Saturday, April 21, 2012

sal forgave me for his haircut

he has a jenna problem

When I arrived at Riding Right Farm yesterday for my weekly lesson with Merlin, I wasn't sure what to expect. I told Andrea and Hollie (head instructors) about our disastrous loading and unloading and his lack of response to me in the saddle. Andrea takes out Merlin for a training ride every Wednesday as part of our boarding agreement, so she would have just experienced the same animal 48 hours earlier. If his problems were the same for her, that means he could have something seriously wrong with his health or tack. I am grateful for this comparison of amateur and experienced rider. It means that while I am riding him and learning the ropes, he is also getting a really decent training session every week. Andrea is evaluating him for me, as is Patty, and Milt (the Natural Horsemanship Trainer we will work with soon).

Andrea told me she took him out in the fields and her trail ride with Merlin went swimmingly. It wasn't perfect, but darn near it. He balked at the water crossing, but with some encouragement went right across. In the open field of lush grass he didn't fuss, and rode across the landscape without so much as a hitch. She said there were times he acted like a pony, but she was firm and direct in asking what she wanted and Merlin responded without complaint. She didn't have to get off him once, and at his worst he just stepped back a few times and shook his head. He did just fine.

This was good news, mostly because it validated that the problems I had with him last weekend were problems with ME. He isn't in the wrong tack, or in pain, or dealing with poor hooves or teeth. He is dealing with Jenna, and that is no easy task.

He has Acute Jenna Communication Deficiency (AJCD). Symptoms include exasperation, confusion, frustration, and an irrational exposure to kilts, chickens, goat milk, and fiddles. It can never be truly cured, but the remedy is simple: spend more time with Jenna. You don't heal up, but you get used to the beast that smells so much like dog and soil and she grows on you, starts to make sense.

It's all I can ask for.

So our lesson was about my goals with Merlin. After a few minutes in the outdoor arena working on leg yields and a posting trot, Andrea had us go for a walk around the property. Every time Merlin refused a path or started to balk she taught me exactly what to do, how to react, and every single time Merlin chose to trust me and move where I wanted him to go. It was great progress, and not the traditional English Riding lesson. But that is what I love about my Barn. Hollie and Andrea are interested in what YOU want out of the experience, and if I want a trail pony I can hitch to a cart than that is what they will help me achieve. They'll just make sure I look damn good doing it.

I asked Andrea, while she walked aside Merlin and I, what she would recommend to a person buying their first horse? If money wasn't an issue, and the new rider could get any breed, age, or sex of horse, what was her professional opinion on a safe bet for a great experience?

She looked up at me, walking confidently with Merlin's. Her student was finally starting to understand the language between equine and human she knew so well. She thought for a moment, and responded with wisdom I have yet to achieve:

"Take three years of riding lessons on a school horse first."

photo by jon katz.

Friday, April 20, 2012

new moon babes

The first lamb of 2012, a spunky ewe lamb, is thriving. This past Wednesday night Jon Katz and his wife Maria came over to treat me to dinner, a rare occasion for me. (I don't go out to eat dinner often, maybe once every three or four months). So I was excited. But before we could load up into their car I needed to do some basic shepherd's work. The little lamb had been by her mother's side for 48 hours, but she needed to be cleaned up, her tail docked, and given a shot or two. I had a plastic bucket of soapy water and a towel ready, the syringe loaded, and the banding tool locked and loaded by the time Jon and Maria were in the driveway. 

Jon's an old hand at lambing, and I had one season under my belt. We went through the tasks easily and Jon took photos. Maria held the little girl while I cleaned her rump. She had gotten the runs from the rich milk, not uncommon, and had managed quite the mess on her rear end. In two shakes I had her clean and smelling of mint from the castile soap I used from Common Sense Farm's soap shop. Maria cooed and I gave her the tetanus shot right before I slid the band over her long tail. In a few weeks I would find it in the pasture, dead and pointless. She wouldn't miss it, none of them do. Her new docked tail will wag like a dogs while she drinks her mother's milk.

She is already going to join the flock at Common Sense, as are two more of her half sisters yet to be born. They were agreed to as part of a barter to pay off my debt owed for the sheep shed construction. And I have faith they will arrive because several of the sheep (my fingers are double crossed for Maude) are swinging huge udders and seem ready to lamb soon. Tonight is the new moon and seems like a good time to bring a babe into the world. The sheep shed is filled with new, clean, straw. The horse has been separated out from the flock in his own paddock. Everyone seems calm. If I were a sheep, I would go for it tonight. 

photo by jon katz

Last Chance for Antlerstock 2012

Only two spots left, friends. First come, first experienced.

amazing lesson today...

