Sports and Shows

Local Sports were popular in summer. In 1880 Newbiggin (Ravenstonedale) Sports had foot races, egg-and-spoon races, and so on, and also trotting races, both Open and "Confined to Horses of the Parish". The Open races seem to have been run in heats with a final, rather as harness races in Britain today; at this small village event there were two heats and a final where J Knowles' Brown Duchess beat T Wharton's Countess by two lengths.

Whereas today Agricultural shows are held from mid June through till late September, then they seem to have mainly been held late in the year, after the hay crop had been taken.

However there were at least two early ones: in the third week of July 1880 the Royal Agricultural Society held a show at Carlisle, at which there were classes for "Agricultural" horses, Clydesdales, Suffolks, Hunters, Coaching horses and Hackneys; Ponies 13-14 hands, 12-13 hands, and under 12 hands. Horses came to this show from all over England. In 1890 the local Penrith newspaper reported that the show had been held in Plymouth and made £5,931 -- just over £1,500 less than the Carlisle show.

Temple Sowerby show was in the third week in August and was much more local in character. It had classes for Agricultural horses, including pairs of them; Ponies not over 13½ hands; cobs over 13½ hands and under 14½ hands; Hackneys over 14½ hands; hunters, hurdle leapers ("three times round the ring and over three hurdles") and cobs or hackneys in harness. There were also five entries in the Tandem Harness class. (ref)


Other Shows

Other shows in 1880 were in September: Brough (17th), Kirkby Stephen, Skelton, Shap (10th), Kirkoswald (19th) and Ousby (21st).

Orton Show was founded in 1860 and held 2 classes for Ponies. At its Spring Fair on May 3rd 1862 it offered a prize of £1.10s for the best Agricultural stallion and £1 for the best Pony Stallion.

Shap Show was started in 1861 and was later described as "one of the best agricultural shows in the district". It held 3 classes in that year for Ponies under 13 hands and 17 were forward. In 1880 the height limit for Ponies was 13-2 hands, for whom there were classes for Mare and Foal, 2 year old and 1 year old. Entries from these classes came from Shap, Greenholme, Orton, Helton, Whale, Crosby Ravensworth and Thrimby; the furthest distance travelled was about 9 miles.

Interestingly, there was a class for "Highland pony colt or filly, saddled and mounted"; but no Fell pony classes as such. Hesket New Market had classes for them in 1894, but the earliest local newspaper report of "Pure Bred Fell Pony" classes at Shap is in 1895; in 1893 the Shap Show classes were still described as for "ponies under 13-2 hands".

Classes could be specified by their sponsors: at Shap in 1880 there was a class for "Mare with Foal at foot and stinted to (served by) Jack's Delight". Presumably the stallion owner had sponsored the class. In 1895 M H Atkinson of Orton Hall offered prizes for foals by his stallion Just in Time (2 prize winners recorded) and A Bainbridge of Shap offered prizes for foals by his pony Young Sir George (3 prize winners recorded).

At Brough the following week there were pony classes for brood mare and foal; yearling; two year old; Dale Pony; Best Rider; Leaper; and Lady's Hack ("Lady equestrians in the ring"). Here we have a mention of another breed, the Dale (not, at that time, Dales-with-an-S); but still no Fell ponies. Another individual class was "James Hunter's Special Prize for a colt or filly by Young Comet"; there were 2 entries, from Brough and Brough Sowerby.

First uses of the term "fell pony" (so far...)

At Dufton show in 1885 "the entry of fell ponies was good and the competition keen". The lack of a capital F, as opposed to the G of Galloway or H of Hackney, suggests that the term "fell pony" was not yet a breed name: it was being used for "a pony suitable to live at the fell" or more often "a pony that has been living at the fell". (n.b. - the Cumbrian term is often "at the fell" rather than "on the fell"). Also, compare the way that modern sheep breeds like Swaledales, Roughs and Herdwicks are often grouped in conversation under the one term "fell sheep", or a working sheepdog with huge energy and stamina is complimented as "a good fell dog".

This version of the term "fell pony" as any fell-going pony is supported by a slightly later report in the Penrith Observer of 25th October, 1887 which stated that "the Judges for Shorthorns, Cobs, Ponies and Whitefaced Sheep were Mr. W. Ellwood, Skelling and Mr, Bousfield, Langwathby," and reports under Special Prizes for Ponies the following result: "Fell-gone pony, with foal at foot - 1, Messrs. Dargue; 2. Mr.Hutchinson."

(with thanks to Dorothy Ewin of Dufton, conversation in 2015)


Over Height!

Arguments over Show Rules and their interpretation are evidently no new phenomenon. The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald (from which all these data were obtained) describes the Ousby in-hand pony class of 1880:

The first prize for the pony sweepstakes also came from Penrith, it being won by Mr Davidson, of Shepherd's Hill, with his nice fine-actioned black animal. Mr Hall, of Melmerby, was second with a rough-legged pony, a well known prize-taker. This beast is six years old, and has been in the possession of the exhibitor since it was a three year old. In commencing its career in the ring it was awarded two seconds, but since that time it has on ten occasions earned winning brackets. Mr Hall lodged a protest against Mr Davidson's pony, on the ground that it was above the height specified in the conditions (14hh and under), but we understand that the pony had been measured previous to being shown, and the height was found to be correct according to the rules.

The more complimentary way of stopping a well known owner from sweeping the board year after year was of course for the Committee to invite him to judge.

Sometimes Pony classes were divided from Cobs at 13½ hands, and sometimes at 14 hands. No doubt this was set according to the original organisers' perception of a "split" that would produce an equal number of competitors for each class. There was no description of what type of pony was required. The division between Pony and Cob seems to have been simply one of height.