Saturday, April 27, 2013

Jasper the Cart Pony: Interlude!

One of my favorite quotes about farming, well about life in general, comes from Joel Salatin. He always says "Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong first!" And I couldn't agree more. He doesn't mean starting something with the intention of failure or lack of preparation, but just to accept that taking on any new task means accepting a certain level of initial failure. In his book, "Folks, This Aint Normal" (And if you buy ONE audiobook in 2013 it should be him reading that book to you) he explains how in America we don't accept a new hobby or career choice as legitimate unless the person doing it is a prodigy or wealthy from it. People don't play the guitar because they don't sound like James Taylor the first week. Folks consider people who lose money on an investment in a new business as failures. We mock those who make mistakes in attempts at something great. He tried to explain how ridiculous this was, how no one who does anything worthwhile starts out with amazing results. He said something along the lines of, "Imagine if when a baby was learning to walk and fell down we pointed and laughed?" That would never happen, because we understand that its an entirely new endeavor and takes time. We should allow that same kindness to ourselves when we take up jogging, or playing the fiddle, or starting a farm. Folks, we all learn by falling on our ass.

That picture at the top of this post was taken my first ever summer as a horse owner. I bought a cheap carting harness off ebay and a tiny bridle and bit and I had no idea what I was doing. Not really. I mean, I had books and the internet but in the frenzy of actual experience with a horse throwing his head in the air and sweat in your pits you forget all those diagrams and charts. In that photo Jasper's bridle isn't even on right. It's not on in any way that would hurt him, but it's not correct. That harness isn't correct for pulling either, I knew that then but this was what I could afford. I felt that it was more important to actually do the work with the horse, even if limited by supplies and knowledge, than to wait for all the right equipment and know-how to form. I had my little draft animal and I wanted to start the journey of working with him. So I took Joel's words to heart and decided if horses were something worth doing, they were worth doing wrong first.

Now, let me say at no point should your or your animal be mistreated or put in danger or major discomfort because you have a hankering to get to work. Tying rope around your donkey and asking it to pull a sledge is cruel. Jumping bareback on the back of a new gelding because you "always wanted to ride" is crazy. Asking your new sheepdog pup to take on a ram is idiotic. And having your spouse taste-test your new mushroom foraging spoils might get you 20-life. What I am talking about here is simply not waiting for circumstances to be perfect, or waiting until your entirely comfortable to try something new. I sure as hell wasn't comfortable with Jasper or Merlin when I started with them. I think a little anxiety and fear is good, it keeps you respectful of the animal and the task at hand.

Anyway, point is, use your head. And don't be scared to make mistakes and fail. Ever. The story I'm about to share of hitching up Jasper to a cart for the first time since I've owned him isn't perfect. It is riddled with mistakes, poorly fitted gear, and small victories among the frustrations. But you all saw that short video evidence that driving Jasper isn't impossible, just rough right now. But I am keeping that vision of a wizard and a pony cart in my mind. And if I keep those coals burning, and treat the next few months of pony training I might just ride a pony cart to the neighbors yet. I'll even smoke my little pipe along the way.

So read the next pony post with a little compassion, and expect mistakes. Jasper and I are toddlers learning to walk.