Perhaps it really was fate that brought one special little pony into the lives of two Olympians and countless other children. But when Kerry Millikin and Peter Wylde first met the little pony, appropriately named Kismet (or “fate”), they were just kids learning to ride and care for an animal they loved.
Now about 44, Kismet enjoys a happy retirement at Beaver Brook Farm in Holliston, Mass., and true to her name, both Millikin and Wylde would cross paths again with the little pony as adults.
Millikin, who won the individual bronze medal in eventing at the 1996 Olympics, hadn’t seen Kismet in at least 20 years when a stroke of luck, or perhaps kismet, brought the two together again.
It all started at a family gathering, when Millikin’s teenaged cousin, Leah Chafee, was looking at a bracelet she was wearing with the names of her horses on it. When Chafee saw that one of the names on the bracelet was Kismet, she said she also had a horse by that name.
Then in November 2003, Millikin went to watch Chafee ride at Beaver Brook Farm. That’s when Chafee’s mother told Millikin she had to see a very old pony named Kismet who ran around loose and was once Peter Wylde’s pony. When Millikin heard that, she wondered if it was possible that Kismet was still alive.
“My eyes like went out of their sockets, and I said, ‘That’s my baby!’ ” Millikin said. “And we were all crying thinking about it.”
As soon as she saw Kismet, who has a small white spot on a front leg, Millikin knew it was her. “I just hugged her, and I couldn’t believe it was my same little pony,” Millikin said. “She had the same smell that I remember she had. I used to hug her and smell her mane. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Kerry went back that December to visit Kismet and took pictures of her, but Kismet didn’t like the flash and tried to run away. Millikin was surprised that Kismet was friskier than she used to be and didn’t like to be caught.
“She was so funny,” Kerry said. “She is so spry. She’d go trotting, bucking off. She’d kick her heels up. I couldn’t believe she was bucking and trotting and cantering around the place loose. She’s just an incredible pony.”
“My Happiest Times”
Millikin and Kismet met when they were both quite young. Millikin, 43, was a “shy little kid” of 7 or 8, who wanted a pony, and Kismet lived at the neighbor’s farm down the road. Millikin used to watch “Kizzy” play in the field and knew she wanted to ride her.
When she told her mother, Bunny Millikin, she wanted a pony, Bunny told her she could have one if she could find a pony that “didn’t bite or kick and could be caught.”
“I just didn’t believe that a pony like this existed,” Bunny said.
But Kerry believed that Kismet was just that type of pony. When they found out Kizzy was for sale, Bunny said she would look into getting the pony. But before she could, the owners sold Kizzy to a pony dealer. Bunny tracked down the dealer and purchased Kizzy, a Western saddle, a bridle, and her foal, Peanut, for $125.
“I didn’t tell my husband that the pony was coming until the night before,” Bunny said. She also didn’t mention that Kizzy was coming with a foal.
Kizzy and Peanut arrived in the back of a pickup truck. “That was the beginning of our horses,” Bunny recalled.
Bunny described Kizzy as “a kind, gentle pony, not particularly talented but willing. Somewhat opinionated, but open to persuasion.”
At the time, Kerry, her mother and her sister, Liz, were “pretty green” when it came to owning horses. Bunny grew up in Kentucky and had some riding experience, and Kerry had started taking riding lessons with trainer Marge Kittridge. But they learned a lot through owning Kismet and Peanut.
“She was a rugged little pony,” Kerry said. “They had a little shed that they went in, and they seemed to survive us all right. We would get on her bareback all the time–no halter, no shank. We’d just fling ourselves up on her and gallop around the field.”
Kizzy liked to play, though, and she’d do “Kizzy turns,” where she’d “put her head down and take a turn,” causing her rider to fly off her back. Kerry loved her, though, and used to sleep on the hay pile with her.
“She was just a wonderful, sweet pony,” Kerry said. “I adored her. My happiest times were sitting up on Kizzy.”
Kerry mostly rode Kizzy bareback and didn’t show her, although she once took her to Pony Club camp. She also recalls going for long trail rides in the woods, where she and her brother, Trip, would pretend to be “frontier people” at the ruins of an old building in the woods. They would pack a lunch and go “tromping through streams” and “deep into the woods.” She says Kizzy’s gentle nature gave her confidence early on.
“Those were real, special fun times,” Kerry said. “I got plenty serious when I started competing, but I was lucky–the early years were just sheer enjoyment of time with the horse and riding.”
