This month my wife, Heather, and I undertook one of the strangest, and ultimately most stressful, undertakings of our decades in horses. We started horse shopping—for a pony for our 3-year-old son, Wesley.
The few other horsey parents we know had assured us that pony shopping is a fun thing, one of the really enjoyable parts of raising a kid in a horsey family. We’d been debating whether or not we should pursue the pony thing for a while, but after watching Wesley enthusiastically drag our ancient miniature Sicilian donkey Sage around the property, we decided he might be ready for an equine of his own.
We’ve always said we wouldn’t pressure him to ride, and we’re committed to that path. We want him to want to ride, not to ride because we made him. (But we really hope he’ll want to ride.)
We can’t tell yet how enthusiastic a rider Wesley may become, but so far he’s had (and asked for) about 10 rides on a three of our trustworthy Quarter Horse mares. He certainly loves to feed and interact with all the animals on the farm (the horses, the dogs, the cats, the Nigerian dwarf goats, his bunny and the chickens), and he loves to groom and (sort of) lead the horses we trust with him. Plus, he’s reaching that age where he wants to be independent in his pursuits.
So the search has begun for a suitable companion pony. My parameter was clear: I wanted the equine version of our Collie, Lucas, whose response to the blunders of a 3-year-old is to carefully extract himself from the situation and then wag his tail. Other than that, I don’t have a requirement.
Heather was a little more specific: small, ancient and kind pony with impeccable ground manners. She’s willing to be a little forgiving of age-related creakiness, and she’s willing to provide therapeutic means to help such an otherwise perfect pony.
Now, despite that fact that horse shopping is a part of what Heather does here at Phoenix Farm, she’d be the first to admit that she hates horse shopping. It’s one long series of events that make you evaluate your understanding of the English language, since the definitions of such apparently clear words as “sound,” “quiet,” “flashy” and “trained” are demonstrably not universal.
She was, therefore, dreading the search for a pony for Wesley. But then, the night before she actually went to look at one last week, she realized that she was panicking. Facing down the barrel of picking the right pony for her own kid was sending her in to hysterics. How would she evaluate something that small? That she couldn’t ride? She couldn’t take Wesley with her, because (a) he’d like every pony and (b) what if a misrepresented pony hurt him? So, how would she know it was the right pony?
So far, her feelings of panic have been unwarranted, mainly because it’s been relatively easy to sort out that most of the ponies advertised haven’t been suitable. “A little gimpy” has meant three-legged lame. “Spirited” has meant bonkers. So, how are we (especially Heather) going to find a suitable pony?
We’re turning to word of mouth, talking to our vets and farrier, and a host of other friends and acquaintances. We’re hopeful and patient, and we’re resigned to this process. But we’re starting to think that it would be easier to find a horse to run around the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event this April than it will be to find the perfect pony for our son.
We know and believe that the right pony will find us. We just hope we don’t have a head full of gray hair and a drinking problem before he/she gets here.