Meet the new guy

How do I describe him?  If you were here, I bet the first thing that you’d say would be “Big.” Or note his super sized feet.

The two year old son of the woman who raised Norman called him “bright.”  And indeed, in his slick summer coat and highlighted hair, he shines.  He glows.  He has a halo about him.  Although he is somewhat big, I think what we have here is a four legged angel.  With furry wings on his feet.

For those who have known me for at least a little while, you know a big part of our summers consists of heading to the high(er) country and “digging ditch” deep in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Gizmo had been our faithful ditch digging companion for the past four years.  But out of due respect, we decided it was time to allow him retirement.  We’d rather let him enjoy his later years in style (Texas style, no less) than keep pushing and using and possibly wearing him down.

Besides I love a challenge.  That’s how I learn and grow.

So here’s Norman.  My newest challenge.  A big horse for a little woman. A five year old Percheron/Belgium cross draft horse that I can tell you already has a similar heart of gold that Gizmo has.  A heart as large as his big ol’ feet, and then some, maybe.

Norman found us by way of a friend in Pennsylvania who saw an ad for a draft horse in Texas.  Five years old and never been trained. But handled with love and kindness.  That’s the foundation I look for.  Forget those who are worried about “spoiling.”  Just like with kids, kind and gentle care is the best I can ask for.  No baggage, no fear, no worries about people and dogs, and when he sees you coming, he perks up and walks over to greet you.  I’ll take “spoiled” any day, thank you.

Not a lot of folks out there breeding, training and using draft horses.  When it was time to look for a new draft horse to replace Gizmo, the most common recommendation we heard as we asked around was to ask the Amish.  “Get an Amish trained draft horse,” we were told more than once. But since when am I going to do what I’m told?

From what I saw last year, the first and only time we’ve seen the Amish and their stock make it high up this mountain horseback, I’ll stick with doing my own training.

Before we even encountered this group we saw the tracks. Far bigger than Norman’s and the trail was just not built for a side by side team, though the tracks told us that’s what these horses were used to.  Our trails are narrow, twisting, tight and fine.  Not the best place for a really big horse, not to mention attempts at walking side by side.  They just didn’t fit.

So there we were, end of last summer, heading to another few days of digging ditch, riding up the trail in our usual silent smooth procession, looking down following these giant tracks, most of which are off the trail (“Trail?  What’s a trail?” Not what a valley farm horse knows.).

Lo and behold we meet a man, a frantic rider on a nervous horse. The horse is small, made for riding, but clearly not used to the mountains and elevation.  He’s being pushed on, his eyes are wide, head high and tight, nostrils flaring, in full sweat, froth dripping from his chest, ears and between his legs, exhausted and clearly out of his element as he whinnied and pranced in place and carried on with the man on his back.

“Have you seen a loose horse,” the man asked us as he tries to control his mount?

No, and we point out to him that you could tell if you looked at the ground, there were no recent tracks in the soft trail heading down the mountain from where we came.

Next we arrive at our camp only to find a Forest Service employee wondering if this was our camp… or the camp of the Amish that they could not find.  We look across the valley and in the distance see a loose horse still running wild through the trees, another tied alone to a tree, we could hear his crying from over a half mile away, and a couple more going back and forth, containing the carnage.

Then he told us of the Big Wreck.  Now, I suppose many people starting out have wrecks. Packing is not as easy as it looks. And this was a doozie.  World class wreck for high mountain horse packing.

He tells of odd gear sprawled across the hillside, spilled open sleeping bags, the old fashioned kind you used in your backyard tent when you were a Boy Scout, and various pots and pans sprinkled all over the trail. He tells of horses running, gear flying, people yelling.  And he tells us it was the worse of the wrecks he’d seen, and was in awe that so far, the horses made it through relatively unscathed.

He’s told me enough!

You know, if you place me behind a team out in the flats somewhere, you’d probably find a similar wreck. Out of my element.  But for now, I’ll stick with the mountains.  And mountain horses.

Well, all this story does is show you why I was happy to find a draft horse that was NOT Amish trained, not too big, and just darned nice.  Now, turning him into a skilled and seasoned mountain horse is our next adventure. 

Or at least, one of the many that we’re embarking on as the season progresses.