Sometimes the biggest dreams come in the smallest packages. This might be true on many levels in this next story.
I have been outwitted by a small horse, one no taller than my waist. And I loved every minute of it. This was part of a small dream, one that doesn't involve awards, accolades, large sums of money, power, or any of the other trappings that people talk about in grandiose terms, when talking big dreams. This isn't walking on the moon, Folks. Nope. This past Friday I FINALLY got to properly drive a horse and cart.
This little dream began a few months and miles away from this Southern locale in Christmas; my Long Island friends Kat and Alyse started this journey by teaching me ground rules and training with horses early this year. I learned ground driving and riding, and longed for more.
Now, I would continue this love affair in a small Florida town with Mr. Pete and his wife, Charley---two dramatically different counterparts to my young city female trainers--so appropriately Southern that it didn't occur to me to use anything other than "Mister" in front of Pete Mack's name, and call Charley anything other than "ma'am."
Mr. Pete was one of those old-fashioned codgers who "talked plain" and "told it straight", an older gentleman who embodied the old South. He was a bit gruff around the edges, with tons of stories about farming, rodeo-ing, and Southern gossip. He'd spent 40 years breaking horses--or rather, having horses break him, literally: he's already broken on leg in five places when a horse fell on him, and when I went to my first lesson, he'd broken that same leg again. Unbelievably, he neither told me he broken the leg, or went to the hospital. And as much as I'd insisted he should go, he refused, saying he "did this all the time" and saying he wanted to meet me. He and his wife had wrapped the leg heavily, saying the doctor wouldn't see him until Monday, anyhow. I was shocked that he didn't seem in pain at all, though he did have Charley, also an experienced horse person for 15 years, lead me through the day's lesson at their farm, a place that housed 10 horses of various sizes, breeds, and colors.
That lesson involved a munchkin horse with a big heart, who taught very big lessons. One could chuckle at her name (Princess) and her small stature (she was a larger sized miniature horse), but boy, was she a handful--not because she was ill-behaved, but due to my lack of experience.
After we brought around the pony to the area where we would dress her for driving, Charley instructed me to groom her down in order to make sure my little charge had no burrs or other items in her coat that might irritate her once all of her trappings were on her. In this way we would avoid any possible spooking should something stick or sting her while driving. This seemed simple enough.
Not so simple, however: checking the feet for stones or other objects. I was given a hoof pick and instructed on how to lift the little horse's legs. Mind you, this pony was maybe 13 hands--her hooves were easy to lift and fit comfortably in my hands. The problem was yours truly--this was my first time actually working with horses feet and I was ackward with it. Princess was good natured about it and gently would sidestep my efforts until I perfected holding each hoof and gently using the pick to remove dirt from each of them, checking for stones and debris.
After this was done, Charley fetched the driving equipment. These were a touchstone for me: I had long been fascinated and frustrated with what seemed like a jumble of lines, fasteners, clips and strips, with no idea of how to make sense of any of it. After a few long moments of slowly applying the harnessing, I can now tell you how to apply the bit, blinders, driving reins, and breast plate, though I will need a few more lessons before I'm comfortable with all the bells and whistles on driving gear.
Once we had attached a two-wheeled forecart to the harness gear, the second part of the adventure began. Charley and I hopped into the cart, where Charley showed me how to hold the lines for the best control. After an initially driving, Charley handed the whole thing over to me. We had gone to the front of their property, a grassy section along their quiet road. I quickly had to learn to adjust the tension and turn as Princess tended to weave instead of consistently staying in a straight line. I also learned how to trot Princess and turn right and left....
Yeah, speaking about that. Turning isn't as easy as it seems. I'm sure I've committed one of many a common student mistake by turning too sharply. This manifested itself in my first attempt in turning right: as we passed a tree... Charley instructed me to turn right, and pass onto the pathway home. I did, but had done it so tightly that we ran right over the tree's overgrown roots, nearly toppling us! I can't help but think that Princess might be laughing at the silly, wild-haired human in the back.
Hey, but there's credit in regaining the situation, right? I managed to whoa the jostled horse and calm the more jostled passengers, and then continued on and driven us back to our original spot, meeting up with Mr. Pete, who was still seated on the porch, broken leg and all, waiting for us. His verdict, after Charley told him about our escapades: "you're alright, but you need more schooling." I couldn't agree more, and was excited for another lesson, which is scheduled in a week.
We unhitched the horse and led her back to the pasture. She was a sweet good-natured horse, a kind a patient teacher. She had a mischievous side, of course, as equines are wont to do, but she was doing a great job teaching this foolish two-legged a thing about horse sense.
I walked away from my first horse-driving lesson with a smile on my face and more knowledge than I knew what to do with....but this much I knew: never underestimate a pint sized horse.
Like all horses, they have huge hearts and, whether they know it or not, they teach people both big and little things, horsemanship being just the beginning..