Saturday, November 15, 2008

Driving Pony

Thanks to the great weather for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot with the horses. I’ve taken all four saddle horses on long trail rides almost every day for the past couple of weeks, and one day even managed to convince Selwyn and our friend Gonzo to ride with me. That was a funny ride for a couple of reasons. First, as we were riding through the jungle chatting, Selwyn started to laugh. I asked him what was funny, and he said he’d explain later. The next morning I asked him what was so funny, and he asked me if it had registered how the three of us were talking. I was puzzled, but when Selwyn asked what language we’d been speaking, it registered that Selwyn had been speaking Creole, Gonzo was speaking Spanish, and I was speaking English…and we were talking to each other. I’m definitely the weak link of the three of us since those two are fluent in all three languages, but I’ve learned enough Spanish and Creole relating to things we frequently talk about – like things in the jungle – that I had no trouble keeping up. The funny thing was we didn’t even realize we were doing it for quite a while, and then only Selwyn realized. The other funny thing with that ride was that we ended up doing a short stretch on the road right at the time people were driving home from their jobs at the resorts. Since Gonzo and Selwyn are guides and have lived in this area for their whole lives they knew most of the people in the vehicles passing us, and I’m out on the horses enough that most people know who I am. We could see a lot of people doing double takes when they realized who we were, no doubt wondering why the gringa who’s usually out bombing around in the jungle on the horses all by herself suddenly needed not one, but two guides!

Besides riding the saddle horses, I put Elphie back to work. Our training philosophy is to just do a little with the young horses from the time they’re babies, so that nothing we do really surprises or scares them when we start training them. Since we’ve had Elphie we’ve been doing things like putting a saddle and bridle on her, ponying her on trail rides, and over the past few months I started ground driving her. She had a month or so off between the rain and a cut on her eye that we were watching, but she’s been doing great with everything, so after ground driving her around for a little while, I decided to see what she would do if she had to pull something.

We didn’t bring much driving tack with us when we came here, and she’s so small I don’t think most of it would fit anyway, so I’ve been, umm, creating tack as we go. We use an old trail bridle with rope for the long lines, and I’ve tied some baling twine on an old English saddle where the stirrup leathers would go. That keeps the lines at about the right height so they run along her back rather than tangling around her neck. When I decided I wanted her to pull something, I put another baling twine loop below the long line loop, took one of our longish English girths and rigged that up as a breast collar with the ends through the baling twine and another piece of baling twine running over the saddle to keep the “breast collar” at the right height. As a drag, I found a five gallon bucket with a lid, and put a chunk of coconut palm log in it for weight and noise. I put a piece of rope through the handle, and I dragged it up and down the driveway a few times while leading Elphie. She shied away at first, but quickly got used to it dragging beside and behind her on both sides, the side where she can see as well as her blind side. Then I hooked the rope without the drag to the two ends of the girth/breast collar and leaned on it to see if she minded having weight on that. She was great about that too, so I tied one end of the rope to the buckle on the girth, ran it through the handle on the bucket, and then ran it through the buckle on the other end of the girth with a long tail sticking out which I could hold as I drove her so I could let go and let her get away from the bucket if she panicked.

She was great. She dragged the bucket all over the property, walking and trotting, and never even spooked. Tom was working on the computer in the house, and when he heard the big noise he came out and was surprised to see me driving Elphie around with her very calmly pulling the very noisy bucket behind her. It was a little hard for me because the bucket would bounce and roll as we hit rough spots, and I kept having to jump it as we turned – although next time I’ll know to adjust the lengths of the long lines and the rope holding the bucket so the bucket stays ahead of me. We’ll probably pony Elphie into Barton Creek at some point and see if we can find a Mennonite to make a simple driving harness for her. She’s almost two so we don’t think she’s going to grow a whole lot more, but we’ll wait a bit and then Tom can build a little buggy for her to pull. We’re bummed that she’s so small because she’d probably make a great little trail horse since she’s so quiet, but we think she’s too small for me to even get on and ride. There’s a guy in town who works with horses and who is very small, so we may talk to him about backing her so kids could ride her, but we’re not sure he’d want to work with us to do it (cowboys don’t take advice from girls), and we don’t know if he’ll believe us that since we’ve been working with her since she was a baby, backing her will probably just be a matter of getting on and riding. We’re afraid that he’ll want to “break” her Belizean style, which means a big-ported curb bit with three inch shanks instead of my big fat eggbutt snaffle, lots of kicking and whipping and yanking on her mouth, and the general philosophy that you need to scare the sh*t out of a horse to break it. It might be a good test to see if she’s as quiet as we think she is, but we don’t want to do it to her; she’s just too sweet. We’ve even considered just finding a kid to see what she does, but horse accidents happen because people do stupid things, and putting a kid on a never-ridden horse probably counts as a stupid thing.

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