Goodbye 2017!

It seems like 2017 just started and yet here we are looking at 2018. Time does fly when you’re having fun! Though to be honest I can’t really remember what all happened this year. I’ll need to share some photos to jog my memory.

The biggest thing that happened for my little family is my two boys took Drivers Ed and started their journey behind the wheel. I did most of the driving with them all spring, summer and fall and they are now ready to get their drivers license!! They go in on January 8th. Sigh. It’s amazing how fast they grow up…

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Our year kicked off with Bonnie becoming laminitic after getting some grass that she found buried in the snow.

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This morphed into an acute laminitic attack after she was vaccinated in March.

Bonnie in her styrofoam boots. - www.theessentialhorse.com

She really struggled all spring and summer. I read and researched and watched videos and aggressively trimmed her feet to keep her comfortable. I adjusted her diet and barely slept. I tried several different kinds of boots to help her be more mobile and did more reading and more research. I spent $100’s of dollars having all her feed tested, even my pastures at different times of day in with different heat indexes. I learned more and adjusted her diet some more. I talked with my vet and a well respected natural vet. I talked with feed specialists and equine nutritionists and did more reading and more research. I adjusted her diet. Every time I adjusted her diet I did it slowly and watched her like a hawk. Through all of this Bonnie stayed sweet and kind. She became a true pocket pony and enjoyed my company… good thing since I was out there at all hours of the day and night!

As I worried over Bonnie and had several sleepless nights, I also was able to get Sky going in the cart again! I followed the steps I outline in my book and started at the beginning… and in no time she was pulling a cart again!

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I found a unicorn in my pasture…

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We went hiking!

Bonnie started doing better and better! She worked up to being out in the pasture with her muzzle on for a few hours a day.

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I started using Sure Foot Pads® on all the ponies. Bonnie really loves them. Sky doesn’t love them as much but will stand on them for me. Zorro really loves them too!

On August 21st there was a TOTAL ECLIPSE! My little family drove a couple hundred miles south so we could experience the eclipse in it’s entirety. At first I didn’t want to go, but I am so glad I did! (Though the drive down took 2 hours longer than it should have and the drive home took 4 hours longer than it should have do to traffic!)

Zorro did this:

and continues to be my sweet baby boy.

I continued to purchase parts of the Comfy Fit Harness!! Now all I need is the padded breeching!

Zorro wore this:

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We dressed up for fall!

I painted and finished my sled attachment!

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And I’ve been learning more about fitting a buggy collar and hames. It’s not an easy thing to do! I am saving up to upgrade my collar to one that fits Sky better.

Then I received my suspension kit from Patty’s Pony Place!!! Whoot whoot!!

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We had a wonderful, simple Christmas full of family and good food. The ponies each got a peppermint cookie for Christmas and I hand them out carefully here and there. I love to watch them enjoy them and they smell so good afterwards!

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I have a new hobby! I am making felt flowers. I love to dress up my ponies (in case you couldn’t tell) and wanted to have several flower garlands with different colored flowers. I couldn’t afford to buy all the ones I wanted so I figured I would just start making my own!! So far I am really enjoying it. And I’ve started to offer them for sale!

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I also make bridle crowns…

2017 was a fun year, even though there were some stressful times with pony health, but I am looking forward to 2018!

I wish you all a Happy New Year full of lots of love, laughter, joy and hope!

My Tiny Horse Track in the Winter

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I thought I would do an update of my tiny track and share how it’s working this winter.

I still love it. The ponies are moving around all the time. Right now they are not using the entire track because one side of it is a big, deep snow drift. Once in a while they will try to come down that side and I cringe the whole time they are floundering through it. It wasn’t so bad when the drift was soft but now it’s hard as a rock!

