Well readers, that beautiful beefy cart that everyone loved so much was sold, and not to me. I was not fast enough to get my hands on it... bummer.
BUT, I decided to jump on the package deal set that was for sale. It's hard to turn down a cart, a nice harness, two harness pads, two bits, AND a whip, all together. The shafts on this cart can be removed and replaced with curved ones if I so desire, and tires can be replaced with either big motorcycle tires (like the ones on the beefy cart), or with solid rubber. So I can beef up the cart as much as I like instead of buying a pre-beefed one!
I made the trip down south to pick up all the gear today. It was about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get there, and I made the very wise decision to be a total dork and go to the library to pick up a book on tape. Our library is small and puny, and the only one there that remotely interested me was The Lost World (read it and loved it as a kid), so I snagged it. I had a super pleasant drive listening to ideas on chaos theory and Tyrannosaurs eating people. Not a bad way to spend a few hours.
And it was hard to complain about the weather today... low 90's and beautiful cloud cover:
I arrived at the place, inspected the cart and harness, and found them both to be agreeable. The cart is at least 15 years old (maybe older) but in PERFECT shape - it wasn't used much, and was kept in a garage the rest of the time. It's excellent. The shafts are 80", which is still just a hair too long for her, but overall it's not a terrible fit at all. She would do better with a 78", I think, in the future.
The harness is very beautiful. It's a little old, and a little worn out in spots, but it's a genuine Smuckers and the leather is still very good. It could use a layer of polish - with that it will look fantastic. There is patent leather on the blinders and saddle, which is just gorgeous. I love shiny, shiny leather. I'm just not into the dull look of synthetic tack. I want my leather soft and shining!
Pre-drive... I made some fitting adjustments before I actually drove off. I also did not actually drive her with the blinders. I've been driving her in an open bridle, and she goes quite well in that, but this is the first time she has had the blinders on while actually hooked. I led her around for a little while when she was wearing them, and she was actually a bit fearful. She is SUCH a visual horse that I think it genuinely concerns her when she can't see everything.This is a slight problem because she is also very whip-shy - seeing the movement of the whip behind her will probably scare her to death, and for that reason I haven't driven her with one yet. I don't think she'll object to the feel of the whip when used in gentle sweeps across her shoulder (I will probably never need it for more than just straightening or mobilizing her from side-to-side, definitely will NOT need it for more go), but I think that she will have a heartattack if she sees it moving around. She'll need to get used to the blinders more, because she definitely will need some whip aids to help with her straightness and bend. (By whip aids I mean gentle brushes with the lash, not anything more!)
The harness is beautiful and it FITS. It still needs some fiddling to get everything right where it needs to go, but it fits! Now we can REALLY get down to business!
It is time to start considering an upgrade to my training equipment! I just can not in good faith keep driving a horse with ill-fitting equipment. It's just asking for trouble!
Shopping for things is always super fun, but I am not exactly made of money, and I am not dumb enough to go crazy buying fancy equipment for a sport I'm only just starting to get involved in. It would be like someone who has just learned how to w-t-c in an English saddle going out and buying a full set of eventing equipment for all three phases... that person might well decide as they learn a little more that they want to do hunters instead, and then where would they be? I need something that we can use for training and learning, something that is versatile.
I listed my way-too-big harness today on Ebay, just on a whim, while I was window shopping for cob size harnesses. (O is kind of right inbetween sizes... just a little big for cob size, just a little small for horse size.) Within the hour, it sold at the buy-it-now price. Which is great, but it also means that now I have no harness at all! Time to go shopping for something that fits!
I found THE most gorgeous high-wheel wooden road cart on Craigslist that I fell in love with. All of the measurements were perfect on it, AND it came with two sets of really nice harness. I was just itching to go get it, but I had to force myself to stop. Sure, a wooden cart is GORGEOUS, but where would I store it? How would I transport it? What if it got wet, muddy, dirty? If I was made of money, I'd go snag it, but it just doesn't make a ton of sense to have a cart like that right now.
