Recently I asked Donene to share a bit about her wonderful “Welshflinger”, Joey. She did an amazing job! So here it is, exactly as she wrote it!
by Donene McGrath
Joey and I met well after midnight on an evening in July 2009 after his long trailer ride from Iowa. No time for a long introduction, Joe was patted, offered a treat, and promptly settled in a stall for the night. Next day brought a better introduction and some free work in the arena with Cindy. After his arrival, I realized that the harness and cart that I co-owned were all far too big for him, so decided we'd do a little riding until a suitable carriage could be found. After all, his previous owners told me he was also a riding pony.
Well, things were fine at the walk, but after half an arena of trotting, Joey decided to show off his excellent impersonation of a rodeo bucking bronc. I hung in for the remainder of a lap around the indoor and then chose to execute my best "tuck and roll" dismount. Sadly it was more of a "tuck and fly through the air" maneuver, so no surprise that the impact of a not-at-all-graceful landing snapped my poor wee right collarbone in half.
To say there were trust issues on both sides of this new partnership from that point forward would be somewhat of an understatement.
The following months involved settling-in time and ground driving for Joey, and healing and moments of serious buyer's remorse for me. But I'd already jumped into 'getting a driving pony,' so went ahead and got a harness and a Kuhnle and had Amie Bauman come out in November. We drove inside over the winter, and in March of 2010 we went for our first drive outside with Lois bravely volunteering to go along on the back step. Things were moving along for Joey and me, but neither one of us was ever really relaxed and trusting of the other. Joey was wary and tense/bracing, and I generally had a death grip on the reins and had to remind myself to breathe.
Then came Joey's turn for a right shoulder injury in a collision with a fence gate in December 2010. He managed to slice it open down into the muscle. Being a pessimist by nature, I was pretty sure this would prove to be a career-ending injury. Joey of course recovered, but we hadn't progressed as a team. It was now summer 2011. What to do? Send the pony to a trainer to get him backed to ride. Off he went, with all of his riding and driving gear, and I joined him on weekends for riding work. While at the trainer's, Amie drove him a few times - I only learned after he returned to CCF that these drives did not go well at all. Joey was on the verge of exploding, and Amie was left feeling like he'd never be a safe or enjoyable driving pony.
So Joey came home and we rode. He was solid under saddle, so maybe this was our new future. Around this time, Sammy arrived back at CCF and like me, wanted to drive but had had some negative experiences. Cindy encouraged me to spend some time with Sam; it might be good for both of us. Was it ever. Sammy and I clicked and my enthusiasm for driving was rekindled. I learned a LOT from Sam as we competed together over the next couple of years - most notably he taught me to have confidence in myself and to trust my pony. Lessons I needed to learn from a safe and amazing teacher.
So Joey lived a pampered life for a few years - not much was asked of him, but all of the time we spent together was very positive, and we became good buddies and slowly, inch by inch, started to trust each other. We spent time long lining and ground driving - no hooking at all during this time. Fast forward to November 2013 when CCF hosted a long-lining clinic with Clay Maier. Joey and I participated in the clinic, and Joey was great. Clay referred to him as a little sports car and agreed to hook him to the Kuhnle and take him for a spin. It went well...so I got in the box. Photos of me driving that day show intense concentration. Photos of Joey show a fairly relaxed fella pulling the carriage as if he'd happily been doing it forever.
So it clicked. And we never looked back from that day. Not to say it was all easy - far from it. Joey had been driven less-than kindly in the past, so he had issues he had to work through. Most days he was tense and bracing, but his mind was always there. He needed time to learn that he could relax; that I wasn't going to drive him with hands like brick walls and that he in fact could have a say as my partner. He didn't have to carry himself in "protection" mode all the time....he could trust me. And I needed time to learn that I could give to him and that he wasn't going to bolt. I needed to reward every little try for relaxation. Our drives were a constant chorus of "you're okay, Joe" and "Good boy, Joe!"
Our first event was Gladstone in spring 2014. Our first hook there was an adventure. Joey wouldn't walk; he reacted to pretty much everything; I ended up in tears. But two hours later, we tried again and he was wonderful. It was almost as if we had to get one last disastrous drive behind us just to remind us how far we'd come and to test us both as to our commitment to the newly-formed and still-in-its-infancy Team Joe Pony. But we did it. Dressage was and still remains our biggest hurdle, but driving Joey in cones and on marathon for the first time is a thrill I hope I never forget.
Since then, Team Joe Pony has competed at Gladstone and Garden State in NJ, Elk Creek in MD, Glen Willow in PA, and the Kentucky Classic in KY. We've participated in the carriage driving demos at the PA Horse World Expo at the farm show complex, and we've volunteered our time at John Deere Day for Bomberger's in Lititz. We've driven lots of miles together, and have spent quiet time in each other's company just hanging out. It's been a journey with this pony - but looking back, I wouldn't change a moment of it. Every experience molded us into a strong team. The color ribbon we end up with means nothing as I know we're unbeatable. Joey is and always will be a superstar. No matter what we're doing or where we are, the best part of time with Joe is the enthusiastic greeting I get every single time we meet up. It's not just the happy, relaxed eye he shows...or the way he runs to meet me at the gate...it's the nicker. Always the nicker of hello and appreciation. A friend commented just the other week at Elk Creek that Joey always looks like he's smiling. I couldn't agree more, and I'm both lucky and blessed to be his partner and share that smile.