The Scruffy Brown Pony
Author's note: "I always saw pictures of Audrey and her beloved Gizmo, but never did I think that Paso Fino's... Show full author's note »
Before He CameI think a lot of people believe in fate, or that some things are meant to be. I am not one of these people. However, I know that we always come across what can change us; we as human beings are always changing, always shifting, never the same. But sometimes we meet people, or experience things, that truly become part of our story, our legacy. They give us something to become, and we become it.
Often, a choice that leads to change can happen in mere seconds. Other times, the decision takes days, and yet once we make it, we can never go back. Sometimes it makes a huge difference just to hold on for as long as we can, and sometimes it makes the difference to let go. That’s life. Chances, coincidence, decisions.
As it was, the summer after sixth grade, I had to take a flying leap into potential oblivion. However, the events leading up to the change are important to understanding me and my horse experiences.
When I was seven years old, we found a horse camp about twenty-five minutes from my house. It was a week-long day camp, and I was thrilled. I was nervous in the new experience but completely confident in riding and with the horses. My 10-year-old sister accompanied me, it also being her first time at camp. I don’t remember what horse she rode.
I was assigned to a pony named Nicky. I don’t remember if we had an evaluation in the riding groups or not, but regardless, we had riding groups. Everyone in my riding group was learning to ride.
As thrilled as I was by the chance to ride, I did not love my pony. He was okay, but he was lazy, and I was tiny—as a 7 year old I weighed about forty pounds. If he wanted grass, he got it, and despite the fact that the trainer made me pull at him for ten minutes, until my arms burned, I was unable to stop him from eating, and more than once I ended up with tears in my eyes, a trainer looking with disappointment down at me.
It was hard, too. I remember being frustrated that we were expected to keep our heels down, look up, and steer all at the same time. And yet despite the frustration I repeatedly suffered through, I loved riding. I got to ride bareback then, which was wonderful to me, in only my first week of riding lessons.
Later that year, after camp, I started lessons. My sister rode with me, and she rode Pebbles. I rode Nicky again, still annoyed with his laziness. A few times, I rode different ponies—I remember riding Tommy, a big paint who actually listened to me, which made me happy. He later left the barn, much to my great disappointment. The next year, I went to camp for two weeks. Again, I rode Nicky. It was the year I began to really hate him. He pulled, he rubbed me, he refused to move, and I still couldn’t grasp the skills of riding very well. Despite it, I still loved riding. My sister didn’t, and had stopped. But I loved everything; I loved mucking stalls and everything else that came with riding.
Around fall of fourth grade, I broke my arm playing soccer. The first time it was X-rayed, I was told it wasn’t broken and so I rode in a brace. However, two weeks later, I could hardly move my arm without horrible pain, so we had it X-rayed elsewhere.
It was confirmed that I had a crushed radius and needed a cast for four weeks. It meant I could not ride horses, which devastated me.
When it finally healed, I spent months begging my mom to allow me to start riding again. She gave me all the excuses that had never bothered us before.
“Your arm is recovering.”
“Mom, I rode when it was broken, before we knew!”
“It’s winter. Ask me in the spring.”
“We’ve always ridden in the winter before!”
I waited until spring, and once again got on her case.
“Wait until your sister’s acting season is over, then I can drive you.”
“No. You can wait until summer.”
I had to wait until summer, when we signed up for camp.
That summer I first rode Squirrel, and then I was once again on Nicky. He was tolerable because as a sixty-pound 10-year-old, I could finally ask him to move. One day, we were having a lesson in the indoor.
The trainer told us to walk.
“Okay, girls, we’re going to switch ponies. So halt and dismount, then exchange ponies and use a mounting block, please.” We did as we were told—and I ended up with the only other pony in our group; the naughty gray Welsh called Squirrel. In the first summer session, I had suffered my first fall off him and had nearly broken my nose, though my confidence remained unscathed. For the most part my riding him had been good and uneventful.
The lesson was nothing short of disastrous. I believe I ended in tears. Finally, we were allowed back on our original ponies.
Nicky was an angel, especially compared to the ‘evil’ (later, when I was a better rider and I rode in IEA, I learned he was not evil, just naughty) Squirrel. It was that exact day that I fell in love with Nicky, and I never looked back.