Progress is being made!
photo by tim bronson

help me pick a beer!

It's time to start brewing again and I thought I would ask you guys to help pick out the recipe kit I'll use for these next two batches. I prefer Northern Brewer, the twin cities based brew shop I order from online. I have all the gear I need, just the recipe kit. Click this link and you'll end up on their home page. So far I have had the Peace Coffee Porter, Sweet Stout, and Honey Brown. I'm looking for a high-summer beer and a heartier light stout. So what would you try? We can pick it out. I can make a webinar of brewing (don't worry webinar folks, they will be busting out soon! You will get your 9 more videos this summer/fall for 2012) and then first taste online. It'll be a 4-6 week process, but this is the start.

And, if you want to get into brewing with me, go for it! We can do it together. All you need is the Northern Brewer Basic Starter kit, a steel brew kettle, and a recipe kit. Don't be intimidated by the chemistry or the process. It's a lot of fun and easier than making a pie crust. I promise.

And no, NB is not a blog sponsor. I just really think these guys are best at introducing this hobby to new people, and their grains, malts, and kits are top notch for the money.

lost in service to the cause

100-year-old tools aren't going to last forever, but when they die in service to their cause I feel good about it. Here I am holding up the two broken pieces of a singletree that (pre Jasper and Merlin) decorated the side of the farmhouse when I moved in. It was just one of many weird agricultural relics the Millers found around the property and barn and used as decorations in their remodeling project of the 1860's farmhouse. Little did they know when they mounted it to the wall that some crazy lady would pry it off and use it on a cart pony...

While starting to ground drive with Jasper last summer Brett took it off the wall, set chains to it, and attached it to the pony's harness. I remember coming out of the farmhouse with a beer for each of us and asking where he found that ancient piece of horse equipment. He pointed to the wall of my side porch, where another, smaller evener was hanging right above it along with the wooden bones of a small horse collar. Oh. I grinned and felt silly. Here I was getting the first horse ready to work in probably 80 years on that farm and I didn't even realize the parts for the job were nailed to the wall. They just faded into the background, camouflaged by their inactivity.

Last weekend after the Shearing debacle, Jasper used this old evener to pull loads and loads of locust rounds out of the space that will be his and Merlin's new pasture. On on particularly heavy load Jasper pulled forward and the ol' girl just snapped. We rigged up another solution with chains to replace the weight distribution and set the old singletree in the grass to die in peace. But I went back and grabbed a hold of it. I was proud to see it move from tool to decoration and back to tool again. A good ending.

photo by melina smyres


I reinforced all the birds' coops. I set up three baited live traps. I stayed up half the night. I didn't hear or so a single raccoon. Go figure.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries
Over a Week of Milking

It's been over a week living with a dairy animal, and all my worst fears were about nothing. I realized now that my resistance to a cow or goat wasn't about the work or commitment, but about other people. It may seem on this blog that I am a ruthless decision maker, but in truth I turn things over in my mind for quite some time, driving myself crazy with the details until I finally make a choice and own it with everything I've got. But getting to that certainty is like the road to Mordor.

I wasn't worried about the 2 scoops of extra grain a day, or making the 20 minutes to milk her during my usual chores. I was nervous about the commitment. And I was nervous the goat would hinder my social life. As petty as that sounds, it is true.

Up until the point I got a dairy animal things were pretty flexible around here. I'd wake up and the only "work" was time and presence. For half an hour I amble about, pre-coffee and go about the mindless tasks of filling feeders and water containers, chucking hay over fences, walking to make sure the electricity on the sheep fence is working and usual morning dog walks. The entire farm is content in thirty minutes on an office weekday. I give Jazz and Annie some outside time and set them down with a bowl of kibble and a big cold bowl of water and they are set till I return. Gibson hops in the truck with me and we can be gone all day and the farm animals will be fine. If I need to be away longer (outside of dire weather like winter's worst and summer's hottest) the animals are fine. As long as before I go to sleep the water and feed is topped off, their morning rations are plenty for the day long as they have space, grazing, and strong fences. It is a very simple system. Nothing has mucked with it much.

A milking goat is different.

