I got a pony.
Now, don't get me wrong, I was beyond thrilled to hear I was going to get something vaguely horse shaped and horse smelling. A smallish horse shaped object that I could ride wherever I wanted. I had day dreams of galloping over the prairie, feathers tangled in my hair (I was always the Indian) and the wind streaming past us. Of the two of us becoming a centaur: his legs and my torso. Of the two of us reaching that pinnacle of supreme horsemanship where the horse and rider become one and a thought becomes action. That was my dream.
I had no idea that some ponies are really spawn of the devil.
We drove two hours to see the pony. He belonged to my father's brother and had been ridden by my cousins for several years. They told us he was a wonderful show pony. He had won lots of ribbons in 4-H. He was easy to handle and very sweet. They told my parents that even a novice could handle him.
It was all lies.
His name was Seabisquit and he was a skewbald Shetland (white and bright chestnut). He was just about 12.5h with the thick mane typical of the breed. He also had the personality that I believe is typical of the breed.
I was handed the lead rope and instructed to lead him across the arena and back. On the way out, he nipped me pretty hard on the upper arm. I didn't cry, even though the bruise was huge and I was only eight. On the way back across the arena, he clipped the back of my foot with his hoof and gave me a flat tire and a pretty good gouge in my heel. I didn't cry then either because I was afraid if I did my father would decide not to get him. We paid $60 for him (way too much) and they agreed to ship him to our house. They even threw in an old pad saddle for me to ride in and a beat-up bridle with a curb bit. I didn't ride him, although they did have their eldest son get on and gallop him around the arena.
I was beyond excited when they delivered him. My first horse. Okay, my first pony. I thought he was wonderful and the first thing I did was groom and then saddle him. He was a puffer. Swear to god he could inflate himself by a good six inches when you went to tighten the girth, then release his breath when you went to get on. My father, who was supervising, kneed him firmly in the stomach and tightened the girth when Seabisquit exhaled. Now mind you, the pad saddle is what is now known as a bareback pad with attached stirrups and a small web handle in the front. My first one was made of foam covered in a woven burlap type covering.
I was shown how to bit him and slip the headstall over his head. Then it was time to get on him. My father lifted me up and got me settled, then swatted Seabiscuit on the rump to get him to go.
All hell broke loose. Seabiscuit reared, grabbed the bit in his mouth, and bolted.
We were in our quarter acre of pasture, which had a total of thirteen apple trees in it. Seabiscuit careened through them, trying without success to smash my head against each and every trunk. By the second tree, the pad saddle slipped sideways and I was suddenly clinging to the side of his barrel, which made the risk of being brained by a tree a lot more immediate.
Seabiscuit was squeeling and running all out, bucking and kicking in an attempt to dislodge me. The pasture was an L shape and by the far end of the L I had had enough. I picked what I thought was a soft patch of grass and let go just before he scraped me off on the last of our trees.
I hurt. I had dirt and grass in my mouth. I had scratches from the trees all over my face and arms. I was crying and angry. I wasn't sure what I had done wrong, but it was as far from my image of what horse ownership should be like that I almost quit right then and there. It didn't help that my father thought it was hilarious. (He's a real bastard.)
I don't remember what exactly happened after that, but I do remember specific moments over the next four years.
- I remember the first 4-H meeting I went to on Seabiscuit. The President was a woman on a neat bay horse, with a black mane and tail. She was eighteen and it was her last year in the program. I was in love with her. And with her horse.
- I remember receiving all white ribbons (third place and they gave them to all the kids that participated but didn't reach the standards for the class) at our first 4-H show. It was the first taste of failure.
- I remember being bit by Seabiscuit every time I worked with him. I had bruised thumbs and big bite marks on my arms. He was not a nice horse. He even bit my face once.
- I remember the time he turned after grabbing a bite of grain from the bucket I was using to catch him with, whirling to plant both hind feet into my chest. I had horseshoe shaped bruises on my chest for about a month.
- I cannot tell you how many times I bailed off that horse when we got close to home. When we turned for home he would bolt with the bit in his mouth. When we got close I would smack him upside the head with a stick, or my hand, and he would throw his head in the air, which would allow me to yank back on the reins, slowing him slightly. Then I would bail.
- I broke my hand doing the bail trick one afternoon. My ring finger on my left hand, just below the wrist.
- One day I shut the gate to the barnyard. We were riding out in the fields and I figured it would keep him from running me under the clothesline. When we turned for home I wasn't worried. I knew the gate was closed and he would have to stop. Except that he didn't. By the time I realized that, we were running too fast for me to bail off. I laid back on his back, my feet tucked behind his front legs, the webstrap of my new pad saddle clenched in my fists. It didn't help. He slid to a stop with his head down between his legs, his nose just touching the wooden gate. I flipped off him like a rock on a trebuchet and planted my face into the wooden slats of the heavy farm gate. Broke my glasses. Bloodied my nose. Went crying to my mother who was determined to succeed where I had not. He did the exact same thing to her.
- I carved a somewhat round circle in the barn yard next to our house and rode him on that circle for hours until he would walk, trot and canter correctly on command. We ended our second year in 4-H with three blue ribbons.
- I remember being able to ride him to school the last day in May, tying him to the fence outside of the school. Then racing free at the end of our half day. Thinking I was so cool.
- I remember selling him to a guy for $35 dollars and feeling nothing but a deep sense of relief.