Finally, My Very Own Pony

         When I was 7 years old I overheard my Mom speaking to a friend in the entry way of our house. The friend was looking to re-home their beloved outgrown pony. I stood with my back to the wall and my ear pressed as close to the hallway corner as possible, not wanting to be caught eavesdropping. The lady explained that her daughter had outgrown the pony many years before but that they had been unsuccessful finding a permanent home for her. She explained that the pony was talented and educated but that she was testy with the children and could be difficult to ride. After failing to work out as a lesson pony at one of the local competitive barns the pony had been put out to pasture to be used for breeding and had sustained an injury to her left eye by a stray piece of wire on the fencing of the pasture. The vet had proclaimed that she had lost most sight in that eye with the exception of possibly seeing vague foggy shapes. For these reasons the Owners were only looking to sell the pony for $1.00 to the right permanent home. That word permanent was all I needed to hear. I sprinted to my bedroom to grab the allowance I had been saving. This was my chance to have my very own pony, a pony that my Mother COULD NOT sell. I didn’t care how hard she was to ride or what her eyesight was like or how old she was. All I cared about was that she would be MINE and stuck in a deal between friends to never be sold, a deal that my mother would HAVE to honor.

      Perhaps I should explain. You see, my mother was a Horse Trader. This means she made her meager living from buying and selling horses. She would often pick up unwanted or untrained horses for very little money and turn around and sell them later for a profit. My sister and I were part of this family business, whether we liked it or not, and were used to train the horses in whatever riding discipline suited them best. Our small ranch did not have any staff but us. We cared for them, fed them, groomed them, bathed them, cleaned up after them, and tamed them. 7 days per week. If Mom saw a profit to be made in a horse, she took it. Time and time again my sister and I would break these young horses, tame them, hit the dirt, hit the dirt some more, and hit the dirt again until they began to come around to become gentle riding horses only to come home from school one day and find their corral empty because they had been sold. And of course, each time they were quickly replaced by the next wild animal. With 21 horses in the back yard you would think that I would not be excited about adding another but now you can understand why I was sprinting for my allowance to buy myself a pony that I could keep forever.

9 dimes and 2 nickels.
I ran back down the hallway and abruptly interjected myself into the conversation. Just in time to interrupt my mother’s polite rejection to the Owner. Cutting her off mid-sentence I confidently proclaimed “I’ll take her!”. Then I reached out my hand and dropped the $1.00 in change into the ladies palm.
Done.
My mom looked at the lady and the lady returned her glance quizzically. Then after the brief silence was over the lady must have clued into my desperation because disregarding my mother she bent down to my eye level, placed her hand on my shoulder and said “I believe you will give her a very lovely home. It’s a deal”. Standing back up she asked my mom when the pony should be delivered. My mother exhaled and waved her hand in the air, “Fine, fine. Whenever is convenient for you.”
I was so ecstatic that I almost forgot to ask her name. Not the ladies name, of course, because that was of no consequence to me but I needed to know the ponies’ name. “What’s her name?” I asked excitedly and the lady replied “Springtime”.

“Springtime…….” I contemplated for a second, “that’s beautiful”. Little did Springtime know it, but this was going to be the beginning of a very incredible relationship, I could feel it.

