Saturday 21 January 2012

Warning : a VERY long pony post!

Well, the ponies are all feeling grateful that it's been such a mild winter so far, and after the nightmare of last winter, so am I. My hay stocks are holding up well, and all the ponies are looking well covered (the mares are looking rather TOO well covered). Will is slimming down nicely - I can actually get the weigh tape round him now, and I might even be able to start looking for a saddle to fit him in the spring!
The children have been able to get out lots, and the fey-daughter is working Captain hard (please ignore her appalling turned down toes!) He is a star :)

Even the small boy has become remarkably keen since the autumn. I was just on the point of looking for a loan home for Foggy, as he wasn't being used, when the small boy decided that he had watched the girls lessons for long enough, and as he now knew exactly what to do, it was no longer 'uncool' to ride ponies. Foggy is the most wonderful small pony in the world for beginners (although he can be a bit of a stinker with  experienced, bossy riders). He is kind and safe at walk and trot, on and off the lead rein, on the open moors and in the heaviest traffic. He and small boy are going from strength to strength at the moment.

However, I start this year with a dilemma over Marlene. I promised an update about her at the end of last year, and it's time I did it. Apologies to those of you who have followed me since the very beginning - you'll know the early stuff, but please bear with me because it's relevant to now!
I originally purchased Marlene on a whim. She is a Dartmoor Hill pony, (a Mitchelcombe pony, so probably ran on the commons at Holne) and had come in through the drift sales. I saw her in field of mixed ponies when I was considering getting a registered pony as a brood mare. Instead, in a field of 2 and 3 year olds, it was the nervous, unhandled Marlene that caught my eye (not least because she is the absolute spitting image of my beloved Phoenix, whom I had lost the year before, pictured below with the Fey-daughter as a toddler). So it was Marlene I came home with instead. She was just turning 3.
 Phoenix - summer 2003

That summer we backed her, and played with her a bit, doing a lot of groundwork games and getting to know her character. She was anxious at first, but quickly trusting, and I developed a very strong bond with her. She would follow me anywhere, climbing up walls, jumping down 4 foot banks, in and out of the narrowest spaces. She was kind and gentle to handle, standing for hours to have fuss and attention, although interestingly, not an affectionate pony at all. Reserved and submissive probably describes her best. She is always the bottom of the pecking order in the field, whoever her companions, and she is always first at the gate, keen to come in. She would be quite happy tied up all day (though I don't do that!), and in the stable, she backs herself into the corner, and happily dozes away. She is never rushing to the stable door, keen to see what is going on, but seems relaxed in her corner. We always joke that she would rather live indoors, given the chance, watching TV in the corner of the sitting room! Sometimes I almost forget that she is a pony, with pony instincts and reactions, because she behaves more like a pet dog in many ways.
Marlene - Summer 2008

So I turned her away for the winter, and picked her back up in the spring that she turned 4, and we did lots of work with her on the lead rein. She went to a couple of shows, and she hacked out and about a lot, with one or other of the children on, until we decided that middle daughter was ready to come off the lead rein, but needed a more experienced pony, as Marlene was still very much a novice herself. That was when I decided to put her in foal, hoping to breed a matching pair to Piper, and we sent her to stud. We had had a 'blip' during that spring, which I had dismissed, other than being an amusing story, but which I now think was quite significant for Marlene. She had a run-in with the wild ponies, which live on the hill behind us. I recounted the full story at the time, here.  (As an aside, the stallion shown in this link is the father of my yearling, Peregrine). Anyway, in due course, she had her foal , Kestrel.
Bringing Marlene and Kestrel home at the end of summer 2010

By Christmas, Kestrel was weaned, and we began to bring Marlene back into work again. By that time we had had Bethan for a year, and middle daughter had gained some confidence, and was ready to start with Marlene again.

