Horse Power

Even though I am swamped and busy, if I don’t write this now, it won’t get written, and I want to document my progress.

I am just back from attending a four day workshop on farming with draft horses at Fair Wind Farms in Brattleboro, Vermont. It was awesome.

Why did I take the class? Well, we now own two Percheron horses, with another on the way. The only experience we have with horses is the one day we spent with their previous owner. Smarter, more organized people would have taken the class first and gotten the horses next, but you know how it is. We are always doing too much too soon, and are barely able to keep our heads above water for that reason.

We were going to attend the class together, Frank and I, but he had work stuff that was just too urgent to manage the time away. The class schedule is really intense. It started on Monday at 2 in the afternoon and went until 7ish, including dinner. Then Tuesday and Wednesday were 7 am to 7 pm, all meals included. Thursday was 7 am to 2 pm, just breakfast and lunch. We live about 40 minutes away, so I decided to drive there and back, rather than stay in a hotel as the other participants did.

The Audi starter broke Monday morning, of course, so I had to drive the truck, which made it an expensive drive there and back each day. Ugh. Plus, that left Frank without wheels, so I ended up having to run errands for him in town, which added a lot of time to the end of my already long day.

Spending 12 hour days doing hard, physical labor, as well as driving, and doing some chores here on our farm as well? Oy. Let’s just say that I am still exhausted.

DSC05717.JPG On Monday, I was really nervous about attending by myself, since Frank has all of the knowledge about logging, not me. I’m a helper in that — I limb, I run the chipper, I offload when we use the sawmill. I didn’t know what a logging arch was, nor a forecart. I kept hearing “four cart” and being confused. I also only know a bit about horses. I grew up riding, but riding isn’t driving, and I’m a western girl. This crazy English stuff is weird.

I was also nervous about being the only woman there, but I’d been encouraged by the fact that one of the instructors was a woman. If she can do it, so can I. It turned out that there was another female participant, so I felt completely at ease. I got a lot of instruction in how to manage heavy harnesses and things that require more upper body strength than I have, which was very helpful.

Ground Driving I feel like this course gave me a really good foundation to now start working with our team. When I arrived, I didn’t really “get” the basic concepts of driving. I’ve said it before that I really need hands on training. I can’t learn it all from books. It just doesn’t work for me. But I got a lot of actual lines-in-hand driving time, and got better each time.

They also taught some exercises that helped dramatically that we can do here on our own farm, so though Frank wasn’t able to attend, I can show him. I admit that at first, I was very skeptical of their utility, and felt silly doing them. They were very useful, though. We “drove” a post and each other, and learned a lot of handling a long line before we got put behind a horse. I want to be sure to carve out some time to work with Frank on that here, so we can both improve some more.

I got some great ideas for barn layout from working in their barn. Doing chores with them was very useful, actually. I think having workshop participants able to help move electric fences and shovel manure gives them the time to actually teach the workshop. I can’t imagine finding four days of my time here at home to do anything extra unless I put people to work, too. The other workshop participants said the same thing. We all had to concentrate on just being there, not the thousand things we had to get done back on our own farm.

Driving in Vermont I like the way they manage their pastures, and I had serious pasture envy. They were very encouraging, though, about us being able to use our new horses to clear land and get pasture, which is why we got them in the first place, so that was great.

I managed to injure myself, sadly. I was turning out a horse into that gorgeous pasture on Wednesday evening. He got really excited at a new mare on the farm that we passed, and I thought I got him back under control. Then, though, I opened the gate to the new grazing area, after having moved my grip to my left hand. (That was my mistake. My left arm is clearly less strong.) He took off running, and I couldn’t stop him, and my hand got caught. I got dragged and a bit trampled, got knocked out for a wee bit. Nothing broken, though, except a little of what is left of my dignity. The Baileys introduced me to arnica, which worked wonders on the swelling in my hand, and probably with the swelling on the bump on my head. My shoulder still feels like it had an arm ripped out of it, but I’m still up and running, go me.

Showing off my new skills By Thursday, when Frank could attend, I could show off my skills pretty well. I think that when we work together, I will most likely be the one putting the horses where we want them, as Frank will probably still be the one felling trees and doing the heavy lifting. It’s what we do now, just with the truck and tractor. I’m feeling pretty confident that driving our horses is within my capability.

I also really enjoyed it. On my last drive, as I was getting off, I said, yup, we’ll take it. I’m so glad I felt that way! What if I’d spent that week learning how to drive the horses we already bought, and I hated it?! It was really hard work, and I’m absolutely exhausted, but I loved it. I can’t wait to hitch Prince up.

There are glitches, of course. We brought the harnesses that we just bought on Thursday, for a lesson in how to put them on. It turns out we were sent two western harnesses, not the New England ones that I thought I had ordered. I drove them on their horses in the harnesses, to see if perhaps I would like them anyway, but I didn’t. The New England harnesses have less slop, less movement side to side, and for maneuvering horses in the woods, I want as much control as I can have, especially because I am inexperienced.

So, damn. I have to figure out how to return them, which means I have to wait to hitch up Prince.

Pearl is starting to bag up, which makes sense because she is due today! My friend Cassie, whose foaling stall we are renting, says it is still a few days away. I am going to go see her today. Frank and our new farrier went up and saw her on Monday, took off her shoes. He says she is doing well, but I miss her. So does Prince! I took him for a long walk last night, and he’s so lonely and bored. I think he will really enjoy being worked.

I got to spend a bit of time with a fairly young colt. (8 weeks, maybe?) I am still very intimidated by the thought of a new baby horse, but less so than I was before this class. We are still mostly in over our head, but perhaps the tip of my nose is above water. Maybe.

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