Pony Shuffle 2018
The pony shuffle this summer at Willowtrail Farm has been a unique one. Our pony shuffle is the annual movement of ponies from home to summer pasture, undertaken in a way to ease their bodies from a diet of hay to one of green grass. Normally by now all the mares will be at summer pasture. This year, though, that hasn’t been the case for a couple of reasons. First, drought conditions reduced forage to about 40% of normal so the pasture can’t sustain as many ponies all summer. And second, a more complex than usual breeding season has meant I’m still teasing, so I still need the mares to be at home where the stallions are, at least some of the time.
The mares with foals at foot are at pasture 24/7 now, but my other bred mares are being shuffled in and out for all or part of a day or night every few days. This involves a trailer ride four miles out of the forest where we live to a pasture adjacent to the hay meadows where their winter forage will come from. A few times I’ve also brought one mare with foal back home for teasing. It’s good practice for the youngster to load and unload. His mother, of course, knows the routine well. And a few times I’ve even taken a stallion to pasture to graze for a few minutes and do his teasing duties there.
While the heat and drought have made grass scarce here, I still feel very fortunate because we haven’t had any fires that are so devastating other parts of the state. We’ve had hazy and smoky skies to keep fire close in our thoughts. And earlier this summer we worked in a forest that was burned two summers ago, an even more vivid reminder about how fortunate we are to not have had fire close to home. So while the pony shuffle this summer is a lot more work than usual, the ponies are still growing fat as the season progresses, and I feel blessed to be forced to spend a little more time with them than I might otherwise.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018