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April 9, 2010

Pony Tales

An end to the pony years. Photo by Elizabeth Howell.

There comes a time in every young rider’s life when he or she becomes too tall to ride ponies. In January, one of my favorite horse show moms admitted to concern that her daughter would outgrow her mustang pony before show season. Concern may not be a strong enough word. She spent many a sleepless night wondering what would she do if her daughter outgrew the pony. Could she afford board on two animals? Could she bring the pony home? How would she be able to afford a new horse?

Good friend that I am, I repeatedly assured her that it would all work out. Together, we would figure something out. Our barn is full of good people and good horses, and between all of us we could come up with a solution. No worries!

A few months later, I was watching Samantha ride our Connemara pony Dara. Hmmm, look at that. Are those ankles I see swinging underneath Dara’s belly? Oh, my. Indeed they are. My second hint that something was amiss was a shopping trip to get Samantha new sneakers. I wear a size 7 ½. Samantha’s new sneakers are a size 9 ½.

The final clue came when our trainer, Tara Valade, subtly said to me: “You know she’s too big for Dara, right?”

Interesting. What was I going to do with Dara? Could I bring her home? Could I afford to buy a new horse? Holy crap! I didn’t sleep for a week.

Solutions have presented themselves, and we are working things out. The emotions involved won’t be settled as quickly. I did do one smart thing. I put the decision of what to do in Samantha’s hands and gave her plenty of time to make her choice.

Dara is a large pony, in excellent healthy and full of herself. Samantha could continue to ride her (at least as long as she didn’t reach 5’10”). She would probably have to compete differently, as her swinging ankles would certainly be a detraction in the equitation ring. I told her that we could keep Dara. However, if Samantha wanted to keep going on the hunter/jumper/equitation train, we would need to move her up to a horse, which would mean finding a new home for Dara. We wouldn’t sell her, but we’d have to find her a new situation, one that involved us not paying her bills.

Samantha took her time to decide, and two months later, when she came to tell me what she wanted, I knew she had thought it through. As many girls have done before her, she decided it was time to move to a horse.

Sigh! Now it was up to Mom to find a new home for the pony. Last Friday, we brought Dara down to Massachusetts to EvenStride, the barn where I rode. Dara is safe and sound with Olana, my trainer, and her team of excellent instructors and students. Dara travels like a champ and the trip down was a pleasure. She took quite naturally to her new home. By the time we left on Saturday, we were all convinced that Dara was in the right place. The tears on the way home were minimal. (Mom had spent the entire week before blubbering). We’ll go back down to visit Dara in just a few weeks.

It’s the end of Samantha’s pony years, and, as you may have noticed, it was a lot more traumatic for me than it was for her or Dara. Discuss.

Oh, and my friend with the mustang? Her daughter fits her pony just fine, thank-you-very-much. They are both looking forward to show season.

Elizabeth Howell grew up riding on the hunter/jumper circuit in Massachusetts. Now she is a horse show mom. She holds a day job at The Emily Post Institute and slings horse manure on the weekends. Her website is www.sheridesIpay.com