Monday, May 3, 2010

Making the Connection

The two harnesses were mismatched, as were the two horses. With Dixie (Belgian) and Lilly (Percheron) out with abscesses, I figured I'd put the two geldings together instead. Ted is a huge grey Percheron, around 20 years old, who has seen it all and goes right to work when you ask it of him. Yankee is a Belgian, about ten, who hasn't been handled in two years. Of course, I am a teamster with only five years of teamstering behind her... make that four, since I didn't drive at all last year. If it takes a lifetime to be a good teamster, I sure hope I was a pioneer who drove mules and not oxen in a past life...

Yankee tossed me around some upon bridling. We got the job done, but it's something he and I will have to work on. It sure made me feel dopey to be swinging around in the air up there. Yankee's harness is a fine, nearly new parade harness, covered in brass. Ted's is an ancient work harness, covered in grease. It took me four hours of scrubbing to get it as clean as it is today, and I still come away blackened every time I use it. Never the less, I savored it. Pushing conway buckles and pulling straps, making slight adjustments to each fitting to see the horses standing quietly, but most of all, standing back and sipping a cup of tea and just looking at them. I re-read Lynn Miller's books again (Work Horse Handbook/ Training Workhorses, Training Teamsters)and really attempted to be present, notice every detail that could cause a potential problem, and be good partners to my horses, and it really helped me appreciate every step of the process and of this subtle form of communication that is handling a team. Then it was hook up the lines, and here we go!

Ted is used to being on the left, and Yankee isn't used to anything, so there was quite a bit of head tossing and awkward bouncing off one another as we made our first few circles. We looped figure eights and whoa'd and backed and gee'd and haw'd... I have to admit, I'm still learning that part. I know "come" and "get"-- the head teamster at my old place preferred something a little different, and I can't decide if I'll be doing my wranglers an injustice by teaching them something different from the mainstream. At this point, if I'm not thinking, I'll call out, "Come, boys" instead of gee every time. I suppose I'll have to make a decision and stick with it. I have grown a manly, booming "whoa" however, since my old teams wouldn't respond to a high-pitched ladies voice, and these two seemed to understand right off.

After a few more turns, the boys were starting to get in rhythm. Ted wouldn't put up with Yankee's shenanigans, and would calmly whoa while Yankee danced. Yankee is the starter, who moves off quickly at a cluck, while Ted has to consider the possibilities before moving his big feet. We walked a half mile down the road and back, and the horses and I started to breathe.

At the barn, the snow was falling a little harder and the sky had turned black. I tied their lead ropes and started unhooking lines, moving slowly and consciously so as to re-train my body to its way of going.

Suddenly, all three of us jumped: a big snap echoed in the metal roof of the hay barn, and a ball of spark rolled down a metal roof brace! Did the breakers go? Did the lightbulbs burst? I stood momentarily stunned as thunder rattled the air, then grabbed the horses' leads. Two more snaps, and flashes of light lit up high in the eaves, under the metal roof! Rattled now, all three of us moved off to the shelter of the wooden barn. I radioed a warning, but my radio beeped and buzzed uselessly-- it was fried. We stood nervously together, but no more thunder echoed through the valley.

Later, I walked up to the office and explained the story to the boss. It was some kind of electrical discharge, I guessed, not lightning but certainly related to it. "Oh that's awful!" she said. "Someone needs to take a look at that. It must be fixed!" Fixed? I thought. We're going to try and fix a thunderstorm? I'll leave that up to her. I've got more important things on my mind-- how to practice with Yankee to help him bridle easier, remembering the difference between gee and haw, figuring out the proper length for my check straps... I sure do miss being surrounded by good teamsters who can offer me the Cliffs Notes version of the "lifetime of learning" I haven't gotten yet!