The first thing Kathryn Barry told me when Morgen and I arrived for training at Klaus’s was to gather a spares kit. She listed zip ties, carabiners, electric tape, hole punch, wrench, halter and lead, knife. I gathered my things, including a fancy dancy hole punch, heavy enough to make holes in biothane. I also thought of adding bolts for hooking the shafts to the carriage.
The day I invited my friend to ride along, we were trotting a good cadence, when a deer jumped out of the corn. He was lovely red, bounding across the road and soybeans into more corn. I brought Morgen to a stop, to let her look. And look she did. Beyond that the dreaded cows. She didn’t want to go forward. And was weaving across the road, back and forth, like I’ve seen her when she’s afraid to pass something.
But it wasn’t her. It was the bolt gone, the shaft pulled away. I got out and stood with her. My friend headed back up the road to find it. We were close to a farm and I figured they might have a bolt we could use to get back home, since my spares were sitting on the chair in the stove room. I walked Morgen to their driveway pulling the wagon by one shaft. By then it had broken completely off.
Yup, my common sense veered straight away. I should have unhitched. Yup I did not see that the bolt gone, because it is well hidden behind the birds eye maple dashboard. And yup I pushed Morgen too hard to walk up to the cows before I asked Gayla to lead her past them. How do you apologize to a horse, especially when they were right and honest and good? And I know darn well she has learned something that isn’t so good for my skill.
There is something to be said for positive reinforcement training, for its focus on what the horse is doing right and the thoughtfulness, giving horses the benefit of the doubt, focusing on reward. But there is also something to be said for being very clear about when the horse is right, with lavish praise, but when they refuse to listen, being clear about that too. The skilled trainers who have worked with her this way have brought Morgen and I to a place where we can have a conversation through driving. But I feel caught in a crevice, holding myself up by my arms outstretched, the rock scraping my sides. I weave from side to side in my thinking about this, just like Morgen when the bolt broke loose, just like Morgen when she does not want to go forward and the cows are way off in the distance.
Finally, I unhitched. Mind you this mare was in a door yard, with dreaded calves a few yards away, and the farmer’s son grinding feed. I unlatched one shaft but Morgen walked around me. I saw that was a dangerous move, so I asked her to stand. She stood still, while I re-buckled the shafts and undid the harness in proper order. She stood still I tell you, even though she was wound pretty tight. Klaus said later that it’s pretty amazing she tolerated pulling the cart from side to side with one shaft. She is one amazing little horse.
We walked the long walk home, but it was still a beautiful day, the beauty of our humble, neighborhood farms, pleading with me to join the party despite my sore feet and disappointment in myself, at how I’d lost my common sense, at how I’d not been a fair trainer.
Morgen, the mare who bucked in hand, walked quietly beside me. (Klaus suggested we walk up to the cows in hand, that the bucking is no longer true.) When we passed the Peterson’s cows, I could feel her relax with me between them and her. I slipped her a carrot to show her: this, this is what I want.
There’s something about living in a neighborhood where people will help. I saw our neighbors’ teen sons out mowing their lawn and asked if they could help us load the carriage back on the truck at the dairy farm where we left it. It’s a job keeping it straight on the planks, and easier with more people guiding the wheels. The owner of the dairy farm, suggested a fabricator in town who had repaired his combine. He was taken aback by the weakness of the steel, but maybe it’s aluminum. I promised my husband’s homemade pie when I dropped the boys off.
Bruce stopped at a welder’s shop on his way home and we took the cart and shafts over there, when the fabricator didn’t answer the phone. The welder looked at it and said, yes he could fix it right then and there. He welded the barrel back onto the shaft and said the same thing, that the steel seemed awfully flimsy, as well as how small the bolts to hold the horse to the carriage. He reinforced it with a rod inside and suggested nylon threaded bolts.
I said, “I didn’t react very well to this. I didn’t notice it was off. I should have had my friend go up to the farm and ask for a bolt instead of looking for it. I should have carried my spares. Tie wraps might have worked.”
“You don’t always think straight when things go wrong unless you’re highly trained like firefighters or police.” He said it kindly.
This day I had been touched by kindness–the kindness of my friend who didn’t hold this slow motion wreck against Morgen and I, who walked that three miles back to our farm in good spirits and came with me to help me load the carriage, and the kindness of our neighbor’s sons who came along to help, and the farmer who let us park in his yard, and this welder. He offered to make the repair for nothing, but Bruce told me to write a check that I upped by ten dollars.
It’s the kindness of my own husband, stopping by the welder’s shop in the first place that struck me the most, and his willingness to see the shaft repaired. This is just a new conversation between Morgen and I, a mere hobby. But I’ve said before that I brought horses into my life to help me do battle spiritually, and that’s what they’ve done, superbly well. They’ve helped me dig into my own soul, seeing it for what it is, and maybe even welding some broken places. I carry myself with the confidence. Even hobbies take a community. And I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Bruce is enjoying this conversation because I tell you, the views from our carriage are stunning.