I am now a master of the word commitment. Every twelve hours that big bag on Bonita's needs to be emptied or she will feel pain, possibly get infected, and then dry out and I'm out of milk (and luck) until next spring when she kids again. No more beautiful glass bottles of fresh milk in the fridge. No more chevre ready to spread over homemade breads and bagels. No more plans for milk soaps curing in the dry high cupboards in the closet. Her gifts are mine for the taking, but my end of the deal is that twice-daily date with the stanchion. No exceptions.

So before work and after work I milk Bonita. I am now so used to the motions. I'm so used to the routine that milking is just five minutes long. If I don't want to strain and keep it—either because the fridge is full or I am running late for work or dinner plans—then I simply milk her right into one of the gallon chicken water fonts and then spin-lock on the lid and the birds have a high protein snack to add to their mash and forage diet. All the chickens love the milk. It requires no cleaning or extra sanitation, and I am literally done being a dairy maid in about 7 minutes flat. Easy as pie.

Most mornings and evenings I keep the milk though. I bring it inside in our trusty pail, shock it in a sink of ice water till chilled, drain it over a buttercloth lined steel colander into a large glass bowl, and then pour the chilled and filtered milk into glass bottles I ordered from Caprine Supply that say GOAT MILK in bold green letters. I then set it in the freezer for about and hour and then the milk is ready to set in the fridge to do what real milk does: naturally separate from cream to skim. In the mornings I like taking a dollop of the cream into my coffee. and I then pour the less thick milk into my granola. It's a healthy and fortifying start to my day.

Since tonight is the start of my weekend I decided to make some fresh soft chevre for weekend brunches and friends. So instead of chilling the warm pail, almost over-flowing, I just pour it through my homemade strainer and set it in a big steel saucepan. I add another half gallon of two-day old milk from the fridge and set the heat on medium. When it hits 86 degrees I will pour in a little packet of cultures, not unlike the yeast packets you use for bread—and mix it in. Then I turn off the heat and cover it with a lid and in the morning I will have beautiful curds so certain in their beliefs you need a butter knife to slice through them. After that, I just drain the curds in the sink and by the time I am back from my morning riding lesson with Merlin I will be scooping it into glass containers for the fridge. So far everyone who has tasted it, either at the office, here at the farm, or as a gift said it was some of the best soft chevre they ever ate! I think that's because most store-bought chevres, and even farmer's market cheeses, need to be aged a certain amount of time to be sold. Even a few days changes the taste from that soft, whipped, beautiful chevre made from the milk of a healthy doe that same night. You just can't know till it crosses your lips, and when you do, you'll experience that sensation Brad Kessler describes in his book Goat Song: it was like tasting a meadow....

So I am married to a goat. Every twelve hours my right cheek is pressed against her side as I milk and talk to her. She munches on her dairy goat ration and sweet feed and I relieve the pressure she feels. And you know what, she relieves mine. It is hard to be stressed out when milking any animal. The action itself is meditative, intimate, and focused. I can't check my smart phone or worry about bills. I can just milk. And if she gets me into a state of such beautiful peace ten minutes a day AND gives me that cheese...

This goat is worth her weight in gold.

So I am a goat convert again. The dairy thing isn't a burden, it is a blessing. People may think my twice-a-day-teat-fest is a little old school, and that's okay. But it is great having a reason you absolutely can not stay late at work. And even if people do balk when I turn down after-work drinks so I can go make some myself: that's fine too. My life is a choice, and I am happiest when I am living it.

P.S. If you are considering a dairy animal, you should probably have a plan in case you have to leave for an emergency, and can't make milking. I am very lucky that the farm I got her from is 3 miles away and if I need to leave for a conference or trip: I can take her back to be goat-sat and milked with her old herd while I am gone.

the war on raccoons

Last night raccoons attacked, half of my laying hen flock was killed and Ryan the gosling is limping badly. I found their bodies all over the yard, just their heads eaten and a few bites of breast meat. A few young meat birds were taken too. I know it was coons because when I heard the screams I ran out at 2AM with a rifle and saw one as big as a bobcat scatter off. I didn't realize the damage then, because I only saw the one dead bird.

It's on.

first lamb of 2012

photo my jon katz

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I miss having pigs around....

called in the pros!

