Partnered Pony Blog

Posts in Inspiration
Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies
A Lac La Croix Indigenous pony courtesy Wikipedia

A Lac La Croix Indigenous pony courtesy Wikipedia

For a long time I have said that the United States doesn’t have a native working pony breed.  Now I’m beginning to wonder if one exists, and I just don’t know about it yet.  The story of the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony has made me reconsider my former belief.  The similarities in its story to the Fell Pony I also found striking.

The Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies are also known as Ojibwe Ponies and sometimes ‘indigenous’ is replaced with ‘Indian.”  This critically endangered pony breed is indeed native to North America and is thought to be the only pony breed created by indigenous people on this continent.  There are at least two origin stories for this breed.  One says that small Canadian horses were crossed with Spanish mustangs.  Indeed, two types are said to be present in the breed, one being more similar to Canadian horses and the other being more similar to the Spanish type.  In the 1970s only four LLCI ponies remained, all mares, and the breed has been brought back from the edge of extinction by judicious crossing with Spanish type mustangs.

Another origin story for the LLCI is more fascinating to ponder and has some support from Dr. Gus Cothran’s research saying the breed is genetically distinct.  Based on oral histories from native peoples and the presence of petroglyphs, the LLCI ponies are believed to have lived with their people since before Christopher Columbus “discovered” North America and introduced equines to the continent.  This story suggests that equines did not entirely go extinct on this continent after the last Ice Age, but instead remnant populations held on, with the LLCI ponies being one example.  I was reminded of the British mountain and moorland breeds that hung on despite King Henry VIII’s edict against small statured equines.

The LLCI ponies traditionally resided straddling the US/Canada border between Ontario and Minnesota.  They were ideally adapted for forest living, “a nose flap to hinder cold air from entering its lungs, rock-hard hooves for running over the Canadian Shield, fuzzy ears to protect it from insects…” (1)  The ponies are said to enjoy human company and indeed hung around human settlements, receiving food in exchange for helping with traplines, hauling wood for fires, and harvesting ice.  One parallel story in Fell Pony lore is from Viking times:  “The horses for riding or pack work were kept handy in the villages, and the breeding stock lived out on the fell, because they were able to fend for themselves.” (2)

Today the LLCI ponies are embedded in some native communities and are offering assistance in new ways as therapy workers.  They are helping indigenous people reconnect with their heritage and themselves.  The photographs of these ponies with their people are exceptionally beautiful; follow the link in the first footnote to see some.  For me, the kind eyes of these ponies and their interest in their humans is extremely reminiscent of Fell Ponies.  We who get to partner in our lives with ponies are so fortunate.

  1. Nerberg, Susan.  “Lac La Croix pony saved from extinction by the Ojibwe,” Broadview, 10/2/19, as found at

  2. Millard, Sue.  “Ploughing today, pirating tomorrow,” Vikings and Normans page, Fell Pony Museum website,

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

I Under-Estimated Them

It wasn’t until I put the second pony on a transport that I realized it, and even then it took a few days more.  A sudden change in my life had caused me to need to rehome four ponies quickly.  Two of the ponies I delivered myself into the hands of their new owners.  It was the other two that I delivered to a third party that showed me so much.

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When I parted with those two ponies, I was in tears.  One had shared life with me for nineteen years, and the other for thirteen.  We had done a lot together, and I considered them friends.  It’s normal for me to cry when I say good bye to a pony.  This time, though, was different, as these two showed me.  Neither of them would look at me as I said my final good bye.

I try hard to never be angry around my ponies or to have an argument with another person around them.  Over the years, they’ve shown me they don’t like that emotion.  Research has indeed shown that equines respond differently to happy and angry faces.  “Psychologists studied how 28 horses reacted to seeing photographs of positive versus negative human facial expressions. When viewing angry faces, horses looked more with their left eye, a behaviour associated with perceiving negative stimuli. Their heart rate also increased more quickly and they showed more stress-related behaviours.” (1)  One researcher said, “It's interesting to note that the horses had a strong reaction to the negative expressions but less so to the positive.”  I certainly have perceived that difference in response with my own ponies.  They are much more reactive to negative stimuli than positive.

The tears I shed as I said good bye were not angry ones, though, so I didn’t think the ponies would be affected.  I was wrong.  My tears were full of grief, heavy with emotion.  I underestimated these two ponies and the effect my emotions had on them.  One transporter later told me that the pony in their charge perked up after 24 hours.  The other was labeled a hard traveler, and it took her even longer to come around.  These ponies did react to my grief, and if I could apologize to them, I would. Next time that I am emotionally heavy when saying good bye, I will try harder to make it easier on my departing pony friend.

1)      University of Sussex. "Horses can read human emotions." ScienceDaily, 9 February 2016.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More stories about the amazing relationships ponies make possible can be found in my book The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Twentieth Anniversary
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It was twenty years ago today

This pony came into my life.

She’s been beside me ever since

Through good times and through strife.


I’m thankful for her partnership

In work and love and play.

The gifts she’s repeatedly given me

I can never completely repay.


That she changed my life completely,

There is absolutely no doubt.