I feed at the opposite side of the track from the water so they have to walk a bit to get a drink. They all look very healthy and I have to fill the trough every 4-5 days which is about how often I filled it this summer so they are drinking enough. I have loose salt and magnesium in the shed so they have access to that at all times. Because it’s so cold and windy the chickens spend most of their days in the horse shed and then go back into their coop at night. Then the ponies use the shed at night… they are usually covered with sawdust in the mornings so I know they are laying down in there. They also lounge around in front of the shed when the sun is shining.

I put wind breaks around the track so they would have something to back up to when the wind really gets to blowing. If it’s 4 degrees out and the wind comes up to about 30 mph then it quickly drops to minus 10, 15 or even 20 degrees. They have two run in shed options but always choose to stand out in it. This morning the wind was blowing so much snow around that I couldn’t see 5 feet in front of me and I found them backed up to the hay stack in the far shelter. They typically don’t like that one when the wind is blowing because the roof is made up of tarps and they flap around a bit. But today they made an exception!!

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This is how they looked after I brought them over to the grain area so they could have their supplements. Even standing under the shelter backed up to the hay they were quite frosty!

It’s amazing to me how the morning can be so windy, freezing and snowy and then the afternoon is bright blue skies and beautiful! (The wind is blowing a bit so it is FREEZING out there!)

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This was in the afternoon! From the above photos to this!

All three of the ponies will get a bee in their bonnets and take off racing around and around the track. I love it when they do this! Bonnie and Zorro play with each other, chasing and bucking and rearing up to play bite. Sky watches them a bit annoyed but will run around the track on her quite a bit. I love watching them exercise in this way!

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Here is a little video of my track! There isn’t any music, just the sound of my feet in the snow and the wind, for those of you that read this while at work 😉

 

How do I use my driving whip?

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How do I use my driving whip? And how do I hold it? I hear this question a lot! Because many of us started driving after riding we are often at a loss for how and when to properly use a driving whip. Dressage riders may be a bit more versed in the use of a whip as they are required to carry one when riding to use as an extension of their leg. In driving that is exactly what the whip is for. It’s to be used as you would use your leg when riding.

The whip is NOT to be used to make the horse go. You can use it lightly to encourage forward movement once in a while, but it’s primary use is to support the horse when turning, to help them stay straight in their bodies when traveling and to move shoulders as well as hips over.  (When using lightly for forward movement do not whip the horse with it, instead tap lightly on the side of the horse’s rump, not on the top of their rump.)

Some people drive one handed, holding the reins in either their right or left hand, leaving the other hand free to manage the whip. I was never taught to drive this way, though I sometimes do when I am juggling my camera and my reins and my whip as I was doing today. I was taught to drive two-handed and to hold my whip in my right hand with my rein. I am very careful when applying my whip, so I don’t jerk or interfere with my horse’s mouth.

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You can find more photos of how to hold the reins and the whip on page 72 of my book.

This leads me to the biggest no no… smacking the horse in the rump with both reins to encourage a horse to go forward. This is a HUGE NO NO!!! No self respecting driver would ever smack their horse in the rump with the reins to encourage forward movement. This is something mainly done in the movies and once in a while I will see it done in racing. (I recently saw a video of some people skijor racing. They were driving their own horses and wildly smacking their horses in the butts as they raced around the track. Of course this did not actually do anything to make their horses run faster, they were doing that all on their own. It was purely for show and because we has humans seem to think we have to smack, whip and kick our horses to run faster when actually they will run just fine if we sit nice and stay out their way…)

When you use a longer and longer rope (or rein) you gain leverage. I’ve never understood why people would want to work with their horses online with a short rope. All this does is cause them to step on you because they don’t have enough room and gives the horse all the leverage, allowing them to use their power against you, if they so choose. Keep this in mind when you are driving your horse. Our long driving lines give us a lot of leverage on their mouths. When you use the ends of your reins to smack your horse in the butt to get them to go forward that movement only gets bigger and bigger as it travels down the lines to the mouth. Try it. Hold the bit in your hand and have someone pretend to smack the butt of the horse. You can feel all that energy travel down the lines and SMACK the horse in the mouth. Nice. It’s simple, just don’t do that.