Gave Jim McRae a call, says the New York shearing day will be soon, which is great news. By "New York" Day he means that he'll spend a day traveling around my area to several small farms with smaller flocks. Since I only have 13 sheep to shear, he can knock them out in around an hour and be on his way to another farm nearby, making his trip south to us worth it for his business. Things have cooled down from those weird 90-degree highs, so the flock is more comfortable. Still, I want some naked sheep, and soon. I have wool to mill!

photo by tim bronson

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries:
Milking Time Videos

growing pains

Merlin and I are going through a rough patch in our relationship. After 6 weeks of weight loss, conditioning, and regular care and training he is a different horse. He feels fitter, younger, and has been in trailers and on trail rides. But on Sunday he put his giant foot down and refused to get into Patty's trailer. He just wasn't having it.

Merlin is not scared of trailers. He has ridden them all over the country. He happily walked into that same trailer before, on several occasions. But this past Sunday Patty and I went to load him up for a trail ride at her farm and not only did he balk, he broke his own halter in protest backing up and ran away. (I have the rope burn scars on my arm to prove it.) He ran off any my heart stopped. I was absolutely terrified he'd run out across the fields of Washington County. Luckily, he ran right back into the barn and the people tacking up and helped by blocking all exits and escape paths. I walked up to him, tied the lead rope around his neck, and got him back into his stall. Patty and I found a loaner halter shortly after, and tried loading him again. I decided I wasn't above bribing the freaked-out horse, and got a small bucket of sweet feed from the grain room. It worked, and an hour of chaos, sore arms, and a cup of grain later...we were on the road.

At Patty's he was a jerk and I was a wuss. He didn't want to listen to a thing I said and started backing up every single time I got on him, crow hopping and throwing his head. I'm sure it felt scarier than it looked, but I am still new at this. Scared, I jumped off. Patty eyed me like a hawk. She wasn't mean, but she was firm. She told me the horse could not win, and I'd get back up on him. This was not something I wanted to do. There was no bravery in my heart. I started making excuses, balking, hell I wanted to cry. I was scared and frustrated. Never before has Merlin been so obstinate. I worried it was a mistake, taking him out after his freak out and running off. I worried I would get hurt. I just worried. It's what I do.

I ended up getting back in the saddle. The plan was not to let the horse decide what it was doing.

Today Merlin was going to:
1. Get in the trailer.
2. Get tacked up and I would ride him.
3. Get back in the trailer.

I got back on and off that horse at least four times. Each time I got more worked up, which of course made him wound up. I didn't understand what was going on in his head? Finally, when I was about to break into tears Patty got out a lunge line and attached it to his bit. Without controlling anything, she just held the emergency breaks while I rode him around her. We started in circles and then up and down the driveway. Eventually we took off the extra line Patty was holding and I walked him around. It wasn't the heroic trail ride, but he did as I asked and I didn't give up. Patty exclaimed it was a day for the books, a success. I just felt like a rookie.

Getting him back on the trailer was another big production, taking over an hour in the rain. Nothing seemed to work. He was just being stubborn. Finally I made a trail of apples and carrots between grains and he crawled in, practically on his belly. I took him back to his stall at Riding Right feeling conflicted.

Monday I wrote my trainers at the barn about the weekend, and both decided that the "pony had my number." Meaning he simply was acting out, testing me, seeing what I was made of. He knew damn well how to trailer and walk on a trail. But he also knows I'm new at this, and don't have the confidence to put my foot down and MAKE him do the things I ask.

Tonight I rode him, and he was the same. Fussy, stubborn, and unwilling to do some basic things I asked. I decided he would not win this time. IF he didn't want to walk past a gate, I turned him around in a circle and we walked somewhere else I wanted to go. If he refused to move forward, I turned him and walked around things. We weaved around the jumps, walking over ones on the ground like logs on the trail. We went through tight corners, from walks into trots. And we walked from the indoor to outdoor arena like I asked. It wasn't always pretty, but I stuck to my guns. I think Merlin learned that the girl on his back tonight wasn't the pansy on his back Sunday. I was gaining on him.

What it all comes down to is confidence. Merlin is demanding more assertion from me, more self possession and certainty. He is forcing me to step up my game, claim my authority, and do it in a way that isn't unkind. I already know whips and spurs aren't the tools he reacts too. This isn't about beating him into place. What it is about is out-stubborning him. He has no idea who he is dealing with. I have the gold, silver, and bronze metals in stubborn smelted together into a balking donkey trophy in my soul.

So we'll get there. We have trainers, friends, and resources on our side. This is just forcing me to be a stronger person. I accept the challenge, and am grateful for the opportunity to grow.

photo by jon katz

Monday, April 16, 2012

meet our new girl

i'm the happiest girl in new york!

