Friday, May 24, 2013

"Anything but Speechless"

We first met when I was 6 years old. I remember looking up at you thinking you were the most beautiful strawberry roan I had ever seen. You had perfect white stockings up to your knees, the biggest blaze right down the center of your face, and a perfect horseshoe mark of chestnut hair on the side of your tummy. You were every little girl’s dream and nightmare rolled into one. Apparently you were way too much pony for me. Actually you were way too much pony for most everyone!

You didn’t have the best reputation thanks to your very permanent vices: pulling your mane was non-negotiable and so was lunging. But most of all you were well known for grabbing the bit and running out open gates and stall doors, for your colic history, and, of course for your hopping lead changes.  I thought it was all great fun. I think it scared the dickens out of everyone else. More than our fair share of rides ended in bleeding blisters on my hands, tears in my eyes, and mud on my clothes. But eventually you taught me to bury my knuckles in your neck and hang on for the ride. You taught everyone else to close the gate!  Yes, you taught me a lot more than how to ride. You taught me how to listen.

I thought I was going to lose you the day you bowed your tendon at the fairgrounds. I was back at the barn tending to Glenmore’s Beaumonde (Beau), who had already pulled a suspensory earlier in the show.  Local legend indicates it was an awful sight to watch you coming off that jump, not able to take another step after landing. Mere immediately jumped off your back as you stood on three legs and both of you waited for me. Dad drove the trailer right up to the show ring and we loaded you and rushed straight across the street to the vet school with Beau riding right beside you.  Lots of talk among the adults about what to do. After countless x-rays, ultrasounds, 2nd and 3rd opinions, and a healthy competition between the staff and the vet. students at guessing your age, there was still more conferring to be done.  While we waited, one of the interns tallied the scores on guessing your age...highest age guessed by anyone -- 9 yrs (You were already 19 at the time). Now it was time for a diagnosis --the worst bow the doctors had ever seen. Given your age,  they said not only would you never jump again but you would most likely never walk soundly again. The advice they gave, “Put her down.”  Beau was in the stall next to you, having had his suspensory exam by then, and the report was he should recover just fine but not you. I looked in your eyes and “listened” to you. You and I disagreed with everybody else. I knew how tough you were and I fought for you. Mere and I swore that no amount of rehab was too much for us “kids” to do. We at least wanted a chance to try. We were young but we were determined to care for you. After all you took great care of us.

So we moved you to a farm where we could spend the summer months working at the rehab task.  The family that owned that farm had a pony a lot like you and their children were too afraid to ride her. Waltzing Matilda (Millie) was her name and when she took off it was much faster than a waltz! It worked out great for Mere because she now had a pony to ride to finish her show year. Another kid had a 4 year old pony named Mr. Razzle Dazzle (Rascal) who was very fond of bucking. You had taught me how to handle those flying lead changes so Rascal and I got along fine with his bucks while Beau’s suspensory healed. That summer was a turning point for all of us.

It was time for our own farm. You were recovering but it was slow. We thought so highly of you we considered breeding you while you were laid up. You were beautiful, talented, and won everything you ever competed in, so clearly any foals out of you would be complete knockouts! Boy did you have no interest in that, and it didn’t matter that every stallion we introduced you to was as talented and gorgeous as you! Add that to the list of things you were never going to do. So we listened to you…eventually. We settled for a stone statue of a foal and we named it Baby Pinky.

