Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Pony Hunt

We’re on the pony hunt again. Basically, we’ve been pony hunting since Kelly grew out of her miniature horse, Minnie, when she was about six-years-old. We took a break when I finally let her get on Doc, and she rode the big guy around for a while, but now that he’s ready to retire, we have to look again.

It’s almost impossible to find a bombproof pony if you’re not rich. And even if you are rich, they’re still hard to come by. Some people get them because they’re lucky they’re in a family who has one and he gets passed around from kid to kid. Ponies live a long time and sometimes the pony goes full circle and winds up being both a mother’s and her child’s first horse. They won’t part with him. They keep him for themselves, selfish things that they are. The rest of us have to find one the hard way.

Getting a good pony is like hitting the lottery. Which is the reason most people end up putting their kids on full-size horses like Doc. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ponies, per se, that makes them hard to find. Nothing bad is bred into them that’s not the same as what we put into horses. It’s just that ponies, like children, live what they learn. And they learn most everything from the children themselves. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it’s the sticky-fingered, knotty-haired, tantrum-taking riders who are the cause of the ponies’ bad reputation. Ponies are being piloted by little people who haven’t even finished growing and haven’t mastered the basics like patience, responsibility and self-control. Ponies have to tolerate little people who give them a whack one minute and a carrot the next—for the very same behavior. It’s no wonder they pick up some bad habits.

Plus, ponies are too little for most adults to train. A person who has a pony that’s too small for an adult to break, has to be satisfied with some line-driving and the bare minimum of amateur under-saddle work—if they can find a teenager to get on. So whatever ponies know comes from kids who don’t know much either. On top of that, ponies think they’re bigger than they are. They have big egos and a bigger nerve. But I was determined to find one.

You might be wondering why I don’t just buy another full-size horse. And you wouldn’t be alone. Ponies are harder to handle but they’re also easier to handle. You can just grab a pony from the pasture, throw a bridle on, or even a halter, and climb on up. You don’t need a saddle. Climb up, climb over, slip off the back end, slide off the other side. You can even mount a pony from the rear end. Just position him on a nice chunk of lawn, get a good running start and haul yourself up.

Ponies are the type that you can take right up to the back door and ask what’s for supper while you’re still up there. Some people have even taken them into the house but being the clean freak that I am, I require all of our equine to stay out of doors, funny or not. Ponies can be ridden all over the place and nothing fazes them. Down the road, over the hills, to the neighbor’s house, in the creek. I’ve seen them in the back of pick-up trucks like dogs going hunting. I’ve seen pictures of them inside cars. They don’t mind getting their tails braided or bows put into their manes. They put up with costumed kids on Halloween, purple and pink War Paint on their faces and small dogs on their backs. Good ponies are fun.

But most of all, the reason I want one is I think Kelly will become more independent, and without independence, if every task requires me to get out there and help her or do it myself, she will never learn to ride really well. She can’t reach Doc’s head to put the bridle on herself. Standing on a box that tips over is dangerous. She can’t lift the saddle up high enough to get it on him herself. She can’t even reach his back to brush him.

And I always worry about that far fall. She’s a little girl and he’s a big horse. You fall when you’re first learning to ride. It’s a given like having fun is a given on the back of a horse. I fell a hundred times. But it was from a pony. It didn’t hurt that bad. I saw stars, got up, brushed myself off and got back on again. A little girl Kelly’s size falling from a big horse is like someone falling off a roof. It’s not pretty. So once again, I’m out looking for a good pony.

When we moved to our ranch in Oklahoma, I thought the pony hunt was going to be easy. The place is filled with horses. That’s all everyone does out there. They sell horse feed and cowboy hats in Wal-Mart. There were two saddle shops in town but no clothing stores for people. But it turned out all the kids in Oklahoma ride big horses. They’re practically born in the saddle and little kids ride before they can even walk. They strap them in the saddle if they can’t sit up. They use Velcro and Magic Seats. Big horses with smoke coming out of their noses and steam coming out of their ears, pawing to get going, raring to go, are nothing to the mothers out there. They just put their kids on, smack the horse on the rump on the way out and hope they come back by dinnertime. Ponies were a rare commodity out there. Who needed a short, sweet pony named Buttons when you could put your kid on a powerhouse named Buster or Nuclear Demon?

