Fell pony pioneer honoured for his dedication to “hardy, tough little pony”

Walter Lloyd with fell pony Fairmile. 
Walter Lloyd with fell pony Fairmile. © Charlie Prior

British breeder Walter Lloyd has been posthumously awarded the Queen Elizabeth Trophy for his lifetime contribution to the Fell Pony breed.

The award was made by the Fell Pony Society shortly before Lloyd died in January at the age of 93, but he was unable to accept it in person. His sons Bill and Tom, and his granddaughter Flo, accepted the award on his behalf at the society’s annual meeting last weekend.

In accepting the award, Bill Lloyd said he felt it would have been one of the proudest moments of his father’s life. “He was a modest sort of a man, although he had firm opinions and he went his own way, very often when everyone else was going a different way, but this award is a tribute of the very best kind, from people who believed in the Fell pony as much as he did.”

He bought his first fell ponies in 1958 from Sarge Noble, driving five hours each way from East Lancashire to Heltondale with three children “squeezed in the back of a Willys jeep”, Bill said. Walter bought two mares.

Walter Lloyd with Hades Hill Charlie on the way to Wardle to collect a dog cart, in July 1975.
Walter Lloyd with Hades Hill Charlie on the way to Wardle to collect a dog cart, in July 1975.

“The mares he bought were straight off the fell, of a traditional type, quite small, with lots of feather, one black, one brown, and in 1959 he ran them with the Society stallion on the enclosure near Coniston. When he bought these mares, Sarge wanted a bigger pony, because that is what his customers wanted, so he started to use a stallion called Genwelt, who was part Dales pony – his grandsire was a Dales stallion called Black Jock II.

“Glenwelt dominated the Heltondale bloodlines from then on, and at Sarge’s dispersal sale in 1995, of 80 mares sold, 78 were descended from Glenwelt. Within the last few years, it has become impossible to find a stallion that is not descended from Glenwelt. Walter had nothing against that bloodline, nothing at all – Glenwelt was a very popular stallion, and for good reason, but Walter wanted to keep the smaller traditional type so as to keep the diversity and the hardiness in the breed, and in particular to keep the ‘old sort’ of Fell pony, which was a different breed from the Dales pony,” Bill said.

In describing the type of pony Walter favoured for his Hades Hill Fell Pony Stud, Bill said: “Sure, they tended to be on the small side, so they did not often win prizes at the shows, but that did not bother him. What he wanted was a hardy, tough little pony that could work all day, raise a good strong foal on poor-quality grazing, and live out on the fell in a hard winter. One of the old breeders told him that a proper Fell Pony should have ‘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 felt that it was essential to keep that hardy purebred foundation stock alive, and running in its natural environment. He did not mind that he was in a minority, and while the breed was developing in another direction he did not argue.

He ran his ponies out on the commons in East Lancashire, and would bring his ponies in and break them to harness, and put them to work. A Cambridge University agriculture graduate, Walter had a small farm of about 80 acres, with extensive common grazing, and at one time he ran about 20 mares, although the average was nearer a dozen.

The Fell Pony Society's Queen Elizabeth Trophy has been awarded to Walter Lloyd.
The Fell Pony Society’s Queen Elizabeth Trophy has been awarded to Walter Lloyd.

Bill Lloyd said: “He used them on the farm as pack ponies for carrying hay-bales to his sheep, and for carting muck, and for harrowing and rolling. In 1963 when we were snowed in, he built a sledge and the ponies were used to bring all the food and fuel for his family and his livestock for about 5 weeks. In 1969 he formed a ‘Pony Patrol’ of young volunteers to assist the Mountain Rescue for walkers in trouble on the moors, and for several years running he competed in Endurance rides. He would break his ponies to ride and drive for sale to customers, and after he moved to Cumbria in 1987 he used them for hauling bracken, for timber snigging, and of course for the annual trip by road to Appleby Fair. One year Tom pulled his bow-top wagon over Kirkstone Pass on his way to the stallion show at Dalemain.

“In Cumbria he ran his ponies on 100 acres of allotment land near Grange over Sands, and it was enough to keep a small herd of half a dozen mares. About 20 years ago my brother Tom took over the herd, but Walter never lost interest, and just a few days before he died he was telling me about his latest discoveries about how the Roman cavalry used Fell ponies to guard Hadrian’s Wall, and his theories about how the ponies were first domesticated.”

Walter had been writing a book about pack-ponies, which Tom is going to finish.

The family is keeping up Walter’s breeding programme, and manages a Higher-Level Stewardship scheme, which uses Fell Ponies for conservation grazing.

Fell Pony Society chairwoman Eileen Walker presents the award to the family of Walter Lloyd, from left, granddaughter Flo Goodbrand-Lloyd, and his sons Bill Lloyd Tom Lloyd.
Fell Pony Society chairwoman Eileen Walker presents the award to the family of Walter Lloyd, from left, granddaughter Flo Goodbrand-Lloyd, and his sons Bill Lloyd Tom Lloyd.

“Walter’s departure from this life feels like the end of an era, but in the context of the history of the Fell Pony, which goes back at least 2000 years that we know about, and at least 100,000 years that we know almost nothing about, it is just the blink of an eye. The Fell Pony has come through, and so far, it has survived all sorts of changes,” Bill said.

“The breed thrived for 2000 years as a pack-pony, then it was checked by the coming of the motor car and the railway, then the breed bounced back with the growth of riding and driving for leisure and competition. It has survived extraordinarily harsh winters, it seems to be surviving the discovery of the Foal Mortality Syndrome, and it even survived the introduction of horse passports! The new conservation and Agri-Environment schemes are a new threat. They are double-edged – if your herd fits with priorities set by Natural England, the schemes can provide new opportunities for income from conservation grazing, but where the grazing of the wild herds clashes with other commercial interests, they are side-lined, and these schemes can drive the ponies off their natural habitat.

“There are very few semi-wild herds left on the fells, so, these are difficult times, and the Fell Pony faces an uncertain future – but it has always been an uncertain future. None of us know what is round the next corner, but this fine trophy reminds me that we in this room, and a few who can’t be here, and hundreds more who have gone before us, are the people who have made the Fell Pony what it is, and the future of the Fell Pony is up to us … nobody else will do it for us, nobody else can do it for us.”

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