Adventuring with the Big Bootied Beauty
Everyone seemed really intrigued by my recent post about Lass, our senior Clydesdale mare with a rough history so I figured I would dedicate a post to her since I played with her yesterday. I'm going a bit stir-crazy with Sierra away, and I've been making an effort to get a little more exercise lately so i'm not a total write-off when I get on my fit OTTB mare.
When we got Lass, I did some digging and found out she is broke to ride and drive. My hubby's uncle used to have drafts so he lent us a harness that he thought might fit her, and we truly had no idea what we was doing. A few good friends of mine drive horses and my boss also breeds, raises and trains drafts for driving so I have a good fountain of knowledge to dip into when I need it, but admittedly, google has been a good friend too.
My hubby has wanted a draft horse for years. His grandpas used to own them, one of which used to travel all the way from Saskatchewan to Ontario for the Royal Winter Fair with his prized Shires. His other grandpa used Percherons primarily, and both farmed actively with them, and needless to say it's been something he's talked about for years, so when the opportunity arose for us to bring Lass home, I had a hard time saying no to him.
Last fall we drove Lass a few times around the round pen however given the condition of her teeth, we just drove her in a halter. After a few sessions, the halter began to rub on her nose so we quit until her teeth were better and we could bit her. She drove in what my limited driving knowledge would consider very green. She wasn't keen going one direction and didn't really want to stand still when asked - something incredibly crucial for driving horses to do.. but alas, we didn't really get to work on it much. Hubby also hopped on her once and she tried [very pathetically] to buck him off. Her hind feet hardly left the ground, and he's very sticky so she quickly gave up and carried on. We discovered she didn't really know what leg pressure meant but if you smacked your thighs and said 'get up' she would walk on - however she wouldn't go faster than a walk and would often stop and just refuse to move, something she would also do when being driven. Oy Vey. Needless to say she was VERY far from ever being hooked up to anything.
|Playing last fall|
Throughout the winter we have just taken time to earn her trust and slowly get her teeth and condition better. We didn't bug her for much - heck we hardly even touched her - and just let her enjoy her winter in the round pen with a hot mash every night and ample food and water. As her teeth have improved, so has her attitude. She's still a bit stand-offish in the sense that she turns her head away from you if you're standing by her and so on, but the vet feels that due to living in years of chronic pain, she will likely always be a little guarded. She's a little jumpy and nervous but will walk up to you now vs. make you spend 30 minutes trying to catch her. Funnily enough though, once you have a halter on her you can do just about anything to her.
Currently, she's beginning to shed her winter coat and I suspect as her nutrition has vastly improved she is shedding a lot of dead skin and as such, she is SO itchy which has managed to give me a pretty good 'in' with her. Yesterday after work I stopped off at the barn as usual to collect the chicken eggs, and I decided to go give her some cuddles and scratches. She was thoroughly enjoying a spot right by her withers/shoulder blade area to the point she was rocking back and forth, swinging her head left and right and pushing as hard into me as she physically could without falling over. At one point, she turned her head right around to me as if to groom me, but then evidently decided she wasn't quite ready for that yet.
I left her be and went to the house, but decided it was far too nice out to sit inside and after a rough week, I was finally feeling a little more like myself. I found myself wandering back to the barn without a plan. I thought perhaps I would pop on Mr Reliable (Hershey) and go for a ride in the field, but he and Banker were out of sight and instead I decided to spend some time with Lass. I had bought her a new halter and bit a week or so prior and hadn't tried either on yet. The bridle Ray's uncle lent us was collecting dust given that we hadn't used it once due to her teeth and the bit he sent with it was way too small for her. We had been talking about de-worming her again lately and I figured since I had her haltered, now was a good time.
After de-worming Lass, I decided to see if her new 7" bit fit so I attached it to the bridle and bridled her for the first time. I hadn't brought the driving lines out with me because I wasn't certain the bridle would even fit, so after fitting it as best I could, I left her loose and went back to the barn for the lines. The bridle didn't fit super well - the browband is a little narrow for her, but it works for now. The bit, despite being ginormous, is also a touch small, but will work for now.