Marlene and Bethan - December 2010
So we slowly brought Marlene into work. By this time the fey-daughter had become a reasonably competent rider and agreed to share the riding of Marlene so we could bring her on. Things went swimmingly. By Easter the owl-daughter was ready to take her to her first Pony Club rally - a session at a local jump- cross course. Marlene was a star, trotting around an open field, and popping over 12 inch cross poles. I was thrilled. We carried on,over the next few weeks, introducing Marlene to canter, which she wasn't entirely happy with (she had always been a lead rein pony up until now). In typical baby fashion she fell forwards into canter, unbalancing herself, and often putting in a tiny buck when she got unbalanced. I took advice at this point, and although I am not a fan of lungeing, I had some lessons myself, and we got her lungeing nicely in canter.
Marlene at first rally - Easter 2011
Spurred on by our success here, we took her to her first tetrathlon competition, at a course about 8 miles away across the moor. The fey-daughter hacked her over there with the rest of the team, and the owl-daughter did her first ever full cross-country course (on the lead rein!). It was a resounding success, we had a clear round, although the owl-daughter nearly fell off several times due to Marlene's enormous jump!
 Marlene at first cross-country course - May 2011

Marlene was very chilled out all day - happily tied up to a friend's lorry. (I think at one point there were 7 ponies tied to one small lorry, in true 'Jill and her ponies' style! Here, hardly any of the kids have trailers and they quite happily ride miles to events)

Afterwards, the fey -daughter took over for the ride home in the glorious summer sun, complete with mandatory stop at the ice-cream van below Hound Tor!
 We were now approaching summer, and had the prospect of Pony club camp ahead. At this point we had newly exchanged Bethan for Captain, but the fey-daughter was still primarily on Matthew,  and I was unsure she was ready to take on such a baby as Captain. The owl-daughter was begging to go to camp, having been told she couldn't for the two years previously, and again, I didn't think she was ready to move up to Matthew, who is very strong and 'whizzy', so at this point my plan was to try and get Marlene ready for camp. In hindsight, this was where I went wrong, but hindsight is such a great thing! 
With a series of Pony Club training rallies in the school summer term, I sent the fey -daughter on Marlene, to work her hard and prepare her for Camp. The first rally was ok, but at the second Marlene exploded. She became nappy, although not running to the other ponies, but running to the hedges and boundaries at the side of the field.She kept running to an old tractor trailer parked at the side of the field, and piled high with stuff. She wanted to go down the gap beside the trailer and the hedge. When brought back, and pushed into canter, she bucked. So we brought her home, had her saddle checked, worked her all week, and went out again to the following week's session. We got there early, planning to settle her before anyone else arrived. Once she was mounted there, she was felt like a coiled spring, agitated and anxious, and the fey-daughter was obviously tense and nervous herself. A 'helpful' teenager offered to get on her and 'hammer her round the field to knock the naughtiness out of her', but I politely declined, as I felt she was frightened rather than naughty. We dropped her down into a beginners ride that day, and she did some of it on the lead rein, and then I brought her home to scratch my head and ponder what had gone wrong. 
I had her back checked, and long discussions with trainer and vet.  We came to the conclusion that she was genuinely scared of open spaces, and of being independent, and I had pushed her too far, too fast. In hindsight, it all makes sense. Everything else in her life had been taken so slowly, and she is a very introverted character, that I just asked her to move forwards too many steps at once. She had, of course, had a terrible fright in an open space with a large number of ponies milling around, whilst we have had her, and who knows what trauma she may have suffered as a foal, out on the open moor, and being rounded up and roughly handled, and abruptly separated from her mother for sales. There is no way of knowing.
 There were several outcomes to this. Firstly, the girls each had to move up a pony very suddenly if they were both to be able to go to Pony Club Camp. This meant that the fey -daughter took baby Captain to training, and has never looked back. The owl-daughter nervously took on Matthew, and has also never looked back (although in fairness to her, she still says Marlene is her favourite pony, but admits that she is nervous riding her). I, in the meantime, after discussion with the vet about the strength of Marlene's back, got on her myself, and began doing 10 minutes a day with her, trying to build up her confidence working independantly. I also rode her through the bucking at canter (not much fun on a tiny pony!) but felt she just needed to know she could find her balance and move forwards without everything falling apart. She needed quiet confidence, and I suspect even shouting at her when she tried to buck would have frightened her more, and smacking her, as was advocated by some, would have caused an absolute breakdown.