Your whip should be long enough to reach forward and touch the horse’s shoulder. You don’t need the entire length to be the whip stock, you can include your lash in that length. When you need your horse to move it’s shoulders over you can reach forward and lightly touch the horse on the shoulder. When you want the horse to move it’s hind end over you can lightly touch the horse on the side of the rump.

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To support turning in the cart you can lay the whip along the side of the horse’s rump. Driving horses have to use their shoulders to push the shafts over when turning sharply. This means that they have to do a sideways movement to turn the cart.

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As for forward movement, you train that when ground driving. Your horse should be responsive to “walk”, “trot”, and “canter” voice commands. These can be taught in the round pen or when doing your online work. They should also completely understand “whoa”. When I want my horse to stop moving I say “whao” when I want my horse to slow down I say “easy”. Whoa is always used to STOP. Do not mix it up with slowing down.

When I’m harnessing and hitching to the cart or when I want my horse to stand quietly in cart I will tell her to “stand”. Some horses need to be told they can stand quietly so they aren’t constantly reacting to your movements. Once I tell Sky to stand I can exit my cart, visit with the neighbors or just sit and take some photos while she stands quietly, sometimes taking a little nap if the visit takes more than 5 minutes. In this way she knows I don’t need her right now.

When turning I say “come around” when I want to turn around and go the other direction. I say “come over” when I need her to turn a little bit. She knows the difference between the two and will turn with just my voice, no need of reins, when she is calm and connected.

I hope this clears up the questions about what the whip is for! Driving horses is an art as is using the whip. Use it sparingly and you will have a very responsive driving horse!

Always Learning

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I love learning, reading, researching. I do it all the time. It drives my family crazy. I’m sure my handsome hubby would love all the reading, researching and learning if I was busy learning how to be a millionaire from home or how to be a master chef… BUT I am busy learning about – you guessed it –  horses!

Two things I won’t give up… keeping my feeding program as natural as possible and listening to my horses and not just science. Sometimes the feed companies, that have put so much time and money into ‘researching’ their feeds, are still not making a feed that agrees with my horses. So I won’t feed it. I have learned what my ponies are sensitive to over the last year and a half, just as I spent years figuring out what Billy was sensitive to. This involves adding one thing at a time so I can study the effects of it on my horse(s). I start with my base, which is a grass hay, tested so I know exactly what is and isn’t in it, then I add one thing at a time to my horse’s hard feed. I wait at least 3-4 weeks before adding something new. Sometimes I have to stop feeding the added ingredient before the 3 weeks are up based on how they respond. Especially Bonnie as she is super sensitive to many different things. She doesn’t filter chemicals and additives well, whether that is because of her IR or as a result of it, I’m not sure. All I know is she is a very good barometer for what is natural and what isn’t.

I have lots of people ask me what and how to feed their horses. Of course I am not a vet nor am I an official equine nutritionist, though sometimes I feel like I’ve done enough research to be one, so when I give my opinion, it’s just that, my opinion.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the last year.

If you want to offer your horses access to hay 24/7 make sure it’s GRASS hay tested, low sugar/low starch. Offering grass/alfalfa hay 24/7 just seems to make them super fat. I understand that alfalfa will often be lower in sugar than grass hay, but it’s still a bit rich to be fed 24/7 to very easy keepers and ponies. I have been reading a lot about keeping “native ponies” and follow a wonderful group on Facebook called “Equine NO Sharing Group.” The gal that runs that group is busy doing lots of research about feeding metabolic horses and ponies. I’m amazed by what she has shared and learned. You do have to be invited to be in that group, but her articles are really good.

