In 2016, Darling Husband made his biggest mistake in our marriage so far. It is a mistake he will pay for over the next twenty years or as long as Beau Pony lives. Our real estate agent informed my husband that he had clients listing their home and would be unable to take their mini/shetland pony with them to the new property. Their daughter had out grown the little miscreant anyway, so it was time for the pony to be rehomed. Darling Husband took the bait, and less than a month into closing on our property, he brought home the GHLHF mascot, terror of the pastures, breaker of fences, biter of husbands, and bane of Darling Husband’s existence. Of course when he brought Beau Pony home, he didn’t have the foresight to realize his mistake, and doubled down by insisting that Beau Pony needed a girl friend. A man with more experience around ponies and the horse girls that fall in love with them would never have entertained the thought, but six years and seven ponies later, here we are.
We purchased Apple Jack from a lady downsizing her herd, and introduced her to Beau. Beau was living his best pony life. As far as we know he had never actually had a pony friend let alone one of the female variety. Apple Jack was already in foal when she joined the farm, but unfortunately that foal was premature and still born. Fortunately, this minor set back made Apple Jack a lot more receptive to Beau’s attentions and in June of 2018, Tater Tot was born.
From the moment Tater’s little hooves touched the ground, I had ambitions of turning her into a driving pony. I had just started training her father to become a cart pony. Visions of Tater and her mother, Apple Jack, as a team filled my daydreams. There were a few problems though. One, Apple Jack wasn’t trained as a driver. Two, the general veterinary consensus is that you must wait until the pony is at least four before pulling any weight. Three, as Tater aged, it become blatantly obvious she would not be suitable in a pair with Apple Jack, because she was a good hand shorter than both of her parents. Tater was my first homebred foal from my very own stud and mare, and despite her small stature, I still had plans for her. She would go into training when she was old enough. In the meantime, I went about training Apple Jack once Tater was weaned, and also purchased the Hyperbike, a super lightweight cart that would be easier on a smaller pony.
During the next four years in between training full size horses, I managed to train Beau, Apple Jack, Moonshine, and Apple Jack 2 to the cart. Last year I focused almost entirely on the bigs, and then in late April of this year, I began playing around with Tater and another one of Darling Husband’s mistakes, Summer. Their harness had arrived and it was time for ground driving. Due to a hectic spring/summer of working bigs, a crazy day job schedule, new puppies, and Offspring getting ready for Kindergarden, my consistency of training left a lot to be desired, but I continued to work the two newest driving ponies as I could. I introduced the concept of the training barrel sans blinders the week before I left for a nine day cross country journey to my home state of WV. Returning from an exhilarating drive through the hills of WV, I was dying to work my own animals again.
Since Tater was so chill and nonchalant about the training barrel without blinders, could care even less about the barrel with blinders, I decided to just go ahead and dive into full blown driving. You’d think I would be more cautious after some of my early training misadventures with other ponies, but no. I had been waiting for four years to hitch my little monster up. I’m not a complete idiot or incapable of learning from failure. Tater had only been ground driven with a full bridle a total of maybe fifteen or twenty times, but she was a fast learner and very soft despite the lack of experience. With that in mind I harnessed her up and gave her a quick refresher on ground driving to ensure all systems were go or better all systems were stop before putting her to the easy entry. I hitched her up, pushed the cart forward so she could feel the breeching, and then asked her to back/step away from the hitching post.
I know, I know, the pony driving snobs would say that I should have my butt in the seat the minute I untied her from the hitch, but my system works for me. I had her circle in both directions in the yard, while walking to the side of the cart, just to judge her comfort level. Tater was thoroughly bored, I was bored, so no time like the present to spice things up. I eased into the seat and asked her to walk on, which she did, verrrrry slowly. I clucked and tapped her lightly on the rump and then we were walking, kinda. She’s little, she actually has to trot to keep up with me at an average pace walk when I lead her, so we ambled around the yard on a circle. I drove her down the drive way a few times, and felt confident she would be able to handle a trot. It took encouragement. Tater doesn’t go fast for much, but once I got her moving in the trot, she made several good trips up and down the drive way.
About 30 minutes after we began this whole process, I called it a successful day, no anxiety or shenanigans, which Tater is prone (shenanigans not anxiety) to since we treated her more like a dog than a pony for the majority of her life. Tater didn’t even break a sweat. After the first successful drive, the rest of training is just simply putting miles on my pony. I’ll take her up into the pasture and let her really stretch her legs on the next drive, and if all goes well she should be hitting the open road, or at least driving around the neighbor hood this weekend. I’m crossing my fingers that I could have her going in the Hyperbike by the end of the month!!!