Monday, April 29, 2013

Jasper the Cart Pony: Part 3

Harnessing Jasper was easy, as always. For all his pomp he has never given me any issues with being harnessed up. At least not on his body. You can hang beaver traps off his flanks and spray paint him yellow and he won't budge. The bridle is another story. He doesn't like taking the bit and I have to use one hand to prop open his mouth behind his teeth and my other to slide it in. He always bobs his head and makes it a big deal out of it but I always win. And once he has it in place he stops acting up. Again this is just more pony shenanigans.

Once he was tacked up came the first test of faith. Tom and I took Merlin's red cart and brought it up behind him. He didn't budge or panic so we slid the shafts up alongside him and he stood well. This was a great little confidence boost for me. It means he is trained enough, and still remembers well enough, what is happening and going on. There was no panic at this, but a lot of curiosity. He sniffed and chomped at the extra-long shafts. After a few corrections he stopped. Another little boost of confidence. I went about the steps of attaching his harness to the cart and took in the issues. The cart was a bit too big, mostly in the shafts length. They jutted out past his chest too far. Not ideal, and it would make turning harder on him, but wouldn't hurt him just walking down the road on a halter. That was the first thing I was planning on doing. Just walking alongside him and seeing how he felt as a load-bearing animal. If he was calm I would have Tom take his head and I would sit in the cart.

With Jasper harnessed and the cart attached we headed out into the road. There was no traffic and the afternoon sun was shining. Jasper, who had been calm as an oxen started to act up. Just having the cart behind him was a loud and awkward change from his daily routine. He crow hopped and threw his head a little but after a few seconds calmed down and walked beside me. I realized around this point how lucky I was having Merlin already trained as a driving animal when I got him. The difference between the two animals in harness was night and day. Jasper was a blazing sun of energy and nerves compared to Merlin's moonlight on still water. But I can't fault Jasper for that. His story makes me think someone else already gave up on him once.

Jasper was bought at an Amish auction down south of me near Cobelskill New York. He was brought into the auction ring driving a small cart, showing the folks in the stands he knew his stuff. But like any horse being sold at auction, there was a reason he wasn't back at the farm where he was trained. The auction flyer said (Rob told me this and showed me the flyer when I bought him) that he was a little wild. Since ponies of his side were used almost exclusively by children learning to drive and for their safe transportation, a spitfire did not belong in that camp. Jasper was too much horse for an Amish ten-year-old and so he was for sale, trained but not dependable. Rob saw a horse with potential in him and bought him. He was right, Jasper is a great little horse but needs slower, patient, and constant training with an adult that can handle his crap. Enter me.

So there I was, almost two years since I bought Jasper and finally heading out into the road on a cart with him. I handed Tom the halter and asked him to hold his head and walk with him while I took the driving lines in the cart seat and tried driving him while standing behind the cart and walking. We did this but only got about four feet before Jasper stopped, threw his head, and started to turn back around.

It wasn't pretty. He was confused, the cart was fit wrong, and I was asking him to do something he had not done in years. Every time he turned around I let him, and then promptly finished the circle 360 degrees so he was always ending up going the same way, which was forward. It was a struggle but eventually he walked forward from behind. It wasn't calm and it wasn't easy but we were walking, stopping, and going forward. Progress.

This whole time Tom was at his head and I was walking behind the cart. If a car passed by jasper panicked. If a tree threw a branch into a trunk of another tree he shot his head to look. It was all new, all dramatic. But he (the two humans) stayed calm and after about ten minutes he was walking.

At this point I decided to go for it and jump in. I sat in the back seat and held the two lines. There I was, in what I call the Gandalf Position. I was sitting in the back seat of a pony cart on a sunny day, facing uphill to a little farmhouse waiting my safe return. With Tom holding his head I asked him to move forward and he did it! After a few steps I told Tom to let go of the horse and it felt like a dad letting go of his kid's handlebars on her first bike ride. Jasper didn't freak out. He didn't panic. He just walked up the hill. It was an amazing end note to our first session and I couldn't have been happier about it! He needs more training, more hours behind the wheels (err, in front?) but I think I have a working cart pony on my hands!

Now he just needs a cart that actually fits him…And guess what?! Tom, Elizabeth and I spent all day Saturday repainting and repairing a little pony cart that used to be used on a donkey just for Jasper! It's been sitting by my chicken coop for years, a gift from a friend that became a forgotten project. But now it is dressed up and after some new wheels and a few little add-ons it'll be road ready and perfectly fit two passengers and a little POA. Not a bad week of work here at Cold Antler Farm, not a bad week of work at all.