Happy New Year
I thought you all might enjoy reading the first part of my family New Year letter.
Well, here it is New Years Eve day again and another year has whizzed by. It seems that our activities here in Eastern Oregon are governed to a large extent by the seasons. We woke up to a minus eight degree temperature today. We already had 16 inches of snow on the ground. Last year at this time there was no snow and the weather was unseasonably warm. I was digging fence post holes and cutting juniper posts for our 180 foot square riding arena. That’s a story unto itself and pretty well explains horse ownership. Frequently, my horseshoeing clients would ask me if I owned a horse. My lofty answer was, “Do I appear to be insane?” The problem is that I have always been a sucker for little furry things and when I was offered a Fjord by our friend, Jeanie Bruce, in a brief moment of insanity I bought it. The Fjord is not a Scandinavian automobile but a Norwegian breed of miniature draft horse normally the size of a large pony called a cob. This one was half QTR horse and only four months old at the time---- he was soooo cute. Oregon has many wilderness areas and national trails and I rationalized that Joyce and I could back pack into the outback with our pony carrying in our tent, propane stove and fishing gear on his back when he grew up. I even had this vision of us on a trail, the sun filtering through the pine boughs and our little pack horse trailing obediently behind us loaded with our gear. How was I to know that he was going to turn into a 15 hand, 1300 pound alpha male? It wasn’t that he wasn’t friendly. He was too friendly and always wanted to be standing in the exact space where whoever was leading him was standing. Not only that, he wanted part of that person, usually me in his mouth. He didn’t much care which part. So I spent the next two years attempting to establish my position at the top of the herdal pecking order while threatening to send him to the livestock auction at least once a week. I even became a horse whisperer, one of those who has attained an almost spiritual relationship with horses. Two or three times a week I would whisper in his ear, if I could do it without him nipping me, “Alpo. Dr. Ross”. I’m digressing. So anyway, if you have a horse you have to have a place for him to live, so I built a 60 foot square paddock. It’s inhumane to keep a horse without a place to get out of the weather so I next built a barn stall for him. Who am I kidding? His ancestors were Viking horses in Norway. He would have been comfortable at the North Pole. He uses his stall occasionally for a latrine. (A latrine is defined as a place where one urinates standing up.) We had to have a dry place to keep his $200 a ton hay so I next constructed hay sheds that are attached to his stall which made it more into a small barn. I was so busy becoming a master carpenter/ranch hand/ stable mucker that we never had the opportunity to go near the mountains. Then we happened to walk by a booth at our summer Bonanza craft fair where our local carriage club was handing out information and answering questions about driving. We joined the club since most of the members were our age or older. (Old) I spent a good part of last year building a two wheeled road cart. I also had built a tow bar and pulled an inner tube, a tire and then a log; ground driving Gillie around our arena area which was open at the time. The cart was finished as spring arrived and we harnessed Gillie to it. After ground driving him from behind the cart and from the side of it I entered. He was fine and didn’t try to kill me or anything. Even so, I didn’t feel secure driving a green horse without an enclosed arena which is why I was hand digging 44 post holes and cutting down juniper trees last winter at this time. I also decided that in order to be a gentle driving horse Gillie should be well broke to ride. I figured it would be a cinch (A cowboy pun?) considering all the ground work we had done. It’s true, he did start out easy. Then one day in early spring daughter Makenzie and I took a ride onto BLM land not far from here. There was a large pile of aluminum irrigation pipe stacked off to the side of the trail and we walked our horses up to it. We had been standing there facing the pipe for a couple of minutes talking when without warning Gillie jumped six feet sideways. Completely thrown off guard I found myself hanging more horizontal than vertical, my right hand white knuckled around the horn and my right heel trying to find a purchase between Gillie’s ribs. Real graceful and buckaroo like. Kind of like the pictures I have seen of rock climbers. It would have been even more interesting had I been wearing spurs. Who would have thought that I would be breaking a green two year old gelding again at age 68? For the next year it was war. Gillie never bucked or reared but he would spook without warning at tree stumps and rocks; even his own shadow. I almost gave up hope that he would ever be a safe driving horse. Oddly enough when hooked to the cart he was fine and he only got better. You can’t just train a driving horse in the arena so I dragged driving trails around our five acres with the tractor and box scraper. Then I spent a month clearing an old skid trail of accumulated pine duff on BLM land behind our house and made a half mile track through the pines. We drove many happy hours on that trail before I concluded that we needed a hill to drive up and down and I extended the trail up a hill adding another half mile or more of road to our route. The more we drove the better Gillie got. He is light and responsive in the bridle and stops on a dime to voice command. He even stopped being so aggressive. Although he occasionally likes to lip a shirt sleeve he has become a pretty mellow fellow. I bought an expensive harness in September and was also tired of lugging my saddle from the house when I wanted to ride. Last summer I hand poured an 8x10 concrete slab. It was the first part of November before I got around to building an insulated tack room ( I had to think on it first) There is too much snow to drive right now so we have been doing ground exercises that I neglected last summer....
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