Friday, December 2, 2011

'Tis the season for bells

Lance wearing the bells in North Carolina

My niece knocked herself out to make a memorable Thanksgiving for our small family; and so in return, I was thinking I'd take her along on our driving club's Christmas drive at our favorite vineyard (it is now an olive orchard) to drive the perimeter ranch roads and enjoy company of others at the high tea that will be served afterwards in the barn.

She asked if we would have bells on the horse and I said: "hummmmm, maybe"...Romeo has never driven with the strap of bells attached.  So, to see if this was possible, I wore the 15 lb. strap of bells around my body as I walked to the barn to feed yesterday morning.  There they were all lined up like curious kids at the closest point of the arena to our house, waiting to see what the noise was all about.  So cute with their ears perked up.  I thought I'd see some horse antics as I drew nearer, but no...they were more interested in the upcoming hay.  I went about my preparations and before entering the paddock with the hay wagon, I grabbed my whip (as usual) to keep them from crowding me.  I really don't have to do anything but remind them by pointing at them if they get in the "no crowd zone".  The three of them at the barn made no recognition of the bells while I continued my chores making passes by the munching horses to pick manure and top off the water tank. 

 Off for another walk to the outside pasture where another three live and the scene was very different.  The spotted herd is composed of a Saddlebred mare, her DHH cross daughter, and an aged pony gelding.  It had rained the day before so the hillside was a bit muddy keeping their antics more subdued.  I went about my usual routine (dang those bells are heavy!) and surely didn't need the whip to keep them from getting too close to me while I dispensed the feed into piles.  I picked their manure in their run-in shed and topped their tank and decided to just go and stand to see if anyone would come investigate my noisy body.  The young DHH cross mare was the first to come and nose the bells.  She is a pocket horse anyways, and after rubbing her a bit and jingling a bit, she ignored the bells and went back to her feed pile.  Her mother was next, but the pony never did want to come see...that's ok...his only job in life is to look out after the girls and run any stray dogs out of the pasture.  

I went back around lunch time to drive Romeo (still wearing those danged bells). I led him out of the paddock, tied him in the sun, brushed a path for the harness and tacked him.  I  brought the carriage to him and hooked as usual.  We make a point of standing for a while with me futzing around making sure all is copasetic.

I had buckled the bells around the back rest with the bulk of them in the boot so I could control the amount of jingle.  Off we went as usual in the arena and when I could see that Romeo wasn't affected in anyway with the noise...I asked for a trot.  No surprise at the increased level of noise (with me giving the strap a good shake).  Good!  Tomorrow, I'll tie the bells onto his surcingle and put him on a lounge line for a trot in the round pen a bit before I drive.  He'll get the full force of the noise as he'll hear it in harness.  If all goes well, the next day, I'll hook him with the bells in their usual place just behind the saddle and run over the shafts and buckled underneath the horse near the girth.  I use a shoe lace to attach to the girth (also to the water hook on the saddle top) so the bell strap does not work it's way back to the flank or a hind foot does not get involved accidentally.  More later...
Romeo (goofus maximus) wearing my scarf

Romeo did fine, by the way, in today's wearing of the bell strap (tied to his surcingle) and on a lounge line in the big round pen. I hand walked him on some of the ranch trails prior to the round pen. I used a lounge line with a chain that went through the side ring on the halter, under the chin, out through the other side ring and then snapped to the start link of the chain. I did this in case he surprised at the full force of the sound of the bells (the biggest of the bells are humongous), I could have enough reminder of "listen to me" and not have him get out of hand.

He was fine with walking, stopping, slow trot, fast trot, stopping, in
both directions. Boy...were those bells making a ruckus in the fast trot! The only reaction I got was in asking for a canter from the fast trot, he did his accordion move and compressed fully, hopping into a canter for a few strides before settling into his trot again. I call Romeo my rubber band man because I have never seen a horse able to expand and compress as much as he can....rubber band man. 

So we are good to go full dress rehearsal tomorrow in the carriage.  Dress rehersal over and successful, it is time to clean harness and shine brass.  Where are my servants?  Sigh...guess I have to do it myself....again.  

Today, my hands show the effects of all the shining of the brass.  We'll look good though even if I am stove up.  I put a shoe lace on the end of my lines so that I can keep a loop on my wrist in case I drop my lines which I am prone to do nowadays...getting old causes one to make adaptations!

Haflinger drivers heading out for last year's tea drive
The good thing about driving is that one can continue to enjoy their horses, with passengers also, well into old age as long as the desire is there.  Don't get the idea driving is a boring sport though... One weekend in 2003 at Fair Hill International in Maryland, the eventers gathered there for their CCI Pan American Games, the drivers were there for an international CDE, endurance competitors were there for a 100 mile international competition, dogs were there for national agility trials, and there was  a massive trade fair and carnival.   The drivers were walking their hazards prior to marathon and the eventers were doing their course walk with coach Mark Phillips...they shouted at us that we were crazy, and we laughingly shouted back that they were crazy...I think we are all crazy.  

Hopefully next post will have adventure report and photos of my shiny brass...