Charley, my trainer, and Billy, her son, flanked by their cattle dog and Princess, the Amazing Wonder-Mini Horse!
If you've been hanging around here long enough, you might know that amongst the hyphenated laundry list of things I've done, animals have played a large part of my life. And after working with them for more than half my life, I know this much is true: you don't train animals, they train you.
It's no different with horses. The workings of a horse are formed over centuries of evolution, their thoughts trump ours by ages. While all of this would sound grandiose, you'd chuckle to know that a dainty munchkin sized horse would be my wizened teacher.
As I mentioned before in THIS POST, I had the luck of finding a local horse training couple on my holiday visit with my parents in Florida. On their rural piece of heaven, they catered to a small bevvy of horses, and horse-lovers, and between them, Mr. Pete and his wife Charley had about half a century of horse experience. Yep, these were the folks to go to for just about everything equine. It helped that they had their own particular Southern charm; it had been awhile since I've seen a couple comfortable and quaint enough to call each other "Mama" and "Papa," but I loved watching them talk to each other, and me, in their Ante Bellum way.
Young colts on Mr. Pete's Farm...
Princess was the miniature pony who would guide me past the difficulties of harnessing equipment, driving lines, horse etiquette, and much more. I quickly learned that driving a horse is a bit more complex than driving a car. While I understood that these were intelligent creatures, it never occurred to me that even a wee horse could be wily enough to bob and weave; this definitely was not about auto-piloting in a straight line. Princess was as all creatures tend to be: she had her own mind and will, and despite ten years of driving training, this half pint horse needed my full attention each time we drove.
Our second lesson involved Charley first guiding me through the long and specific way to put on the seemingly endless coiling leviathan of the harness tack, and then hopping onto the two wheeled forecart to teach me the proper way to maneuver the lines so that Princess would know where to go. Even the slightest twist of the wrist would communicate to our little heroine whether she should go straight or turn, when to go quickly or slow to a walk.
While that in itself was a skill, this lesson also involved a few extra insights into controlling the horse's fears (Charley's term for this: "boogering") and unwillingness ("buffaloing") to pull in particular patches of our driving. Princess's particular fears were apparent as we trotted down the quiet street from the horse farm. A few feet down, one of the neighbors had two loud barking dogs blazing through their front lawn. It's probably common sense that excitable dogs can spook a horse (or any other creature, for that matter), and even a fool could sense the stilting gait that our little driver took on as we rounded the neighbor's yard. Charley expertly guided me on techniques on how to tackle the issue and at one point, true to her instruction, she hopped out of the cart, grabbed the horse's head-stall, and led her past those angry mutts, as horses must be paraded past their worst monsters in order to eventually realize that they are something to be ignored.
On the other side of the barking menaces, there was Casper, the paint horse that used to belong Mr. Pete and Charlie. While Princess was acquainted with the young colt, she was not familiar with him, so Charley turned the cart to the opposite side, so that the two could sniff each other, a delicate process. Other obstacles involved the llama at the farm at the opposite end of the road (the horses "boogered" at llamas, which they seem to dislike), and the weird smell of "dead animal" somewhere along the middle of the road. Charley was a great teacher, and quite entertaining, to boot.
I think that I did relatively well with the sudden and new onslaught of information, and it was most definitely an interesting outing. I wasn't ignorant enough to think I was done with lessons---not by a long shot-- and I had planned a follow up to this one. I was, however, pretty proud: had conquered my own worries about my horsemanship and hey, even though I had mastered this work with a teensy horse, it was still a horse, right?
So imagine what fun it was when one of my old-time dance friends, who lived near Mr. Pete's, showed up on her mule, along with a few horse riding friends. Yes, they had RIDDEN there, along the streets, and there was a strange, old-time feeling about their surprise journey. There aren't too many people in my neck of the woods who could say they've used that particular mode of transportation--hooved mounts don't do well on heavy concrete.
Along with Kira was Marcie, a woman farmer who lived about 5 minutes in the opposite direction of Mr. Pete's place. Kira had her come along so I could meet her; her 40 acre farm was on it's way to self sufficiency. It had milk goats, a cow, a greenhouse that housed tilapia, blueberries, tangerine trees, and much more. Best of all, she showed up with her riding Percheron Mare--a draft horse!
Here is Marcy...and her horse Lucy!
Better yet, I'd be visiting Marcy's place...and milking goats!
But that, Friends, is the next tale on the journey!