        For the next 2 years Springtime and I had many amazing adventures together. For instance, Springtime thought it was very fun to watch me run around the pasture for 45 minutes chasing her to catch her. I believe she thought it was particularly entertaining when I would throw the halter and lead rope on the ground and start stomping up and down on it or when I would collapse exhausted against the tree for a break. But never once did I give up and eventually Springtime would take pity on me and make the clear decision to stand perfectly still after the 45 minutes allowing me to halter her. Each time I would be so excited to ride her that by the time I lead her up to the barn to tack up I would have completely forgotten about the past 45 minutes of chaos and all was forgiven.
She was MY perfect pony.
Riding proved to be fairly interesting at times as Springtime would often decide that she no longer wished to go anywhere I wanted to go or even go at all. Yet, on other days, she would get a wild hair and decide to go everywhere I didn’t want to go and go there very fast. The blindness in her one eye often took a bit of negotiating on her riders part because it caused her to be spooky on that side. It was also important to pay attention if the trail dropped off on the blind side because Springtime would not know of the dangerous terrain to her left. One of the many things Springtime did not care for was mud. I remember one trail ride with my sister where we came to a mud crossing that we could not go around and I was determined to get Springtime through it so we could enjoy the rest of our trail ride. After many determined attempts I came to the conclusion that if she refused to walk thru the mud, then I would simply make her jump the mud. Getting far back for a running head start I galloped her towards the mud crossing with all the confidence I could muster. Springtime must have felt my sheer determination because upon reaching the mud crossing she decided that I must surely and truly want to get to the other side so she assisted me in my conquest by slamming on the brakes and catapulting me into the air to cross the mud all by myself. As luck would have it the inertia was not quite enough to propel me clearly across and I landed in a swan dive right in the center of the mud hole.
“Now you’ve done it Pony!!” I said spitting out mud.
I angrily pushed myself up and spun around to point my finger at her but to my surprise she was gone. My anger was immediately swept away and replaced with horror. I thought to myself “oh no, I lost MY pony” and I desperately searched the horizon. To my relief she was only about 100 feet away happily snacking on some luscious field weeds. “it’s a good thing she’s a pig or she might have been miles from here by now.” We then played our customary 45 minute keep away game while she picked new places to graze always just beyond my reach until I finally caught her. This time she had had enough playing around and walked right thru the mud and we had a lovely rest of the trail ride. I returned home covered in mud and couldn’t be more pleased with MY perfect pony.

       Soon I began to attend horse shows with MY perfect pony. I entered her in Hunter/Jumper events. My family did not have much money so I didn’t show often and mostly I wore hand-me-down show clothes from others and borrowed tack but I still remember the day that we finally beat “Foxy lady” in the walk-trot division. And later when my all illusive and diabolical competition “Cherry Berry Soda Pop” finally took 2nd place to “Springtime” in the Short Stirrup division. Onward and upward we moved thru the divisions together becoming a flawless team. I had my dreams set on one day competing in the Pony Hunter division like my older sister but I was willing to be patient and work towards that goal at the rate that Springtime would allow.

      There was a rule in our family that you had to be 8 years old before you could take off into the hills trail riding by yourself. I couldn’t wait. As soon as I was 8, Springtime became my solace. There were many chores that were mandatory on the ranch but one of them was keeping all the horses on your string exercised. I used this to my advantage. Springtime and I would take off into the hills together just her and I. Best friends on countless adventures into the safety of our solitude together. There was also a rule that we had to wear our helmets. So I got into a naive and dangerous habit of wearing my helmet off the property, once out of sight, I would promptly ditch it in the bushes until I returned. Of course, because Princess’s do not wear helmets, neither do Cowboys nor do Indians. So no matter which adventure I was on for the day, ditching the helmet was the first item on the agenda.   Hair flying in the wind, galloping over hills and meadows I had found my freedom. Sometimes I imagined myself as a Runaway Princess leaving my corrupt Kingdom behind to find my own freedom, other times I envisioned myself as Cinderella escaping my duties. A common favorite was to play “Man from Snowy River” (a movie I had seen about an Australian Cowboy). I would find the biggest and steepest hill I could and try galloping carefree down it to recreate an epic scene from the movie. Of course, no one told me that they actually killed a horse in the filming of that movie because it was such a dangerous stunt. Whether it was Cowboys or Indians, Princess or pauper, Springtime was part of my adventure and the key to my escape. She was always there for me to listen to everything I had to say, carry me around on my adventures and of course, to keep me humble with her comical antics.

       In turn, I was always there for her as well. Feeding her morning and night, cleaning her corral, endlessly bathing and brushing her white coat. I even soaked her bit in Strawberry soda the night before shows. Strawberry was her favorite, I was hoping that she would love it and work extra hard for me the next day at the horseshow. I listened to her, I respected her, I was dedicated to her and above all I loved her.

