Ponies are always a bad idea. It’s a universal law consistent as gravity. All equestrians know this law. We have all experienced or witnessed the misdeeds of these tornadoes packaged in fur. No matter what your bleeding equestrian heart tells you, do not let it overrule your head. It’s been said (author unknown) that ponies are cute as hell, and incidentally that’s where they’re from. My father impressed this fact upon me at an early age.
I tried to impress this upon my husband when our realtor mentioned clients with a pony in desperate need of a home. Beau’s little girl had outgrown him, and they were moving to a condo in Ohio (cue Sarah Mclachlan music followed by Hang on Sloopy).
Realtor: You just bought property and Monica’s expecting. He’s living in a small backyard surrounded by small children! Kid-safe!
My husband: Sounds perfect!
Me: It’s a trap. Rookie mistake!
Photos were exchanged via text, and I reluctantly agreed to meet the little devil in person. Pulling into the neighborhood, the sight of a seven year old girl sitting on the fluff ball vainly attempting to pull his head from a pack of cheese crackers someone discarded on the roadside, was too much for my man. It was so cute! Just look how gentle he was with her! But the trained eye, could see invisible horns (plural, not unicorn) practically sprouting from said pony’s head.
Beau’s owners extolled his finer points. They had owned him for five years. He’s still a stud, but a perfect gentleman. He loves being groomed. Their daughter rides him all over the neighborhood (when he’s not eating cheese crackers). He lets the kids climb all over him (8 seconds counts as a ride in rodeo and when in Texas). He’s smart and learns tricks quickly (like opening doors and letting himself into the kitchen).
Equestrians are not logical people. Despite understanding universal laws, like what goes up must come down (not always straight down, sometimes after being hurtled horizontally through a fence). Heart often overrides trivial things like self-preservation, finances, common sense. So, Beau Pony became the foundation equine of the Gardner farm.
In less than 24 hours after arrival Beau had already begun to shed that costume halo he donned during the interview. He spent his first week checking the perimeter for weaknesses and trumpeting his arrival to the ladies on the farm next door. He quickly brought our neighbor’s mare and jenny into heat. He viewed my husband as another male that should be questioned in rank, and left teeth marks at every opportunity. In Beau’s pony mind any item (tools, bag, rope, beer, trash can) within reach should be knocked over and/or shaken vigorously with maybe a stomp for good measure.
Despite my lifetime pony aversion, that horse smell (albeit in miniature) was enough to trigger a full equestrian relapse. So while my husband was left nursing pony inflicted wounds, repairing destructed infrastructure, and simply trying to minimize the damages, I was lavishing the little fiend with attention and treats. Simply owning a horse (or devil) was not enough though, I needed it to have a purpose. And, that’s where things got really interesting…
In an effort to dispel a long-ingrained conviction that, kids outgrow ponies, and they have no practical purpose for adults. I decided Beau must do something useful like pull a cart. In the end this would also relieve me of the assumption that horse driving is only for equestrians no longer fit to ride, old school farmers, and the Amish.
Until this point in my life, I had never driven a horse. I had accompanied friends that worked Belgium draft horses, attended draft horse pulls, and watched more than one country pleasure driving class at horse shows. I rationalized that teaching a cantankerous stud pony that was already saddle trained would be a cake walk. So, I bought a harness.
Now for an equestrian that had never fitted a harness (and they don’t come with instructions), just figuring out how all the pieces go together and what everything does was a challenge. There are so many straps! YouTube and Pinterest were great resources, but there were so many contradictory articles and terms. The exact purpose of harness parts was difficult to determine, but I did not let that stop me. I’m quite fond of learning the hard way. Beau and I were going to learn together, and that was a violation of another universal law. Green plus green equals black and blue.