Finally, fall riding lessons started up and I asked to ride Nicky...I had no such luck.
My confidence in riding had been hidden away and I was unable to do it all again. Slowly, I learned everything all over again, on the pony my sister had ridden and hated—Pebbles. On the contrary to Ally, I fell in love with Pebbles through my lessons.
Summer rolled around one final time, and though I actually wished to ride Pebbles, I was put first onto Winnie and then onto Nicky. Winnie was challenging for me, and I simply felt unable to ride her. She was uncomfortable—as was her saddle—and I hated her. In truth, she was a fine horse who always won at shows.
The last week of camp I was back on Nicky. It was the best week of camp I had ever had. I still loved that pony and riding him was a blast to me. At the end of camp every time we had a mini “show”, which showed off to our parents our riding improvement. We got ribbons, but we weren’t actually placed; everyone got the same color ribbon.
After that year’s “show”, I said goodbye to my pony and happily marched to my car. When I got into the car, my mom turned to me and said some of the best words I’ve ever heard.
“What would you think about leasing a horse? Is there anyone you would like to lease?”
“Really? Nicky! Really?”
“Okay.” She handed me a ‘contract’ for leasing.
“When...when would it start?”
“It could start this September.” I couldn’t believe it. It really was surreal. This was the mom who had said she probably wouldn’t lease me a pony until I was sixteen, if I was still into it. It wasn’t a full lease, and I didn’t own a pony like some people, but I was over the moon.
That year, riding him was amazing. I was head over heels for him. Loved riding him through the bad and good times. He took me through my first shows, where he was perfect. This was a pony who glowed at shows; this was a pony who competed at AA shows and won ribbons.
That year was also IEA. For those of you who aren’t familiar, IEA is the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, which is a show series in which riders must compete a show on a horse they’ve never ridden. It is judged on equitation, and riders are not given the opportunity to ride the horse at all before the show.
I was still a bad rider, and I was not terrified of the show ring. I was eleven, yet the thought of cantering in a show made me uncomfortable. It was only because of Nicky that I had the courage or ability to do it.
I hated it. IEA was not the thing you choose that gives you a good experience—at least, it wasn’t for me. I was miserable and cold and shaking with nerves the entire show, until my five minute ride, which usually ended in my losing my stirrups, coming out of the ring and being told I had done a horrible job.
I am not saying IEA is bad. In fact, I think IEA is a fabulous way to help develop riding skills because you have to be able to ride everything—there are a lot of stupid ponies in IEA shows, and if you draw one, you are stuck with it.
My experience was negative, but plenty of people love IEA and if I had done it the next year, I most likely would have loved it, because of the fact that I became a much better rider over that time.
The year ended and we made the decision to leave the barn. It was the best decision.
On the Sunday I had planned to go see Nicky one last time, the barn owner called me.
“We’re taking Nicky to a show today. I forgot you were riding him, but you can’t come see him. Sorry.” My heart seemed to break. We weren’t returning to the barn because we were done with it; our attempts to return one final time for a goodbye were futile. We were thwarted, and I never got to say goodbye to him.
It broke my heart. I was twelve years old, and it was the so hard for me. I had never experienced such a deep loss...to me, it was devastating to know I would never see him again. It may seem like a silly thing, but it was not. I grieved over him, though he was still alive, for I didn’t know life without him. He’d been the one who guided me through my riding for five years. That was honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I said goodbye to Gizmo, it was hard, but I was as ready as I could be for it, and I was able to go and visit him afterward. Besides, I had Facebook contact with the people who spent days with him, so I had updates.
While I missed him, we moved to a new barn. It was an endless land of wonder to my 12-year-old mind. I was terrified and self-conscious, and yet at the same time I was excited and ecstatic. In this new place, my heart was light and free, as though I were a small child.
The trainer was different from what I was used to. She was down to earth, kind, and funny. I had never cared for my discipline before, and now she introduced me to a new world: eventing. Suddenly, I was proud to be an eventer.
Before I had switched to this barn, I found a girl through youtube who rode there. I messaged her with a million questions. Patiently, she answered the droves of questions I asked her until I had asked about everything I could think of. And by then, we had become fast friends.
