Monday, February 23, 2009

More driving fun!

From Steve Wood, Elk River, MN:
Wow How time flies. We have been driving every day and haven't taken time for a new post until now.

Snow has been good for nearly the entire winter. On the last day of January a warm front came through and brought 45 degree air with it. We lost a couple inches of snow that day but we were fortunate enough to not get any Ice. Horses were sweating very easily for a couple days but, my fingers and toes were thinking they had gone on vacation! Sleighrides and driving the team with Vis-a-vis at wedding fairs were keeping us busy on weekends. As expected, winter came back with a vengence and gave us some snow and a bunch of cold. During one of those cold days I retreated to a local retail store to look for warm gloves. That's a favorite pastime for sleigh drivers don't ya know. Well I wondered in to the bargain room and what do you suppose I found? A wildlife scouting camera for 39 dollars! My mind's eye started to decide what tree I might mount that on where I could take picture of horses in training! It works! I get pictures of every horse that walks past that camera. Now I can send photos to owners showing their horse and his latest task.

Well now it did get warm enought for a couple days that we had a big melt and then we had ice. While the ice was soft I drove spreader loads of hay around on the driveway. The hay froze into the ice the next night, and we were able to keep right on working horses being careful to stay in the woods where the sun didn't melt the snow to create that layer of ice. My neat new camera was pointing up a trail that saw no horses for about 10 days. We got pictures of people and critters walking, but no horses. WE have now moved the camera to a post on the barn and we get photos of us as we pass in front. It's knida fun.

A neighbor had his wildlife camera set to take videos and he got a video of what he thought was a couger. Mountain cats don't get into this part of the country very often so he created quite a stir. After the DNR and the local High School Biology department got a chance to view the video it has been determined that we have a very large grey fox in the neighborhood. Whew! NOw back to training horses. The training barn has had some great progress lately. Here's an update.

Page, our spotted pony trainee has begun working solo. She handles the training shafts and stoneboat combination quite well. She has skid a bit of firewood lately. She loves to keep moving, So right now the hardest thing for her is standing still. Once in a while we have quite a dicussion over where to park. When she decides to give up on her quest to prove perpetual motion she will graduate to the two wheel cart.

Missy, A Welsh pony mare has gone home as a wonderful little driver. She will be competing in the coming years, And I think she will enjoy every bit of it. Good things do come in small packages.

Annie, A Morgan mare is becoming quite a horse. She and her owner are becoming more comfortable with each other each weekend. She is currently at the "I am proud and I know I look good" stage of her life. Her courage is developing nicely. Next weekend her new cart arrives and then a new harness. We haven't gotten a good photo of her yet, but we'll publish one soon.

Knight, a paint horse gelding will be heading home to his new driving career this coming weekend. His courage is changing him daily. He has muscles now where he used to have none. He is quiet, calm, and determined to improve every day. His human Mom and Dad got to take Knight out for a solo drive last week and all went well. This is a rather old photo in his old cart but It shows him nicely. Yahoo!

My Turn, the Halflinger Stallion, went home to work in the woods last week. His owner came and drove him single for a bit and then we hitched My Turn with his new halflinger teammate and all went splendidly. He learned his teamwork with our Belgian Gelding Jim and that made a rather comical looking team, but Jim had his work cut out for him in the early going. My Turn was a bit of a cad about town in the begining and I was real glad Jim was there. We wish My Turn nothing but the best of luck in his new career. Isn't he handsome?

Cassie, a Shire cross mare came in last month. She is currently working very comfortably in training shafts and with the stoneboat. We have spent a few workouts in her two wheeled cart but it's a bit overwhelming for her as of yet , so we have gone back to the stoneboat to gain some more confidence. She works without blinds, and has a mountain of athletic ability. As a riding horse she can side-pass at a trot! When we are working in the shafts, that side-passing at a trot could give me a bit of a workout. We are working at directing all that ability toward calm forward pulling and standing, then we'll work out the sidepass later. Lots of fun in the woods working with Cassie as she has such great control over her feet and body. She will stop and swing a few degrees, then pull forward until I need to swing again. That side-pass is coming in very handy.

Two new horses Came in yesterday so I'll get to know them this week and let you know about them real soon. What could be more fun than that?

Snow forecast for tomorrow, I love this time of year!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Driving clinic at The Natural Gait

From DeeAnna Weed, Postville, IA:
Doc had a clinic at The Natural Gait in June, 2008. I wrote this "clinic review" afterwards and shared it with a friend. I thought maybe folks reading

Doc's new blog would enjoy it too.

