Mission Impossible: The Hunt for Welsh (or Wild?) Ponies

The Stage:

A 70 acre pasture filled with sage brush and native grasses,

two shallow ponds, the perfect duck habitat for Bayard,

and Russian olive trees galore:

The Players:

Hadley, Richard and Whistle. (Gupta’s role is to stay in the truck and provide a soundtrack of desperate barking throughout the entire mission. She doesn’t understand she’s too old to come with us!)

The Mission:

To move our herd of seven Welsh ponies from the above-described pasture to a neighboring pasture.

The Weather:

Cloudy, ridiculously windy and cold.  (The ideal weather for tramping through an enormous pasture in search of recalcitrant ponies….)

The Plan:

1. Locate the ponies in the pasture.*

2. Shake a can of oats and coo to the ponies in an attempt to prevent them from running away.**

3. Halter the ponies.***

4. Lead the ponies into their new pasture and set them loose.

*Likelihood of Occurrence: High.

**Likelihood of Occurrence: Very low.

***Likelihood of Occurrence: Exceedingly low.

The Background:

Moving the ponies from the pond pasture (we like to call it the Wild Pony Habitat) to their spring-time pasture is an annual event. Three years ago, I had the joy of undertaking the mission alone. The results were so frustrating, so disastrous (in a nutshell: a skunk sprayed Whistle… I got tangled up in lead ropes and took a humiliating fall…ponies teased me, then laughed at me, then teased me again….ponies reduced me to tears…I gave up hungry and sad) that solo attempts to move the ponies were banned forevermore. Two years ago, it took Bob, Richard and me an entire day to get them all haltered and moved. Richard had to rope two of them, Bellboy and Brave, from a distance in order to get the task accomplished. A mess! Last year, Richard and I made a feeble attempt to catch them but then quickly abandoned our efforts. Instead, we carted panels over to their pasture to build a temporary corral. We then fed them hay in the temporary corral for a number of days to set them at ease before we finally shut the make-shift corral gate and haltered them. Once they knew they were in an enclosed space, they were easy to catch.

The Question:

Why on earth are we even trying to do this? Why not just build the temporary corral again?

The Answer:

Good question! The ponies are fairly sweet and easy to catch during the summer, but during the winter, they fully embrace their Wild Pony lifestyle, making them leery and hard to catch. We want to get them to a point where we can catch them easily in the winter for numerous reasons, the chief one being if one gets injured we want to be able to halter it and tend to its injury. So, keeping them tame year-round is one reason we keep trying.

Secondly, the most difficult pony, Brave, now lives with the horse herd rather than the pony herd. The ponies receive much less hay than the horse herd, and since Brave is now 20 years old, he needs more calories than the rest of his pony friends. Brave is normally the conductor of the Pony Circus, leading them in circles at a gallop when we are trying to halter them. Without his abetting, we are hoping we have a better shot at accomplishing our goal. Here is Brave, on the move, even wary of his picture being taken!

Lastly, hauling panels and making a temporary corral is a huge pain in the butt! We would love to avoid having to do it each spring!

The Event:

We set off on the long walk through the pasture to look for the ponies. I must admit, Richard was more optimistic about the whole process than I was (he wasn’t the one with bruises and a painfully stinky dog three years ago, keep in mind….). Here I am, walking into the sage:

Of course, Richard and I wanted to walk in opposite directions to look for the ponies. I just “sensed” they were by the ponds, while he insisted that he had seen them by some Russian olive trees on the drive over. Grumbling, I followed his lead. It’s probably not too shocking to report that his vision was more accurate than my “sense”. Step 1 was accomplished– we saw the ponies in the distance!

This is when my jaw dropped. Richard and I started calling, “Ponies! Ponies!” in falsetto voices while he shook the can of oats. I expected them to look up, express a little interest, maybe even take a few steps toward us. Instead:

They came for us (or more accurately, they came for the oats) at a dead run! Richard started handing out handfuls of oats and petting any pony he could, while I quietly haltered them, taking advantage of their distracted chewing. Here I am with Echo in my amazed state of haltering:

A posse of haltered ponies! Who would have ever imagined??

Politely walking toward their new home:

Triumphant Richard, about to release his ponies in the new pasture:

What a difference it makes not to have Brave in the pony herd– for once, moving the ponies was a painless, pleasant process!

After we released them, we immediately drove to the top of the field to feed them grass hay to settle them. Of course, the brilliant and food-focused creatures found the hay before we could finish the two minute drive:

After we moved the bales away from the fence line, they looked at us expectantly. Tiffany, Echo and Tears ask, “May we have our hay now please?”

Of course you may, ponies! Here they are, happy in their new home and happily eating:

Mission Accomplished!