Sleigh bells ring, smiles widen

Chetkowski, Emily

Chetkowski, Emily

It’s been awhile since I hitched old Bob to a sled, a Maple Sugar Sled to be exact. Built close to the ground, wide runners encased in steel, no real seat to speak of, the little pung was heavy, but perfect for big Bob.

His demeanor usually quiet, Bob loved to pull that pung, and looked especially handsome in his silver spotted work harness. Back then, knees a bit younger, I’d kneel behind the dashboard, reins in hand, and give my trusty steed a little “cluck cluck.” Bob would arch his neck, get his hind end under him and off we’d go, around and around the fields. Powerful, yet controlled and careful, his huge hooves dug into the snow as his step quickened. His breath turned steamy as he willingly took me on my makeshift sleigh ride. He never looked happier than when he was hitched, nor more handsome; all the years of wear and tear melted away when Bob took me sleighing.

Bob is gone now and as far as anyone knew, none of my ponies drove. Yet, there were sleighs in our barn; Bob’s which was too heavy for the ponies, and a little red bobsleigh. The bobsleigh was previously owned by an elderly woman from Weare, whose driving pony had passed away. Her face lit up and her eyes sparkled when she spoke of the fun she’d had sleighing with her pony, and I could totally relate. Though I was “putting the cart before the horse,” I bought her sleigh and promised to use it, which made her smile all the more.

Over the fall, I did some initial ground work with my ponies. Misty, who only recently came to live with us, proved to be no stranger to being in harness. She was push button but a bit energetic for my liking just yet, so I didn’t hitch her.

Heather seemed to know what she was doing too but her attitude was just the opposite of Misty’s, very laid back, Bob-like. Most people don’t gravitate towards Heather. Though she is very pretty, she isn’t an attention seeking pony, nor exciting to ride, but she and I have this lovely bond, a respect that grew between us during her recent pregnancy and birth of our first foal, a beautiful experience for us both. I was curious to see how this new bond would translate to driving her. I chose Heather to work with more seriously.

With the help of my friend Alice, and my carriage-driving farrier Bill, the day came to put Heather to a 2-wheeled cart. Carefully and slowly, we pulled the cart up behind her, and hitched her. Then we walked alongside her as she pulled the empty cart around, Bill handling the reins.

Heather was rock solid, in fact she looked rather bored. We climbed into the cart and off we went.

Oh this pony knew how to drive, no doubt about it! There was clearly nothing to worry about. Very soon, Bill handed me the reins and stepped out of the cart.

I teared up a bit, I couldn’t help it. I had a driving buddy. I had a special bond with Heather that grew of mutual trust and respect. I had another Bob.

Winter came, and then the snow. People were grumbling about the snow. I, on the other hand, was excited. Coincidently the custom fit harness I ordered for Heather arrived the day after the first snowstorm.

Bill came by to help me hitch Heather to the little red bobsleigh. Again we were cautious. Wheels and sleigh runners handle differently and not all equines will do both. Again Heather was bored. But again Heather was amazing! I climbed aboard alone. My beautiful little pony trotted along thru the snow, the sleigh’s bells gently chimed and the cold breeze blew thru my hair, stinging my face. Our little dog Charlie hopped in the back. I smiled so much that my face got tired but I didn’t care. My heart was full of joy and love for this unassuming little pony who was enjoying this just as much as I.

Since then, we’ve been sleighing every chance we get. New shafts and an extra seat for passengers are on order. My sleighing attire has improved as has Charlie’s.

Coming in from the cold, when I look in the mirror at my chilled face and rosy cheeks, I notice maybe a few more smile lines than I used to have, but I don’t reach for the wrinkle cream. Those lines were put there by the likes of Bob, the woman who sold me the sleigh, my friends who helped me, and my beautiful pony Heather. I am proud to wear them.

Emily Chetkowski is a children’s author who resides in New Ipswich. For more information on Emily and her books, visit www. emilychetkowski. com.

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