My third lesson at the barn was my first group lesson. I rode with a girl named Sheena and a girl named Monica. I met the pony called Alf, who I adored, despite the fact that he was lazy, naughty, and grouchy. I wanted to lease him—but I waited until my next lesson to ask, hoping that lesson would see me on Alf. It was not the case.
I vaguely remembered my new trainer mentioning a little pony named Gizmo the week before, yet I hadn’t thought much of it. I waltzed up to the lesson board and read my name—and then my spirits sunk. Gizmo had been scrawled next to my name. Gizmo was a scruffy little thing, who Gail, my trainer, had said was green. I hated green ponies, and the week before, I had had a conversation with my friend about green ponies, which went something like:
Me: I hate green ponies.
Me: They are worthless.
Chloe: They are not at all. Daisy was green, and now she’s awesome.
Me: But I can’t ride green ponies. I hate green ponies and I want a real horse, not something worthless.
Chloe: I think you should consider it.
Me: Absolutely not. I’m not ready and I don’t want one.
My mind was made up; and yet here I stood, preparing to ride my very first green pony. I had never even jumped above eighteen inches myself.
Grudgingly, I fetched the pony from the paddock and brought him in. Despite the fact that I had my heart set on Alf, I couldn’t help but melt with Gizmo’s personality. He was sweet and gentle, and I was quite quickly hooked. And despite my original apprehension about green ponies, I was pretty excited. My trainer pulled up and joined us.
“Hey! So do you remember what I told you about Gizmo?”
“A little bit.”
“So, he’s a rescue, but he’s as sweet as anything. He’s pretty green, he hasn’t done much jumping, and a little girl named Amanda rides him. Also, he’s a paso fino so he’s probably different from what you’re used to. But I think you’ll be good with him.”
It was then that we lead him past Alf—and Alf kicked him. It was a harsh strike, and I immediately felt awful for Gizmo. Upon inspection, we found he had a gash in the shape of half a hoof along his left hind leg. My instructor cleaned it and put disinfectant on it. I know my dislike of Alf started right then. I have always disliked grouchy horses, and Alf’s kick to Gizmo was like a kick to me. I took that grudge with me, the love I felt for Alf trickling away through the cut he’d created.
Knowing he was a hardy pony, my trainer had no fear that he would be lame, so we brought him down to the ring and I mounted. It started to go wrong.
“Honey...he looks off.” My mom called cautiously. I filled with dread. Could he really be lame? It had taken me half an hour to go from no desire to ride him to dying to get on his back. And now...it was going to be taken away from me.
As it turns out, she had seen something false in his gait that my trainer didn’t see when we walked or trotted for her. She was satisfied completely by his soundness, and reminded us his gaits were odd because of his breed. I was completely relieved.
I didn’t have any idea what we were doing. His trot felt strange to me, yet I remember being filled with a joy in riding him that I couldn’t compare to anything else. I was riding a green horse who I fell quickly in love with.
My trainer set out poles and we approached them. His first reaction was a nervous stop.
“Give him some leg!” I did, and he leapt over the entire set of poles in one go. I laughed, and he began cantering. Just as I started to bring him back, my trainer interrupted.
“No, let him keep cantering. He has trouble with that—I’m surprised you got him to canter for you. Let him keep going.” And as he continued, he let out a single buck, and a smile filled my face. From the corner, I heard my mom say to another parent—“she loves this”. And I realized...not only did I love this, I loved Gizmo.
From then on I was determined to lease him. However, Gizmo’s picture was not on the website, and I feared I would not be allowed to lease him. The next day, when I left for school, I made my mom promise to call and ask if we could lease him. It’s probably silly, but I was so smitten for him, and so convinced that they would say no, that I desperately clung to my tiny hope. On the bus ride home from school, tears leaked out my eyes. If they denied me this...I was certain my world would end. I sprinted off the bus and into my house.
“Did you call?”
“Can I lease him?”
“Yes!” It didn’t process through my mind—I had so steeled myself for a no, that I didn’t actually believe the yes.
“Yes!” My mom smiled at me, but she had no idea the joy that blossomed in my chest. I might have screamed or squealed, I do not remember. I ran to the computer and messaged my friend the wonderful news; the very friend who had put up with my insufferable whining the night before, when I had feared desperately the no I felt certain I would receive. And just like that...the pony went from being non-existent to in the deepest section of my heart. He was as good as mine and life was wonderful.