I sat down and made a list of things I need in my equipment. Basically it boils down to wanting a leather large cob/small horse size harness (although I'd take a nice synthetic one too, just not nylon), and a 2-wheel vehicle that I can be tough on and can bounce around in our field as well as go down the road. That probably leaves me with a metal cart for now, which is fine. I need something that can stand a little abuse.
I have a few options locally, three of which I've narrowed it down to at the moment (because I can go to and try all of them out!). All three of these are Easy Entry style carts, which I don't love but I'm not terribly adverse to. One is just a simple Easy Entry cart by itself for a very low price, one is a heavy-duty beefed up Easy Entry cart that I really like, and one is an Easy Entry cart that is the same model at the first cart but also comes with a Smuckers harness (or is supposedly Smuckers), two bits, a whip, and harness pads. Smuckers harness is very, very nice. The beefed up cart and the package cart+harness are the same price, the cart alone is quite cheap. Obviously I'd also need a new harness with either of the carts since mine just sold.
The beefy Easy Entry cart is extremely appealing. It has curved shafts (and two sets of them, one cob and one horse), a custom footrest and dash, and big huge beefy tires. It looks like a cart that would hold up to some serious abuse. You can see how tough it looks compared to the other Easy Entry. The other Easy Entry comes with the whole package set though - the very nice harness, harness pads, a whip, and two sets of bits, a snaffle and a Liverpool. The package deal (cart+harness+whip+pads+bits) is the same price as the beefy cart is by itself, so buying the beefy cart and all of the additional things needed adds up to a fair amount of money.
There is appeal to both of these. Having a very nice harness would really be great, since O has such sensitive skin and things that are lower grade material tend to rub her raw. I can always upgrade to a nicer cart later, right? But getting my hands on a beefmeister cart like that one is also super appealing - the curved shafts, the huge tires, the add-ins like the dash and the footrest... what's not to love about all of that!
Yes yes, I know I clearly needed to fuel up but who wants to get out of the AC when it is freaking 117 out!?
We thankfully were in a little erm, hot pocket per se, and it cooled off shortly to a balmy 110. Currently today it is cooler with a high of 106, and "dangerous heat warnings," which basically means "for the love of god just don't go outside."
With that said, the horses either get worked at the buttcrack of dawn, at the last rays of light, or just not at all. We don't have an arena or lights, so we just work with what we have. It's pretty nice out first thing in the morning, if something else isn't already scheduled and in the way. It's not half bad in the evening either - once the sun starts to go down, the humidity is low enough that the temp drops back down to 'relatively reasonable' status pretty quickly.
All the driving and bodywork we've been doing has only helped O. She has a little bounce to her trot that she never really has had before - a little loft per se. Once she gets going forward that is... she is also a LOT quieter than she ever has been before, which is definitely a trait I want to continue to cultivate.
I managed to get a Very Boring video of us driving today! I'm sorry that it is as boring as it is, but remember, Janky currently doesn't even have a seat yet, so I only have a metal pole to sit on. There is only so much bouncing around that my poor butt can handle! I'll get around to repairing it this week.
Beep beep, here come the noobs! Lesson on how Not To Do It: have your old mare follow you around for a little while during your warmup for some exercise. NOT the safest thing to do with a green driving horse, but the fastest speed Pmare ever chooses these days is meandering walk. Later in the video, you'll see her parked in the far right corner, just keeping an eye on things.
I have to admit, being lazy and poking along at the walk/trot is not something I ever expected this mare to do!
Janky blew a tire today as I was putting it away, so I will need to repair that (just needs a new tube I think) as well as get a seat made. Having pneumatic tires is kind of a problem as we have some bouncy terrain to work with, as well as have a zillion goatheads. I will probably need some heavier duty tires if I don't want to risk a real blowout while underway.
Poor O also managed to get herself into some fire ants. They leave these horrible little oozing welts all over, which are itchy and nasty and can make them feel kind of crappy if they get bitten by enough of them. She luckily did not feel bad, but she did manage to get some of them under her flymask and rubbed her head raw:
I'll be totally honest with you all: the reason I haven't bothered to get any pictures or videos of O with her cart is because the entire setup is complete junk. And as such, my training cart has earned a name: Janky the Training Cart.
