Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Finding Home Again: Life After Selling My Daughter’s First Pony

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“Do you think Pony still remembers me?”

My daughter is a few months out from having sold her love-of-her-life pony. And yet, she often asks me these heartfelt questions. I try to answer honestly, “I think so, hon.” 

Discussions about selling her first pony began months prior to the actual day she lost him from her life. They started when her trainer and I asked where she envisioned her future-rider-self. She wanted to improve, show in lower-level hunters, eventually jump bigger sticks. She understood her lengthening limbs had a mind of their own, and selling Pony would be inevitable to afford taking this path. She wanted to continue boarding with her true-horsewoman trainer, rather than bopping around our farm at home. Financially it’s OUCH, but extraordinarily valuable since she doesn’t listen to a darn thing I say about her riding. 

In January, her trainer held a “Goals Meeting,” for students to share aspirations. My daughter included: “I want to find my next heart-horse, do some bigger shows, and be a working student (MOM MADE ME include that one to save money).” 

Over the course of months, we casually looked for something suitable. We also watched for signs my kid was ready to let go of Pony. With a tight budget and inability to deal with quirks, we scoured ads for aged horses, step-down horses and leases. Some young riders may blossom alongside green horses, but not my kid, because her confidence was eggshell-thin from previous experience. She is just now beginning to bloom, so a been-there-done-that type was a priority. 

Been-there-done-that was at the top of blogger Jamie Sindell’s list for her daughter’s next horse. They found that in Chloe, a 17-year-old, 16-hand “Glinda the Good Witch type.” Photos Courtesy Of Jamie Sindell

I searched horses endlessly on social media. I scrolled, knowing we wouldn’t be able to afford the gleaming import or the freaky mover for my daughter. But that didn’t stop me from fantasizing that a long-lost aunt would die (of natural causes, of course), leaving us a string of fancy hunters, or I would stumble across a scorching hot ugly-divorce fire sale.

Alas, reality… We had to shell out money from our existing bank balance for a type that could march around local and less-bougie rated shows, boogie around bareback, and trail ride without a mental health crisis. When I inquired about a beautiful horse described as “affordable,” I nearly stroked-out when the seller, very politely, said it was a bargain at $100,000. If this had been Equestrian Tinder, I consistently swiped left because potential matches were either budget-crushing or didn’t embody our must-haves.  

Early in the search, we found a grandmammy mare who happened to be a retired grand prix horse (oh yeah, bonus!). Our trainer adeptly worked out a trial. My daughter looked like a completely different rider on the mare. With her change in posture and presence, she seemed to evolve from a child into young woman. But her worried expression didn’t match the transformation. My girl fit the horse physically, but emotionally, couldn’t fathom losing Pony yet.

It was months later when my daughter nervously approached me: “I’m ready to try horses,” she said, though she still couldn’t utter the words “and sell Pony.” 

Pony was part of so many good memories for Sindell’s family, including her daughter’s first trip to the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show grounds in Pennsylvania.

Our trainer took her to try a distinguished elderly gentleman. He was the packer who nickers under his breath: “I’ve got this, kid, clutch my neck and hang on for the ride.” Initially, his young owner rode him for us, and my daughter thawed. It was crystalline-clear how much his girl loved him; yet, she was willing to let go, just like we needed to let go of Pony. My daughter hopped right on after and jumped around a little course, easy-peasy.

Her trainer and I exchanged hopeful looks. My daughter was glowing like a lantern. But darn it, though we could all see the halo over this horse’s head, our vet didn’t think he would work for our purposes. 

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We finally put Pony on the market when my daughter seemed mature enough to wrestle with the grief if he sold. Nonetheless it was heartbreak city when he left on that trailer. My child was swallowed whole by sorrow: “Should I delete all Pony’s pictures and videos off my phone because they make me so sad?” 

“Please don’t,” I implored, “One day you will look back, and it won’t hurt this much.” 

Though I knew her next partner wouldn’t patch the rip in her heart, finding him or her was the next step in her journey. 

