Sleighing! The snow is piling up and the woods are gorgeous. Here's how I eased CJ back into the traces this fall. (Check out the posts from 2009 to see how I trained him the first time.)
Day One: ground driving with the full harness on. We weaved like drunkards.
Day Two: (which, as it happened, wasn't actually the day after Day One...) The following photos are from Day Two. I hitched CJ to the single tree and ground drove him. Steering was a little better than on Day One. He wasn't too happy with the traces coming tight against his back legs on the corners. He kicked at them at first, but he gradually kicked less as we continued. I added the tire. He had to pull the tire plus all the snow it dragged, but he didn't balk.
Here's a good photo of the harness.
CJ eyes the thing behind him.
Day Three: At the start of this refresher, CJ had been lazing around in the pasture for two months. So Day Three was a trail ride to see how he felt about being out in the bush without his buddies. We crossed several moose tracks, which made him flare his nostrils and look askance at the forest, but otherwise he was fine.
Day Four: With my dad's help, we hitched CJ to the stoneboat. (I'm a little short on photos here, but there are photos of all of these stages on last winter's posts...if I could figure out how to include a link, I'd link you...) We did two laps of the barn-to-house road with figure 8's in the parking lot. I halted him a lot and rubbed him and walked around him and fussed with the harness. He wasn't too happy to stand still so I gave him a lot of chance to practice.
Day Five: Three laps with the stoneboat and lots of halting and standing.
Day Six: Hitched to the sleigh! The sleigh trail I picked out this year is along old roads through thick woods. This way the trail won't get blown full of snow like it did last year when I had the trail going across the fields. The only problem with this is that you don't get any warning at all if a moose steps out of the trees. And as an experienced teamster told me recently with a sad shake of his head, "Moose are hard on horses".
CJ was completely unconcerned about the sleigh behind him. He seemed a little confused about how to get the darn thing going. He bounced against the breast collar a few times to get it going, but once he had it in motion, he was fine. I'm driving him with an open bridle (no blinders) and he seemed to totally remember from last year what that thing was behind him. He never even glanced at it.
We sleighed for an hour and CJ did not sweat. Not even under the harness. It's not that he's in great shape, I guess it's just that the sleigh is light and horses are really strong brutes!
Day Seven: This time I took CJ out with a non-horsey helper as a test to see how we would do without my dad's help. He had a little trouble making the turn (CJ not dad) off the driveway into the deeper snow of the trail, so I had to hop out and lead him around the corner, but otherwise we did fine.
Day Eight: This was a warmer day and the snow was sticky AND we loaded four people in the sleigh. Not so good. CJ couldn't figure out how to get the sleigh going. He would push forward into the breast collar, meet solid resistance, and give up just as the sleigh popped forward. So he would then pop forward, hit the pressure of the breast collar, again meet resistance, and give up the very moment the sleigh began to move. It's a kind of bouncing ball effect. I let him try a few times to see if he could sort it out. He popped up off his front feet and I was about to hollar whoa, but the next try he got it. The sleigh was moving, he kept a steady push into the breast collar and off we went. Phew. But the next time we stopped, we unloaded some passengers to make it easier for him.