The pony shuffle is underway at Willowtrail Farm, and we’re a little later this year than usual. The pony shuffle is the period when I move ponies on and off summer pasture to get their systems acclimated to green grass after a winter of hay and dry lot. Summer pasture is a four mile trailer ride from home, and since my trailer only accommodates three ponies at a time, it takes a few trips to give everyone access to green each day. We’re late this year because our trailer-hauling truck reached the end of its life unexpectedly, and replacing it was a time-consuming process because of our remote location and urgent job commitments.
While moving ponies on and off pasture at this time of year is a lot of work, I find that I really enjoy the pony shuffle because I get to handle every pony at least twice a day in a different situation than our winter routine. Going through gates and loading on and off a trailer are great opportunities for teaching or reinforcing ground manners, especially with green grass as a major distraction. And each year there are different ponies at different stages of experience with the pony shuffle. The old hands are such blessings; they know the routine and they provide a calm and knowledgeable presence that I take full advantage of to ease the routine for the younger ponies. This year for instance my Norwegian Fjord gelding Torrin, who is on his twelfth pony shuffle, is providing a positive example for my yearling colt Restar Lucky Joe.
Willowtrail Mountain Honey is a yearling, so this year is her first to trailer as a ‘grown-up.’ As a foal of course she traveled with her mother and she traveled loose-headed. As a ‘grown-up’ she has to stand tied, and she is traveling with Sleddale Rose Beauty, another twelve year veteran of the pony shuffle, and Willowtrail Wild Rose who’s on her sixth season. While Beauty and Rose provide Honey with good companionship, Honey’s experience is different from Lucky Joe’s because she knows the pony shuffle routine and its benefit: lots of green grass!
I always especially enjoy the second day of the pony shuffle because the ponies have the previous day’s experience very much in mind and are eager to stick their heads in a halter and get on the trailer. This eagerness is even evident when it’s time to come home after several hours of green grass; the insects this time of year make summer pasture a mixed blessing compared to home.
The greatest gift that my ponies give me during the pony shuffle is a desire to work with me. The veterans of course cooperate because they know the routine. But even the youngsters when given the opportunity show a similar attitude of cooperation. Lucky Joe, for instance, hadn’t been on a trailer since he arrived here in February after his long trip from Cumbria. I wasn’t sure what to expect from him which is why I set it up for him to travel with my old hand Torrin. While I wasn’t sure what to expect, I had high hopes because of the story I’d heard about another time Lucky Joe loaded on a trailer in a new situation. It was when he started his journey this direction, and he was to be loaded into the last narrow stall of a long slant-load trailer completely full with other equines who were of course strange to him. To load required him to step up and sideways at the same time, ending up parallel to the trailer opening, and he did it as though it was the most normal thing to do. The transporter even remarked how impressed he was that an eight month old would load so easily. Lucky Joe was similarly accommodating with us during his first experience with the pony shuffle, giving me the gift of cooperation that is such a pleasure to receive.
(c) Jenifer Morrissey, 2014
I tell lots of stories like this one in the book A Humbling Experience, available internationally by clicking here.