Shepherding with Fell ponies

Jock Anderson of Teviotdale tells of his work at Limeycleuch from the late 1940s to the 1960s:

I found horses a very handy tool for shepherding sheep... I introduced mounted shepherds in the Borders. At least in modern times. ... with the numbers of shepherds going down, I began to realise how useful they could be for working the sheep in open country and after I took over at Limeycleugh I started shepherding with ponies, in a serious way. It was an 'advance' that worked very well for thirty years - till the motorised four-wheeled bikes put a dead stop to it.

I had three shepherds on 5,000 acres, each with a hirsel - that's a certain number of sheep on a certain amount of ground ... The normal thing was for the shepherd to check his sheep twice a day on the hill.... the horses could save time, effort, money - and they brought a special satisfaction all of their own. And for me, working with the hill ponies became not just part of a way of life but also a small business. What I used to do was this - go down into England and buy feral Fell ponies cheap, straight off the hill. Thirty years ago you could buy the best of them for £30 a piece... they were wild, they'd never been touched. What I looked for was a good strong horse, a well-formed horse. You didn't need to worry about hardihood. They were all tough - it was always a question of the survival of the fittest on the Fells and, even today, there will be two or three hundred of them running wild on the Howgills and round about.

I like the idea of there still being wild horses here in Britain... to think of them as a reserve pool of unspoiled nature, ready for use if all the clever breeding programmes go wrong. It's nature that always puts the house back in order ... I always enjoy going down to those sales. The Cumberland and Westmoreland men had been overseeing those ponies for generations. They let them run wild - because they know how evolution works and they know how to handle those horses. It was a way of life for them - and I became part of it. For many people culture is education and art galleries but for us, culture is what we do with our hands, what we do, make and experience every day of our lives ...

I'd go down to Westmoreland with a lorry and bring back three or four, or maybe half a dozen. Then I'd break them and train them and send them out to the shpeherds. They then each worked one for a year and I kept a pool of spares at the farm. Then I'd sell them all on as trained riding ponies, and they were excellent. I'd buy them for £30, get a year's work out of them and, without being greedy, sell them on for about £130. My children enjoyed them, the shepherds enjoyed them and across the country I had a demand I couldn't satisfy. Horses, of course, are hard work - with feeding, grooming, saddling and cleaning, but just as the cowboys were sad to see the Old West go, so I was sad when the Fell ponies went from Limeycleuch and the skyline horse was replaced by the bikes.

Our ponies went away to be used by children and the disabled, some went for hunting, some for the Common Ridings, and some got retrained for carriage driving. Two of my best black Fell ponies were bought by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, for his carriage team... those horses have done very well all over the country. ... They're very adaptable and just the right size for modern recreational riding.

Jock Anderson, in "The Horseman's Word"