Kizzy’s willingness also allowed Kerry and her brother and sister to try new skills, such as driving. One winter, Bunny found a cart and harness, and they decided to hook Kizzy up to it, even though Kizzy had never driven before.
“Can you imagine bringing a cart and throwing a harness on a horse and going right to it?” Kerry said. “That’s what was amazing about this pony.”
But their first driving experience wasn’t without mishap. When they hooked the harness up to Kizzy, they forgot to fasten a strap, and when they got in the cart, the shaft went flying upward. But Kizzy just stood there, unfazed.
Kizzy’s driving career only lasted through that spring, though, because she broke the cart when she took off with it. She galloped across the lawn and through a paddock gate that was too small for the cart, which snapped into pieces.
“We didn’t do it after that,” Kerry said. “We figured, ‘Now she’s really scared and everything’s broken.’ So that was the end of the driving thing.”
Eventually Kerry outgrew Kismet and Liz inherited the pony. Kerry recalled helping Liz with Kismet one day, one of the few times the pony was ever naughty. They’d taken Kizzy away from the barn and the other ponies, and Kizzy wasn’t paying attention to Liz. So Kerry got on Kismet bareback, and the pony took off to be with the other horses, heading straight for a gate.
“I think I shut my eyes because I don’t know what happened,” Kerry said. “Lizzy was sitting on the hillside watching, and her eyes just popped out. Kizzy didn’t quite clear the whole gate. She tried to jump it, and Lizzy said I went airborne.”
Kerry broke her collarbone, which she said is the most serious injury she’s ever had. Kismet was fine, and Kerry wasn’t deterred from riding her.
“I’m sure we drove her crazy sometimes, so I don’t blame her for finally saying, ‘I’ve had enough,’ ” Kerry said.
As for Peanut, Kismet’s foal, Kerry and Trip decided to train the pony themselves. Trip had a giant stuffed panda bear that they de-cided to tie to Peanut’s back with string to break her.
“Needless to say, there wasn’t much left of the panda bear after that,” Kerry joked.
But Peanut became Trip’s pony anyway, and when he outgrew Peanut, they sold the pony.
Although Kismet wasn’t a fancy pony, Kerry learned a lot from her. She said she always took care of Kismet herself and, since then, she’s always preferred to take care of her own horses.
“I used to just walk down the road and sit on the fence and watch the horses because I was horse-crazy,” Kerry said. “I was a painfully shy little kid, and Kizzy easily became my best friend.”
After Liz outgrew Kismet, the Millikins sold her on, and eventually she became Peter Wylde’s first pony too. Both riders grew up and lost track of Kismet.
The Run Of The Farm
Kismet has spent the past 15 years at Beaver Brook Farm, ever since Alice Foote purchased the pony for her granddaughter, Taylor Ferreira, now 17. Wylde, the individual bronze medalist at the 2002 World Equestrian Games and team silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics, rediscovered Kismet after she’d been at the farm for about six months. He’d brought some students over to use the indoor arena. Young Taylor told Wylde she had a new pony named Kismet.
“He got the strangest look in his eyes,” Foote recalled.
When he saw Kismet, Foote said Wylde knelt down beside her and hugged her. He had tears in his eyes and told them about how Kismet had been his first pony too.
“He used to take her in a stream, and he would jump off her back into the water,” Foote said.
Foote watched the reunion scene repeat itself about 10 years later when Kerry rediscovered Kizzy. “It was the same thing,” Foote said. “She’s kneeling down next to her with tears in her eyes.”
Today Kismet has the run of the farm. After Taylor outgrew Kizzy, she was passed down to her younger sister, Laken, who was the last child to learn to ride on Kizzy. Even though Kismet was old at the time, Laken, now 13, remembers that Kizzy was “wild and spunky.”
“My dad used to sneak us out late at night, and we would jump her,” Laken said.
She said they would just jump over poles and crossrails, but Kismet helped her learn to be brave. Laken still regularly grooms Kismet and likes to play with the pony.
Now Kismet runs free on the farm and is only put in a stall at night. “We open her stall door in the morning, she eats her breakfast, and she goes around the farm,” Foote said.
Kismet gets apples and carrots finely grated and mixed with her food as a treat. She’s in good health, despite her advanced age. Like many old horses, she does sometimes choke on her food, though.
“She always runs to someone when she chokes,” Laken said. “She tries to tell us that she’s choking.”
Wylde, who lives in Europe, hasn’t been able to visit Kismet, but Kerry still stops by the farm to see her first pony.
“Knock on wood, she’s got good weight on her and her feet look good, so she might go in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest pony,” Kerry joked.