Triangle B
Tennessee Walking Horses
Millarville, AB   Canada

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THE DRIVING LESSON

Occasionally people ask me why I’m not interested in driving my Tennessee Walking Horses. Since they are so delightfully smooth to ride and I can still climb on somehow, I’d rather enjoy their gaits from the saddle. Yes, I know that driving is a great discipline for both the horse and the driver, but from childhood I was taught that the best gait for a driving horse was a good strong trot, something that a Tennessee Walking Horse may or may not do for you. A strong trot got you wherever you were going fairly quickly without over tiring the horse and it kept the horse just busy enough to discourage it from thinking up mischief.

For a number of years I drove a good 10.3hh pony. I drove him because I outgrew him so fast that riding him was soon out of the question. Once I was old enough to manage my Dad’s horse I preferred to be over mounted in all terrain than to have to preplan the routes for my adventures in driving.

My first driving experience was a memorable one for everyone including Jimmy the pony.
It was a hot muggy afternoon on the farm in Saskatchewan; the kind that often ends with a violent rainless thunderstorm or a quick touchdown by a tornado. My younger sister was seven and I was nine. As such, we were considered old enough help Mom. We had kept our “yearling” sister amused most of the morning by taking her for wagon rides in the labyrinth of paths through the rows of beautiful mature trees sheltering the farmyard. Our ancient heavy duty red, (rusty), wagon had been a useful toy while my Dad was growing up on the same farm.

Mom, after a busy time in the garden all morning, decided to take an afternoon nap with her tired toddler. Unfortunately we older children quickly ran out of quiet indoor entertainment. Soon a particularly noisy bout of sibling rivalry, (more like a pecking order disagreement), got us chased angrily out of the house. And there we were with nothing to do…..

Aimlessly we wandered toward the barn. Along the way we spied the horses standing in the trees near the pond behind the barn. Dad’s older experienced horse was quite leery of our overtures of friendship but our yearling Shetland pony, Jimmy, was a willing captive.

Soon Jimmy stood happily in the cool sanctuary of the barn while we groomed him as only young girls can. His mane and tail of course, received the most attention with lovely knots and braids of every kind.

It came to us, as we stood back to admire our handiwork, that we could be very helpful to our father. Didn’t he have plans to harness break Jimmy? We had some time on our hands anyway, since Mom had promised us very warm backsides if we came anywhere near the house before supper. We decided that we would give it a try.

We’d already ridden our pony bareback around the yard with no problems. Dad had told us that the little snaffle bit we’d used on Jimmy for riding would be just fine for driving him too. Obediently Jimmy accepted the bit and shook his head while we wrestled his sharp little ears into what we hoped was the right place in the headstall.

High overhead, out of our reach, was a harness that Dad used on his horse. What a pity. Undaunted we scrambled upstairs to the loft where the dusty old remains of the draft horse era hung. They were just within our reach.

One after another those rat-chewed harnesses were dragged down to where Jimmy waited. Being more a toy than a horse, he waited patiently and stood quietly for each fitting. To our dismay each harness seemed bigger than the last! None of them came even close to fitting Jimmy’s tiny body.
We tried to hang all that heavy leather back up where it belonged, but after struggling up the stairs with it we ended up abandoning the whole works in a tangled heap. (We would hear about that later!).

Our next idea truly confirmed our farm heritage: “what about using binder/baler twine?”. This is to the farmer what duct tape is to the handyman! It was strong, plentiful and more importantly, hanging on a nail within our reach! Having watched our father harness his horse we had a fair idea of how to fashion a designer twine harness. We’d also had first hand harness-making experience before Jimmy arrived, using the pail-fed calves as models. This was also the REASON for Jimmy’s arrival.

Jimmy, innocent that he was, stood patiently for it all. Between fittings he wandered about checking all the mangers and pails in the barn for morsels of grain. The finished result was a little on the plain side, no brass fittings or bells, but that new twine harness contrasted well with Jimmy’s shiny black coat. In keeping with the twine theme we discarded the idea of unraveling the leather lines from the mess up in the loft. Pieces of twine tied together made nice long reins.

Now for the groundwork. We carefully led, then drove Jimmy down the aisle in the barn as we’d seen Dad do with his horse. Jimmy was perfect! This was starting to look easy. Soon we realized that we’d overlooked having something for him to pull. Leaving Jimmy to continue his perusal of the barn’s contents, we poked around the yard until we saw it: the big old wagon we’d hauled our minor sibling around in just that morning.

With my little milking stool perched in the box, the wagon looked just like the buckboards we’d seen on “Bonanza”, a popular television western. We tied the “traces” to the “singletree”, (tongue), of the wagon and led Jimmy around the barnyard. He looked so proud that we just had to dress him up some more, like the Queen’s horses we’d seen on TV. Chicken feathers looked dumb but our baby sister’s ball-cage toy looked great and jingled too! We put it between Jimmy’s ears, tied on, of course, with twine. What a good looking outfit we’d put together! We danced around with glee.

Mom saw us getting along for a change and took a picture of us in the big yard near the house. Dad, coming in from the field, chuckled at the sight of us then went to the barn to milk. After a quick cookie and a glass of lemonade on the front step of the house, we got back to business.

Being the eldest and the official risk taker, I climbed up on the milking stool, shook the reins and clucked. Jimmy moved tentatively forward. He didn’t mind having the wagon rattling along behind him but he didn’t like having the wagon’s tongue ride up on him when he slowed his pace.

After I’d driven once around the big yard my sister appeared at my side demanding a turn. The squabbling started. I got down to argue. In a flash she scrambled aboard. “YAHH!” Jimmy leaped forward. The wagon lurched wildly, the milking stool rocked and the driver hauled back on the reins, “WHOAA!” Jimmy stopped immediately…and got the wagon tongue jammed between his hind legs. Poor Jimmy! He bolted.

I watched, horrified, as the pony raced into the barnyard, narrowly missing the gatepost with the wagon. The outfit rattled into the barn at a dead run. A series of crashes and howls ensued. Jimmy, almost airborne now, flashed out the open back door of the barn. The old wagon, empty now, was banging along on its side. Jimmy got rid of that too when it hit the bottom of the stone ramp that led in and out of the barn.

By the time I’d retrieved Jimmy from his hiding place in the trees the crazy driver had disappeared in tearful disgrace. Dad informed me that my treasured milking stool was now kindling. With his jack knife he cut the remaining harness off the pony. Then he sternly informed me that there would be, “NO MORE DRIVING”, until he said so. He was quite irritated and he hadn’t seen the mess upstairs in the loft yet.

Eventually Dad remodeled an old harness from the loft to fit Jimmy. He made us a pony sized stoneboat, a sleigh, and a chariot. He taught us to drive Jimmy safely the following winter after the pony had been thoroughly educated.

A similar incident occurred a few months later with the same driver and the stoneboat so we were banned from using it forever. Dad used it when he drove Jimmy and we were far away!
Soon Dad learned to keep the barn doors closed when we were at large with the horses for Jimmy was not the last runaway to head for the barn!

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