But we did manage to find our share over the years. There was the buckskin pony that looked like Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, who nearly ripped my arm out of its socket when I reached for his halter. There was the one who had one foot in the grave, half an ear and who was blind in one eye (and who we had to retire almost as fast as we got him). There was the bucker, the kicker, the biter, the striker and the one who had a horse show phobia and went berserk, out of her mind, plumb loco and had a psychotic episode when we brought her to a show but was dead quiet at home. A Jekyll Hyde, if you will.

That’s about the time that I gave up and started letting Kelly ride the big guy Doc. And he’s been great. Doesn’t do a thing wrong. A real babysitter horse. But now he’s ready to retire and again, I have visions of something more Kelly’s size, something more like my first pony, Cherokee, a brown and white Paint who lived in the backyard next to the pool and a barbecue grill shaped like a flying saucer. He was very forgiving. My father fed him a ham sandwich one time (horses are vegetarians). I took kittens for a ride on his back and backed him across a rickety bridge with big spaces between the rotten wood slats to prove to my little girlfriends on their stubborn ponies that Cherokee would do it.

I rode him in the ocean where he did the doggie paddle and I laughed my head off; I rode him to Green Light Cemetery, the Keansburg Boardwalk, and to my first job in the next town where I tied him to the chain link fence while I babysat all day. I even rode him to school where I was picking up my friend, who got out an hour after I did—I stopped and got her pony first and led him behind Cherokee along a busy road to the school. Cars honked when they passed. Teenage boys hung out car windows and hollered. I waved. When the bell rang, my girlfriend ran outside and we went riding, galloping across the football field. I rode Cherokee all over the place.

And then he died. I’m 47-years-old but I still cry when I think about him.

I’m not trying to replace Cherokee. There will never be another Cherokee. I just want Kelly to have the fun and the freedom that I had. I know it’s possible. Because we have Minnie. (And as selfish as we are, we’re not parting with her.) She was Kelly’s first pony, sadly outgrown as they say in the ads for ponies-for-sale. I want another one just like her, only a little bigger. Bigger than Minnie and smaller than Doc. Something Kelly can hop on bareback and gallop across the fields. A pony she will love so much she will cry about him 31 years later.


Heather Froeschl said...

Aw! You made me tear up! Good luck on your pony hunt! You could always go over to Chincoteague next weekend! It would require a good bit of taming though. You made me remember my cousin's pony Daisy. Annie lived just downt he road from me, when Eastport, NY was more country than by association Hamptons, and we grew up like sisters. She and I loved that pony so much! OF course I didn't have the brunt of the work to do, but I did my fair share of stall cleaning. She was so appreciated after our years of wearing down the local farmer's mule. He was a big guy but we'd manage to scramble up for a ride nearly every day we could catch him. I think we had three or four of us little kids on him at times. Daisy wasn't quite that patient and we had to earn her acceptance, but she was adored. When it came to be that she had to be sold, of course Annie was more heartbroken than I. She was her first, and only as it turns out, pony. I held her in a fierce hug when the trailer drove Daisy away, and then I walked home alone with tears blinding me for every step. I'll never forget.

Go get that pony Debi!

Amy said...

Oh my goodness, how did you get him in the car???? That is HILARIOUS! I wish you could have heard me gasp when I pulled up your blog. Let me know when you find a new one. Would you like me to ask around my barn?

House on the Glade Hill said...

I just wanna know. How did you get the pony in the car? That is the coolest picture - ever!

I LOVE horses and LOVED reading about them here. I didn't know there was so much to it! Very informative.

I think if I had a horse and it died on me (which is what any person or animal will do - eventually) than it would break my heart. Today I saw a small black kitten, dead, on the road. I had to work hard to hold it together. I wanted to cry!

Thanks for sharing this much loved passion!
Amy H