Anyway, as always when something goes wrong, you have to go back a step, and in this case we went back several steps. However, I think we made a few tiny steps forward again over the summer, and after much debate, I decided to take her down to Chagford show, as we had entered her months previously. Despite the torrential rain, she came 4th in the lead rein show pony, and then won the Heritage Dartmoor Class against strong competition. I couldn't have been more pleased with her.

Waiting in the rain at Chagford Show - August 2011

Winning the Heritage Dartmoor Pony Class
At the end of the autumn I turned her away again, as the farm has limited grazing for the winter, so Marlene returned to the Further Fields to run with the babies, and her best friend Piper. She will be 7 this year, and I need to make some decisions about her. When I bought her, I promised my husband she wouldn't be a forever pony, but a project, to sell on once she was grown out of. I have always promised the older ponies a lifetime home. Foggy and Matt are 19, and have served us well for many years, and though I might loan them out locally in the future if they had no work to do with us, I am committed to giving them a comfortable, well- cared for home until the end of their days. They deserve nothing less. Will I have promised a lifetime home to also, unless his old owner should find himself in a position to have him back. Captain, I suspect, has also earned himself a home for life. However, with the younger ponies, I have always tried to be honest about the fact that once the children have grown out of them, or we have no job for them to do, then they must move on. So now, with the girls grown out of Marlene, and the small boy very happy on Foggy, I am desperately trying to find a job for Marlene to do, because I am not ready to move her on yet. She is very dear to my heart.
So I have a plan!
It's not a whimsical plan, snatched at out of the blue, but one that has been germinating for many years. In fact, as a child, I read a haunting book, called 'The Driftway', by Penelope Lively, and I think it was this that first snagged my interest in the old drovers ways, green lanes, and pack pony pathways. We have many of them round here and as you walk the ancient tracks, its hard not to imagine the many feet which may have trodden the same way. As a child, I dreamed of riding a horse along these ancient ways, but as I have got older, I find myself more drawn to tramp them on my own two feet, with a pack pony walking beside me. And if ever there was a pony suited for the job it is Marlene. She is happiest walking beside me, she likes to have a leader, and follows faithfully. The anxieties that she feels under saddle, and which we will continue to work through, stem, I think, from her lack of confidence in herself, and lowest place in the herd pecking order. I am hoping she will take to packing. She has certainly never been bothered by carrying loads, having things flapping around her. I remember one time we were preparing to go blackberry picking with the dogs on a windy autumn day. I had decided to take Marlene too, and had stopped to chat to a visiting horsey person at the farm. I had sent the owl -daughter in to get containers for blackberries, and was surprised to hear the visiting friend shrieking 'No, don't do that!'. There behind me was a small daughter attempting to tie half a dozen empty plastic bags to Marlene's saddle, as they flapped around Marlene's face, and battered against her side like noisy balloons. Needless to say Marlene didn't bat an eyelid. Early on in her groundwork we did lots of walking over plastic bags, and wearing plastic sacks, and she is not in the least bit bothered by that.
So I foresee a new career as a pack pony. In fact the Dartmoor pony was famous as a pack pony in the past. There are also a couple of local community projects where she could be used as a pack pony, and we've had some really exciting talks about how she could be used. Sadly, it's almost forgotten in the UK these days, and that is why I need to ask for your help. I have been researching pack saddles, and various designs. It's virtually impossible to get one in the UK, unless you have it specially custom made, which I can't afford, and neither can I afford to have a brand new one shipped from the US. A friend can make willow panniers. I can certainly make a pad myself, and I think I can adjust the breastplate from a harness to fit. What I need are the wooden A frame (preferably decker style, rather than sawbuck) and cinches, and ideally the back breeching WITHOUT a crupper (harness breeching is always crupper style here). She is only 12.1hh, so it would need to be small pony or donkey size. Does anyone out there know where I can source these bits inexpensively, or have a used set to sell? I'm open to all sorts of suggestions and ideas, I'm willing to exchange for paintings or in kind in other ways if you have ideas, or alternative pack systems if you know of any good ones. A deer stalking saddle would be fine too, but they are rarer than hen's teeth! Please if any of you are experienced in packing with horses or ponies, and have suggestions or advice, I'd love to hear it :)
So, Thankyou, for reading this incredibly long post right to the very end, and I hope it hasn't bored you ;-)