Once back in her pen, I hooked up the lines and began driving her around the pen for the first time in a bit. She drove much like she did the fall prior - only wanted to go one direction (sometimes left, sometimes right but never both evenly), didn't want to stand, then didn't want to move. It was annoying, but I chalked it up to her being rusty and me having no clue what I was doing. I questioned if perhaps taking her out of the pen might help because now she was standing stock-still and refusing to move.. so I opened her gate and we ventured out into the open of the driveway. Things weren't much different - she didn't want to go away from the barn towards the house and would walk extremely crooked when going left even on straight lines, constantly trying to turn around. She didn't want to stand still when asked, then refused to move and no level of spanking with the end of the driving line was getting her moving. Finally I decided maybe the road would perk her up - worst case, I am pregnant and skiing behind a 1500lb++ horse, she takes off and runs through several fences doing thousands of dollars of damage and potentially maims or kills herself. No biggie, right?
|I had to tuck her fro so she could at least sort-of see... and yes, that 7" bit (the biggest the tack store had in their rather large draft section) is a bit too small... Also, no idea how she managed to rub her nose again but it wasn't from a halter, lol.|
I drove her past the barn and she waffled a little for about 10 feet until she locked her eyes on the open road then straightened out and happily trucked onward. We have a large U-Shape driveway so we headed out onto the road and turned left toward the second driveway about 200 feet away. I gave her a voice command to turn left and much to my surprise, and for the first time ever, she happily plodded in the direction of my request. She walked straight and with gumption, while I ambled behind her on the icy road. My dogs were being idiots and had zoomies all around her including right under her head and she didn't even skip a beat. She slipped (very minor) once or twice on an icy patch and continued on, sure-footed as all heck. Once we reached the second driveway, I once again cued her to turn left into it and she happily did so, plodding along passed the house, vehicles, and so on towards the barn.
I was curious if she would put up a stink at the barn, but by now she was blowing her nose, her ears perked and her head bobbing - she didn't even stutter as we reached the barn and we kept carrying on for another loop. Just as we exited the driveway for the second time onto the road, I hit a patch of ice under a fresh blanket of snow and fell flat on my butt, no doubt catching her in the mouth and scrambling to get back to my feet. I had several feet of driving lines behind me dragging on the ground so as I tumbled, I did my best to let the reins slip through my fingers as I scrambled back to my feet. I distinctly recall being mid-fall and thinking "Oh man... i'm a goner and about to be drug down an icy, gravely road" because she can be such a spooky mare and as I watched her butt as I fell, her tail didn't even so much as clamp. She was completely unphased by my clumsiness. As I walked behind her the rest of the way, I drug my feet through the gravel, coughed, stomped my feet a little and nothing phased her - she barely gave me so much as the flick of an ear (from what I can see), and happily continued to blow her nose with pricked ears. Once reaching the second driveway again, I decided instead of going into the yard that way, I would turn her around and go back the other way. I was attempting to take a video at this point so I was turning her with one hand which wasn't fair to her, so the video cut out so I could correct her as she tried to do a full turn plus a half and turn back into the second driveway because I couldn't get my reins sorted and film at the same time.. but she was very happy to oblige.
Walking back towards the first driveway, dogs still clambering around as they ripped in and out of the ditch, passed Lass and so on, I asked for a few halt transitions to which she happily complied and stood beautifully. She walked on well and with ease, and happily answered my voice commands to now turn right into the driveway. Once in the driveway we marched right passed the barn and she happily drove right through her gate (it's a single horse size gate, 3' wide I think?) then stood happily when asked for me to remove the lines and bridle.
Upon removing her bridle, she stood happily for scratches and once I walked away to close the gate, she trotted off and gave a sassy head toss and hop before demanding an offering for all her hard work. It was truly remarkable - I don't think I've ever seen Lass that happy. She was genuinely proud of herself. I was a little concerned our tiffs in the round pen and yard would weigh heavy on her sensitive mind so upon closing the gate, I walked back to her to which she met me with perked ears and for the first time ever, turned her face into me when I reached up to rub her forehand. I scratched her favorite spots and she kept her head turned to me with her giant lips flapping in approval, and her eyes instantly softened and closed. She was so genuinely happy, and it was amazing to see.