Thursday, September 18, 2014

3-Inch Assumptions

Yesterday was quite the test and adventure, totally unplanned and entirely exhausting. What was supposed to be a quick clip over to the Stannard Farm Stand to pick up my pre-ordered lunch (ham sandwich); well, that turned into a five hour lesson in horsemanship and teamwork. Here goes!

Yesterday at 11:30 I called Melissa at the farm stand to order a hoagie. They make great sandwiches and I skipped breakfast. I knew I'd get there in around 45 minutes, at a slow walk and trot. The four mile trip was a familiar one, we have been doing it for years. I was not expecting much fuss, at all. I figured we had worked through all the kinks last week in our relationship and since he was off the sweet feed and we had been enjoying lovely rides: I wasn't worried. I should have been.

I had been adjusting and re-adjusting the new cart, shafts, harness and bridle. Trying to make it fit Merlin perfectly. I thought everything was perfect, having even adjusted the tug lines and hames a bit to be a closer fit, getting the shafts to ride higher next to his shoulder, where they should. When all three hitching points were double-checked, just as I was taught, we trotted out of the driveway.

We made it twenty feet before Merlin stopped cold, turned around, and headed home. I rolled my eyes, angry at him. I turned him around and we tried again, and just like the first time he headed back home. This is not like Merlin, at all. So I got out and checked everything again and all was fine, far as I could tell. Third time paid for all and we ended up heading down the road just fine. Good, I thought. I didn't back down and everything seems normal.

Then we hit the end of my road and the intersection with the two-lane state highway. The kind of highway where giant milk tankers, logging rigs, and gravel trucks travel on along with 60MPH traffic. Merlin balked again. After two tries I got him across the road. And once on the dirt road across the highway he had a total breakdown, if a Fell Pony can have such a thing. He totally refused to move. He ran off into a farmer's field next to the road, tried to rear up, tried to bite off the shat loops, kicked back, threw his head. I had him circle and stop to catch his breath.

I got out and checked and rechecked his gear, the cart, I could not see what the problem was. I checked his teeth, his hooves, his whole body for sores or markings. He was just acting like a kid in a grocery store who isn't allowed any sugared cereal. I wasn't scared, but I was so frustrated. I didn't understand what made him crack? So I sat there, in a horse cart, in a stranger's field. I got out my phone and texted Patty, telling her Merlin was acting atrocious and we had not made it one mile in an hour. Yup. We had been playing these wargames for an hour now. My stomach rumbled. I was getting a headache. Patty wrote these wise words back:

Take a deep breath.
Check equipment.
Be safe.

I was ready to cry. Merlin kept trying to run back home. I didn't understand what was causing him to refuse forward travel yet blast off towards home? I had a moment out there where I realized I could do two things. I could go home and try again later or I could get off and lead him by halter and rope all the way to the farmstand, another 3 miles, and 4 back. I got myself together and we started walking.

And he was all of a sudden fine. Soon as I was off the cart he was happy as a tinker's donkey to walk alongside me away from the farm. So now I was truly confused. Something about my weight (which is less than it was last time we road to the farm stand?!) was bothering him. So I started making adjustments. One tug chain link at a time, one hames notch at a time, one step at a time. It took us another hour and a half but then I realized it was a matter of inches that caused his fuss. INCHES. The tug lines were 3 inches too close to the cart. Soon as I let them out his entire body chemistry changed, his entire attitude changed. I had him hooked up the same way I would have to other vehicles he had been hooked to, but this meadowbrook is different. The driver rides higher than in a forecart (a much heavier vehicle by all accounts) or the old red cart (RIP - shaft broken by neighbor's son). So on the back roads of Washington County people who drove by us saw a woman leading a horse and cart. A woman adjusting things as he was tied up to someone's mailbox post. A woman ground driving behind her cart. And eventually riding again, with a mile to go to her stupid ham sandwich.

I felt so foolish. Had a more experienced driver been with me, she could have told me right away the weight wasn't right. What I am grateful for is my stubbornness, since it was bad enough riding him a mile with the weight off, imagine if I just let him trot home, up a mountain, pulling all that the wrong way? It wasn't pretty, our circus in the field, but I am glad we figured it out. After that 3-inch adjustment he was as docile as a jersey cow trotting to the home barn for milking. This horse, I tell you.

When we finally arrived at Stannard's Melissa came out saying she was worried, that she was about to go looking for me. I apologized and explained the snafu. I hitched Merlin and got him water and Melissa got him some apples. I let him rest for over an hour while I talked with her and neighbors, ate a lazy lunch, and texted Patty the resolution.

The ride home took half an hour and was easy as could be. Merlin didn't even break out into a sweat, either relieved or just in the best shape of his life (both?!), he was a rockstar the whole way home.

We got back to the farm at 4:30PM. My entire day shot. Till he was untacked, groomed, and turned back out to pasture it was time for chores. I didn't get any writing done, nor did I get any work done on the side garden. My whole day was a lesson n 3-inches of assumption.

All that said, I was proud of myself and that horse. I learned a hard lesson about proper fit, but it's a mistakes I will carry the rest of my life with driving horses. And maybe I'll save one of you fellow (or future) novice horse-drivers the same mistake? Either way, I'm proud of myself for not turning around and giving up. I was scared and knew Merlin wasn't acting normal, but I also know him well enough to know the difference between stubbornness and trouble. Today was trouble, and the mistake was how the weight of one person affected 3 inches of chain.

After chores I was done. The Hoff family came to visit with some bags of kitchen scraps for pig food and we just talked and visited a while in the farmhouse. Before I went to bed I watched Pete Holme's stand up special in Austin and felt better. That man makes me smile. I saw no reason not to end the day with comedy. I survived. Merlin survived. We're both better off. The sandwich was great. Brigit's Fire, what a day it all was.


Blogger aart said...

Oh, those unscheduled lessons that crash the task list of the day!

The details that only time/experience can illuminate...we come out tired and frustrated but wiser for the long run.

Glad you figured it out, no one was hurt and nothing was damaged.

September 19, 2014 at 6:14 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

I don't think you need to feel foolish. You read your horse's cues, knew there was a problem and went through the process to figure out what that problem was and fixed it. There are so many other people out there who would immediately assume it was the horse/pony that was the problem and continue to force them on. And those more experienced drivers are more experienced because of going through the same sort of problems and working it out. I say good job!

September 19, 2014 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger greendria said...

This is a great story, thank you for sharing!!! Bravery and humility. You taught me a lot.

September 19, 2014 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Horses! They can make us nuts sometimes. I am proud of you, taking your time with Merlin. New equipment takes adjustments. I would have done the same thing when setting up the harness to the cart...and I would have been upset too. Yes, sometimes a deep breath can make the difference when working with a horse. Well done Jenna.

September 20, 2014 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Momma Storer said...

Proud of you

September 20, 2014 at 8:40 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Good job Jenna, so many wouldn't have listened to him and forced the issue. Animals do talk to us, we usually have the hard time hearing. What a good learning too, you will really know that cart and harness now.

September 21, 2014 at 3:49 AM  
Blogger Robin Follette said...

Good job figuring it out.

September 22, 2014 at 6:33 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well you both survived, no one hurt, and all is well... sometimes these little things drive you crazy!

September 22, 2014 at 7:46 PM  

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