Early in my Fell Pony career, a fellow breed enthusiast loaned me a book that she had found while visiting England. The Last Horsemen was particularly interesting to me because it was about a family that uses draft animal power on their farm, Clydesdale horses in particular. One lesson from the book stood out above all others: each day’s work revolved around the horses, even though the cash crops of the farm didn’t include the horses at all. My memory is that the cash crops of the farm were turnips and other feed crops, yet each day was structured around using the horses to do the work of the farm. This was a novel idea to me; for most of my adult life up to that time, my days had been structured around a 9-to-5-type job and vacations therefrom. To focus one’s day around motive power instead of money-making seemed radical. A dozen years into working ponies in harness, I see the logic completely, yet putting the concept into practice is still a challenge for me.
This year has been especially challenging. For the first time since I began using my ponies commercially, we have not had a horse-logging job. All of our clients have pulled back in their expenditures, and horse-logging is the most expensive of the services we offer, so it’s hardly surprising. The result is that I haven’t had pressure from the business to work my ponies, and they haven’t gotten worked on the farm either because the business is taking most of my time. Yet working my ponies provides me with so much satisfaction that the lesson from The Last Horsemen has been increasingly on my mind. How can I organize my days around using the ponies, even though money-making activities take me away from them?
I know I’m not alone in this dilemma because I get emails a couple of times a year from people who want to put their ponies to work. Recently I got an email from a friend who bought one of my ponies, and she too was frustrated by some logistics that were keeping her from putting him to work as she’d planned. While I don’t think she’s read The Last Horsemen, she certainly put its lesson to use this past week. She harnessed her pony and ground-drove him out to pick up trash along the highway. The pony carried the plastic bags of trash and quickly learned the routine of walking, stopping, standing while his owner picked up discarded beer cans and put them in his bags, then going on to the next bit of trash.
My most recent implementation of the lesson from The Last Horsemen has been to use my ponies for commuting. We’re working three-quarters of a mile from home, and there is grazing available at the work end of the commute. In the morning, I load my portable electric fence corral on my husband’s work truck along with several buckets of water. Then when it’s time for me to leave for work, I just have to jump on a pony and go. While I could use a single pony for commuting, there’s enough grazing for three, so I’ve been riding one and ponying two. While ponying doesn’t provide as much handling as the ponies could use, at least it’s something. By the second day, the ponies knew the routine and we clopped down the road with purpose, me and my troika. I’ve been quite pleased with myself for organizing my non-pony work day around using my ponies.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011