What raising critters and kids teaches me every day!
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Once we became official owners of our first horse, Belle, we knew we would have to get her a companion. Horses are a social species and don't do well alone. Besides, the plan was eventually for us each to have our own horse on the farm, so we might as well start by finding one for my youngest daughter, Molly, that would be a pasture mate to our aging mare. Molly was just about to turn 6 and loved the idea of horses, but so far hadn't expressed much interest in actually riding them. I didn't want to make a huge investment in a big horse that she may or may not ride in the long run. Plus, I wanted something small and accessible for her. A little Shetland Pony seemed like just the thing at this stage, so I set out to search for one using my favorite horse search site, Dreamhorse.com.
It turned out that friendly, trained small ponies were relatively hard to come by. Maybe it was because "friendly pony" is somewhat of an oxymoron. Many ponies can actually be quite nasty and the good ones - well, they tend to stay where they are. Luckily, I found a little pinto Shetland cross for sale that was being used as a carousel pony and in a petting zoo at birthday parties. After meeting him we decided he would be a good fit for our current situation. His name was Spirit and although he didn't know a whole lot, he seemed to have a sweet temperament and the price was right. So, on the day we were ready to move Belle to our new farm, my friend brought her truck and trailer to pick up both Belle and Spirit and we brought them to the farm in early June. When we loaded Spirit into the trailer next to Belle, he gave her a little nip on the leg, she kicked him and that was that - they had an understanding!
Spirit seemed to idolize Belle and followed her everywhere she went as they both became familiar and comfortable with their new setting. Belle accepted him in that kind of, "you sort of annoy me but you're all I've got" kind of way, but made it clear that the you-bite-me-I-bite-you game that Spirit thought was so much fun was out of the question. Molly was overjoyed when she first got to meet Spirit on the morning of her 6th birthday and had fun grooming him and being led around in the arena. But once she discovered riding the big horses, her interest in riding the pony waned. As sweet as he was, he was also a little mischievious and nippy, and his fast-paced, bouncy trot wasn't nearly as easy to ride as that of the longer legged, well mannered older horses. So by the end of the first summer, Spirit was mainly a pasture ornament and friend to Belle.
Over the next few years, we tried to find a role for Spirit in a number of different ways. He gave lead line rides to the little kids who came to our farm programs but was somewhat unpredictable and a little jumpy so eventually I found it easier to just use the big horses. I got the idea of training him to be a cart pony, but as we got busier with more animals, I found I just didn't have the time to commit to a regular training schedule so that never happend. He was and still is the right size for the littlest kids to groom, but being brushed and braided every now and then doesn't seem like much of a job. So, while he was a cute little guy who was fun to watch with the other horses as he tried to get them to play with him, I just wasn't sure what his real purpose on our farm was.
That was, until my neighbor and dear friend, Mindy rescued an older Clydesdale mare. Now Mindy is a gem. She's an amazing body worker, a true earth goddess and above all, an animal angel. She nurtures every animal that crosses her path better than anyone I know. In fact, if I was an animal, the only place I would rather live than at Briar Gate Farm is with Mindy. And I have been lucky enough over the past couple of years to have her as one of my main farm sitters when we travel and need someone to take care of all our critters. So when she got this older mare, Claudette, I asked her what she was going to do about a companion for her. She considered getting another horse but didn't feel like she wanted to make the longer-term commitment of having two. Naturally, I had just the solution for her - a cute, friendly little pony I knew that really needed a job!
I took Spirit down to Mindy's one afternoon and turned him out into the pasture with Claudette. Much like his initial meeting with Belle, he trotted right out to her, gave her a little nip, she turned and gave him a little kick, and from then on it was true love! Now Mindy comes to get Spirit every morning after Claudette has finished her morning feed and nap, and they spend the day together in her pasture. Then at the end of the day, Mindy brings Spirit back home where he joyfully reunites with the herd he has come to love here. Not only is this a great solution for Mindy's shorter-term companionship needs for Claudette, Spirit seems to have matured and is easier to catch and lead now that he is handled a little bit every day. It has truely been a win-win situation.