One thing about native type ponies is that they have evolved over the years to be VERY efficient. Typically they live in areas where the grass is sparse and they have to browse the shrubs, trees and bunch grasses. Winters can be hard on them as they have work very hard digging down to find their food. They will get thin during the winter which sets up their bodies very well for spring when everything starts to blossom and grow again. HERE is one article I read about this. HERE is another.

Miniature horses are a man made height breed of horse. However they are bred from Shetland pony stock and the Shetland pony is one of the most efficient ponies out there!

It’s a tricky balance… The thing people get hung up on is this idea that minis and ponies can get fat on air. I know this is just a turn of phrase and not a fact, but too many people take that to heart and basically starve their ponies. All equines are meant to graze. Their bodies were designed to browse 18-20 hours a day. We must keep this in mind when feeding our easy keepers. A low quality hay (that isn’t moldy or dusty!) is the key. You really can’t help your little guys manage their weight if you are feeding a high quality hay. You can absolutely offer handful or half a flake of alfalfa hay once or twice a day, but I wouldn’t free feed it.

I am always adjusting the amount of hard feed my minis get. In the winter I lower it some and completely quit feeding any fats at all. They get a little bit in the 2 Tablespoons of Crypto but not enough to alter their natural response to it. Because of Bonnie’s IR I can not quit feeding the minerals. She needs them to balance out the high iron in our hay or she will get footie/laminitic. And she needs her meds (Thyro-L) every day as well. My horses get their hard feeds in the morning as that is when their blood sugar can be the highest.

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I give them some hay spread out over the day. Depending on how bad the weather is they will get about a flake each, loose in the mornings, then I put a flake or two in their slow feed nets for the night. When I feed the loose hay I spread it around the track in small piles which encourages them to move around and eat instead of just standing in knee deep hay. This also helps with hay waste as they will not poop or pee in it if there is just enough for them to snack on in each pile. Typically a pile is 1/2 a flake or a 1/4 of a flake. If the wind is blowing I will have to make the piles a bit bigger or all the hay will just blow away. If it’s blowing more than 30 mph then I put the hay in the nets or they are chasing it across the pen. So it’s important to be flexible. I also don’t feed my horses at the same time every day. I change it up a bit. I don’t want them to get upset if I can’t show up at a certain time.

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I like to watch them out the window. They will be wandering around browsing on the track. They will look at the house, but continue to do their own thing until they hear a door close. If it’s my husband or one of my boys that comes out, they ignore them and continue browsing. If it’s me that shows up they come running!

I definitely don’t know everything and hope I never do. I do know when things are working for my horses and when things aren’t. The biggest thing to remember, when you are changing up your feed program, take it down the bare minimum and add in supplements one at a time. Carefully read the ingredients so you aren’t doubling up on anything and give the supplement time to work before adding anything else. One week is not long enough unless your horse is having adverse reactions to it. You must stick with it for at least three weeks to a month to know if anything is going to change.

Suspension Kit!!!

After receiving my new suspension kit I was away for 5 days babysitting for some friends of ours. So Handsome Hubby kindly put it together and installed it on my cart while I was away. I was so so excited to give it a try and finally I had a day at home and the sun was even shining! It was cold but so so worth it.

Here we go!

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The suspension kit comes with the little steps that you see on the sides there. It has a wagon style spring on each wheel. So the wheels move over the ground nearly independently. This makes for an extremely smooth ride for both of us! Here is a little bit about the kit straight from Patty’s finger tips:

Kelly’s “simplex” suspension is a “two leaf, quarter elliptical spring suspension”. It is designed so the the wheel goes up and back at the same time. With this the wheel has more time to travel over the humps and hollows and in extreme terrain, the spring action also causes the driver to also go up and back, as opposed to up and forward, as is the case with most EE carts. This way, the cart will catch you, if you will, keeping you in the cart, as opposed to throwing you up and forward out of the cart.

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The ride was amazing. Sky was on fire, racing around like a run away and yet my ride was smooth and I NEVER felt like I was going to bounce out. I watched the shafts like a hawk and am pleased to report that the shafts stayed nearly level the entire time. No matter how many bumps we hit they never jammed into Sky or knocked her shoulders around.

