30 ponies but nowadays our numbers are down to around 10 or 12 ponies -  five or six brood mares with young stock coming on. I have three bloodlines which I am preserving, including Hades Hill Pat, the first pony I was given at the age of 3. They live out all year, and when they are not in foal, they are all driving and packsaddle ponies working through spring, summer and autumn. My sister, Caroline, played a big part in managing the herd in the 1970's, and my brother Bill is still involved with helping to maintain the hill herds.

For driving, I'm looking for a good wide chest and very sound hard feet. A stallion especially must have a good temperament. Around 1960, my father met an old moor-ender off Dufton Fells who had kept Fells all his life, he told him to look for ‘feet that sound like a ring of bells as they trot down the road towards you - so much hair the farrier has to part it to rasp their feet - and bone - plenty of bone. After that a bit of fat will cover up any faults’.

In 2010, a group of friends and I took 5 mares with pack saddles through the Howgills and over High Street — the old Roman Road over the Cumbrian fells, calling in on many of the hill breeders on the journey. Whilst I love travelling with my ponies on the roads, up in the fells on top of the world we hardly met a soul. It was amazing to get off the roads and into the wilderness. That trip stayed with me for many years and in 2018 I undertook my Mountain Leader training so that I could lead pack pony trips through the Cumbrian Fells.

Pack Pony train. Photo taken on Yarlside, Ravenstonedale Common, Howgill Fells 2011. Hades Hill Baby Boo, Abs (unregistered), Hades Hill Pat ll, Hades Hill Patience

Throughout 2018 I started to look for suitable routes for wild camping with small groups, and led a trek of 5 ponies with 10 people (again through the Howgills) to work out logistics. In January 2019 we launched Fell Pony Adventures

Once you have gained their trust a Fell will do almost anything you ask. They are hardy and courageous. I have seen my own ponies turn down hay and dig through the snow to get at the grass underneath.

As a child I would sometimes have to round up ponies that had got off the common and down into town. My father remembers when the herd had gotten off Cronkeyshaw common into Rochdale in the 1970's, and as the stallion Hades Hill Charlie trotted past, he grabbed Charlie's mane and swung up onto his back with no bridle or rope halter, and Charlie took the whole herd home back up onto the common— about 5 miles at a gallop up the main road with Charlie keeping them all together.

Without a doubt, the biggest concern for the future of the breed is losing more of the semi-feral herds that run out on the open fells, and with them the hardiness and characteristics of the breed that have made them what they are. There is no doubt that the landscape is changing. Although many farms have registered common rights for horses, very few use them. David Anthony Murray and others have done much good work to show the benefit of Fells for conservation grazing. The problem we are facing now is how we preserve the herds we have and also establish new herds running out on open fells.  There is no shortage of youngsters wanting to get into the breed. I would like to see the landowners and institutions coming together to find ways for the new generation of breeders to get a foothold on the commons”. (Tom Lloyd)  

Tom LLoyd is Secretary of the Fell Pony Breeders Association.

Extracts from articles published in Fell Pony Express (USA) courtesy MJ Gould-Early

Walter LLoyd 1924-2018

The story continues everyday

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