Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pony Power

I just got an email from the mom of one of my lesson kids. Nearly every Saturday she hauls her daughter and the family's pony out to Sue's, where I spend an hour or so helping the young girl finesse the pony's flying lead changes. She also works on properly bending him through the turns and just genereally coercing him to conform to the regimen of a structured lesson. Because he's a relatively small pony, I rarely hop aboard for a schooling session. But when I do it's a memorable occasion because then The Pony is Not Happy. Why? Because Auntie Cindy means business when she hops in the saddle.

In the email I received, the mom wrote to tell me that they wouldn't be coming for a lesson today because her daughter had taken a tumble off the pony. Fortunately, she suffered only a sprained shoulder. But she also had a pony hoofprint on her back.


I've always felt that ponies, perhaps due to their indomitable characters, leave indelible impressions on us. In this case, this particular pony literally left an impression.

I'm sure both kid and pony will be back under my tutelage soon. But in the meantime I got to thinking about all the other ponies I've dealt with in my life.

When I was very young, my weekly treat was taking several spins around an oval enclosure at the local pony ride near my aunt's house. My cousin Susie and I would argue over which one of us would lay claim to Donut, the fat dappled Shetland with the bushy flaxen mane. He had the fastest trot, so he made you feel like you were flying when you zipped around the pony ring. At least that's the way a pony can make you feel when you're all of five or six years old.

Then my very first horse, Honeybee, was a large sorrel pony. She was only half-tame and very wily. I'd watch the lessons given by the professionals at the equestrian center where Honeybee was boarded, and attempt to mimic just what they were doing aboard their fancy Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses. Then, at the equestrian center's monthly shows, I'd dress up in my very low-end western attire (spray-painted straw cowboy hat included) and compete in western pleasure and trail. If I had enough Honeybee left at the end of the day, when the gymkhana games started, we'd race around the barrels.

One of my friends and co-competitors at the time was a little blond girl named Debbie Ryan. She had a more stylish pony than Honeybee, a bay Welsh with splashy markings named Flannigan's Falling Star. Our moms would chat while we'd struggle through our slate of western classes. Eventually the two of us became emboldened and ventured into English riding aboard our not entirely compliant ponies.

It's amazing, sometimes, where ponies can take you. I ended up going the hunt seat equitation route. And that little blond girl's name would become Debbie McDonald, and she'd ride a Hanoverian mare named Brentina to a medal in dressage at the Olympics.

If you'd like to read more tales about ponies, and perhaps contribute one of your own, just click here: Have I got a Pony Tale for You! It's the latest offering of HI Spy that I wrote for Horse Channel. I promise you'll also have fun reading what others have written about ponies they've loved... or feared... or both.


Jessica said...

I was able to get a catch ride on an incredible pony at an eventing clinic last year, and boy, in that short time period, did she teach me how to REALLY ride.

There's something about ponies - they can be phenomenal atheletes, but they definitely ensure you know exactly what you're doing up there! I think that's why I value them so much.

Anonymous said...

I know several pretty incredible ponies myself, and I know that they have tought me so much about riding. I couldn't agree with you more, Cindy. Ponies really do have power. They challenge you and, sometimes, really take care of you when you need it. They have such great personalities and can always make me smile with their antics. Ponies always challenge me to be a better rider and really think about how I am riding. I have been thrown numerous times from ponies (luckily, you don't have very far to fall) and I know every single time I get on a pony, that they are going to teach me something memorable. They have so much heart. :-)

Anonymous said...

I love ponies I'm male and have not lot of patience sometimes!I showed ponies for 2 years in hunter Equation.My last pony taught me how to ride,like realy ride.I agree on what the first an the second comment said

Cindy Hale said...

I really enjoyed reading all the pony tales, both here and following HI Spy on Horse Channel. I knew there were some great pony stories out there!

Anonymous said...

I never got to have the experience of growing up with a pony. There was no way we could afford horses when I was a kid. I do remember standing in line at the pony ride every year at the county fair though. And would practically eat, sleep, and breath anything horses. And later in my teenage years, I was lucky enough to meet the right people and got to borrow several horses to show in 4-H and High School Equestrian team. I learned how to stay in the saddle pretty quick though, because most of those horses were the "See that horse in the back 40? He ain't been ridden in 10 years, but if you think you can stay on him, you can show him." I spent 10 years going through the school of hard knocks on borrowed horses, but never any ponies.

However, my first horse was in fact a pony! Well, sort of. There I was 23 years old and fresh out of college with my engineering degree. Got myself a job and bought my first horse. A 13.2 Haflinger stallion named Wayne, and 6 years later, he's still a huge part of my life. Ok, so Haflingers aren't considered "ponies", but try telling that to anyone outside the Haflinger breed. "He's under 14.2 so he's a pony!"

So yes, my first horse was a pony. And an unbroke one at that. So I guess it was more me teaching the pony, then the pony teaching me. But in the two short years we had together before I had to retire him due to his accident and resulting knee injury, I got to experience many new things with Wayne that I had never gotten to do with any of those borrowed horses.

I got to ride in parades, and have fun decorating that oh so thick mane of his! I got to work cattle, and learn how to do team penning and team sorting, that was a blast! We even got an article about us published in three different Haflinger publications, because a Haflinger working cattle was unheard of! I got to attend a National show, the National Haflinger show to be exact, and placed in the top ten in English and Intro Dressage. I got to take my first dressage lessons aboard my pony, and even got my instructor to take a spin on him once. I got to learn how to hitch and drive a team, and even skid logs with them. We were usually the only non stock horse at open shows, but we kicked some stock horse butt on many occassions! I learned how to do the superman flying dismount over the ears, because draft ponies need to learn how to coordinate their front feet a little better when learning how to canter under saddle. We both ate some dirt when that happened. We got to go on many trail rides where my pony was better behaved then all the big horses. I got to experience exactly what that "horse, no horse" feeling was like, because only a pony can suddenly disappear out from under you so fast with no warning.

Wayne and I did a lot together in those two years that I was able to ride him. And I think we learned a lot from each other, and still do. He might be retired now, but he's still my buddy, and his "big dog" personality always has a way of making me smile.

So I guess I did the pony thing a little differently then most, but it was (and still is) a great experience (even if it did have it's ups and downs at times), and one I'm glad I got to have, even if it was when I was older instead of when I was a kid. And I might have finally moved on to owning horses now too, but there are times that I really wish I could climb back on my pony and go for a ride.