Marlene and Piper in their winter woolies -winter 2011/12


Joanna said...

Such a fascinating life you lead with your ponies. I really like the last photograph of the two together.

ChrisJ said...

Don't know anything about horses, but I found all this very interesting. I do know that donkeys were used for years for carrying fish in baskets up the cliffs. Probably not what you're looking for but thought I'd throw in my two cents worth.

Valerianna said...

Fascinating story, and I love your plan. Haven't a clue about ANY of this... I know wild animals and cats, that's about it! Good luck.

Kath said...

Bored me? I was in pony-heaven! As soon as I saw the title of the post I settled down with a cuppa, anticipating a long and interesting read.
I really enjoyed reading about Marlene as well as the other ponies and I think your plan is an excellent one. I can't wait to see how this develops.

Danielle Barlow said...

Thankyou Joanna and Valerianna :)
ChrisJ - that's interesting, I've been trying to research some old european styles, though some of them look as if they wouldn't be very comfy for the animal!
Kath - Awww, I'm so glad you liked it, I was really worried I may have frightened all my regulars away with that post!

Jenny said...

What a great idea! I'm so glad you had the insight not to follow the usual advice about how to treat 'naughty' ponies! I have resisted getting another pony for five years now, because I also believe in looking after them for life, and re-paying them in retirement for the pleasure they have given. I do have a secret friend, though! I regularly give an apple to a local shetland who looks bored to death in his muddy paddock. I often think how much I would enjoy taking him for a 'walk' just for a change of scenery.

Gail H. Ragsdale said...

Danielle, I LOVE your "pony posts" and agree with Joanna-you live a fascinating life! All the more special to me as my Mother's side of the family is from England & Wales. The stories my Great Aunt told me of the moors have always enchanted me. You write as beautifully as you paint and never ever bore!

Bovey Belle said...

Hah - I sat down with a glass of cider to read this!!! AND enjoyed it so much - I am very bereft of ponies (and my darling Fahal) these days.

Hmmm - pack saddles. Don't know anything, but what sort of weight would you be carrying? I will go away and look at my old books and have a ponder and get back to you . . .

Bovey Belle said...

Found it! I have a book here with a whole chapter on the Army pack saddles - how they're made, lots of photos etc. I'll photocopy it tomorrow and contact you for your address. I've just been trying the email link on your details and this laptop won't connect me (probably ME - duffer extraordinaire!)

Anyway, padding on some reminds me of those extra thick very very quilted square numnahs - can't remember the brand, but I had one for Fahly and they are really thick. Save that thought. Back later.

Danielle Barlow said...

Chinecats - its hard not having a pony in your life, isn't it? I missed them dreadfully when I was at college, and working abroad.
Gail - Aww, I'm blushing now ! But you see I love to hear about your life and those magnificent Friesians. I DREAM of being able to do that. Maybe one day I'll get over to the states and come visit!
BB- if you need a pony fix, do come by on one of your Dartmoot jaunts!
Hmm, I hadn't really thought about weight. I guess I would want to be able to carry a full camping kit and stove. And if she were to work on the community project, she would need to carry willow bundles (bulky but not heavy) or water containers. We talked about making special baskets for her to carry 2 5 litres bottles of water on each side, so 20 litres total.

