Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Horse Tails

Training the Team

The time finally came, to begin training Cindy and Sandy to harness. As I had predicted when hubby bought them, they weren’t very tall. They were two perfect Belgians in every way, except height. To my way of thinking, shorter was better. They didn’t eat as much as the giants would. They didn’t require as big or heavy a harness, and they were easy to manage. Hubby was having other thoughts. He was going with ‘bigger is better’, and really wanted a team of giants. No matter what the decision, Cindy and Sandy needed to be educated. Not only did it increase their value when selling, it also meant the risk of mistreatment was a good deal lower as well. A horse that was already trained, didn’t need to be possibly trained with unnecessary harshness.
When training to saddle, I like to put a good deal of work into a horse, before anyone climbs aboard. As much as could possibly be taught from the ground, is. I want every possible advantage on my side. The horse has to be as used to the saddle as possible, reins, has hours and hours of spook-proofing and the most important of all, has a really solid whoa. If I say whoa, I want whoa.
Harness is the same, but different. When I’m up on a horse, I feel like I have options if a rein was to break, or some sort of frightening situation creates a problem with the horse, it shouldn’t become a terrifying one for the rider. That’s where the big whoa, and waiting for directions from the rider, comes into play. It’s not at all a good thing, if the horse makes the decisions. If a horse is being driven, and all you have to rely on are the reins and your voice, it’s best if the horse obeys, no matter what.
To that end, after the usual ground manners have been drilled in, to the point where they are habits that don’t take remembering or thinking about, the line driving is not an issue in any way at all, and the future driving horse has been spook-proofed, I begin to seriously drive, but without hitching to anything. Someone walks beside me, pulling as many noisy things as I can possibly think of. Empty plastic jugs with a few stones in them, tin cans strung together, bits and pieces of chain, I use it all. On top of all of that, I make sure to shuffle my feet and make as much noise as possible. From there, attention is turned to getting the horse used to a bit of weight on the tugs. With Cindy and Sandy, I had hubby pull back on the tugs, even as I had the horse move forward. Of course, we added some length to the tugs of the light, work harness. I certainly didn’t want to put hubby at risk, by having him too close to horse heels. If all went well for a few times in a row, I would move onto the next step, pulling a tire, first on its own, then bigger and heavier with added weight. When all levels have been passed with flying colours, the horse is introduced to the feeling of shafts against its sides. It’s only after I feel comfortable with how the horse has responded to all the steps that we actually hitch to the two-wheeled, training sulky.
Cindy and Sandy were trained to drive separately. They worked equally well hitched to the sulky, and could be driven anywhere, without even a bit of grief. It was time to work them as a pair. With hubby’s help, the girls were harnessed together and after a bit of leading them around until they got used to the idea, hubby took the lines. He drove them all over our huge backyard, then headed to the side driveway that cut through our bush to the front yard. Instead of following, I cut through between the buildings to meet him.
The sight of hubby walking behind those two, little mares was extremely pleasing to me. They were working incredibly well, and hubby appeared to be enjoying himself. All the hours of hard, patient work had paid off. Proud as could be, I walked over to ask hubby what he thought, and where he planned on driving them to next, when it happened. One minute, Cindy and Sandy were patiently standing there, all calm and cool as could be. The next, they were off like a shot, up the driveway at a full gallop, hubby skiing along behind, like it was some sort of stunt he did every day. Standing there, frozen in place as I watched him somehow stay erect when the girls took the corner onto the gravel road in front of our farm, then hung another hard left onto the dirt road that ran parallel to our yard. Snow billowed into the air as they swept around each corner, and to my amazement, hubby stayed erect as they towed him along like a trailer. Finally leaping into action when they disappeared behind our trees, I ran as fast as heavy, snowmobile boots and insulated coveralls would allow. I had all sorts of horrid visions in my head. So much horrible could happen. Cindy and Sandy could turn into our back driveway, hit the cable gate, and that would be it. They could also be halfway to the train tracks by now, hubby dragging along behind, or not.
As I ran around the far corner of our quonset building, I was already looking south towards the train tracks … nothing. I had seen straight off that no little Belgians and man were tangled in the cable, so that was a huge relief. Running to the gate, I could finally see what had happened. There they were, stuck in deep snow in the middle of the ditch! Flooded with relief, I began to laugh.
“Whatcha doing down there, taking a break?”
“Yeah,” shaking his head and chuckling, hubby was gathering the lines and planning their exit, “I figured if we got to the driveway, they’d for sure turn in, and then there’d be a bad wreck. This was a better option, and they seem calmed down now, too. As soon as I get them out of here, come walk by their heads, okay? We can’t quit now, right?”
“Right,” I agreed, because it was true. We didn’t want to quit on such a low note. The experience had to be a positive one.
I never even had the chance to take a step. Hubby brought them to the top of the road, then just like that, they were gone again! Headed back the way they’d just come. This time, I ran for the back of the quonset without waiting a second. I could’ve been an Olympic sprinter, and it wouldn’t have made a difference. They were already galloping up the roadway through our trees, like a runaway train! I have no idea how, but my hubby, the man who had never done so much, as even try skiing of any kind, was still upright and being towed along! They were headed straight towards the aisle that ran between our seven foot high, chain link stallion pen and another winter pen, when everything came to an abrupt, unexpected stop. Sandy went right, Cindy went left, and the corner of the stallion pen was the brake. Both young mares fell right there. Hubby slid right up to them, and somehow still stayed on his feet. As I reached them, Cindy and Sandy were getting to their feet. Somehow, some way, the impact seemed to bring the nonsense to a true end. I looked over the girls for possible injuries while hubby remained at the end of the lines. Despite the rodeo, they miraculously appeared fine, as did hubby and the harness. Honestly, I don’t know if he was that brave, that lucky, or simply wasn’t clear of the situation. But not only did hubby continue to drive them around, he did so without any further problems.
Those two little mares ended up going to a tiny, elderly man who wanted small drafts to have fun with. He and his tall grandson were the first ones who responded to our ad. We received one hundred calls afterwards. Apparently, small Belgians were desired by some, especially old folk wanting to relive the good old days.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB