Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jasper the Cart Pony: Part 1

Jasper has been living here at Cold Antler Farm, doing the odd farm chore now and again, but mostly goofing off in the pasture. He was my first ever equine and the day he was delivered (and for months after!) I felt like he was a gigantic and powerful animal. I mean, the largest livestock I owned up to that point was a sheep, so to have an animal in my possession measured in hands felt like I'd just had my farm upgraded.

I bought Jasper not with the intention to ride, but with the intention of doing work on the farm with animal power I felt I was able to handle and control. Looking back, the choice for a pony was more about my ideas about comfort and control, not the reality of it. I thought a smaller horse meant simpler work and less effort. I thought a smaller horse would be cheaper to feed, own, and house. The truth is I needed the same farrier, vet bills, hay, fences, and outbuildings for Jasper as I did for Merlin, but back then the idea of buying a thousand pound, 14 hand riding horse was out of my league. I can honestly say my dreams for Jasper were to stick a harness on him and lead him by a roped halter around the property with a cart or sledge. Ask him to move manure, pull smaller logs to the firewood pile, odd jobs any respectable farmer would use and ATV for.

Well, folks, the only all-terrain vehicles at this farm require fly spray.

So why the sudden urge to drive Jasper when he's been here so long and I already have a larger, better trained, driving animal? Here's why: because when this world throws enough hints in my face I give in to fate. And over the past week I had not one, but THREE people ask me about driving Jasper.

The first was the man who sold him to me, Rob. Rob is a good guy, a father and horse trainer and trader here in Washington County. He has some larger animals but focusses on ponies, his business niche is getting kids and adults smaller animals they need. Rob was one of those people I met, did business with, and never thought I would see again but ended up being a regular character in my life. He is also a member of the Washington County Draft Animal Association where he and his son drive teams of his own self-broke ponies. And last week he showed up at my house for a quick chat since he was driving up my mountain anyway and wanted to ask about Jasper. He arrived in a pink beard.

Now there may have been a time in my life when a jovial man in a dyed pink beard may have raised an eyebrow, but not anymore. After all, I answered the door in a kilt. Our eccentricities meant nothing of import though, because we were there to talk horses. He wanted to know if I wanted help getting Jasper in the cart and was eager to aid me since he had a notion to borrow Jasper for some driving with his matched gray mare. I told him I would be thrilled for the help and he is welcome to pair up Jasper if he wants but I had never once put a vehicle on that horse. Rob nodded, and explained that when he bought the horse from the Amish Auction downstate he was driven into the arena, and sold as a carting pony. Since little appaloosa horses of questionable lineage (specially ones with such a spitfire attitude) aren't popular for hobby drivers or kids, he was a few steps away from the meat trucks. But Rob bought him on the spot, took him home, and his kids rode him like he was a mustang of the wild west. This was a horse that could do things. When I bought Jasper I watched an eight-year-old ride him in the rain and I thought any beast that lets a child boss it around in a thunderstorm, I could handle.

So that was the story of Rob, Jasper and I. But just a few days later my farrier and trainer, Dave, showed up for the horses regular barefoot trimming work and we had a long conversation about Jasper. I adore Dave. If people can be members of your tribe, in a sense that both includes culture, passions, and logic - Dave and I belong to the same group of happy wanderers. We're both Czech, love horses and archery, work for ourselves, and can bullshit for hours about anything under the sun. I met him through Patty, who uses him for her two horses, and she told me long before he ever arrived at the farm that I would learn at least three things from him every time he showed up. I asked if there was that much to learn about horse feet? Patty explained he knew horses and if I paid attention I would get a lot more than a fifty dollar pedicure for my horse. I'd learn how to live with it better, ride better, train better, and be a better person. She was right.

Dave is too nice to tell you to your face your horse needs manners, but he did make it clear Jasper was bossing me around and needed a job to do. He told me this while doing some basic ground work with him, showing me how a horse that won't stand still for the farrier isn't being bad as much as he is being the leader. "He moves you around, and when a horse moves you out of its way he's in charge, no matter who is holding the halter line." was Dave's advice. He showed me how to get Jasper to pay attention to me, not the grass he wanted to eat or Merlin in the paddock. We worked with a long line and a flag on a stick to move him, stop him, get him watching me the way a well-trained dog watches the master who asked him to sit for a cookie. I told him about the visit with Rob and Dave agreed. Jasper needed to be doing something besides running circles around Merlin and rolling in the dirt in the same paddock that never changes.

Then I mentioned both these conversation to Patty, who simply nodded and assured me Jasper already knew what he was doing and would do great. SO that was it. This horse was going to be driven and soon. I had the harness, the cart, and the confidence I didn't have when he first arrived. I had help and eager cheerleaders and so, come hell or high water, that pony was heading down the road….