      One day, a few months after my 9th birthday, Springtime fell ill and my world started to crumble. We had the vet come out immediately to take a look. He was very perplexed with her symptoms at first. She had strange swelling around her groin area. After some blood work it became apparent that Springtime had contracted a very rare disease carried by flies. She had sustained a bite to her utter which is where the swelling began but once in her bloodstream it soon spread to other areas of her body. I asked the vet if he had seen this before and he stated “only two other cases.” I then asked him “how did they turn out?” and his demeanor immediately changed. He struggled for the correct words and finally he said “Both horses died.” He must have been feeling the complete desperation because he quickly followed it with “but they didn’t catch it as soon and they didn’t take care of their horses nearly as well as you do.” At this point I did not realize that he was simply trying not to crush a little girls dreams and was giving me hope where there was none to be given. I nodded in understanding, for I was absolutely positive that I could do it. I could be the one to take such great care of her that she would pull through, unlike the other two horses. The vet spoke with my mom in private. I could tell she was not very happy but the only words I could pick up on were “I understand, but I also can’t afford to have you here everyday nursing her for who knows how long.” My heart felt pained and sank into my stomach. I couldn’t speak past the large knot in my throat, my legs became weak and I felt as though I might lose my lunch. Up until now, I had been able to provide for all of my ponies physical and emotional needs but I did not have any money to pay a Doctor for her necessary medical needs. I knew money was tight in our household, and realistically paying a vet to make a house call everyday was out of the question but still I did not want to hear those words come out of my mother’s mouth. We had animals in the past that had “cost too much money medically” and had been euthanized. Sometimes without even giving us notice first to say goodbye. I instinctively stepped closer to my pony providing a protective barrier between the adults and her. Not this one, not MY pony.

       When they were done speaking the vet walked back to me and he kneeled down so that we could speak eye to eye. Not an adult to a kid but one concerned person to another. He said “Your pony is going to need everyday care. In fact, she may need around the clock care and I am too busy to make it by here everyday. So you are going to need to be my assistant and take care of her when I am not here. I will teach you how and you will need to be in charge. Can you do that?” I sucked back the tears and quickly nodded, Yes. I was still emotionally a wreck that Springtime was sick so seriously but I was definitely relieved to have a chance at saving her.

      Over the next couple of days the swelling increased and expanded forward towards her lungs. The Doctor taught me to administer Springtime’s twice daily Intra-muscular shots myself for pain and inflammation. He explained that if the swelling was allowed to harden that it would make it difficult for her to breath and soon hot compresses were prescribed to be applied to the edemas every few hours, 24 hours a day. As it travelled nearer her throat it became difficult for her to swallow and a food substitute with warm bran mash had to be prepared for every meal and hand fed to her. Luckily it was summer time and I did not have school to attend. At the tender age of 9 years old I stepped up and committed to an around the clock caregiver routine. MY pony needed me too. I stuck by her side all day and all night. Applying hot compresses, administering shots, listening to her heart rate and taking her temperature. I prepared all her meals and fed them to her myself. Always encouraging her to keep fighting the disease. I sang to her and I read books to her to pass the time.

       Soon I was allowed to move a cot into Springtime’s stall to sleep in at night. Her breathing was becoming raspy as her lungs were filling up with liquid. I became accustomed to the sound as I would sleep and knew that if she stopped breathing it would awaken me. I applied the compresses even more often and I made them so hot I would burn my hands while holding them against her coat.
I was determined to save my best friend.

       Time blurred after a while of care and I am uncertain if it was merely 2 weeks or as many as 6 weeks later that my Mom announced the family would be taking a trip to see my grandparents in Oregon. I was shocked and confused.
“But I can’t go anywhere right now!!” I shouted pleadingly. “Springtime needs me. There is no one else that can care for her like I do”.
My Mom sat me down at the table and said “Now, now, calm down Wanda. The trip is only 1 week long and I have hired the young lady that use to own and ride Springtime before you did. She is going to move into the ranch temporarily and house sit for us. She is the best person I could think of to take care of your beloved pony.”

       I took some time to contemplate this. My mom was very clear that this trip was for sure happening and as much as I hated leaving Springtime, I also knew that it was not an option for the family to leave a 9 year old home alone. I was however, pleasantly surprised that my mom had found an acceptable solution. After all, if this was the last little girl that had experienced the same kind of relationship that I had with Springtime then there was really no one better to take care of her in my forced absence and until I could return. Reluctantly, I attended the trek to Oregon.

       It took two days to arrive in Oregon but it was just as beautiful as I had remembered it. My Grandparents have 40 acres well off the beaten path and in the middle of a luscious forest. There are Blackberry bushes that you can walk right up to and pick off fruit to your hearts content and plenty of magical places to find yourself alone and happily lost in an imaginary world of adventure. It was so nice to step out of the camper and take in a big breath of fresh forest air full of scents from all kinds of trees, plants, grasses, and the smell of damp earth after last night’s light rain. It seemed to wash away part of the dark cloud I had been living under for the past few weeks. The nature around me lightened my spirit and began to make me feel like a kid again.

