DRIVING SWEETIE By Ellen K. Alden

The story begins in December of 2005, when at 61 years old, I took a giant leap of faith by taking ownership of a 2 year old Morgan filly, Burkland Suite Inspiration (Sweetie). Already owning two Morgan’s, the last thing I needed was a third horse, but I couldn’t resist the thought of owning this little bay Morgan with her Burkland / Orcland breeding. On the positive side, Sweetie was a blank slate having left Burkland farm only twice to go to Maine Morgan horse shows with her dam. She had been hitched to drive as a two year old and was green broke.

After I trucked her home to our place on a cold December day, knowing nothing about young horses and training them, I reached out to trainer Alicia Taylor, who conveniently was just across the street at Riverrun Farm. I credit Alicia for all the progress we made in those first 2 years. She was patient and kind and always corrected any mistakes along the way and it paid off. We worked first in the indoor arena, long lining, then introducing the saddle, the bridle, the rider. We then went on to the outdoor arena, ultimately progressing to small trail rides out the back of the farm. After all those basics, I was able to safely venture out to Maudslay and Bradley Palmer in the company of other horses and riders. By the time Sweetie was 4, we had ridden at Crane Beach, and she was a pro at willingly getting on and off the trailer, alone or in company.

Knowing Morgan’s to excel as driving horses, I saw in Sweetie the opportunity to do just that with her. I sent her back to Josh Noble at Burkland Farm for 2 weeks in the Spring of 2006, after she had turned 3 years old, to be hitched again, and given some basic driving training.

The next spring, in 2007, I had a call from a friend in Vermont. MaryLee, formerly from West Newbury, informed me of some driving items for sale that I might be interested in. I reached out to George and Nancy McGowan, experienced in driving horses, who agreed go to Vermont with me. With their good advice I bought a used Meadowbrook cart and a used Smucker harness. Now, Sweetie was 4 years old, and I was eager to learn how to drive. The cart stayed at their farm in West Newbury and we spent the next 2 summers and falls getting Sweetie hitched and driving in their fields, around cones, and on the roads. I was learning along with her, although Sweetie was always the better student. During that time, we worked her in the ring at Pipestave Hill, drove her at Appleton Farms, at Maudslay State Park and twice trucked to a beautiful driving route around a lake in Sutton NH. George and Nancy were a great influence, always positive and helpful with our “hours in the cart”. They knew Sweetie had the potential to be a good driving horse and from time to time would remind me of that.

After I brought my cart home from their farm on Ash Street, my driving time decreased –in part due to being on busy Main St in West Newbury and in part trying to find people with the time and experience to drive with me. I ended up doing more riding than driving. This went on for a number of years until we moved over to Garden Street in West Newbury in the fall of 2017.

I was elated to discover that Garden Street and the surrounding streets were fairly quiet and also horse friendly and it was great to be able to saddle up Echo and Sweetie and ride out of my driveway to the nearby trails. Feeling so happy about this new horse friendly location I committed myself to getting back to driving on a regular basis. By this time, with good advice from Scott and Heather Colby, I had bought a smaller (easier to handle) and safer (easy entry) Amish cart, which they trucked up from PA for me.

In the summer and fall of 2018 Kathy Feehery made herself available to me, despite her busy schedule, and we explored driving the roads from Garden Street and beyond, her confidence and experience helping both Sweetie and me. A couple of good friends also went out with me occasionally.

It isn’t always a success story. Last spring I had two driving mishaps, nothing serious, but could have been. I did not want this to escalate and decided not to drive again until I got some help. As we all know horses remember both the good and the bad and I did not want to add to the bad. I spent a lot of time (practically the whole summer of 2019) trying to find the right person to help me. I finally connected with Kaylee Angstadt and it was totally worth the wait.

It was the best thing that ever could have happened to Sweetie and me. Kaylee came over once a week this past fall and we drove Sweetie on the roads, across bridges and over by the Reservoir. Kaylee shared her knowledge with me. I learned so much just from observing and listening to her explain things as we drove along, even occasionally her giving me some “hands on”. We managed to get in about 10 lessons before the weather closed in and we will pick up again in the Spring. Kaylee has observed that Sweetie knows what to do but just needs a bit more confidence to become a good solid driving horse. She has enjoyed watching the remarkable progress Sweetie has made under her guidance. It has been fun for all of us, Sweetie included.

My goal is to be able to continue to drive Sweetie even if I can no longer ride, for whatever reason. Sweetie is now 16 and I am 75 and we will continue to progress under Kaylee’s guidance to hopefully become an experienced team that can safely enjoy driving the roads in West Newbury. I have found that people really enjoy seeing a horse and cart clip-clopping along and most are respectful of us.

To conclude:

  1. Driving is fun and it’s never too late to learn
  2. I get by with a little help from my friends, in this case lots of them

January 26, 2020

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