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The balance is perfect, allowing the ends of the shafts to float in the shaft loops. The kit does add a bit of weight to the cart, but Sky didn’t seem to mind!

I also got a set of footman’s loops from Patty as well. These slide onto the shafts and then adjust where ever I want them to be. I may slide them forward a bit more so I don’t have to wrap the breeching, but they worked beautifully! The breeching never loosened and then smacked Sky in the butt which I was very grateful for when she was racing around, flying over the bumps and through the ditches.

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Here is a video I put together! You’ll see how easily the cart handles the bumps and uneven ground. Also I felt that Sky could corner so much better. I’m not sure why, but the cart now corners smoother.

So short story… If you are wondering whether you need a different suspension, get one from Patty’s Pony Place and you will NOT be disappointed!!! I am so excited about the difference this has made for both of us. Our driving experience will be so much better now!! I don’t have any reserves about driving in our field or over rough ground. Sky will be able to handle it without any problems now. I am still looking forward to the day I can order a Cricket or a Scorpion, but until then I will be enjoying my cart so much more!!!

Ponies and Flowers

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I guess I felt I needed one more thing to do in this busy season… I started making felt flowers! I love dressing my ponies up with garlands in the different seasons and this year I found the prettiest, simplest, felt leaf garland for fall.

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I really loved the felt as it has a simple look and is very horse friendly. I started looking up felt flower garlands and ordered one to use for photos. Then I decided I wanted flowers in lots of fun colors and looked around to order more. But I couldn’t afford all the garlands I wanted! Even simple can add up if you want too many of them. So I decided I would just make them myself!

I am loving it! It’s extremely time consuming and tedious and yet I absolutely fell in love with the process (burnt fingers and all) and the resulting flowers. I have spent many hours experimenting with different types of flowers – including ones I made up myself – and so far the daisies are my favorites. Daisies are my favorite flowers anyway!! I also love the sunflowers. These two types of flowers take the most time to make, of course.

flowercollageChristmas for my family is very simple this year. Everyone gets a flower garland! But they can know that I put lots of my time and love into each and every flower on their garland. Now that I am done making all my Christmas gifts I can focus on making some flowers to offer for sale! And I have many  many hours of practice under my belt.

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Here is a simple Daisy Chain Garland with a couple of different colored daisies.

This particular garland is about 3 foot long with 9 flowers and 13 leaves. I love this length of garland because they can also be used as a flower crown.

Sky hardly ever opens her eyes for pictures anymore. She just stands there with her eyes closed. Maybe if she can’t see me I’ll go away!

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Bonnie is my super model!

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I am studying up on my flowers a bit and am going to continue to experiment and try some new ones. I like some to look realistic and some to look a bit more fantastical.

As you know I like to decorate Sky’s bridle with flowers as well. I thought she should be wearing a flower I made so, I changed things up a bit. This is a little sunflower. I love these colors on her!

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I am nearly ready to start taking orders! Watch this space for more on that 🙂

Miniature Horse Halters Part 2

I just recently wrote a blog post about the woes of trying to find a halter that actually fits the minis. I had lots of feedback and got some great suggestions. This post will be about the halters that I actually tried on my minis. I will add links to others that people shared, but I didn’t get to actually try, on the other post

First up is a nice little beta halter from Chrysalis Acres. She had it made to my measurements and I love it! The color is pretty fun as well.

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I like the buckle on the nose for when I’m harnessing. It’s very soft and supple no matter how cold it is and it fits! (I also like the cheek snap.)

–>Speaking of a well fitting halter. It was pointed out to me that I didn’t go over what that means on my last blog about halters. And during my search for halters I have discovered that ‘well fitting’ has a different definition for different people. Soooo I will share guidelines to what I consider a well fitting halter!