       On the third day of our trip, just a few hours after we arrived at my grandparents, the phone rang. I remember it sounded alarming because it was a very old phone with a loud clattering ring to it. As usual, my grandmother answered it. But less usual, she shouted across the porch “It’s for you Mary”(that’s my mothers name). Instantly, I was ripped from my new adventure and my gut told me I should be filled with dread. I sprang from my dreamy state in nature and ran quickly towards the house to eavesdrop. As I reached the house I moved stealthily inside. My mom sat at the phone with her back to me, nodding. With a sad tone but lacking any shock value, my mother said “uh huh,…. uh huh,….. okay then, it’s done?” Now admittedly, that phone call could have been about anything. But somehow I knew. I knew in my gut and in my heart what that phone call was about. And in that very same moment I realized that I had been set up and betrayed. This vacation was a ploy to get me away from Springtime so they could end it.

         I gasped, causing my mother to spin around suddenly realizing that she was not alone in the room. All I could think to do was run away and that is exactly what I did. I ran out the door and off the porch. I ran into the thick welcoming forest and kept running. I didn’t want it to be true but I didn’t need to wait and listen to know that it was true. I ran down to the creek that runs thru their property and back tracked a bit along the edge of the creek until I came to the old wooden bridge. Tucking myself up into a nice hiding place underneath the rickety old bridge at the creeks edge I collapsed in a heap of despair. My body was convulsing and heaving with each sob that it let out and I struggled to catch my breath between the out pours. My tears streamed down my face and fell into the mud around my knees. Eventually I curled up on my side drawing my knees to my chest and my body fell silent.

       It must have taken them a while to figure out what to say and who to send to do it, but after some time passed I started to hear my name being called from somewhere near the house. For fear of punishment, I was typically a well behaved child but I had no desire to answer their calls today.
I remained silent.
After failing at attempts to call me out from the house I began to hear more than one voice calling for me and soon the voices were coming from different directions of the forest. I suppose I had been missing for a pretty long time by now and it was getting dark. By the sounds of it they were sending out a search party. Yet still, I could not bring myself to my feet to retreat back to my betrayers nor could I muster up any kind of answering call from the distance.
So I remained silent and hidden.

       When the sun was almost completely down I gave in. I crept out of my hiding place and climbed up the bank of the river to the roadway. I could not find the strength to walk myself all the way into the house but I figured I would meet them halfway. I walked back into reasonable view and sat down in the swing that hung from a tree just 50 feet from the front porch.

     My father was the first to find me and he softly spoke to me in an attempt to explain. Apparently I was not meant to over-hear that phone call and they both wished I could have had a wonderful vacation first. They planned to inform me on our way home or once we arrived home.
This infuriated me.
I wanted to scream “But our hearts are connected!! You don’t think I wouldn’t feel when hers stopped beating? Do you really think that I would want to go a week in ignorant bliss while my pony was already dead?!” but instead I stayed silent just staring at the ground beneath my tennis shoes. I was so caught up in my own head that I could only hear some of what he was saying. Of course he spoke about the suffering of the pony and pointed out that it was the only right thing to do. And deep down in my heart I knew he was right about that but after everything I had been thru with her I felt that I deserved the respect of being present with her when it was done.
I wanted to hug her, tell her I would see her on the other side.
Explain to her that she wouldn’t hurt anymore.
I needed to be there when the light went out in her eyes. I owed her that.
But that was all ripped away from me in a well-intended decision to spare me the pain.

       Most of that week was a blur of tears but I was grateful to be able to retreat alone into the beautiful peace of nature each day. Upon returning home I realized that my mom had not saved anything related to Springtime. In an effort to avoid drudging up feelings there were no more memories to be readily found of her. Her corral and been cleaned spotless and her tack was already packed away. Had I been given the choice, I would have kept hair from her tail to look upon when I missed her.
This “cover-up” was exceptionally painful for me.
Instead of honoring her memory it felt like everyone was trying to erase her.
Trying to make me just forget her.

————————–

       Reflecting back as an adult I realize that my parent’s intent was to spare their nine year-old daughter what they deemed to be unnecessary pain. As parents we all hope to be able to shelter our child from many of life’s great tragedies. Often times we look for the quickest way thru it or around it so we can continue on with our lives pretending it doesn’t exist. But I can honestly attest that even from my young 9 years of experience I knew better with regards to what I could handle. My parents unknowingly created more discord in my heart and between my relationship with them then if I had been allowed to take the tough decision that needed to be made into my own hands and met it head on.

 

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