Friday, July 16, 2010

Dusty the Jinker Pony Becomes a Chariot Horse


In 1970, when I was 11 years old, we had a tank of a taffy pony called Dusty. We had our show horses and jumpers and polocrosse horses, but Dusty was the ultimate kids play pony. I have photos of Dusty with three of us and a dog on his back – we’d ride him (sans helmets) beside the highway to the local shop for ice creams and back again, wouldn’t we be aghast at children doing such a thing today! My fellow passengers included boys who grew up to be a doctor, a lawyer, a script writer and the heir to the some woollen mills, so our foolhardy riding didn’t hurt us…thank goodness!

Dusty also pulled our jinker – just a little two wheeled cart with seating for two. Dusty was incredibly lazy: it took a lot of coaxing to get him to trot with the jinker, he much preferred a slow walk that allowed him to graze as he meandered along the tracks. Then along came an expert: a man who was a self professed horse genius. He had trotters. He knew how to make a horse move properly in harness. My grandmother and aunt didn’t want him to go near Dusty, but he just blustered his way over them because he was going to teach that lazy pony a lesson and get him moving.

We stood near the gate of the four acre paddock as the expert climbed into the jinker and took the reins. He raised his whip and – before we could tell him that Dusty really didn’t like whips – he cracked it over Dusty’s broad butt and roared at him with some, “Get up there!” nonsense. Dusty’s eyes just about popped out of his head and for a full second he stood head up, stunned and still. Then he bolted.

My goodness, that little tank of a pony was fast. We always knew he had no mouth at all. When we politely asked him to slow or halt, he’d politely agree to do so, but if anyone who rode him hauled at his mouth he could just lock his iron jaw on the bit, arch his rock solid neck and go wherever he wanted to at whatever pace he desired with a helpless rider on board dragging uselessly at the reins. He appreciated good manners and I never had a problem with his mouth – softly and politely always had results with Dusty and I found him perfectly safe with a butter soft mouth. Cracking a whip over his bum and yelling abuse at him was neither soft nor polite. So once Dusty hit a flat gallop and the expert began dragging on the reins, he also began to discover than not only was the pony faster than he thought, he was a lot harder to stop.

Like a demented chariot driver, the trotting expert stood in the jinker yelling, “Whoa, Dusty, whoa!” as Dusty charged headlong around the paddock, taking corners like a barrel racer with the jinker on one wheel and the expert throwing his weight about like a man on a little yacht desperately trying to keep his craft upright. Round and round they went. The man applying all his strength to the reins but he was no match for the little tank of a horse who locked that jaw onto the bit and galloped on. We shouldn’t have done it, but we just couldn’t help laughing. Every time Dusty roared past us with his determined expression and the expert with his pale, terrified expression, we just laughed more. Finally, Nan picked up a bucket and shook it as Dusty approached for his umpteenth circuit of the paddock and he hit the brakes, putting his head into the bucket with an angelic expression of delight at the thought of food.

The expert merely stepped gracefully down from his chariot, dropped the reins and humphed something about women and horses, then drove away, never again to show his face at our farm. Dusty looked very smug. I still laugh when I remember the look on the poor man’s face as he rattled past out of control with the pony that he was going to fix up for us. Some ponies don’t need fixing, they just need good manners.

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