The nose band should be one to two finger widths below the end of the cheek bone.

cheekboneI prefer a little room in the throat latch area because I like my horses to be able to chew and move their jaws when wearing the halter. I also NEVER leave a halter on my horses without supervision. The halter in the above photo is adjusted properly around the nose and the way I like it in the throat latch area.

 

In the photo below the nose band has slipped and is too low on Zorro’s nose. I mentioned that on my last blog but it was pointed out to me repeatedly so I better make a big deal about it here. IT IS TOO LOW!! And could possibly break the end of his nose if undo pressure is applied with it sitting so low. The Parelli halters tend to slip at the poll strap, so I am constantly retying them to bring the nose band up. It is annoying!

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This photo shows a halter that is sitting too low on Zorro’s nose!!!!!

I bought a couple of the Star Point Horsemanship halters because I like the idea of the nylon halter with the rope nose band. I went ahead and purchased the largest size she offers. They don’t really fit my ponies right now since they are so hairy. I will save them to see if they fit better in the summer. As you can see in the photos below, the nose bands are a bit low. They are quite tight around the nose meaning they will be applying pressure to their nasal bones all the time, no matter if I am putting pressure on them or not. I don’t like that at all. Those knots are tied so if you apply pressure they will press on very sensitive groups of nerves on the horse’s face. So if they are always tight they are always pressing on those nerves. The nose bands do not have any adjustments under the chin so they are as big as they go!

(Also I really don’t like it when the poll strap has those grommets around the holes. They can get bent and cause all kind of problems later on. To me they are very annoying!)

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The next halters are from Chimacum Tack. I got two sizes so I could be sure of a good fit. One is a 200 (Adult mini horse) and the other is a 300 (Large mini/Shetland size). Surprise! The 300 fit my ponies the best. Geesh. I must have ponies with HUGE heads! These halters have adjustable nose bands making it much easier to fit. And I really like the white stitching!

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Next up is a very nice halter from Tammy Rose from Central Harness Shop. You can find her on Facebook under Tammy Rose. She doesn’t have a website but can help you if you contact her through Facebook! I like her halters as well! Her large didn’t fit my ponies, but the Extra Large did. These halters do not have the adjustable nose band, but Tammy can make them that way if you ask! She said she can also add a buckle to the nose band for the drivers and will make halters out of leather as well! (But she doesn’t do leather halters with silver for showing…)

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Pretty in purple!

This was a fun experiment! I went from two halters for each horse to many many extra halters hanging in my tack area. AND the best part is that they fit!

I highly recommend any of the halters above.

(Just be sure if you get the Star Point halters that the nose band isn’t too tight, putting pressure on those nasal nerves.)

Sledding with Sky

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You guys!!! This was so. much. fun. Seriously!!! What a total blast!

This morning I woke up to a winter wonderland and I was so excited!! I could hardly wait to get out there and try out my sled! I didn’t get to use it last year but spend quite a bit of time painting the attachment, getting it ready for winter. (I wrote about my attachment last winter. You can find that blog HERE.)

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I had to take the shafts off my cart and put them on the sled, then do some adjusting with the collar and hames and single tree, but I got it all working together. It is EXTREMELY important that you have the correct harness parts to do this. Pulling this sled with the hay bale and myself in it through the deep snow was not easy for Sky. She was working pretty hard! But having the collar and hames made it possible.

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She wanted to canter and canter. I figured it was easier for her to canter pulling me through the snow so I let her make a few passes that way.

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Then I asked for some trotting and walking. She was feeling some anxiety about the entire thing so I wanted to finish on a calm note.

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I think you can tell by my face that I had a good time. I love how my attachment worked. It lifted the front of the sled so it didn’t dig into the snow, working exactly as I had invisioned. I still think my collar is a bit big and it’s not very good quality so I will be ordering her a better one as soon as I can! I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this so much but I DID so it’s time to invest in a better collar and hames.

So. much. fun.