Horses have always been on my mind, but now, with Tonka here for a week and a half, horses are back in my life. Everyday.
It’s too icy to ride, which is fine, because it gives Tonka and I a chance to get to know each other from the ground. He’s a horse with a kind eye and a sane head, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to jump right into a trusting relationship with me. I’m spending time simply grooming and hand-grazing him (I hold the lead while he finds things to nibble under the snow.) I’ve also started to use the clicker to train him to do a “touch,” and I’m teaching him to come. He’s beginning to pay attention to me. He’s beginning to trust that the lines of communication are open. We listen to each other. (I’ll be writing about this in the months to come.)
Trust in your horse and your horse’s trust in you, is essential for a safe and enjoyable ride. There are plenty of “natural horsemanship” cowboys out there touting ways to get there. Some of what they say is useful (although much isn’t!) Some say that they’ve discovered a new way of training, but the fact is that good horsemen have developed trust using gentle methods for the thousands of years that we’ve worked alongside these animals.
Not all horseman are kind. Many are harsh. Many don’t know any other way than to subjugate the horse into behaving. But, even in the past the old plow horse was often treated as a member of the farm family. In my library of vintage farm ephemera I have a treatise published in 1898 on how to train with kindness. Photographs in my collection also tell this story. A small boy of four couldn’t hold onto 2,000 pounds of horses without a lot of trust between all involved.
Look at this team’s quiet yet alert posture. They like that boy.
A mule looks sort of like a horse with long ears, a long face, bristles instead of a mane along the neck, and a wisp of a tail. I’ve never ridden one, but I’ve known a few, and I like them a lot. I’ve done several pack trips through wild mountains here in North America. We dudes were on horses, but many of the pack animals were mules, especially the one entrusted with the bulky and awkward and all-important cookstove. I’ve known wranglers who prefer riding mules. The head cowboy on a trip through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico rode a mule. He claimed that his good mule had saved his life several times. Mules have a deeply-ingrained sense of self-preservation. If you load their packs unevenly, they won’t budge. If you ask a mule to go through a mucky area, he’ll tell you if the footing is unsafe. The cowboy in the Sangre de Cristos, as we rode along the mountain ridge, pointed out a charred tree trunk. He’d been on his mule, just the two of them out in the wilderness, when all of a sudden the mule stopped dead. Refused to budge. A sudden boom of thunder. A crack. A flash. The tree a few hundred feet in front of them burst into flames. Any closer, and both he and his mule would have been dead. That mule just stood and watched. A horse would have high-tailed it into the next state.
Some mules are quite large. In times past, mules could be used to plow a field and then take you to church on Sunday. Look at this gentle giant. His lady is riding him with just a simple bit held on with a strap of twine.
I did think about getting a mule instead of a horse; if I lived in the mountains I just might have. Do any of you have experience with mules? Do tell!
On Monday, after a long drive down from Maine, Tonka arrived at the barn as calm as he was when he stepped into the horse trailer four hours before. (Tonka is a sane gelding, but it really helped that my friend Cindy drove in her steady and safe way.) When we unloaded Tonka, it was foggy and cold, and darkness was closing in. He looked around, head high. I walked Tonka to his paddock and turnout shed, gave him a pat, and said good-night. Right away he started in on the hay that had been set out for him.
Karin, the barn manager, is an old hand at introducing new horses to Little Brook Farm. She’d already decided that Merlin, a sweet Standardbred gelding, would be Tonka’s pasture buddy. She put Merlin into the paddock next to Tonka. They spent the day getting familiar with each other over the fence. Typical of these two guys, there were no hysterics or squealing. They surreptitiously glanced at each other over the course of the day. All was going so well that the next day we set out several piles of hay in the field, and put the two horses together.
They said hello in the polite horsey way of sniffing noses. Merlin turned his tail to Tonka and gave a half-hearted hind-leg kick that missed by a couple of feet.
They each chose a pile of hay to eat.
Tonka did glance over a few times to make sure that his breakfast wasn’t being challenged. It wasn’t.
And that was that.
Although Tonka is settled right in and ready to be ridden, I have to find a saddle to fit him first. It’s been a challenge. One reason I wanted a horse only slightly bigger than a pony is because it’s easier on my shoulder and back to lift a saddle onto him. Today I tacked him up four times, and I did appreciate his compact size! Tonka is getting a tad tired of me putting saddles on and taking them off. I also have been looking for a bit that suits him, so right now I don’t even have a usable bridle. I’ve been using a halter and lead rope while trying out saddles. He’s been a total gentleman about it.
Tonka isn’t the biggest mover. He’ll never make it as a fancy dressage horse, (which is the sort of riding that I’ve trained to do) but that’s okay. At this point in my life, I wanted a horse with a kind eye. And that’s exactly what I got.
33 crusts (4 graham cracker, 4 lard, 8 butter, and the rest shortening-butter.)
26 pies baked.
20 pies set out.
A bit of this and that leftover (but no chocolate.) A total of 18 pies consumed
2 pies made from a recipe clipped from a magazine was so sweet that it wasn’t served. However, the chickens thought it fine.
2 days of clean-up. All worth it.
Here in the United States, the day following Thanksgiving has become known as Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.
This turkey’s attitude pretty much sums up how I feel about going shopping at the mall with the crowds this long weekend.
Photograph from VINTAGE FARM ANIMAL PHOTOGRAPHS: 30 POSTCARDS
Although I can’t bear the thought of stepping foot into a big box store anytime this long weekend, I do like a bargain. You probably do, too. And so, I am having my own After Thanksgiving Holiday Sale here at HenCam. Purchase two or more vintage animal photographs books in my series through the HenCam Store and I will send you an additional book at no charge.
There are three titles to choose from.
All you have to do to get your free book is to leave a “note from the buyer” at checkout, letting me know which title you would like.
THE FINE PRINT This offer is only available for addresses in the US because international postal rates have made it prohibitive to ship overseas. Sorry! Offer available through 10 pm EST on Dec. 2, 2013.