My single horse float has taught me more about engineering than I thought possible and has heightened my appreciation of motor vehicles.
I bought the quirky little thing about four years ago and it has proved perfect for our narrow gravel road, particularly the section through the bush where I've had two close calls with opposing vehicles towing boats.
The float was built for a 17-hand racehorse who refused to travel on trucks, hence it towers unnecessarily high for my pony, who's called Pony. Many horses detest single floats, so it was a source of joy when she charged on first pop – and continues to do so.
The first whiff of a challenge came when, after several journeys, Pony began to reverse out with all the lack of negotiability of a bulldozer the moment I tried to affix the padded chain across her behind. It was designed to keep her safe. Plenty of people said other horses felt the same way. There was nothing for it but to surrender.
Then came the first float fix. The ramp had no springs, thus lifting and lowering it required real heft. Springs made this easy.
And I was bothered by the high towbar on the farmer's two-wheel-drive ute. It made the float slope downwards. Surely this wasn't right? As well, there were some unnerving moments climbing a short, steep hill near our house.
The ute had been a rush buy when his previous vehicle failed its WOF – all those salty missions on the oyster farm. Then a miracle. The farmer bought a 4WD.
The result: my transformed appreciation of vehicles. Till then if you'd asked if I had a dream vehicle, I'd have said, "Anything that gets me from A to B." Now I have the sort of daydreams I'd once attributed only to petrol-heads.
Then the float needed to be smartened up and I sanded for hours until the farmer deemed my slaving in the sun had been adequate, and I began to paint.
Next came my concern that Pony got covered in dust; presumably prior passengers hadn't travelled miles on gravel. I planned to add a roll-down flap across the back, but then reasoned the air in the float couldn't circulate. With my new aerodynamic knowledge, I thought perhaps I'd also need a grill in the front and a whirly-gig thingie on top to move the air.
The solution came when I stopped to discuss my conundrum with an acquaintance parked in his float loaded with motocross bikes. He suggested I just install a grill in the front, then air would flow through it and block any air trying to get in the back. No flap needed. So simple!
This cost less than $100 and it works. How lucky for me he'd missed the motocross cancellation and was sitting there wondering where everyone was.
Then a flat tyre – and another one – and then the ramp came adrift from its metal frame because Pony stomped up it like a tyrannosaurus. Luckily the farmer was at the shed with a builder who had on hand every sized nail known to man.
And off Pony and I went. But something sounded off. I peered underneath. It looked okay to me. But what did I know?
Not much, actually. Back home later the farmer presented me with a curved metal strip that had snapped off. He'd found it beside the farm road. The float's underbelly was stuffed. Were Pony and I lucky or what?
An engineer replaced the lot and declared the rest of the float solid. But then came another flat tyre; now the float has the light commercial tyres it's always needed.
Then a ramp clasp broke from the pressure of Pony's considerable bum as she pushed against the ramp for balance. After a scary trip home with only one clasp, it was a quick repair.
Most recently, a plywood sidewall came lose. Happens all the time, said a friend's husband who promptly fixed it and dealt to some rust – nothing structural.
Right now, an engineer is installing two new – and different – ramp clasps to keep Pony safe. Now it will have four clasps. The jury's still out on whether I get a bar installed to clip behind her derrière as well.
Remarkably, I still love my float and am even starting to think another paint job could be in order. Though it might look a little plain being towed by the 4WD of my dreams.