I came home to this little ewe with her mother, the 2-year old ewe who abandoned Matt last year. Now we have another little bath matt, a freaky little curly-haired ewe lamb with a full belly, bright eyes, and with her mother in the field. Well done, Mama!

And more on the way!


Should Young Farmers Be Exempt From A National Draft?

I remember hearing a friend complaining about the Amish once at a dinner party, saying in angry tones how "they don't pay taxes or fight for their country". I raised my eyebrow at this. The Amish do, of course, pay sale and income taxes (save Social Security, and then only for self-employed Amish for religious reasons) and are pacifists. They don't accept Social Security checks or Medicare and are morally against taking human life. Also, It is our own nation's laws that allow them to be exempt, so my friend's true beef should have been with his legislators, not the plain folk. They are living their life both in accordance to the law and their faith. Their only fault is the lack of outsider approval, which frankly, they could care less about.

Unlike other pockets of the Amish in America, many of the faith in upstate New York are still farming. Land prices are cheap compared to Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the old abandoned dairy farms in the Adirondacks are being bought up and farmed by young Amish families starting new churches around the area. I wondered who this bitter complainer would expect to be growing their food in a time of serious and sacrificial war if all the young people on farms were drafted?

The average age of the American Farmer is 57+ years old, and only make up 2% of the National Census. The only reason that average age is so high and the numbers so are low is because most conventional farmers use staggering amounts of gasoline, inputs, petroleum-based fertilizers, and giant gas-gurgling machines. God forbid we ever had a draft coincide with a fuel shortage, or sky-rocketing gas prices, because this model would become laughably unsustainable and downright terrifying.

Food would become scarce, very scarce. The average town's grocery store only contains enough food to sustain their local population with three days of food. And the average citizen does not keep a full larder or grow their own food as many Americans had in the past. The older farmers could not put in the physical effort to farm traditionally without fossil fuels, and the younger able-bodied would be off fighting to lower the price at the pump. If the current model of conventional farming could not sustain us, and the backup labor was gone, could you imagine how invaluable the skills and farms of the Amish would become? How invaluable any smaller, sustainable, grass-based farm would become?

It all comes down to the disconnection so many people have with their food right now. It is simply another cheap commodity, something that is just always there. You can do nothing buy nap all day and buy a hamburger for a dollar waiting for you, hot and ready to eat. The grocery stores, take-out menus, drive-ins, all of it gets about as much reverence from the average American as the crumpled up gas receipts in their pockets.

We've become so irreverent towards food and farming that the purest and most unadulterated forms of agricultural communities are seen as irresponsible or shirking duties. We live in a country based on the freedoms of independence and religion, and the folks actually acting on them are considered cartoons in an otherwise "real" society. In an oil shortage teams of "cartoon draft horses" could save a town from starvation.

Here is my question for you, angry anti-Amish and non farming contingent. Would you be willing to grow or raise your own food in a time of National emergency such as war? Do you even know how? If the answer to either (or both!) of those questions is no, then should the younger generations of sustainable farmers be exempt from a National Draft? I can't think of a more valuable piece of our social economy than the people growing healthy food. We would desperately need farmers less dependent on the crutches of mass inputs to feed us. I understand the importance and sacrifice of the soldiers, but who is going to feed them and their families if the world changed in ways we're not currently prepared to handle? Perhaps it is time to consider keeping the people serving their country food, in their country. It is not an act of cowardice, but an act of brave sense.

*Serve Your Country Food is the slogan of The Greenhorns, a national association of young famers.

90 degrees today... Who's laughing now?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

wool and light: 468 photography's magic

Fiddle Winner!

Thank you to everyone who took part in the fiddle contest, what a blessing and a gift that was. Thanks to your help this pony will be coming home to Cold Antler in a few more months of training, evaluation, and work. I was able to cover 2/3rd the down payment, and I am very, very, very grateful to you all. A random comment was selected from that original contest post and the winner of my early 1900's fiddle is....Sue Steeves!

Sue, email me at and we will set up your shipping info!

The Milk Pail Diaries
My first Chevre

This weekend I used an inexpensive kit from New England Cheesemaking to create chevre from Bonita's amazing milk. The kit cost around twenty dollars and came with cultures for curdling the milk, rennet, butter muslin, a recipe book and 4 molds. I thought making mozzarella was simple, but chevre made that cheese look complicated as a rubik's. Here's how easy it is to make chevre from raw goats milk. I started after morning milking on Friday, and it was ready to spread and serve Saturday morning. But most of that time was draining and cheese curdlin' - only took about 5 minutes of actual work, the hardest work was waiting!

