Inspired by my ode to the ponies of my childhood, EN reader Erin Kimmer sent me her own pony story. Her love of horses was certainly well established at a young age, but a certain grumpy pony named Richard, who entered her life when she was eleven. For her, the experience of owning her first pony was life changing, and educational in all the right ways. I’m sure we can all relate when we look back at the one that started it all. Thanks to Erin for writing this, and thanks to you for reading!
My relationship with my first pony began one summer day after my eleventh birthday. My trainer told me that while I had been away celebrating my birthday that a pony had arrived that I might like and that I should go check him out. I walked up to the stall and inside was a little sorrel pony, who as soon as I appeared, pinned his ears and made all kinds of grumpy pony faces at me. My Dad asked me what I thought and as a typical know it all kid, I said, “He’s nice but, I really like his one,” pointing to the tall leggy thoroughbred across the aisle.
“We’ll see,” said my very knowledgeable Dad.
The next day, my trainer paired me with the grumpy pony, dubbed “Richard”. He was in the furthest field away from the barn and after I caught him, he tried to bite me the whole way back to the barn. In the cross ties he pawed, tossed his head all over the place, and made faces like he wanted to eat me. I had been riding some pretty spit-fire little ponies so I wasn’t bothered by all his antics and tacked him up and took him out to the ring. Once I was in the saddle he was great and did everything asked if him. Next thing I knew my trainer had us going over the highest jumps I had ever jumped. He was perfect. A month later my father made all of my little girl wishes come true and “Richard”, re-named “Matty”, was mine.
Matty was not easy on the ground. In our first six months together he sent me to the emergency room after I stupidly took a bucket of grain to catch him in the field. He charged me, bit my shoulder and tried to take the bucket with him when he ran away. He was a horrible biter and very territorial over his stall and food. He was pretty well behaved under saddle but had a wicked spook and spin which left me in the dirt many times. Some of my family members question my father about buying Matty for me. He would say “That pony will be there for her when I can’t be.”
His words rang true when he passed away two years after he bought Matty for me. I was devastated and riding Matty was a way to escape all the heartbreak I felt. I would try to hug Matty and use him, as Kleenex and he would always be his grumpy self and try to bite me. I could never understand why he couldn’t be a sweet pony, just for a second.
I look back now and realize that in his grumpy pony way, he was trying to help me. He was trying to help me realize that I needed to focus on the present and not wallow in my sorrow. He was such a good teacher with helping me become a better horsewoman. With all of his attitude issues I had to become a very confident and assertive young lady to gain his respect. At a time when I could have withdrawn within myself over the loss of my father, he kept me grounded in reality. He taught me immeasurable amounts of patience with his stubbornness. If I wanted him to go through a water crossing he was not so sure about, no amount of kicking or even a crop would budge his stubborn pony feet. Only until I had stopped my flailing and relaxed then he would quietly go on a lose rein.
He safely toted me around our first horse trial together and let me discover the joys of eventing. He even managed in just our 2 first horse trials to teach me humility. We had received second at our first horse trials so I thought we had the next one in the bag. However, we were eliminated at the second jump on cross-country. He was well on his way to teaching me that in eventing, we can’t let the highs get too high and the lows get too low.
After I outgrew Matty, I did not sell him. I couldn’t bear the thought of him being passed on to someone who might treat him badly because of his “special” attitude. We could not afford to board two horses so we leased Matty. We were always able to place him with special families who understood his “Mattyness”. He evented with several little girls, helped them receive many pony club ratings, was featured with one little girl in her local paper and even was ridden in a Christmas parade with another.
After getting married and buying a farm I was able to bring Matty home. When his last leaser brought him home she left me a letter, and it read:
Thank you so much for letting me borrow this incredible animal for these past five years. He has taught me so much, and I am so grateful to you for letting me have that opportunity.
He is such a good man and he has become my best friend. He has helped me get through all of the toughest years of a woman’s life, high school. I now know how you must have felt, giving him up that first time. It is incredibly hard to imagine my life without his grumpy self in it but I know retirement is what he deserves and I know and he will be so happy to be back with his first mama. I can’t express how thankful I am but I am sure you understand what I am saying.
He is such a wonderful teacher and he has truly improved my life by leaps and bounds. He has saved my butt more times that I can count and he has challenged me and helped me to become the young woman I am today. Thank you so much for sharing him with me.
Matty is still his grumpy pony self at 22 and still gives out wonderful bits of life information to other little girls. He loves to keep me on my toes and can’t be fully retired yet because he gets bored easily and comes up with creative and destructive ways to keep himself entertained otherwise! He has been ridden by all generations of my family and will be taking my Mom foxhunting this season. Some ponies are worth their weight in gold because of their show records or breeding. Matty is priceless to me because of the person whom he shaped me into and I feel so lucky to have been able to share him and his life lessons with others.