Despite that, I can honestly say

It couldn’t have better turned out.


I‘m honored and I’m humbled

Every time she nickers ‘hi.’

I hope it’s quite a long time

Before I have to say goodbye.


© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More sentiments like this one can be found in the “Powerful” section of my book The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

I Give Her Credit
Shelley on a ride at another time right at her rapid turn-around spot

Shelley on a ride at another time right at her rapid turn-around spot

The cow moose didn’t back off like she normally does.  I give her credit; it’s hunting season, and she knows she’s relatively safe close to our house.  She’s alone, without this year’s calf, who was big enough that it might have been a hunter’s score.

I was out feeding before sunrise.  I first knew she was around when my young stallion didn’t come for his feed bucket.  When I went deeper into his paddock to find him, I could see he was looking intently towards the woods.  Before long I made out the large brown shape that was the object of his attention, but I couldn’t tell its gender.  When it moved off a little, I got a treat because Asi moved off too, at a collected trot that was eye candy.

While feeding in the next paddock, I found out it was a cow.  She was right over the fence, and when my dogs tried to push her away into the clearcut, she came towards us instead.  That’s when I realized she wasn’t in a yielding mood, and that summer had been good to her – she was enormous!  I modified my feeding plan to avoid that part of the fence line.

It was well below freezing, so footing was icy.  I decided I would ride my mare Shelley down the driveway to the final paddock rather than walk and risk falling (Shelley’s four-wheel-drive is better than my two-wheel!)  I filled the feed buckets and mounted Shelley bareback with them, just as I’d done the day before, and we headed off.  I knew we might encounter the moose, so I was watching.  Nonetheless she surprised all of us by emerging from a clump of trees right by the road.  The dogs barked, and Shelley spun and headed back up the driveway fast.  It’s amazing how time slows down in these sorts of situations.  I remember grabbing for mane and realizing that the feed buckets were in the way, so I would need to drop them in order to stay mounted.  I give Shelley credit, too.  She didn’t try to buck me off with the buckets bouncing, and not even when the feed buckets descended along her side.  Very soon I felt the panic leave her body and just as I was feeling comfortable sitting out a gallop, she slowed and responded to my verbal command to slow down and stop.

The feed buckets were empty, but the ponies down below really didn’t need them, so after dismounting and letting Shelley go up the road without me, I started walking down the driveway, assuming the cow had finally moved off.  Nope.  I’d learned the strength of her intentions, now, so I turned around and went to the house to finish other chores.  Then, for the first time I ever remember, I fed that lower paddock by driving my truck down the road to avoid another encounter.  The cow had moved off a little, but she still watched as I fed the ponies there.  I kept the dogs close so they didn’t further agitate our neighbor.  I don’t know why she was so different today than past encounters we’ve had, but I give that cow credit for standing her ground. She might be the same one we encountered this spring (to read “Two Mamas Face Off,” click here).  Back then, Shelley won the standoff.  Today the moose gets credit.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More stories like this one can be found in my books What an Honor and The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking on the covers or titles.

Nice of Her to Tell Me!
Mya the Wonder Pony

I reunited Mya the Wonder Pony with my Fjord gelding Torrin after Torrin’s paddock-mate of three years went off to a new life.  Mya and Torrin were my first ponies and spent many years housed together, so I knew in time they’d get used to co-habiting again.  For the first week they were in my mare paddock, but the evening before the mares came home from summer pasture, I moved them to my electric fence paddock where they had previously resided together.

The next morning, Mya greeted me at the house, loose.  Moments later I heard Torrin’s frantic cries about being alone.  Three years away from the electric fence paddock had apparently un-trained Mya to the fence!  I put her back in, hoping that the shock she got while exiting would be enough to remind her where she belonged.  It was not to be, though.  While she stayed put for the day, the next morning she greeted me again at the house.  Now I had to figure out what part of the fence she found worth risking.

I got home at dusk, and Mya was with Torrin where I had returned her that morning.  She greeted me normally, and I filled a tub with hay and began distributing their evening feed around the edge of their paddock.  When I returned to where I’d started, it seemed odd that Mya was still eating the hay there instead of following the circuit of food that I had laid out.  Then I realized that she was on the other side of the gate eating dry grass.  Ah ha!  Now I knew what part of the fence she found worth risking.

I dropped the gate and motioned and commanded to her to get back where she belonged, which she willingly did.  She did, however, also have a smug look on her face as though she had won the game again.  And I had to give her credit; she could have run off rather than return to the paddock as I’d asked.

I replaced the gate and shooed her away from it and headed out to get remedying tools.  Fortunately she stayed where she belonged while I was away.  As moonlight overtook the light of the departing sun, I hung pieces of electric fence tape from the gate.  When I was done, I confirmed that they were conducting electricity.  I then headed off to end my day and await the morrow when I’d find out if I’d correctly interpreted what Mya had told me.

