As part of my six horse hitch project, I began preparing Tater Tot and Summer Cloud to become single drivers this summer. The goal was to have Summer ready to begin team driving with Apple Jack in December. Tater Tot made quick progress. If I had been more consistent with her training I think I could have trained her to the cart in just around two weeks. She’s been treated like a dog for her entire life and nothing phased her. No desensitization was necessary with that little devil.
Summer Cloud on the other hand was entirely different. Summer’s origin story is unknown. She was an auction pony that Darling Husband purchased because the only person bidding on her was a kill buyer. The guy that dropped her and ten other ponies off at the auction said that an elderly man had the herd running loose in a pasture, but never handled them. Apparently when her original owner passed the family practically gave the herd away, not wanting or knowing what to do with them. The ponies got a crash course in halters the week before they were flipped at the auction making an easy profit for the horse trader.
At best Summer had never been handled and allowed to run wild prior to joining the GHLHF, at worst maybe she was mistreated. According to the auction house and our vet, Summer was probably around 3-4 years of age when we bought her. We gave her two years to settle into our way of life. Even though I had plans for her, I did not have an immediate need to work her, and had more pressing training priorities with my mustang and eventing my two appaloosas. Suffice to say that even though Summer has known nothing but kind gentle treatment at GHLHF, she comes with a little emotional baggage and was just a higher anxiety training prospect. Desensitization took a lot longer with Summer.
By early August, I managed to get my first full drive in the cart with Summer. She lacked confidence, but she was building it with every working session. I drove Summer on three different occasions in her pasture before deciding that we were good to venture up and down the driveway. So we began working outside of the paddock practicing maneuvers in tight locations, and heading down the driveway toward the highway. She seemed to be more comfortable outside of her pasture, so I went ahead and took her down the fence line to the next driveway where instead of turning around we crossed onto the highway and drive back up to our driveway. Per the usual, I decided if that went so well, why not make three more circles down our fence returning via the main road? In my head three would be the ideal number to stop on.
And, all went well until the last and final ride on the roadway. Up until this point we had been extremely lucky that no traffic leaving the lake or going to it had made it down to my driveway, but wouldn’t you know it, on the last and final drive just as I turned onto the road, a big loud older model diesel truck that I felt confident would turn into the the neighborhood before my drive way, barreled straight past the entrance and was coming at us full speed (I’m guessing around 55mph) never once letting off the accelerator or tapping the breaks. I braced myself for what could be a very scary, and rough ride down our first incline off the side of the road. I maintained light contact to keep Summer straight and prayed. Then….nothing. Summer held straight, not even attempting to pull to one side. She didn’t flinch or act like the truck was anything out of the ordinary.
Keep in mind up until this point Summer has only had a total of four drives, and I’d like to say I was consistent, but these four drives had anywhere from a week to two weeks in between each one. Ideally, I wouldn’t have more than a day between working drives in the beginning stages of training. But, 2022 has been a weird year, and life has kept the curve balls coming for the GHLHF. Despite the lack of consistency, Summer was retaining what she learned from session to session and making huge leaps with each session. So on Wednesday, Summer had her first introduction to the neighborhood behind our house. I figured if the truck on the main road was no big deal, the neighborhood should be a breeze.
I’m super excited with Summer’s progress. My main driving focus this October has been getting Moonshine into shape for the BLORA Nature in Lights ride taking place this weekend. I know it is a little early to kick off Christmas, but this is the only weekend you are allowed to make this ride/drive with a horse before the park opens to the driving public. For the rest of November, I’ll focus on driving Summer as a single in order to prepare her to become part of my first team with Apple Jack beginning in December! Then its time to begin working Pumpkin Spice Latte who is very similar to Tater in temperament. I anticipate she’ll train quickly and hopefully those two will be working as a team by February. If that works out, I just might have my four in hand before a little Cowgirl joins the GHLHF in April!