Do Unto Ponies
One of our farmmates has two children, ages 7 and 9, who love the ponies. The young farmlings want to ride all the time. The ponies are not so enthusiastic, and started turning away from me when I came with the halter to get them ready for yet another pony ride where we could T-R-O-T. The kids are light, and I watch to make sure everyone is reasonably safe, but the ponies gave clear feedback that they wanted something to change.
Would driving the ponies be easier? Pulling a cart is typically more ergonomic for a horse than carrying a rider. But I also didn't feel quite safe enough hitching a pony to my cobbled-together cart and turning the kids loose. Driving a cart has a high Murphy's Law factor, even with Duke the Wonder Pony
I settled on a third option. With some baling twines and reins, I hitched myself to our lightest cart and became the pony.
"Trot! Sprint!" cried the kids as I dragged the cart up the hill to the school parking lot. "Gee! Haw!" There was only so fast I could go, even though I tried to be as authentically equine as I could.
Wow, did I ever get more empathetic with the horses. Days after the cart adventure, I said, "I'm barn sour!" to a horse-savvy neighbor, describing how eager I had been to just get the cart back home where people wouldn't be yanking on me and telling me what to do. Is that really what it's like for the horses? Probably, and probably with less enjoyment or choice in the task.
As I spend more relaxed time with the horses this winter, I'm asking myself how and when they would choose to be with me. The ponies provide valuable and direct feedback about what kind of leader I am. I don't always want to look at this, but I also want humans and ponies of all ages to have peaceful times together. I want to harrow the pastures and haul firewood cooperatively. I'm taking another step in my decades-long horsemanship journey as the ponies lead me to deeper understanding.
And if I ever forget, I can just volunteer to pull the kids in the cart again.