Come Thanksgiving in two months, I will have shared twenty years with this pony, more time than I’ve shared with any human.  It’s clear at 27 years old she still has enough spunk to entertain me.  She has stayed in the electric fence paddock since I adorned her gate with ‘fringe.’  And I still laugh at how smug she looked outside the gate that night, showing me where the weakness in my fence was.  It was nice of her tell me!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More stories like this one can be found in my book The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Seeing Them

We were pressed for time, and my husband kindly offered to help me with my long list of departure chores.  “I could go check the ponies at pasture for you,” he said.  I declined his generous offer, and when he asked why, I replied, “I want to see them.”

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Of course, when I go to pasture, I do more than just see my ponies.  While I do indeed look at them, I am also checking the amount of available forage, their minerals and their access to water.  But I also monitor their behavior.  I evaluate their movement.  I observe their interactions. I look for, and hope I don’t see, deviations from ‘normal.’  And ‘normal’ is a state I’ve defined from countless similar times that I’ve been to ‘see’ my ponies at pasture.  Checking the ponies at pasture, I’ve learned, isn’t a chore I can completely delegate, at least when it comes to satisfying my need for information about them.

In addition, of course, when I go see the ponies at pasture, they also get to see me.  It’s not uncommon when they hear my arrival for my two youngest, homebred mares to run more than a hundred yards, through willow thickets, up and down through drainages, and across the river until they reach me.  I know they don’t have to respond this way because I’ve had ponies who barely lifted their heads from grazing to acknowledge my presence.  Even my colts, less than half a year old, often run towards the nearest fence when they know I’ve arrived.  Seeing my ponies so willingly coming to greet me is of course one of the things that makes going to see them not a chore but a pleasure.  And it makes me believe that seeing them is something they value as much as I do.

When my husband says he’s been to see the ponies, no matter whether they’re in a paddock at home or at summer pasture, he will often immediately feel like he’s being interrogated.  Who did you see?  How were they?  What were they doing?  Where were they when you saw them?  My questions of course are an attempt to get the full range of information that I get from ‘seeing,’ not just the simple results of a visual roll call.

My husband loves to visit the ponies, so I know he’ll offer again to check them for me to help me with my always lengthy to-do list.  Perhaps I will accept his kind offer.  But more likely, I’ll decline, and then say again that I want to see them, with all the meaning that those words imply.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

You can find more stories like this one in my books The Partnered Pony and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking on the book covers or titles.

Superwoman Pony
1807 Superwoman pony by Jared.jpg

My husband’s grandchildren came for their annual summer visit.  Two years before, they’d enjoyed spending time with the ponies, but last year not so much, so I stayed focused on preparing dinner when they arrived.  I didn’t want to be disappointed by their lack of interest, so I was thrilled when I learned their interest had been renewed.

My husband’s son says that his youngest, the only daughter, is often the leader when it comes to new or unusual experiences, so I expect I have her to thank.  The kids were feeding grass through the fence to all the ponies near the house, and one in particular they had named Superwoman.  I’m sure Rose earned that name by strongly and repeatedly running the other ponies off when grass was being offered.  The increased sophistication of the naming was notable.  Two years before, Rose had earned the name Spot because she has a white star.  Another pony they called Noddy because she would bob her head when she thought grass was coming her way.

After dinner, I went out to feed and joined the kids and adults at the fence to see the interactions.  When the attraction of the ponies and especially Superwoman to the youngest became apparent, I asked if she wanted to ride her.  A smile slowly spread across her face, so I went to grab a halter then quickly ducked through the fence and hopped on Rose’s back to make sure she was in the right frame of mind since I hadn’t been on her back in weeks.  She was her normal, calm, and cooperative self, so I led her back to the crowd, and Grandpa lifted granddaughter onto Superwoman Pony’s back.  As I led Rose in a large circle with father and grandfather walking on either side of the precious cargo, I regularly checked on our passenger.  Her smile kept growing, and it was amazing to see how naturally she sat.  When I lifted her down, I told her she was the only one besides me who’d ever ridden Superwoman Pony.  I was rewarded with another beautiful smile.

Having watched his sister having fun and getting attention, the oldest brother then said he wanted a ride.  He’d just returned from summer camp where horseback riding was in the top five favorite activities of the week.  I thought perhaps the lead-reining on a pony that I was offering would be too tame by comparison, but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his ride on Superwoman pony, too.  Not to be left out, brother number two quietly took a ride, too.  The boys sat as naturally on Rose as their sister had.  And brother number two, normally quiet and stone-faced, had a smile that almost equaled his sister’s at the end of his ride.

Darkness was falling, so our pony time came to an end, but my day had been made by the kids’ interest in my hooved friends.

The next day was the last day of their stay.  We had been away at work all day, and I was exhausted and had to go to bed.  What I learned second-hand, though, made my day again.  Grandpa had gone to their cabin to say goodbye, and as dusk approached, the kids said they wanted to come say goodbye to the ponies.  Despite protests from the adults about the late hour, they did just that.  I am grateful to Superwoman Pony for making such an impression on city kids who have so many different opportunities.  I’ll hope that next year they’ll return, and Superwoman Pony can reprise her role.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018

More stories like this one can be found in my books The Partnered Pony and What an Honor, available by clicking on the titles or book covers.