Friday (the first day of the clinic) was mostly lecture and discussion, although we did get our horses out later in the afternoon to harness and ground drive. Doc, my husband Chuck, and I worked with my Norwegian Fjord mare Sissel for a couple of hours in the late afternoon to see how well she had retained her knowledge of being a driving horse. She looked pretty good for a green horse -- we hitched and drove her in the covered arena that day.

On Saturday, we harnessed our horses, ground drove them, and eventually hitched them when they were ready. Doc worked with Chuck and me to drive in the covered arena. Then Chuck and I took Sis down to the larger outdoor arena and drove her there. Sis kept offering to trot without my asking for the faster gait. I think this "go fast" mindset was a combination of insecurity, inexperience, and lack of strength. We humans wanted her to Juuuust Waaaaalk!

The horse-human disagreement about speed was never a real fight, but I didn't like it, because it required me to hang on Sissel's mouth far more than I wanted. Steve Wood was in the arena at the time, and I asked him for help.

Steve told Chuck, who was riding with me in our cart, to hold the lead rope of Sissel's rope halter in his hand. Whenever she got too strong, he was to bump Sissel on the nose by tugging on the halter rope. Steve explained that this "bump, bump" is a familiar signal with a clear meaning - Slow Down! Boy, that was a winner of an idea -- she got a lot softer and mindful, so I didn't have to hold her back constantly with pressure on the bit. We were all happier with that improvement.

Doc did trot her later in the day in the covered arena, and I got brave enough to try it myself, on my own without Doc. That sure was fun! Sissel likes to get moving, without being crazy about it. When we get more experience under our belts, I can see us both enjoying a good trot. But that will need to wait for a bit until she is stronger and more comfortable, and I am more experienced.

On Sunday, we harnessed and hitched our horses and braved an increasingly difficult obstacle course in the large arena. Doc, Steve, Theresa, Cathy and Ross progressively added more and more things to the arena to challenge us as drivers and the horses. Flapping signs, flags, and banners. Tight "L" turns to negotiate. Inner tubes to drive over. Creaky wading pools to go round. A diesel truck motor and air brakes to listen to. Barrels to serpentine around.

Even with all the distractions and challenges, everyone was doing really fine until Mother Nature decided to add a windy cold front and a brief but intense rainstorm to the party. That got the horses way more "up" than anything the humans did! There were several spooks right as the wind came up and the rain started. Thank goodness there was no thunder to wind things up even tighter.

Even Sissel got in a jump and a few strides of gallop when Onna, a young Friesian driven by SaYon, spooked and leaped toward her. Chuck bumped Sis with the halter, and I asked her to slow down with the bit. She came down immediately to a walk and calmed down really well. Everyone else did a good job of controlling their horses too.

After all the excitement, we all decided to go to the covered arena. Of course, the rain stopped right after that! After we dried off and warmed up, Theresa Burns fitted Sissel with a spare pair of her Easy Boots, so Sis could go on our Monday picnic drive without "ouching" on the gravel. The boots worked great -- I'll have to get Sis at least a pair for her front feet.

On Monday, we did a picnic drive and ride. It lasted, oh, about 2 hours I think. I rode Sissel on the trip, rather than drive her, because there was no one to go with me in the cart. I didn't feel comfortable driving alone --that green horse, green driver thing had me a little nervous! Chuck had to work that day, and Doc and Steve were riding with students Lydia and SaYon. There were a few tense moments with Onna, SaYon's Friesian, and Dakota, Lydia's mustang, but the horses and their drivers handled the excitement well with reassurance and coaching by Steve and Doc.

After we got back, I thought I would get Sissel loaded up and head for home about 3 p.m., but Doc said, "I have time to work with you and Sissel, if you want!"

Hah! Does the sun rise in the east?

*** to be continued ***

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I will second Doc's comment that we shared a Wonderful Day with Mary and her Donks. Mary has done such a great job exposing her donkies to all the activities and elements she could think of to make them good driving partners. She has worked with them in a deliberate and gentle way, and really used the information she learned at the Happ's Workshop with John Erskine and Doc in 2007. She obviously has spent many hours ground driving each donkey individually and had put each to a single cart as well.

It was great to be there on the first day she put Thistle and Tumbleweed together on the wagon, the culmination of much work and a big dream. I am grateful to have been a part of that day! Mary's determination to do her training the right way was evidenced by her use of a booklet she referred to as she worked to put the harness on correctly.

Mary has hitched the pair since and she emailed me this week to say she was thankful for the pictures we took that first day with the lines hooked correctly as Thistle had eaten the 'lines' page out of her booklet that afternoon! Gotta love those donkies.