Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Value of a Work Horse

I have to begin with saying that I love my horse, Sunset. No, I am not 9 years old and believe that my pony wants to do everything it can to please me because it loves me. Removing that, Sunset is about as close to the perfect horse I could ever want to deal with, ride, drive, what ever.

Sunset Beach is a 10 year old Dutch Warmblood mare who I bought as a yearling from a breeder in California and had her shipped here to my farm in Alabama. From the minute she got off the van she impressed me with her cool, calm, and reasonable nature. She had just spent a full week in a tiny box stall in a semi, zigzagging across the country, stepped off the ramp and gave a look around and then proceeded to walk calmly another several hundred yards across an open field to her new pasture without an ounce of frolic, the other horses running madly around their fields whinnying and bucking.

She is from the old school line of the Dutch breed, the Gelderlander, the Basis horse, used in the agricultural areas, known for their work ethic, power, and steadiness. But they are not dull. Sunset is no Jaguar, but more of a cross between the Hum-ve and a Rolls Royce. Sunset is a bright chestnut with a lot of chrome, built square and wide, has a block shaped face, and grows a fuzzy, feathery legged coat long before the snow hits here once a decade. And she has one blue eye.

When I began her training I first taught her to lunge with a bit of desensitization/sacking out stuff, then ground drove with harness. I then had someone start her in a carriage for a month. Sunset took to driving as though it was we who were so stupid to not know that that program was already installed. I don't even remember how I began riding her. There was no period where she was being broke. She just went to work. Not that she began with flying lead changes but her learning curve was a very steady upward climb, and continues. She has never given me objection to do anything I have asked of her, never bucked, reared, or so much as made a face at me. She just does her job. That is the highest value to me that she, or any horse, could have.

I think about my great grandfather, and both of my grandfathers, who all dealt with horses and mules on a daily basis, for farming , transportation, and lastly recreation. Imagine my great grandfather dragging my great grandmother in a wagon from North Carolina to Tennessee with a horse he had to lunge to get the bucks out of everyday before hitching to and rolling on. Then too, my grandfather who traded horses and mules for farming/plowing had to have those animals that were able to start their daily work without having to go thru a dressage typical warm up to do their jobs. Calvary units did not begin their charge into battle with a few hours of trot transitions and shoulder in.

I think we as riders in a limited environment forget that horses were originally domesticated to work for us, and that meant traveling, carrying, and with no nonsense. The horses that got with this program were highly valued and the ones that didn't most likely became stew.

Because our world is mostly bound by fences we now tend to keep our horses traveling in precise circles, seeing little, cloistered, creating unsafe horses for doing anything but this. We have begun breeding dramatic movers for these confines, disregarding the qualities that defined and made possible things like the settling of America, things like solid temperaments and brains. Riding horses with this fine way of moving is great fun but sad for it to become an end all, with both rider and horse forgetting that all that discipline in the circle has purpose for safer traveling and work. We have become hostages to white railed arenas.

Yesterday I did ride. Time being tight I chose the one that I knew would just get going with no issues. It was freezing and I wore an enormous camo insulated jump suit over my riding pants and boots. I climbed on Sunset, who has maybe been ridden 3 or 4 times in the last two months, walked out to where the ground was not so hard frozen, and even tho this mare was fresh, she immediately went to work right where we had left off. With my extended outer wear it would have only taken a tiny hiccup to have me slide right off but again, my girl was great. Did I say I love this horse?

Perhaps because of my background as a kid galloping evil ponies, later eventing, and then more recently doing combined driving events with Sunset I remember the joy and freedom of just going somewhere, sometimes quite fast. I also recognize that the horses that I regularly take out on long drives or trail rides are always happier and safer. Sunset was born with an excellent brain but others who are more flighty can greatly improve with just being allowed to go somewhere with a purpose. I encourage all to try it. Ride on and happy trails.

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