My First Pony

bySusanna Hickman Bartee

When my oldest daughter turned six, we gave her a dream-come-true birthday present—two weeks at pony camp. She could talk of nothing else as we crossed off the days on the calendar leading up to the camp. It happened to be during a Virginia June with 100-plus degree days, but Abigail didn’t mind the heat one bit. As far as she was concerned, nuzzling her pony in a hot, dusty barn was as good as it could get. As she skipped off in her long blonde braids and size 5-slim blue jeans, she was in horsey heaven.

She’d been on a horse before, but was eager to learn what she called “real” riding. Outfitted with a tiny riding helmet and new black boots, she was introduced to Napoleon, a sweet old pony who looked like even an electric prod wouldn’t get him moving anywhere in a hurry. The fact was Napoleon was really, really old. And to his credit, he wasn’t a bit cranky about a squirmy, sweaty little person perched on his back all day.

After just one day, Abigail was talking about Napoleon like he was the love of her life. After two days she was able to identify most all the parts of a saddle, as well as the technical names for the various parts of her horse. By the end of the session, horse and rider were actually trotting and jumping a little. The two ribbons Abigail won that final day still hang on her bedroom wall four years later.

Since her first experience at pony camp, Abigail has gone on to ride and love many more horses. She was thrown once by a stubborn little pony named Sugar Baby, but bravely mounted up again. Now she talks of becoming a veterinarian and perhaps working with horses. If she does, I suppose we’ll have Napoleon to thank.

We now have three little horse-lovers at our house. They love to visit their Texas grandparents who own a dozen or so horses. These kids will spend hours feeding, brushing and riding the horses. They even seem to know the personalities of the animals and consider them friends and playmates. In each child’s treasure box is a tiny wreath woven of hair from the mane of Blue Bell, a beloved Shetland pony who lived in Texas until she died two years ago. Now, of course, we firmly believe she is in pony heaven cavorting in vast green fields.

In fact, my younger daughter recently confided, “Heaven is where God will give me a pony if I just ask.”

My kids aren’t alone in their passion for ponies. When asked for horse stories on the web site last year, dozens poured in and each was full of that special enthusiasm “horsey people” all seem to have.

Ginny Wardell wrote about naming her oldest daughter Abby after a beloved Appaloosa she won in a contest as a teenager. Lee McCanless told how she chose a spanking over being grounded from riding her horse as a child.

“As a child, I loved how it felt to be high on top of a horse. I was bigger than life, and in control. Up there I was an equal, not at all the baby of the family,” wrote Jennifer Murphy.

Stephanie Goodacre tells of her first visit to a Charlottesville Polo match and how a nervous mother was wowed by the generosity of the riders and the majesty of the horses. Marlo Kirssin wrote of the joy a horse named “Joy” brought to her daughter India.

There is no doubt there is something special about riding. Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities for horse-lovers of all ages in Albemarle County to spend time with their favorite animals. Whether you are a beginner or an old hat, there may be no better place than central Virginia to pull on your boots and saddle up. All these horse enthusiasts can’t be wrong. If you are ready to make some horse memories of your own, somewhere nearby may be your own sweet Napoleon. Visit the AK Guide to Kids Recreation Year-Round for Riding Opportunities.

Susanna Hickman Bartee did her own share of riding while growing up in Texas. Her favorite pair of cowgirl boots still sit ready in her closet for the next ride. .

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