Thursday, November 3, 2011

the working pony: part 1

Around here ponies are considered children's toys, pasture mates, or the butt of jokes. They are either a stepping stone for young equestrians, or a companion animal for a "real" horse. Company that eats less hay while keeping the Warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, and Arabians less bored. Few people (if any) around Washington County employ regular-sized ponies for logging and cart work. They either use ATVs, garden tractors, or some other form of motorized tool for small jobs. If they are into working horses they use Drafts or Standardbreds. That's the MO for most farmers and ponies around here. But I am not most farmers, and Jasper is definitely not like most ponies.
When I was looking into getting my first horse, I wanted an animal at my own eye level. I rode 16+ hand mares at my riding lessons (which have since stopped since I went from 5 days of office work a week to 4), but I only felt comfortable because of the amount of education of the mares and the amount of professionals around me. It also eased the mind to know we were in a locked arena, so even a mad dash could only last a hundred yards. But on a farm, out on my 6.5 acres of land and the thousands of acres of not-my land around us on the mountain...I didn't want a 16 hand horse bolting into the woods dragging a plow. I wanted something I could control with my own hands in a pinch. Something larger than a Shetland but smaller than a Haflinger. A Pony, sure, but an animal I could still jump on the back of for a ride to the back pasture to check on the flock. A horse calm enough to learn with, strong enough to be of use, and patient enough to put up with me, a greenhorn like me. I wanted the animal more educated in driving than I was, and willing to take me on as his student.

I also wanted a gelding. Boys make sense when it comes to working animals. I wanted Gibson to be a male before he was born, and I wanted my horse to be a male as well. At the office, I have two girl friends and one of them took 3 years to shore up. I am comfortable around all the men. My closest friends are all guys. Not sure that is sound horsemanship, but I went with my gut.

 When I first met Jasper he was thin, ratty, and had not seen a brush or bath in months. The night before I met him, he was removed from his herd and stuck in a 2-horse trailer alone. In the morning, in a rain storm, he got freaked out when the trader tried to open the back hatch so he leaped out the side window. BOOM, just gone. "Well, the auction flyer said he was "spirited"..." the seller smiled, knowing this was not looking good for his bank account. Jasper trotted over to some grass near his pasture mates and without a second thought, I just walked up to him. He watched me, and let me grab his halter. I lead him back to the trailer where the Trader was getting him tacked up for a demonstration. It was starting to really rain now, and Jasper's eyes got white with stress. I didn't know enough about horses to offer to come back later, and the trader must have needed the money to ask his son to hop on board. I watched him walk off with his small passenger.

He let a 10-year-old boy saddle and ride him around an open field without qualms. Walk to Trot to Canter, then backed up easy.  Which meant in a strange place, away from his comfort zone, after a night along, he let a child push him around in a backyard without fences. This was an equine Job. Knowing nothing beyond the fact that I would have bucked out of there a long time ago if I was that horse, I agreed to pay $500 over two months and he would be delivered with his Coggins in April. I shook hands with the trader and became an owner of my first equine. I felt rich.  
Jasper came with his name and I did not change it. It suited him, and me. He's an 11.2 hand Pony of the Americas (POA). A dappled gray horse with dark brown eyes and a black and silver mane scruffed in a permanent mohawk. He's ten years old, and comes from a working Amish farm down state where he was trained to drive. He came to me from that scrappy dealer in Hebron, a town a few miles north of Jackson. (I have since learned buying a second-hand auction horse from a backyard trader might not have been the best way to get a working animal.) He was delivered and let loose in a half acre paddock and he ran, bucked, and kicked like a bronco. "Just settling in..." was what the man said before shaking my hand and leaving. As the trailer backed out of the drive, Jasper let out a cry only heard in movies. What was I getting into....

That's his backstory, our backstory really. Over the spring I didn't train with him at all. We just went on halter walks together, learned each other as peers. Summer came and we learned to trust each other a little more. When I bought him a harness he let me put it on him and soon we started working in the field together. It became a regular thing. I learned so much in such a short time. How to understand the confusing puzzle of leather straps that is a horse harness. I figured out his body language, bit size, farrier needs, and dental appointments.  I got a few books, had a driving trainer visit, and over time gained some confidence that this animal and I could work together someday, get something of import accomplished. After all, that was his purpose: To be both my second vehicle and my farm hand. I had dreams of us pulling logs out of the woods together, or hitching up to a sled or cart to make a trip into town. I secretly wished I had the confidence to jump on his back and ride up into the pasture, like the Lairds did in storybooks in Scotland, hoping on the back of ponies in waxxed cotton coats to see how the flock fared. I was in a story book with this horse. I liked it there.
The weekend of Antlerstock was getting closer and closer, and I knew I wanted Jasper to be a part of it.  I had written in the description of the weekend about backyard lumberjacking, with Jasper pulling logs, but wasn't entirely sure that we could or he would. He had worked in the open field pulling around tires and weights, but I had never walked him into the woods, hitched him to a log, and walked him out through low branches and uneven ground into a clearing. So I wasn't sure I would risk it, not around other people. If He got scared and bolted on me, a horse in harness dragging a log is a runaway train. It would be the event everyone remembered, and not in a good way.

But when Brett asked me if Jasper was ready to pull logs on the Saturday of Antlerstock...

I said yes.

Photos by Tim Bronson


Blogger bree said...

Dear Jenna, I love knowing the story of how you got Jasper. The tenderness you feel toward him is obvious. A lovely story and a soft landing for a beautiful animal. Can't wait for part two!

November 3, 2011 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 3, 2011 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

I love the name Jasper. I don't know if you know or not, but there is an area of Alberta, Canada, which is home to the Rocky mountains. In it is a town called Jasper. Your pony remind me of the moutains there-he looks like he's been dusted with snow. A noble name for a noble animal.

(deleted the previous comment as it was rife with typos.)

November 3, 2011 at 9:31 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

I love your account of how he came to be a part of CAF. I can tell from your words that he is a GOOD boy.

November 3, 2011 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger LindaSue said...

He is such a beauty. You have done wonders and he shows it. What a beautiful animal he has become. He looks like he is enjoying what he is doing. So glad you have him to love.

November 3, 2011 at 10:44 PM  
Blogger jenomnibus said...

Jasper is so lucky to have you! You treat him very well, and it shows.

November 3, 2011 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger redbird said...

You two are a great team! I’m sure that it was meant to be that your paths crossed.

*Found your reasoning behind getting male working partners fantastic! I’ve always preferred the guys myself—my favorite coworkers and friends seem to be mostly of the male genre, although as I’ve gotten older I’ve found a few select females that ring true (they do seem to take more time to cultivate friendships with though!).

November 3, 2011 at 11:18 PM  
Blogger Bovey Belle said...

I hadn't heard the story of how you came to find him, but you struck lucky that's for sure. You could easily have brought a pig in a poke, but your instinct when you saw him ridden and handled by a young boy, held good. He's a quirky little lad and a proper working partner now.

November 4, 2011 at 4:44 AM  
Blogger Kelpie and Collie said...

How do you "shore up" a girl friend?

November 4, 2011 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

ha ha! I just mean it took a while to become friends!

November 5, 2011 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger polly said...

shore :D thumbs up

November 15, 2011 at 12:53 PM  

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