Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pony Power!

We took Gemini out for 2 drives this weekend. Even though he's middle-aged, he still has the potential to have an active working life well into his 20's....assuming we can get him in shape! Just like any athlete or manual laborer, being fit goes a long way towards reaching top physical performance. We've been driving him about 2 or 3 miles, and he's not really breaking a sweat. We're also working on getting him to keep his mind on his job and not the scary roadside distractions like flagging tape, mailboxes, plastic bags, sheep, and most terrifying of all, the giant hog down the road. He's getting much better, and so are we. The more we work with him, the more everyone's confidence level goes up, and we can look ahead to fun stuff like driving him all the way to Everson and going through the coffee stand drive-thru.
Here's a peek at what Gemini's career might have been if we was alive 100 years ago - a Pit Pony. Small ponies, especially Shetlands, were used to haul coal tubs from the rock face to the larger tunnels. Children and women used to do the work, but labor laws changed in 1842, and ponies took over the work. They were stabled underground, fed underground, and in most cases only went 'topside' for an annual 2-week holiday. They worked an 8-hour day, and were reportedly well-cared for.
Shetland ponies are actually one of the strongest equines for it's size, even compared to the large draft breeds. It can pull up to 2-3 times its weight where some draft breeds can only manage half that. A large-ish Shetland can also carry a small rider. There are 2 main "styles" of Shetland pony, the old-fashioned stocky drafty British type, and the sleeker, lighter, more horse-shaped American type. We chose Gemini because his conformation looked a lot like a miniature draft horse, as opposed to a "dwarfy" mini-horse or "racy" riding pony.

Here's the shiny "roadster" coming up on our shopping list this summer. It's called a forecart because it comes before the cart (or other farm implement) and gives the farmer a place to sit and steer the horse from. This is the one piece of equipment that will let us put Gemini to some much-needed work around Seven Trees. The beauty above is made by the Pioneer company and comes in a variety of sizes. It's also tricked-out to serve as a road cart when it isn't pulling anything, complete with brakes, lights, cargo tray, etc. if you're willing to pay for all the options. There is a hitch on the backside that enables us to hook up pretty much anything that an ATV or riding mower can pull.

Here is a larger horse harnessed to a forecart and pulling some kind of 2-wheeled cart. We often use the scythe to cut areas outside the critters' grazing area, and a cart like this would be handy for bringing the cut grass back to the barnyard for them to eat.

A lovely team of Belgians harnessed to a forecart which is pulling a blade. This setup could also be used for road-grading. Gemini isn't big-enough to do this kind of work, but you can see how handy the forecart is for a variety of chores.

The funky thing above is called a chain harrow. It can be used to smooth out rough garden soil, help seeds get down to dirt level when overseeding an established pasture, and our favorite - breaking up cow pies out in the grazing area. Gemini should have no trouble pulling this along.

Here's another dandy farm implement - a manure spreader. Most of the farms around here use a giant motorized one, or spray a liquid slurry on their fields. This itty-bitty one is just the right size for us, and Gemini. As it rolls over the ground, gears in the hopper turn, breaking up manure and spreading it evenly over the ground so it can fertilize the grass. Being able to utilize pony power and manure this way will help us close the loop of inputs and expenses while helping grow more/better food for the critters.

Can't have a cart without the harness. The diagram above is of a driving harness. We have a simple version of that now that we use for light driving. On smooth surfaces without much weight, this is a cheaper way to go. It's crucial to adjust & fit all the little straps and buckles just right so that Gemini can work comfortably and safely. We'll probably invest in a fancier parade style driving harness at some point, just because he will look so cute in it!
This is the kind of harness we'll need to do farm chores with Gemini. It's called a draft, work, or pulling harness. For light work, such as horse show competition where light carts are used, a harness needs only a breastcollar. It can only be used for lighter hauling, since it places the weight of the load on the sternum of the horse and the nearby windpipe. This is not the heaviest skeletal area; also heavy loads can constrict the windpipe and reduce a horse's air supply.
By contrast, the collar and hames harness places the weight of the load onto the horses shoulders, and without any restriction on the air supply. For heavy hauling, the harness must include a horse collar to allow the animal to use its full weight and strength.
Finding pony-sized working harness ready-made is nearly impossible, so we'll be looking for harness-makers at an up-coming draft show in our area. The Washington Draft Horse and Mule Extravaganza is set for August 31 - September 3 during the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe.

Here's poor Gemini, after a long cart drive, putting up with a human on his back. He needs some work, but it won't take much to get him saddle-trained. We won't be able to ride him more than for training puropses, but it will be nice to have him ready in case visiting kids want to hop on.
And below is Gemini in cart mode. The noise in the beginning of this clip is a tractor that just passed him. He's getting used to all kinds of road traffic, and it didn't faze him a bit.

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