This past weekend I tried something new with my little driving pony. In some ways the routine was very familiar, something I’ve done a dozen times but in other ways it was a brand new adventure.
I’ve been to many equestrian clinics, lessons and learning experiences both for the day and for overnight stays and every single one of them have been with the riding horses. In fact all but one of them have been with my main squeeze Tucker.
At least until this past weekend. This time for the first time (try new things) it was all about Pony.
To give you a little bit of history on Pony, I bought her 5 years ago specifically to learn how to drive. She knows the job and she knows it well, so I knew she could teach me. However, as I learned more about horses and some of the psychology behind their behavior I realized that although she was safe and solid when in harness, there were certain aspects of being in the cart that felt off, like maybe she just was not 100% OK with it all.
Since I was uncertain how to deal with her lack of acceptance and given that time and life only allow for limited hours with the horses anyway, I got to where I hooked her up less and less and eventually she became pretty yard art. A sweet face for me to love and groom as she grew fat on the air she breathed out in the pasture. So when I saw an opportunity to spend the weekend with Nattie Book of Driving Naturally from California, I was excited to get some help breaking the pieces down to figure out how to help Pony be more comfortable.
I thought it could get interesting for several reasons. First of all, Pony rarely leaves the farm and when she does it is always with the company of the other horses. The only time she gets to go anywhere is when hubby and I both go camping with the two big horses. We bring her because it is just as easy to throw her on the trailer as it is to try to find someone to care for just her while we are gone. Also, I had not worked with her MONTHS. Her life had gotten pretty cushy, she ate drank, pooped and played without ever having to be bothered with a halter on her face let alone a cart and harness hooked to her back. Naturally, knowing ahead of time that I would be attending this clinic with a horse that had not been loaded on the trailer in months, was out of shape, and was not used to leaving the herd, I did what any good horse owner would do to prepare…NOTHING.
In spite of it all, she was a complete rock star the entire weekend.
During the clinic we had a mix of individual private attention and group work. I learned a lot about adjustments I could make to her harness, bit and cart placement which would make things physically more comfortable for. We also broke the whole process down from the time I caught her in the pasture until the time she was pulling to figure out what steps she was struggling with and what I could do to help her get more confident about it. It was an amazing process to watch her be unsure of something and then after our work settle in and be OK with that very same thing.
We allowed her to explore the cart and really get a look at it. In spite of being a cart horse I’m not sure she had ever been given an opportunity to really see the contraption hooked up to her. She also has a particularly hard time on her right side. When introducing things to her or asking her for something new, it should start on the left and I will continue to grow her confidence on the right. It was also helpful to be given many tools to help her outside of being hooked up to the cart. Things to do, activities to present to her and exercises that will help translate to her being a better driving pony.
It was a very fun and helpful learning experience and I came home motivated to start working with her again. It gave me a fresh perspective on what a great horse she really is and how content she is with having a job. I’m looking forward to Spring where I hope to get her off the property more for some driving adventures.
As you can see lots of “new” for my first “Try Something New Tuesday” post. A new (to me) instructor, a new type of clinic, and a new (different) horse. What a fabulous new experience this was.