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Sunday, March 14, 2010

This is Insane Part 2

Now where were we? – back to plopping in my recliner and explaining my long day.

Which considering how insane it was, could have end worse than me sitting in my recliner, icing my knee with a bag of frozen okra, contemplating sure death for the kitty cat who reprograms (or rather “un” programs) my remote ONE MORE TIME. Or at least a severe talking to. Which judging from Jonah’s persistence of being exactly 2 millimeters from my face and propensity for sticking his nose in my ear while I’m trying to type, OBVIOUSLY works so very well (insert sarcasm). How can a cat know exactly when I should be in bed, when I should get up, can spot my truck from a second story window, AND un-canningly knows just what dark colored shirt I’ll be wearing to work tomorrow (see he can use it for his bedding) – yet be so untrainable?

But I digress.

I managed to hyperextend my knee – the left one, the one that actually WORKED without pain, at least up until this point, thank you very much! – by jumping backward from a chuck wagon and getting my hiking boot tread stuck on the hub…..which caused it to overextend in front of me during my descent, then suddenly release, slamming it into the ground. Nice. (Sunday morning update - I'm walking with a limp. A LIMP! 5 mile run for me today).

Of course, this was a relatively minor injury considering the fact we (CHAS teamsters) were “breaking” in a 4 horse team with no prior practical knowledge, only theoretical knowledge, an insane idea that had me and my teamster partner contemplating the wisdom of carrying a pistol up with us to the box as a weapon as last resort….as the thought of bailing from a wagon seat 8 feet off the ground, landing on asphalt and miraculously avoiding hubs, wheels, and hooves seemed….unlikely.

I’ve been driving a 2 horse ambulance with a fantastic pair of horses (Buttercup and Gunsmoke) for 3 or so years for parades, civil war events etc. with CHAS. Everything has gone really really well….which is good because before I was invited to be a teamster there was several “mishaps”.

Mishaps = broken wagons and rides to the hospital in ambulances.

I’m a bit of a control freak. (let me guess…you never would have known…..) so charging me with safely driving the ambulance team around was probably a good move. I may gallop around and look totally out of control, but trust me – Every. Single. Move. Is. Absolutely. Calculated. And if I feel uncomfortable at anytime – the horses, me, and the ambulance go somewhere else for a while until I feel Totally. In. control.

I guess it’s worked because gradually the unit has cautiously started accepting wagon rides again…..true, mostly it’s new people that have no IDEA the sketchy history of the operation. J

So imagine my dismay when the stable sergeant informed me that this year we were going to put together a 4 up to pull the wagon. Never mind that neither of us had actually driven a 4 up before. We had pictures!

Dennis carefully explained that we would start with 2 drivers – one to drive the wheelers and one to drive the leads – until the horses were well versed in their jobs. I inquired about the horses and was a bit skeptical. After all, a mere 2 years ago I was ASSURED that Glenda and Smokey were going to be the new, WONDERFUL wagon pair because they were so well matched (each was blind in one eye), never mind they didn’t have 1 brain cell between them.

Let me introduce you to the new and improved wagon team.

Near Lead: Griddle Cakes - Good old girl and my lead horse for 5 years when I was still on the cannon team. Even though she’s pushing 30, still tries to pull the whole team (Nice way of saying: Confirmed Runaway).

Off Lead: Gringo (“Maggie”) – Young, green, but totally un-reactive mare. Has a tendency to just….stop… on the cannon teams. Especially in the presence of green grass. I would describe her as Dopey and Cute. Hates geldings behind her…..which brings us to our next horse:

Off Wheel: Badger – Does surprisingly well, even with Gringo attempting to kick him for the first 30 minutes of any hitchup. Known for destroying tack by chewing on it, being generally dumb, and being especially horrible for “accidentally” biting off fingers during treats (PLEASE DON’T HAND FEED THIS HORSE).

Near Wheel: Gopher – I highly suspect she landed this job after continuing to act like a NINNY Every. Single. Time. She’s. Tacked. Up….even though she has been pulling a cannon for like 15 years. Likes to pass the time by torturing her teammate, Badger. Will always Always ALWAYS turn her butt to the sky and double barrel behind her AT LEAST twice during the first 30 minutes of being in hitch, just to let us know her real feelings.

With this stellar line up, how could we fail?

We start with the team hitched to the breaking cart with some vague description by Dennis of how last weekend Badger broke the tongue when hitching up so they didn’t actually have a chance to work the team…..

The first 30 minutes was full of Gopher bucking-leaping, Badger rearing, Gringo kicking, and Griddle alternating stopping randomly or trying to make a bee line back to the picket area. I kept saying to anyone who would listen “this is insane”.

At some point Dennis suggested I actually get on the cart (I was walking behind it….). I probably mentioned the insanity of it all (for the gazillionith time). It was repeating through my head and out my mouth like a not-so-good-vibe-inducing mantra. He takes the leaders and I take the wheelers and off we go.

Miraculously we don’t die.

“We” decide things are going well because 1) we haven’t died, 2) the Breaking cart is still in one piece, 3) the horses are still sound and in one piece 4) no one has actually had to dial 9-1-1. Time to hook them up to the wagon.

By this time, my fellow unsuspecting teamster, Paul, shows up. He agrees it’s a fine idea to get on the wagon behind the team. Somehow I find myself agreeing and up on the box seat we go. While walking the team around the pasture (which is going surprisingly well – the horses must have conferred during lunch while tied to the wagon that the best way to end the day quickly was to be as cooperative as possible) I filled Paul in on the details of the morning……while he fills me in on the details of the disastrous previous weekend….