Danielle Barlow said...

Oh, BB, that's really cool! My email address is dbarlowart at

Bovey Belle said...

Thanks Danielle. e-mail shortly to be on its way and closely followed by the photocopies. I will certainly come for a horsey fix when we are down on the moor again.

Freyalyn said...

I love reading your pony posts, partly because I miss having anything to do that's remotely equine now, and mostly because the love and respect you have for your responsibilities shines through. So many people would have pushed Marlene as far and as fast as they thought she should be pushed, then given up. She's such a sweetie, and the packpony sounds such a good idea. She'll need some bells when it's all sorted...

A mermaid in the attic said...

Danielle, I know NOTHING about ponies, and have to admit I don't understand any of the technical terms...but I loved reading this post, and I'm fascinated by your plan to walk the old pathways with a pack pony. Your descriptions of the girls at the local shows and the way you talk about each individual pony, with all their individual personalities, is a joy. I'm happy to read very long pony posts ANYTIME!

Julia said...

Have you tried the Highland Pony Society to see if they can help? Also came across this and I know is for tiny Shetlands, but things can always be adapted.
Good luck with your search. It would seem such a perfect solution for your little pony.

Danielle Barlow said...

Freyalyn - Bells! Now theres a good idea. and of course, it would be fun to have an ornate decorated harness too - the possibilities are endless!
Julia - wow, thankyou. That's a fabulous link! I have never heard of a klibber before, but it looks like a simple system that could easily be adapted. Thankyou :)

Dartford Warbler said...

Julia got there before me as I was going to suggest the Highland Pony Society. They are/were used to carry the deer down after a shoot so there must be all kinds of interesting pack equipment used for that.

I loved this post. It is so good to find someone who takes the long view with their ponies and who is willing to work with each individual for as long as it takes.
I have always enjoyed taking one of our Forest ponies out for a "Dog Walk" if I`m not able to ride. They seem to enjoy it as much as I do. A longer walk with a real Pack Pony would be wonderful.

Lucky Marlene to have found you and your family. Reading of your young ones and their Pony Club days brought back happy memories of riding over the Forest with my son, to local rally days.

Dartford Warbler said...

Hi Danielle - just to say "Thank you" for becoming one of my blog followers!

Another thought....if you go to Kelly Marks` website and her Intelligent Horsemanship Discussion Group, someone might well be able to help you source what you need. They are a friendly group from a diverse range of horsy backgrounds and I know there are some Highland Pony people on there.

Yarrow said...

Wonderful story, dear little Marlene :D What a great solution and actually something I've thought of to do with my little Eriskay pony.

Have you found a solution yet? I know someone who makes creels for the Eriskays to wear as they would carry very heavy loads of peat up from the marshes for fires. PM me on FB if you want her details.

Have fun.x

Kat said...

I love these posts! A few rather random suggestion, not all of them are in English, but if you were to contact any of these fine folks in English I'm sure they would be able to help you!

and google images for kløvsal (copy+paste that, it means pack saddle) gives quite a few illustrations. Best of luck!

Tammie Lee said...

i love how ponies are a big part of your family life. how wonderful that your son became interested. fun fun, more to share. so wonderful to see your photos. the ponies are gorgeous and adorable.

gtyyup said...

Such a good read...lil' Marlene sounds like she's in for a wonderful (and perfect) career. You've got lots of options for equipment for her...look forward to your post with what you come up with!

Blackfeatherfarm said...

I have absolutely no useful information for you, but dearly hope this works out and you can keep her, she is just too precious to ever let go....
Your writing is far too nice to bore anyone and geez it is about ponies !!!

seahorse said...

take a look at these guys (shetland pack saddles)


Related Posts with Thumbnails