Now, Janky was the right price: free. After a long search, I had committed to buying a pretty decent training cart, heavy duty and sturdy. Unfortunately, right before I emailed the seller back with a definite "yes," he sold the cart to someone who had come to buy a horse that day. Bahhhhh curses.
Luckily for me, the guy was a super nice citizen of the world, and he felt bad that he basically sold the cart right out from under me. He wrote me back saying that he had a beat up but structurally sound metal cart that hadn't been used in a long time just sitting on his property, and would I like it for free? You're dang right I would!! I raced up to get it before he changed his mind. It basically is a piece of crap, but it is completely suitable for the task of breaking a horse to drive - if she were to freak out, kick, go nuts, etc, there's more or less zero that can be done to damage the cart. It is more or less balanced enough, makes a lot of noise, and is lightweight enough to teach her to pull without it being exhausting.
Basically everything about my setup is just *not quite right.* My training harness is too big, and therefore nothing sits quite the way it needs to. The breeching hangs too low, even when raised as high as possible. The hip strap is too far forward. The breastcollar is either too low or too high no matter what I do (currently is sitting too high), and is too long. The tugs had to have a bunch of holes punched in them to lower them enough to accommodate Janky's low sitting shafts (which seems to be a common problem with metal carts). Janky's shafts are heavy and WAY too long for O, so they pull the tugs backwards. The traces are too long. The back rest is currently Vetwrapped on, because otherwise it would just fall off. I keep it all clean and the workload light, so we don't risk any soreness or rubs, but once we move beyond simple training stage I definitely will be wanting a properly balanced cart and better fitting harness. I don't want to risk her getting rubbed or sore.
And did I mention Janky doesn't even have a real seat? The wood rotted out and the seat cover blew away on our way home from the place where we picked it up. I meant to go get a board and fix it, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Ah well... I'm still super thankful to have it for this preliminary stage of training.
She has been hooked four times now and has gotten better each time. The first time, I did my typical process of leading her around while pulling the cart myself on both sides of her, letting her stand and smell the cart for as long as she wanted (this is a big thing for her, she needs to look at and process things in order to accept them), pulled it behind her, put the shafts up over her back, slid them in and out of the tugs, and finally held the shafts in the tugs and walked her along with it behind her. She didn't care, as usual, and it wasn't long before we had the traces hooked and I was walking behind the cart. I didn't do up the breeching the first day, since we were just walking along and I wanted to be able to quickly release her just in case it all went to hell (and also we were just walking on a flat surface). By the end of the session, I was sitting in the cart and we were walking along pretty as a picture.
Session two she was hooked fully, breeching included, and we did a few steps of trot. Session three we were trotting all over the place, and even went up some little hills. We walked down the hills with me outside of the cart, so she could get used to the idea of slowing the cart down with the breeching herself. Today we did about the same as the last session, with some good forward trotting and some solid whoas. She is doing really well with figuring out how to balance herself against the push of the breeching, and she is more than happy to take weight and pull with the breastcollar. We're still going in an open bridle, and probably will continue to do that for at least a little while. In-between driving sessions, she always has a day off or a lunge, ride, or groundwork session.
I'll have a longer update when I have actual pictures/videos, but O has officially been hooked three times to our training cart and is walking and trotting!! She was a piece of cake to start, zero issues... and she just keeps improving with each drive. More updates to come soon!