1. Heat gallon of goats milk to 86 degrees in stainless steel.
2. Add packet of chevre culture, stir well into the warm milk.
3. Take off heat and let it sit with a lid for 12-20 hours.
4. Milk sets into happy thick curds you can slice with a knife
5. Strain through cheesecloth in a colander
6. Cover and let drain 6-10 hours
7. Salt, place in containers, refrigerate up to a week.

Produces two pounds of fresh soft cheese!

In the morning I set the drained curds into a mold and let it drain even more, to firm it up to be a free-standing mini wheel of salted delight. The other curds were fluffy and beautiful in the cheese cloth. I scooped them into a mason jar and set them in the fridge as a dip or spreading soft cheese. I took a taste and closed my eyes to savor it. It wasn't anything like any commercial goat cheese I ever ate. Light, fluffy, tangy (in a good way!) and reminded me of what good slightly soured whole milk cream and cream cheese would taste like if you whipped them up together. It was amazing, light, not at all "goaty" as I am learning over and over. I spread it onto an everything bagel and it was the perfect companion of light and fluffy cream to the seasoned and seeded bread. The hot bagel and the chilled chevre did a dance in my mouth and I think it was then in my heart I decided Bonita would be here to stay.

I don't think I can go back to life without a dairy animal in the backyard. It's just too much fun, too rewarding, and too damn tasty to go on without. From walking out with the pail to placing it in the fridge is less than 20 minutes a milking, and worth every second. Life is too short to live without a goat. And you can quote me on that, darling.

photo of Bonita by
photo of cheese by Melina Smyres


my bargain basement amish reject

Jasper hasn't gotten a lot of play on the blog lately, but he is a part of my farm life here, has been since he arrived last spring. His story is interesting. For those new to the blog, Jasper was bought off Craigslist from a pony dealer in Belcher, near Hebron here in Washington County. The man who sold him to me (for $500) bought him at the annual Cobelskill Amish Horse Auction down state. He came out into the ring driving a cart, and was being sold as a cart pony. The previous owner said he was "too wound up" for children, and he is. You need a pony calm as cold coal to have children driving it in road traffic. Jasper was a little too spirited for the Amish and their needs, so at 9 years old he was sent to auction, bought by a local pony dealer and sold to me.

When he arrived at Cold Antler he was underweight and dirty. I didn't even know he was in bad shape, since at that time I was so new to horses and (to me) he looked like a beautiful roan stallion of childhood story books. In truth, he was a malnourished, fly-bitten mess. But a summer on pasture with regular grooming, good grass, farrier visits, and harness work and he turned out to be a wonderful (if ornery and sometimes bossy) working pony. Yesterday he pulled a half-cord of firewood out of a back pasture, up a hill, and to the splitting pile on a wooden sledge. It was in a place no truck could go, and would have taken me alone several hours of back-breaking work carrying those dense locust rounds alone on a wheelbarrow with a flat tire. Even my fancy new garden cart would have been serious lifting and pushing work.

If I had an ATV or tractor, I could have used that with a wagon, but I don't think I'll ever farm with a tractor or four-wheeler, not on this land. It is only 6.5 acres and none of it flat. I live on the side of a mountain and I am certain I would flip a tractor over in no time, I don't even have a riding mower. But I am confident walking along uneven ground with hooves and chains. It feels solid. And Jasper did the same work without the sounds of engines, or using fuel I can't make, and made the day's work pleasant and easy.

Jasper did work, and hard. We used some felt from the Scottish Blackface to pad the breastplate, and it helped. We lead him from the bridle (he is not great at taking commands from behind with long lines) but so what? So it wasn't perfect, but he sure was handy. I don't think of Jasper as a performance animal, more like my own hoofed garden tractor. He doesn't have to be perfect, just willing. He was both to me.

Jasper, you are my Amish Reject Bargain Basement Cart Pony. The horse in such bad shape people emailed me concerned when you first arrived. But now you are winter plump and sweating through solid work. You carried in wood that will farm this house next winter. You did it willingly, kindly, and didn't bolt or cry when we broke the 100-year-old single tree. You stepped over logs, rocks, and climbed up steep slopes. You tore your cheap harness from it all, and I will get you a proper collar and harness to replace it soon. You may be too small to ride and too wild to drive on these mountain roads, but you earn your keep. And you let strangers work alongside you. And you never, ever, complain. I love you, kid.