After spending four months in New York City without a horse in sight, I arrived back at the barn ready to ride again. My legs? Not so much. Getting back in shape was going to take more than just a weekly lesson.
“Or, you can come and ride that black and white horse whenever you want.”
I immediately shot my trainer a grimace.
In a barn of show horses and show-horses-turned-lesson-horses, this pony was definitely a mystery breed misfit.
I’m not entirely sure how he even ended up the barn’s responsibility. He belonged to some young girl who’d let him trot around and do whatever he wanted.
Anyway, we tried to teach him some basics last summer, but he spent most of his time as a pasture pony.
So you’d think he’s pretty bombproof, except when he sees something new, he just forgets how to walk.
Or when you take him off the rail, his head goes one direction and his body unnaturally goes the other.
Or when he goes more than 5 steps, he’ll completely forgets that there’s even a human on his back.
So I guess the best way to describe him is clueless. No, make that stupid.
Also, keep in mind I’m 5 foot, 8 inches tall. Luckily, this is a large pony — with an extra large head.
Seriously, look at it.
You might be wondering why this horse seems to have no name. Well, he came with the name “Duke,” which was the same name as our long-beloved lesson horse. So he was immediately known as “the paint horse,” “the black and white pony,” or any variation of his color and size.
But enough ripping on this pony. After all, a free ride is a free ride, so let’s start the adventure.
After a week of procrastinating and kind of avoiding my trainer’s idea, I finally got on the horse.
Basically here’s how it went down:
“Why don’t you ride the pony in your lesson today?”
“Please let me ride anyone but him and I promise I’ll do it tomorrow.”
A promise is a promise. So the next day, I saddled up and took the pony outside.
Hey, this wasn’t so bad. We were walking, he was only tossing his head a little bit any time I touched the bit. And then we got halfway around the pen.
The horse showed me just how scary farm equipment can as he sidestepped away from it.
I soon realized this horse is just stupid, not dangerous, so he genuinely just didn’t think much of me kicking him over toward the tractor and the rail. I think he physically and mentally can’t do anything dangerous, and he probably just didn’t understand what I was asking for.
That’s a common trend with this pony. It’s not that he’s bad. He just doesn’t get it.
So everything comes in baby steps. I ask him to accept my hands slowly. His canter is actually not uncomfortable. But when we try a circle, he clamps down and runs off the rail. My hands are sweaty and, wow, have I lost hand muscle? I pull him in a tiny circle to stop, yank his head back up, and we try again.
At the end of my first ride, though, I have to conclude that this horse wasn’t that bad. Stupid? Yes. Bad? No.
A professional trainer usually rides a dozen horses in a day. I’m just an out-of-shape kid trying to get back in the game.
So riding two horses in a day — and jumping the pony for the first time — was rough.
I took the pony out to our giant hunt field and joined in with a lesson. He was surprisingly chill for being in such a wide open space, and only spooked a bit when a giant heron landed in a nearby pond.
Then again, it’s his home territory. The field is right next to the pasture where he spends most of his days.
Here’s a video of how some jumping went down:
We’re taking it slowly. If we don’t, he’ll dive at the jump and pull my weak butt out of the saddle even more.
It’s a big change from last year, or even last month, when he’d run out at fences for no reason. And I’d rather him go over a jump than around it, no matter how ugly that jump is.
The best part of this ride? I wasn’t even sore when I woke up the next day. #Success.
I made the mistake of taking a week off from riding. The pony and my thighs hated me for it.
This pasture pony still has furry ears, so flies usually don’t bother him. But today was different. I got annoyed and impatient, which turned into me being a little too rough on his mouth. I quickly decided we just weren’t being productive, so I made it a short ride.
But I also diagnosed just how crooked this horse travels. Pushing his hind end left without pulling his head right is going to be our next big goal.
It looked and felt like a tornado was going to show up any minute, but I still took the pony outside today.
We’ve been outside in this pen plenty of times, but everything was still scary. The wind, the cows, the looming dark clouds.
I think the biggest reason this pony was putting up a fight because he’s definitely part cow, and the ones next door were all lying down.
I think about my biggest goal: getting him to accept the bit. I try to start every ride with a lot of lateral work, making some uncoordinated circles while thinking “Don’t lock your arms” over and over.
It’s not easy. His head is like a periscope, constantly turning everywhere, seemingly disconnected with his body. I have to keep shortening my reins to even touch his mouth.
After some cantering time and a few minor fights, he relaxed and stretched his head down. So I decided it was a good day to tackle a few jumps.
We cantered around our indoor ring, where the limited space and tight corners actually helped to regulate the pony’s speed. Ending on a good note makes every ride seem better.
From advanced lessoners to some of the best riders at the barn, everyone is loving this horse.
He’s the horse no one needs, yet somehow wants. Me included.
My friend Marisa is known for getting on the horses who, well, look like they came from a backyard, and I took some pics that show just how cute this pony actually is.
He got a haircut and a bath, which just increases the adorableness.
His stride is actually pretty cute, he’s stopped wiggling his head all over the place, and his steering abilities are slowly getting better.
And he puts his heart into every jump — especially if he rubs it the first time. Honestly, this horse is adorable.
The pony is no longer for sale.
Amy, our head trainer and the barn’s owner, has decided to keep him.
His lead changes are coming along, he’s pretty bombproof, and I’ve never seen better manners. So why not make him part of the lesson program?
Now all he needs is a name.