Our monthly recap is right on time - and I even started writing it early, and saved for publishing today! Success is an exciting motivator, and it feels really good to be doing something that both she and I are really enjoying. We've played with A LOT of things over the past year, and it has been hard to find something that we both find to be fun. I love to event and do dressage, but O likes neither, even though god knows I tried every trick in the book to make it fun for her. She thought endurance was great, but I didn't enjoy it at all. Barrels was pretty fun for both of us, but I can't in good conscience go hammering on her shredding her legs around barrels. It's too hard on them, and her legs are crooked and blemished enough already as it is. I'd like to be around and sound for awhile! The other fun sports we did, like cow work/rope work/poles/jumpers, were all enjoyable but were not things I'd bother with seriously. Driving is something I hope we can actually get into more seriously, as she seems to enjoy all of the groundwork so far and it is something I have ALWAYS wanted to get into! The only two major problems I am facing with driving are a) it's extremely expensive to get into, and b) it's a good idea to have a second person along for the ride as a groom. If you get into sports like combined driving, you are required to have a groom/navigator along for the ride. And I... don't like people much. I like to do things alone. Riding is in no way a social sport for me - if I do go out and ride with friends, it's just in a trail riding be-bopping kind of way, nothing serious. If I am knuckling down to proper work, I want to be left alone with my horse. Ah well, safety first!
1) Continue to solidify long lining basics - walk/trot, whoa, turns, backing, and walking down the road/on the trail
Success! Easy-peasy. She's an old pro at long lining now. She does it all in full harness with blinders too! Walk-trot-canter, whoa and stand, all shapes and sizes of turns, backing, going down the road with blinders.... it's all old hat to her now. She is happy to take a contact and get a nice goobery mouth as well.
2) Find a good local driving trainer!
Success! Well, kinda anyway. I managed to hunt down the only recommended trainer within a 200 mile radius of me. There are a *few* others out there, but I was told that they were old school cowboys and that they should be avoided. As I am keen to make all of O's preliminary driving training experiences overwhelmingly positive, I have no problems with staying away from smack-em-around cowboys. Some cowboys are great, I'm sure, but then there are others who will happily tarp my red horse the second she disagrees with them, and that's a risk I'm not willing to take. (If you're wondering what tarping is: take a cantankerous horse out to your outdoor arena on a 100+ degree day, rope them and lay them down, tie their legs together, and cover them with a blue tarp for several hours. If they're not dead by the end of it, then you get on and ride the snot out of them until they are gentle and/or mostly dead. Yes, some people really do that around here, and they think it's normal.)Unfortunately, my only local trainer doesn't have an arena herself, and doesn't come out my way for lessons. So I'm stuck again for now... which sucks.
Possibly search for a decent training harness - nothing fancy, just
comfortable and useful - and start to lunge/long line in it
Success! I got my hands on a decent leather training harness, and while it is nothing special and is also a hair too big (she'll need a cob size instead of a horse size), it gets the job done for now. She is going well in it, crupper and blinders included.
4) Introduce dragging
Success! O has dragged a tire several times with no fuss at the walk and trot, and has also dragged PVC false shafts as well at the walk. She dragged them first in an open bridle so that she could see them, and then again with the blinders on, and she didn't care.
5) Continue with bodywork!
Success! She saw the bodyworker again this month, and I think it did her some good. She also has been mostly doing training type stuff this month - I literally haven't ridden her at all in several weeks, despite working with her on the ground every day - so her body is getting a break from fitness stuff as well. I think it is important not to overtax their bodies or brains when you're teaching them something new, because tired bodies can quickly become sore bodies and lead to frustration and bad associations. Learning to pull stuff is hard work! Breaking things down into bite-size pieces so that both her body and brain can process is important. That goes for me too - it's hard to figure all of these new skills out!
Overall it was a resoundingly successful month. We went far beyond what I expected we would do! She has just been so easy - she is so chill, so quiet, so unconcerned with everything we've done. I'm trying to take great care to make sure it stays that way!
O-Ren August Goals:
1) Continue self-education - learning about driving, parts, carriages/carts, different sports, terminology, etc!
2) Start looking at possible training carts for myself (and possibly a harness upgrade)
3) Continue doing groundwork, long lining, work in harness etc.
4) Continue doing drags with tires/PVC
5) If all goes well - hopefully she will be hooked by the end of the month!
Pangea August Goals:
1) Walk hacks 2-3x per week (just short ones, soundness pending)
2) First rhino shot!
Hard to believe that P is almost three months pregnant already. She is exactly 85 days pregnant today.... if you're wondering what an 85 day fetus looks like, it's actually really beautiful and you can definitely tell that it will be a horse!:
And as an adorable throwback, here's a picture of tiny baby O!