2022 was a rough year for the GHLHF. We lost three grandparents this year. Our two new fully vaccinated puppies came down with parvo days before we were leaving for a family vacation. Immediate family members had some pretty serious medical issues, and my already demanding day job exploded with new projects on top of my regular work load. We diligently trudged through it all, doggedly chasing various goals, discarding goals that no longer served us in pursuit of new ones, and trying to maintain long established family traditions. I purposefully made time for traditions that are non-negotiable no matter what else is imploding in our world, hoping they will be things that Offspring will fondly reminisce in his adulthood.
I’ve written several posts about my ten year goal of building a team hitch of 6 to 8 miniature horses/ponies. I’m currently working with the first pair of that hitch. Returning to WV for my grandmother’s funeral late this summer, I identified a special item that should my father be willing to part with it, needed to come home to TX with me. My grandfather loved horses. He rode and worked them on the small family farm in the hills of WV as a boy into young adulthood. There are photos of my father in full TV western cowboy regalia on a fat black and white paint pony as a small boy of probably no older than six that my grandfather had gifted him. My grandfather loved watching my sister and I ride/compete our horses, and jumped on any opportunity to go on a trail ride with my father when he was well into his 70’s.
When I was around seven or eight years old, my grandfather helped my father build a large Budweiser-esque wagon for a friend with a team of Belgian draft horses to pull through parades. That wagon and team planted the seed that 30 years later would have me working toward a much larger team in miniature scale. After the wagon’s construction, my grandfather was feeling a bit nostalgic. My dad had recently purchased a mare that was trained to drive, and my grandfather built a sled like the ones he had used as a boy and young adult on the farm. After building the sled for a full size horse, he created a miniature version. Sadly neither of these sleds saw any time behind a horse during my childhood. They became outdoor Christmas decorations, my dad later placing sleigh shaped cutouts on them using the sleds as a base. Every Christmas, the larger sled decorated our yard, and my father would set up the smaller sled in front of my grandparent’s house.
Going through old family photo albums after my grandmother’s funeral, I came across the pictures of the wagon and sleds my grandfather had built thirty years before. It struck me, that for the first time since their construction I was in possession of the animals, most of the equipment, and more importantly the knowledge to take these relics of my family’s past and use them for their intended purpose. There was no way my mother would part with the larger sled, a staple of her outdoor Christmas decor for three decades, but I don’t have any full size animals driving anyway. The smaller sled had actually not been used as a Christmas decoration for several years, so I asked if anyone in the family objected to it going back to Texas to actually be used rather than remain merely decorative.
Bringing that sled back to Texas, meant my current training schedule would need a revamp. I set a goal of having a team pulling it by Christmas. I had two single driving ponies of the correct size, but I did not have the collars/work harness for the sled. I also needed a two horse evener in mini size, to hitch two ponies to the sled and it was already September. For those of you that have never ordered custom harness or driving hardware, lead time is usually somewhere between 6-8 weeks. However, I managed to source the harness, collars, and eveners from suppliers that could have them to me within a month.
Horses in general are a family tradition, but one of my all time favorite Christmas traditions is planning and sending out the Gardner Family Christmas cards. Maybe I’m the only person, but I love receiving mail that isn’t a bill or a package that I bought. Getting Christmas cards in the mail is a highlight of the season for me. So marrying two family traditions, I began making plans for the Gardner family Christmas cards to include not only a few of our equine residents, but also the sled my grandfather had built me so many years ago. It was a rush job all around. Poor Apple Jack and Summer Cloud only had a few ground driving sessions as a team in full work harness. They had never been hitched to a load as a team.
My window for getting the Christmas photoshoot complete narrowed as it rained non-stop and the GHLHF became a mud pit. Getting in training sessions was nearly impossible, and the ponies in their winter fur looked like muddy little yaks. When I finally had a weekend day that was not pouring the rain, I did my best to clean the yaks up. Not wanting to fully bath them in sixty degree weather, I settled for washing the clumps of mud I could from underneath their stomachs and on their legs. I washed their tails to make them as white as possible in a single grooming session, and knocked the rest of the dirt off of them with a curry comb and brush.
Darling Husband helped me rig the evener to the sled. In hindsight, we probably needed to shorten the distance between the sled and evener, but ran out of time when we spent a little too long meeting friends for lunch while the ponies dried off from their half bath. In the end, with the help of a good friend that showed up to take photos rather than me relying on my Pivo camera robot, we managed to get several usable shots before dark that with a little photo editing software produced some of the best family photos we have to date.
Many people may receive our 2022 Christmas card and think, “Oh that’s cute.” and pitch it in the trash. However, some close friends and family actually know a little bit of the history behind the card this year. Even though my grandmother was terrified of horses and did not share my grandfather’s love for horses or nostalgia for the manual labor of farm work, using the sled he built me only a few months after my grandmother passed was really important to me. It was a way of saying you may be gone, but you are very much loved and not forgotten.