Getting Beau used to harness was easy. He could care less what I put on him as long as the treats kept coming. Ground driving was simple enough. It’s the first step in training a riding horse to respond to a bridle, and Beau already knew the basics. Standing wasn’t and isn’t his strong point, but we were close enough for government work (and that has always been my modus operandi). Pulling something, however…
Darling husband cut down a wood pallet into a miniature sled for our first load. Several articles and books suggested rigging up a tire or log, making the pallet sled look downright professional compared to that (fake it until you make it). This is where the trouble began. I’m not a graceful person. On more than one occasion, I have found walking challenging.
All was well at first, which inspired overconfidence. Beau pulled the pallet sled with me guiding from behind for an entire 5 minutes at the walk before I decided we should pick up the pace. We managed a speedy little trot for approximately 2 minutes until Beau’s pony brain decided 7 minutes without food was entirely too long and an immediate halt for a nibble of grass was required. The downside to the pallet sled versus a vehicle with wheels, there is no gradual stop. Pony stopped, sled stopped, and I tripped over and onto the sled at which point the spur on my boot caught in the rope pulls attached to the traces. Beau sensing chaos behind him, did what every self-respecting pony would do, he bolted, dragging me by the leg followed by the pallet sled across the yard.
Luckily, Beau’s bolt crossed paths with another tasty patch of grass: I’d long abandoned the reins in an effort to free my leg. No animals and humans were injured during this performance, and I gained some valuable experience in the way only lasting knowledge can be. You never forget the lessons of a near death experience. There was also a basketball size bruise on my hip/back that stuck around as a visual reminder for about a month.
Fools rush in…Not to be deterred, a few more uneventful working sessions with the pallet sled and I decided it was time for Beau to be put to the shiny new black cart sitting in the barn. I believe I have already mentioned that early research led to contradictory information regarding harness parts, their proper fit, and their purposes. Breeching was one of the items. If you have driving experience, at this point you are shaking your head and cussing at me for the f@#$tard I can occasionally be.
Darling husband assisted me with attaching cart to pony, and we used our best guess on some of the hook-up. After all, I was only planning on making a few short trips around our flat fenced in yard. I led Beau around with an empty cart a few times. Darling husband valiantly agreed to be a passenger for a circle, and then I couldn’t stand it any longer.
Beau Pony’s maiden voyage started out fine. We walked and stopped and walked some more. 5 uneventful minutes is apparently a magical milestone in training to me, because this is the point where I asked Beau to step it up a bit. After trotting for a few minutes I asked Beau to come back to a walk. As Beau downshifted the difference between sled and cart reared its ugly head again, and instead of stopping immediately, the cart pushed forward.
The not so snug breeching (which I now know functions as a braking system for the cart) was late engaging. The breeching surprised the pony, who once again bolted toward the fence line throwing me from the cart. I cannot overstate that the self-preservation trait is lacking among horse people, and as I flew through the air, and rolled toward the fence, my first thought was, Beau is going to get injured. At this point I yelled for Darling husband and in my disorientation ran to stop Beau while he did speed trials around the yard with the zing of cart wheels whirring past us both.
Once again no animals were injured during the misadventures in cart training, and I now have more experience to add to my extensive, yet questionable equine knowledge. The cart escaped unscathed, but my cheap harness did snap in one place. This was a three for one experience. I now fully understand breeching’s purpose, learned that my training harness is not road quality, and realized I had seriously underestimated how fast my pony could move.
Despite all of these set-backs and my constant devil references, Beau Pony was truly worth his weight in gold (if you’re willing to put up with his shenanigans and repair the damage). Notwithstanding his owner’s serious lack in judgement, Beau took all of it in stride, and has developed into a mostly well-behaved cart pony. He even seems to enjoy his new job (or he really likes the treats I hand out for even the least amount of effort). The knowledge I gained during the process has proven invaluable, to my next 2 victims (I meant driving prospects). Both have experienced uneventful stress free training sessions to date.
Disclaimer: I do not endorse any of the training methods in this training blog. Find yourself an experienced trainer, and do not attempt this at home!