We are both breathing a sigh of relief when we stop and everything is in one piece….when Dennis makes an executive decision. Road trip!

The plan is to have him drive the ambulance (with trusty Buttercup and Gunsmoke) first. A helper will ride in the back of the ambulance as we (in the wagon) fall in behind. He’ll be watching the wagon, ready to help us if needed. A second helper will follow the wagon in a truck with flashing lights to warn traffic……

Does this sound like a good idea to ANYONE?

Out to the county road we went, Paul driving the leaders and me controlling wheelers and therefore (theoretically) speed and brakes.

Did I mention I am a control freak? That I was barely hanging onto my sanity because I had to trust him to steer while I controlled the brakes? In a shocking turn of events, I managed to survive with my sanity intact.

You know what? The road trip was the best thing we could have done for our fledging wagon team. Getting them off the property and going at a trot in a straight line for a couple of miles was just what they needed. By the time we turned around and headed back to the ranch, the horses had sorted out their issues and had started to understand what their jobs were, and Paul and me were laughing and talking.

This just might work!

Dennis had me and Paul re-hitch to the breaking cart and go around the pasture with the loose herd while he watched, so he could see how they were working together and how they would react to being put to work in the midst of their free-roaming friends.

It went really really well. The antics of the morning were gone, and replaced with a business like team that was working together.

That is until we came to a huge puddle.

Griddle (smart old gal) who has more brain cells than is really desired for this sort of job, skidded to a stop and decided she was thirsty.

The other 3 horses waited.

Griddle drank some more and then decided she wanted to just hang out at the edge of the puddle and soak in the sun rays.


Obviously there’s still work to be done. Parade in 4 weeks…..I’ll be off at Buckmeadows so best of luck to Paul and Dennis (hehehehehehe, evil smile).

[Note: to those of you not familiar with CHAS, all horses described here are Standardbreds rescued from the track who are re-trained to pull cannons. They are already trained to pull a cart (sulky) so only must be accustomed to someone on their backs, while in harness pulling cannons. The horses described here all pulled carts in their past lives and spent time on the cannon teams, so are not a traditional “green” horse. The events described are NOT the way to cart-break a horse with no prior experience! Pulling the ambulance and the carts is “light” duty and perfect for horses retired from the cannon team who still want a job (like Griddle), are getting a bit sour on their current job (Gopher), or are looking for a new job since we have downsized one cannon team (Gringo and Badger). ]


  1. How much fun is that!!!! What a blast! I think it is so cool that your horse activities are so varied!
    PS- Can I email you some questions about booting? Is the best email the yahoo address in the contact section over there>>>?

  2. Ok: here is Redgirl's response to this post. I have experience with 3 of these 4 horses, and while Melinda uses small phrases to describe their antics, I don't think that fully conveys what you're dealing with.

    Griddlecake: Sleeper Runaway horse
    I was put on her for my first ever horse ride at 16 after hours one event. (up in a big valley) When Melinda decided to head back to camp AT A TROT, GC decided to follow. Can you say "ex race horse"? When she took off, I dropped the reins and grabbed the horn (remember, no experience!). She had a mouth like granite, and a hankerin' for alfalfa, so once Mel's horse stopped, she kept going. Especially since my Father came after me. With that gelding hot on her heels, GC kicked it up a notch. At some point, I fell off, Father's horse jumped me (sending me spinning in the opposite direction) and when landing, knocked him loose from the saddle. Me=chronic back problems. Father=broken caller bone and road rash.

    Badger: The Slime Monster
    Eats anything; flora, fauna, and you...if you're within range. Also slimes everything within range. You aren't christened into the unit unless you've been holding his lead and he has A) nibbled on your jacket and B) stuck his foot out to get his head closer to the ground and planted it on YOUR foot. He leans. Toes have been broken.

    Gopher: Cannoneer Killer (wannabe)
    When one (read: me) is riding the limber, the *limber* Gopher will kick her heels and buck. This places her shiny shod hoof 3/4 inch away from one's eye. Mud and manure have been known to flick on one's face. One can count the horseshoe nails. One has. And one has become much closer to God then ever possible before. You might say Gopher is a priest of sorts.

    See? Not as innocent as she makes them out...

  3. You are so nuts! I am glad that it all worked out and that the horses started to get it! Hope you have a much quieter tomorrow!

  4. See? Smart people stay in camp and cook!

  5. Hahah, great story Mel, and great extra description RG!

  6. I'm just glad that MY standie isn't the only standie in the world with OPINIONS. I was starting to feel like everybody else took all the kind, sweet, calm ones, and I got Fiddle who...isn't.

    Well, she's calm. And sweet (when nobody's looking). And kind (when I've got a cookie in my pocket--or when I might have a cookie in my pocket.

    But Mel, your post made me feel so much better. True: if you'd tried this stunt with any other live breed (I don't count draft breeds, I'm not convinced they have nerve ending in their brains) you would have been spectacularly dead and maimed.

    But also true: "STB" can stand for "Standardbred"...or it can stand for "stubborn."

  7. Girl, you better learn to handle ALL the lines before the parade! lol I used to drive my Arabs tandem (same rein set up as a 4 up) And I never could get Achenbah down, but I COULD do really well with the leader(s) coming in over the top of my hands, and the wheeler(s) from the bottom, and just take loops. Even did a couple small combined driving events with the tandem! Much fun, and you can't let your mind wander for a second, as you will drop a line or something. hehe Now, take some pictures of this new team hitched for us!

  8. I have an award for you over at my blog. It'll go up Monday morning.


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