Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vermont, and more horse practice

It's time to plant the peas, which means we needed to pick up the plow we bought from farmer Joshua (same person who owned our team previously) in Vermont. It's a few hours away from the farm, so right after livestock chores we grabbed our packed breakfast and lunch and piled into the truck (with our dog Badger) to go get the equipment. 

You can't see it from the picture, but this was on our way home, the back of the truck stacked to the brim with a 12" sulky plow, and another walking plow that we bought while the team is getting in shape to pull the sulky. Joshua is a wealth of knowledge, and recommended that we work the girls up to the sulky plow. They're out of shape from a winter of laying about (aren't we all?) and need a little longer before we hitch them to the larger plow. So we will be rehabbing an old walking plow that will connect to the back of a fore cart to plant the peas and maybe some greens too.

It was a long trip out to Joshua but when we got home, we weren't quite done. We made it back just in time for afternoon livestock chores. Chores are a bit more lengthy this time of year, the greenhouse seedlings need water and we close to capacity with baby chickens, field pens and rabbits. Without a pause we unloaded the equipment (carefully and slowly) and then set to getting the horses hitched up. We only had a couple hours of daylight, but with the season fast approaching, we can't spare any time getting the horses (and us) ready for a season of work.

This time the harnessing actually went smoothly. The snaps, buckles, lines- all finding their correct locations without cursing or checking a diagram. We started with ground work. Ground work was going remarkably well, so we moved the team down to the house where we had unloaded the fore cart months ago, and it sat waiting for this day. And this is where-- well, it got a little less smooth.

Both of the dogs lost their minds in the house, howling and barking and carrying on at the sight of Sunny and Nataya coming across their front lawn. To their credit, the horses didn't bolt- but were clearly unnerved at the ruckus coming from the old farm house at their arrival.

note number 1: Do not assume that because the dogs have seen the ponies at varying distances for several months, they will be fine with the horses approaching closer to the house.

With some dancing and calming, and several trips around the front and back of the house (and intervening on the dogs antics) we finally got the team back in a stand, somewhat close to the fore cart. They were not in the best mind set, but settling down some.

note number 2: Don't be an idiot and try to hitch your fore cart on any kind of slope. It's a terrible idea. 

The fore cart is heavy, and we should have moved it to a different location. But we decided to hitch it where it was, with some brute force we managed to clip it on. I know better than to take short cuts with farming. Every time you do, it ends up creating more work. I had an old boss who used to say that "Lazy farmers work twice as hard" because you end up doing things over and over again if you don't do it right the first time. So the fact that the team was now rattled, because it was more difficult then it needed to be to hitch them, in a new location, after a long absence from cart work was definitely punishment enough.

I guess this is where things got even more tricky. Nataya was being stubborn, fussy from her life of leisure, and Sunny as usual, wanted to GO. We fumbled with the lines, putting too much tension on them when we wanted a Stand position (and thus had them continuously backing up and confused). Eventually though, we maneuvered to behind in the hay fields and got things moving smoother and in control.

note number 3: If the horses aren't obeying a command, it's you. They are trained, and you are not. Stop, assess and figure out what you can do differently. 

I wouldn't call it a rodeo, or out of control, but we did struggle a bit before we found the balance. But we found it and once we did, it felt solid. We need practice, and they need the work outs. But it was a huge step for us, and progress is happening, slowly.

note number 4: underworked ponies and thunder. use your head. 

By this time, the team had a good sweat lather on, and we were losing daylight. Plus there was rumbling over head, causing the dogs to kick in their racket again and some tap dancing from the girls. So we parked the fore cart (on a level spot for next hitching) and ground drove the now perfectly mellow team back across the farm to their hitching post. In some rain drops and dusky light, we finished up, exhausted. A 13 hour day now drawing to the close, and two plows closer to a good season. Horse farming isn't going to be easy. But it is going to make us more patient, careful, and learned people. And that's better than easy any day.

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