Jasper came to Washington County via the Cobleskill Amish Horse Auction. A fellow member of the WDCAA, Rob, bought him on a hunch after seeing him trot out into the auction ring pulling an EZ entry cart. He was in full regalia, harnessed and stepping high. In the auction book it had a warning though: very spirited.
The Amish are not looking for Very Spirited Ponies. It's not that they are against personality in their working animals, but ponies aren't used the way a sassy Percheron may be used. Ponies are some children's first ever harnessed and driven horses. They are used as all-purpose ATVs for their kids. A good and well trained cart pony can take a pair of kids to a neighbors for an errand, follow behind the family buggy on the way to church, or let a kid hop on top of bareback to race across a field. This is what Jasper was supposed to do, but he was failing. Too much energy and too much kick in him and that is no good around working animals and children. So he was sold, and sold with that deadly stamp of "very spirited" and no other Amish Farmer would take him.
But Rob wasn't Amish. He was a pony trader, and he knew a good bet when he saw one. He took Jasper home to his pony operation and started letting his (then 8-year-old) son ride him after a period of evaluation. He had his older daughter ride him bareback, and he *tried* to get the horse to buck him or someone off, and he didn't. Turned out Jasper wasn't as much of a monster as he seemed.
It was around this time of Jasper coming to Washington County that I was thinking about getting a horse. I wanted an animal to learn with, something to both cure my fear of taking that first equine step and be useful around the homestead. I think I had the hunch most people new to livestock have, which is to start small. Look at the rise of the Nigerian Dwarf dairy pet, the bantam flock of roosters, baby-doll sheep and the popularity of miniature cattle. I don't think this is an accident, I think people getting into livestock want animals they can handle and house, and it is a lot easier to house a trio of Nigerian Dwarfs than it is a pair of full-grown Nubians. Smaller animals also can thrive in smaller spaces, and with just a 1/4 acre of pasture fenced at the time (the rest was all electric netting) I wanted a pony that could live with and protect the sheep, share their housing and fences, and just sort of melt into my life.
I wanted a horse, but I wanted a Nigerian Dwarf, not a Nubian. I craved an animal to pull a wagon, not ride. I wasn't ready for that yet. Riding a horse around my own farm or down the road seemed something from a movie reel, not reality. Something for people with big walk-in stall barns and white fences and level ground for arenas and miles of fields for pasture. No, what I wanted at this point was a 10-12 hand pony that could live on this farm, be harnessed, and used in cart or lead by the halter to pull things like a small analog manure spreader (meaning a wooden box on wheels full of his own poop and the sheeps' poop and a pitchfork I could fling on the highest field). My goal were humble.
But getting a pony seemed a huge and scary commitment, even if the animal was small. I found a white draft pony online and emailed the seller. It turned out to be Rob and the horse turned out to be in it's twenties and too big, a Haflinger cross. I wanted a younger animal and I explained to him what I was looking for. I told him I wanted a smaller pony I could drive, or ask to pull firewood. Something I could jump on the back of if I really wanted to, but mostly to live with my sheep and do odd jobs. I explained the barns I had, the fencing, all of it. He said I should come meet Jasper.
I did and the rest was history. I met Jasper on a miserable wet and cold spring morning and watched him jump out of a trailer window in a panic, and let me walk up and halter him and lead him back to Rob. I watched him get tacked up in western gear in the downpour as his son road him at a walk, trot, and canter around their backyard. I watched him allow all this, with his calm and even temperament, and I decided he was the pony for me. I paid him half his selling cost on the spot ($275) and arranged to have him delivered by Rob in a few days. I came to Rob's farm as a shepherd and left as a working horse owner. Holy crow. Times were a changing....
I didn't know enough about horses to even know he was underweight and in shoddy condition. To me he was beautiful. That photo above is a few days after I brought him to Cold Antler. He looks like a different animal than the one in the video below. Who knew under that gray winter coat and dirt was this dappled white king? Who knew he had muscle and strength and power? I didn't. But I did know to have vets, and farriers, and plenty of grass and sunshine at his service. He really healed here and looking back at how he started I can see that more than ever. Jasper is one of my greatest success stories. By just being himself, he makes me feel better about myself.
And Jasper lived here and worked here, and he did thrive. But no horse should be totally alone. Jasper wasn't, as he had the sheep and me, but sheep do not make the best companion animals for a pony. When Merlin arrived Jasper's life improved in unspeakable ways! He now had a larger pen, a companion, someone to run and rub against, kick and whinny with. Those two are my odd couple for sure: Merlin is so calm and steady and authoritative and Jasper is all piss and vinegar and goofiness. But it works. It works brilliantly. And now with Merlin being the more trained animal on the farm, he is used for work and Jasper's life is just running, and playing, and bumping heads, and eating out with friends. Merlin is doing nearly all of the work and Jasper is on a holiday, so he may have hit his own personal paradise.
I want to get Jasper in harness on a cart soon. What I know now about driving and horses has given me the confidence to try and I bet soon as J is in a cart he'll do wonderful! But right now he is a party animal, on vacation, and loving every minute of his life. Not a bad way for an Amish reject to turn out.