One year ago I was asked to write a book, a pony’s story. I started but couldn’t finish. My emotions following this pony’s death were too intense to delve deeply into the story. I worked in fits and starts, through the haze of my tears. Time has passed and I am ready to begin the tale. It may turn into a book some day, or perhaps it is an alternate blog path.
There is a bright, new star in the Eastern skies this evening. As the sun burned rose and gold at sunset yesterday, a small pony with a huge heart closed his eyes and said good-bye to us all.
He had just finished another summer of camp. Tom said they tried to give him days off but when the girls flocked to the field to catch up horses for their rides, he was right there saying “Pick me, Pick ME!” He ran with his herd of 69 brethren through the lush pastures when it was feeding time up at the barn. Though he was never in the first wave, neither was he last.
Camp is over and the air is chilling as the sun goes down. Last night, Tom said he was slow to come in and just not himself. He was tired, bone tired. It was just time to go. He went peacefully, on his own terms and in his own time.
In 1994 he appeared in the parking lot at the Flagstaff Riding Academy. My life-long friend and cohort, Steph managed the facility and was working in her office when a cowboy shyly entered and introduced himself. Her account is wonderful, I will quote her here:
I remember the first time I laid eyes on Nelson. I was managing the Flagstaff Riding Club out in AZ and a fellow had come into the office to say he had a pony for sale and would we like him for the riding school. Said “he goes western but probably don’t care what kind of saddle he wears”. (my first alarm went off in my head… pony has probably never done anything beyond packing some kid around in a big western saddle, and while that was fine, we were mostly an english barn/school). The guy selling him wasn’t as backwards as I was lead to believe because as I started to thank him and decline, he said he had the pony right outside, and why didn’t I just come take a look, if we couldn’t use him, perhaps I’d know of someone else who could. So, minding my manners, and believing public relations was the key to good job security, I agreed to take a look. I fully anticipated him opening the back of the trailer and seeing the pony backed out and paraded around accompanied by the hard sell speech about how perfect this pony would be for us, blah blah blah. I came outside and out in the middle of our good-sized parking lot was a lone truck and trailer. As I wandered over to it, I naturally came around the back to help with taking the ramp down. And, there he was, already out and tied to the far side of the trailer. As I came around the back, he looked up at me, shiny chestnut splashes mixing with startling white, perfectly roached mane, full, lush, banged tail and SHINY little hooves. As he turned to look at me it was as if he said “what are YOU looking at?” It was love at first sight. Such machismo in such a beautiful package. I asked the guy how much he wanted and told him he was sold. Right on the spot. The next thing I did was not go back into the office, but right to my home and called my best friend and life long partner in crime, Martha. When she answered the phone, I simply said “I’m about to change your life” and told her about Nelson. We quickly planned his trip across the country which would change the lives of two little girls and their parents forever. Not to mention those on the farm in New Hampshire where he retired. Christmas 1994 was every little girl’s fantasy, that MY best friend and her husband pulled off without a glitch. I’m sure Marth, you could write the most wonderful children’s book about your family’s life with Nelson… (please). His strong belief in doing things right or not at all like simply quitting/stopping if he was given bad instructions by a careless child and refusing to go ahead until they were given correctly, no tantrums were allowed, much less reacted to, and teaching us all what “Mum, Mum,Mum” really meant at “snuggle time”. And yet, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do if the girls simply asked him. He adored his girls and gave his girls a sense of responsibility, empowerment, pride and independence. He is and forever will be The Perfect Paint Pony.
Christmas that year was a fairy-tale. We were young, broke, had two small daughters and a crazy/busy life. For $500 dollars we suddenly owned a pony. It cost almost twice that to have him shipped from Flagstaff, AZ to Littleton, MA. He was due to arrive on or about Lexie’s seventh birthday. I had to keep him a secret until Christmas. He was mine alone for one week.
The truck rolled into the barnyard late on a Friday night. The cowboys driving the rig were tired and still had stops to make in New Hampshire before calling it a day. I got the call from dispatch, they were an hour out from the barn. I scrambled to write a check and ran to the bank for cash for the tip. Waiting for their lights to turn into the driveway that cold December day was my first taste of Christmas. I had seen only photos and a choppy video of this beast. He was bought solely on Steph’s recommendation. I was riding but the kids were only showing a slight interest in my “hobby”. It was all a huge, expensive gamble.
When the truck and trailer parked it was just dusk. The ramp went down on the trailer and the door opened. What stood before me was the most perfectly proportioned, elegant horse. He took your breath away with his perfection but his attitude was all, “OK folks, let’s just move along. This looks like a good place to get off.” His journey from Northern Arizona had included a stop-over of two days in Florida, then two days to get up the coast. He had this traveling business down to a comfortable routine. They led him off and handed me the lead-rope. I looked into his eyes and there was no doubt in my mind this little being was important.