Let’s Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingling!

Authentic Solid Brass Sleigh Bells
Handmade, with a full, rich tone, these brass bells on a leather harness strap are available from Lehman’s in Kidron and at Lehmans.com.

I always wanted to have a horse and cart. The idea quietly thrilled me. Whenever I would catch a driver and his trusty mare in a movie or documentary part of me felt a tiny ache. It seemed like the perfect pace to take part in the world. Slower than a car, faster and gentler than a country stroll, and unlike seeing the world on horseback you could bring along a few friends and pack a picnic lunch as well. What could be a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in pleasant (or even snowy) weather? Only two problems with this dream. First, I didn’t own a horse or cart. And secondly, I had no idea how to drive a horse and cart. This does not a teamster make… 

So I let this dream sit on the shelf in a tiny box I knew I couldn’t open. Horses and carts were for movie extras and county parades, not for everyday people. I had a station wagon that smelled like wet dogs and the idea of someday parking a horse cart next to it in the driveway seemed as realistic as a space shuttle. 

But some dreams find a way.
I was holiday shopping in a local bookstore when I found myself where I always find myself in such stores: in the agricultural/pet section. I found a large coffee table book of horses, the kind with glossy photos and animals that all deserved to be on posters in little girl’s bedrooms. I passed the time flipping through the book, deciding to stop when I found the horse breed that was my favorite. I took this game seriously, as if my imagination had decided at that moment not only would I be picking out a favorite picture, but that horse would be mine. This upped the stakes and I started looking not for beauty but compatibility, as if the book was a catalog and not a conversation piece. 

I came to the section called British Ponies, the native herds of the northern dales. There I stopped turning pages, shocked at the beautiful animal before me. The horse was called a Fell Pony, but this was no birthday party ride for toddlers. This pony looked like someone took the awesome power of a parade draft horse and compacted it to the size that someone like me could hop on the back without a stool. The Fell Pony had a shiny black coat, a long mane and forelock that reached all the way to its nose and feathered feet. They were powerful, but short, and since I consider myself the same I decided that would be my dream horse. The Fell Pony, what a thing!

Fast forward two years later. I have managed to buy my first ever home. It came with a few acres of pasture and an old barn. It wasn’t long before I was on the idealistic search for a possible draft pony. I didn’t dare think I’d find my Fell, but perhaps I would find a sturdy pony large enough for an adult to ride that was already trained to the harness. It seemed possible now that I had a little land and was feeling adventurous. 
A few months later I met a neighbor who drives her Percheron in her own cart. She was just a normal person, with a normal life and normal day job, but she had a wooden, two-wheeled Meadowbrook cart next to her car in the driveway! I wanted to learn from this woman, yes how to drive but also how to make the extraordinary normal. She took me on as her apprentice and I learned to the ropes. I learned the complicated harness and how to attach it to the vehicles. I learned the wild world of driving horses, across fields and through traffic, and one day while snooping around Craigslist I found a little magic… A local was selling her Fell Pony, already trained to ride and drive!
Jenna and Merlin, getting ready to work--in warmer times!
Jenna and Merlin, getting ready to work–in warmer times!

Well, I ended up taking that Fell Pony home to Cold Antler Farm, my little piece of this world. His name was Merlin and I didn’t dare change it. He was in his late teens, but well broke to saddle and harness. He was a dream come true, and I worked with the seller to make him mine. And over the last two and a half years I have learned to drive and ride that wonderful animal. We have become the picture I once only saw on movies and television, a happy duo making their way to the local farm stand to pick up some provisions for that night’s meal. We’ve explored and ridden all over this mountain, with the luck of having neighbors who allow us to ride on their property and over their snowmobile trails in the summer months. 

Merlin was a Yuletide dream, something picked from the page of a glossy book one Christmas season. A few years later he is outside in my snow pasture, his cart covered with a tarp in my driveway!  His harness hangs up on hooks inside my home office/tack room and there it still makes me smile in wonder that the woman who once felt the desire to pick out a dream had the luck, friends, and circumstances to make it happen. It’s not a Christmas Miracle, but it is a nice story to share over a cup of hot cocoa!

Want to see how Merlin and I harness up? Here’s a YouTube video.

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Dori Fritzinger
9 years ago

This article is so awesome – Our family had a Belgium cross named Gabriel who was the most gentle soul – We never got to drive him, but even my then two year old grand daughter rode him bare back all over the country side. He will be forever missed. Thank you for sharing your Merlin with us.

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