The weeks after selling Pony were a zooming roller coaster of sadness. On a particularly hard evening when kiddo was really missing her bestie, she got a letter. Her dad and I were with her in the mudroom when she pried open the envelope revealing a personalized card from her trainer. The outside read: “It’s Wonderful to Witness your Growth.” Inside it included a montage of pictures of her and Pony, plus a message: 

I am so proud of your growth as a rider and a young person, and I feel lucky to be a part of your riding journey. It was really special to watch your progress with Pony, and it warmed my heart to see the progress in him. You should be so proud of all the work you did with him and all the success you had with him. 
I know how hard it was to say goodbye to the pony that stole your heart, and you handled that process with such maturity and bravery. I am excited to see what the next step of your riding looks like and for future adventures with you! 
Sending Hugs, Ellen

Our child read the card aloud, and we hugged close, all our eyes welling up. Though we had not yet found a new horse, she was surrounded by all the love. This card, this act of kindness, was a salve to help the healing. 

One afternoon I got the magical text clients dream of: Our trainer found a super fancy gelding in budget. (Next up, our trainer cures rare diseases.) Even she was excited. She sent us videos, one of him doing a derby, which made our hearts pitter-patter. Ooooh, and the higher option!!! My daughter and I could imagine him taking her from local 2’3” to the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search. 

“This is the prettiest horse we have in the barn right now,” our trainer said as Mr. McDreamboat struts into the barn for his trial. My daughter lit up at “prettiest.” 

“Wow, he’s sooo fancy,” my kid dreamily repeated. 

My daughter was able to flat him easily and jump small verticals. Our trainer also hopped on. She flatted quietly then headed toward some jumps with filler … Wowza! He could jump, but too well. His was a fling-my-daughter-into-the-bushes kind of jump. My hurt sunk into my paddock boots as my daughter’s demeanor shifted and she warily shook her head. Goodbye, Mr. McDreamboat.

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Concurrently, my friend introduced us to a paint/warmblood mare, Chloe, in her golden years. She was a Glinda the Good Witch type who sees you heading for the flyer and politely adds without shaming you. This gal had done nearly everything from 3’6” to beginner lessons to Interscholastic Equestrian Association. She was only available for lease, but she might be perfect if our trainer liked her.

Our trainer took us to try Chloe. We watched her go, my daughter jumped a few jumps, and a big grin cracked through the cloudy sadness. It was an “I feel safe, happy and relaxed” smile. Chloe arrived on trial, and it was a no-brainer: We needed her. 

Slowly, my daughter has been bonding with Chloe. She still misses Pony every single day, probably because she saw herself in Pony—both of them as works in the progress—which makes it extra hard to let go. 

A bittersweet moment at Ludwig’s Corners show grounds, winning with Chloe, but remembering Pony.

“Chloe doesn’t need me the same way Pony did,” she said. “She does her own thing. She doesn’t nuzzle or lick me.” 

I hear that, but I hope with time they will magnetize. 

Recently they had their first horse show. My kid rode well, and Chloe made it very clear this wasn’t her first rodeo. There were quality horses and entries in her division. When they announced champion, my young rider looked around in disbelief, certain she misunderstood, “Who me?!” I walked her over, misty-eyed, to grab the pretty ribbon and prize, a wooden ribbon holder. 

This was the next chapter, the building of a partnership. Still, there was melancholy seeping through the excitement: “This was also the first place I showed Pony.” 

Kiddo, Chloe and her trainer, Ellen Cabot, owner of Top Flight Stables.

Even with all the fun she’s having with Chloe, my daughter has heartsick days. 

“I’ll never have another first pony,” she said to me, head drooping. I showed her the rusted stall plate I saved to always remind me of my first horse, Roo. I get it. 

Remarkably, she has connected with Pony’s new owner, an adorable, good-riding 9-year-old who “fell in love with him at first sight.” They chat often, and knowing Pony is adored has helped, like a bag of grain is lifted off her shoulders. She’s following their journey, how Pony and his new girl have been champion at shows. A little piece of each of those ribbons belongs to her and always will. It’s a sad kind of happy.

Pony will always be home to my daughter, and no matter where you are, you always long for home. In time, I hope my daughter can recapture that feeling and find her way back home.

Now, she grooms Chloe until the mare glistens. She rides bareback in shorts and hacks through flower-filled fields in between lessons. This is the horse life her trainer and I are trying to craft for her. A world where it doesn’t matter how much money you dropped, what a judge thinks of you, how many “likes” your horsey post gets on Instagram. What matters is how all the noise melts away when you’re on your horse’s back. It’s the peace inside of you when you hug and love on her—the stillness that doesn’t exist anywhere else. And when you win ribbons, well that’s just a bonus.

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