Friday, December 10, 2010

The Children's Pony

The Children’s Pony

When I was three, and we were living in Loudonville, New York, our parents bought us a pony. She was a palomino Welsh pony, with a luxurious silver mane and tail. She had a triangular white patch on her near hindquarter. That marking made its way onto Thunder, the primitive horse in my novel, Wind Rider, as a sign that she was somehow genetically different, with a kind streak which allowed her to be tamed. To this day, Przewalsky horses are nearly impossible to train.

Our pony’s name was Primrose when she came to us, and she was quite naughty at first. I remember that my brother David thought up the name Maple Sugar and gradually she came to trust us and grow into her new name. She settled down to following my mother around like a big golden puppy and allowing all sorts of shenanigans like London Bridge under her belly and multiple children on her back. I truly thought I could ride her and embarrassed myself horribly when I told my teacher at Farm School (a magical nursery school) that I didn’t need to be led. You guessed it! The venerable old pony, Mickey Mouse, ran back to the barn with me at a trot! We did have one scare with Maple Sugar when she ran away down Border Road with my sister, Cathy, on her back. Like Mickey Mouse, she was probably thinking about her hay. Daddy was able to flag down a passing car, head her off, and catch her, and Cathy stayed in the saddle.

That summer, and for the next few years that we had her, we brought Maple to our camp on an island in New Hampshire, where my older brother, Ted, then ten or twelve, rode her on the old logging trails. When I later discovered the Billy and Blaze books by C.W. Anderson, I thought of Ted’s adventures riding his pony alone on the island. She learned to roll under the single strand of electric fence wire and visit Mrs. Fenn next door, who would open the kitchen window and hand her a few chocolate Hydrox cookies.

When we moved to Winchester, MA, in 1957, the fall of my fourth birthday, Daddy built a tiny stable for Maple in the back yard under the oak trees. Our grandparents came over to help and it was a big family project. Maple’s stable was a beautiful little building that stood until my parents passed away and the house was sold fifty years later. It had plank siding, a shingled roof, two windows, an overhang which allowed storage of a few bales of hay, and an electric light which worked from a big round, red battery on a little shelf by the door. I recall sitting in her manger on a winter’s day, methodically setting off a roll of caps from my brothers’ cap guns, one by one, by scratching each with a nail. Maple never minded. She just kept on placidly munching her hay and blowing steamy breaths into the cold air. We have a lovely home movie clip of Maple frisking in new snow on Christmas morning in the back yard.

I don’t really know what happened, but as many ponies do, Maple foundered. I remember the vet coming and big white horse pills which were probably the horseman’s common anti-inflammatory known as “bute.” (Butezaldone—hope my spelling is close I can’t seem to find it in Google.) Founder is a painful condition of the laminae of the hooves which causes lameness. Ponies can recover and be ridden again, but I think my mother was frazzled from raising four kids and felt she just couldn’t cope with a pony any more. In any case, Maple was given to Doris Spollett in Hampstead, NH. Doris was a NH representative in the days when few women were in politics. She loved horse and actually had her childhood pony and family carriage horse stuffed in the barn. She was going to breed Maple. We went to visit our pony once, and when all four children cried, Mummy said, never again. I was six.

Every Christmas after that, I asked for a pony. When my own children began begging for one, a fuzzy, round Shetland pony appeared in the goat pen one Christmas morning. His original name was Peanut. It was magical when the girls, then four and seven, chose Chestnut as his new name. Chestnut lived with us for about fifteen years before going to pony heaven. I am still working on a middle grade novel about him. He was always naughty, but we all loved him dearly. Sometimes he would rest his chin on my shoulder. He went to Pony Club Nationals for games twice and when Fern wanted to “be a cave girl for the summer,” was the inspiration behind Wind Rider. Like my golden childhood pony, Maple Sugar, he too was a Children’s Pony.

The Children’s Pony

We have a golden pony
With silver mane and tail
And Daddy built a house for her
With hammer saw and nail

Davy named her Maple Sugar
Teddy fed her hay
He’s big enough to ride alone
They saw a deer one day

Cathy’s toe got stepped on
It bled and made her cry
And Maple nudged her with her nose
As if to ask her why

I like to go and visit
In my snowsuit, boots, and hat
And sit up in her manger
For a cozy winter chat

We play London Bridges
Underneath her tummy
And she thinks chocolate cookies
At the house next door are yummy

We dressed her up as Pegasus
With cardboard wings and ties
And we were mad that day
Because she didn’t win first prize

She follows Mummy like a dog
And I’m not scared at all
With both fists buried in her mane
I know I couldn’t fall

Our cousins and the neighbors
And the dogs all run beside
And each child gets a turn
When we take Maple for a ride

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