Not only did you recover from your bow but you went on to jump for several more years and win a lot more ribbons for more lucky kids. There was no stopping you from doing what you wanted to do. You loved teaching lessons; not just teaching children how to ride but teaching them lessons about life. Your determination was undeniable and often quite comical. You were never satisfied with the idea of retirement although you clearly had earned it. You always wanted a job and even settled for the job of babysitting my other horses and the ponies that I bought and trained. You saw a lot of horses and ponies come and go out of our barn but one fella came and I just couldn’t let him leave. The plan had been to sell Manassas (Nas) when I left for college but you were so good at keeping him company that Mom and Dad just put that plan on hold…there you were taking care of me again! You and Nas were a lot alike… both of you won everything I ever showed you in, no one else could ride you consistently, and you both would do absolutely anything for me. You loved to swim in the creek when you got hot or bored and he was happy to stand behind you so you could splash him and cool him off without him expending his own energy. That was until the day you both got silly and jumped out of the creek bed.  I was teaching a lesson and looked over at you and saw that something was terribly wrong. You couldn’t move, at all. A new vet on call came who figured you pulled a muscle and at your age (32 by then) it was hard to tell how badly. In her defense, she had just met you and didn’t understand the insignificance of your physical age. We gave you all the pain meds we could but you still couldn’t walk. She took some x-rays out in the pasture to develop back at the clinic and said she would call when she reviewed them. She left us with instructions to bring the hay and water to you in the paddock and see if you were still standing in the morning…and most importantly,to not put you in the stall.  What was unsaid in that instruction was…If she had to come back to put you down it would be best done out in the pasture. I wasn’t satisfied with that but I had a business to run and there were rounds to make. I brought your hay and water out to you and told you I would be back so you and I could talk about what we were going to do… just the two of us. I barely finished rounds before Mom called and said “she’s down and can’t get back up.”  I was panicky…I wasn’t ready to let you go. I could see the pain in your eyes when I got there but the look you gave me was even louder. I knew that look very well…you were headed back to your stall with a side of  "don’t you even think of putting me down over this!"  Whether we helped you or not you were headed back to the barn. You were always headed back to your stall if you needed to handle things your own way. You just needed to get back up on your feet. Not an easy task to say the least with a 700 lb. pony. But you trusted me and knew I could help you get all four under you. I remember whispering in your ear that for all the times you carried me I would return the favor if I could. It took the whole family but you gave it a go and up you went. It took every ounce of energy out of all of us, especially you. Aside from the pain it was dark by now and you couldn’t see where you were going.  I had Mom drive the golf cart and light your path with the head lights. I tucked your forelock into your halter so it would stay out of your eyes and with Dad on one side and me on the other to steady you along the way we got there, one step at a time, all the way up that hill to your stall. The vet called later to say the x-ray showed a fractured elbow, and with sorrow in her voice she offered to come back that evening if we were ready to say goodbye. Needless to say she was flabbergasted when we reported that you were in your stall and had given us a message for her…..I’m not planning to take “the big nap” quite yet. Once again, you recovered.

That was the first of many phone calls from you for my help.  It wasn’t long after that we sold the farm and I had to move you and Nas to separate farms. We found a lovely place for you real close to home with a woman who tried her best to learn how to care for you. She eventually got accustomed to calling me when you needed something. But you had a few lessons for her. I gave her your “list” the first day I met her with explicit instructions to never underestimate you, especially as it pertained to open gates. It wasn’t long before she let her guard down and you slipped out the crack in the barn doors. She called with terror in her voice, “Pinky is loose and I can’t catch her. I’m shaking the grain can and she won’t come…she’s so old… she must be deaf!” My reply, “no, she can hear just fine, she’s just having a good laugh at you while you chase her around in the woods. I’m on my way.” After all you could still hear me unwrap a peppermint for you from 200 yards away at that point. You and I had a little discussion after that about you not giving her a hard time. I told you to remember that she loved you like family and that I would never find someone else to board you and care for you like she did.

Over the next several years you started to have little strokes and the arthritis made it hard for you to get up and down but you still found a way to gallop in the field on your good days. You were finally starting to show your age. Your eye sight started to go and you had some rough days but you were no quitter. I eventually lost count of the times that I would get a call that you were down and waiting on me for help. I always knew that one day you wouldn’t be able to get back up. But I vowed to never give up on you so long as you still wanted me to help you. We went through five years of thinking we were making “the call” to Dr Jim or Dr Bob. I will never forget that cold winter New Years Eve night we struggled with you down in the mud for what seemed like hours. I finally decided we wouldn’t get you up without someone getting hurt so I called Dr Jim. I could barely talk through the tears when he picked up the phone and he calmly said “I’m already on my way.” So as we prepared for what was to come, you gave me that darn look again, and shot up like God had just sat you on your feet…just as Dr Jim pulled in the driveway.  We just couldn’t help but turn the tears into laughter and celebrate the New Year with Dr Jim!  You made it a few more years, including the time Dad insisted on helping you back onto your feet instead of waiting for me.  The next week a surgeon reattached his bicep tendon and he still kept coming to see you!

Then one sunny day last May my phone rang and I knew this time was different so I called Dr Jim on my way to the farm. When I turned in the barn driveway I saw you out in the field trying to look for me. You weren’t getting up this time. Mom had gotten to the farm ahead of me and she and Pat were trying to keep you calm but you just wanted me to get there. I sat down in the pasture with you, gave you a peppermint, put your head in my lap, rubbed your ears, and you relaxed while we cried, a lot. Dad arrived and Dr Jim got there and we all cried a lot more. Saying goodbye to you was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Despite all the tears over the years I still wasn’t prepared.

Oh the memories you gave me Pinkerton…You were so good at breaking the mold. Other than the past year, you were a part of my life as far back as I remember. Every accomplishment, every success and failure, every break-up and graduation, you were there for every one of them. You are as responsible for who I am and what I do today as Mom and Dad. I learned so much from you over the years. You are one of the reasons I chose the career I have today. You are why I take the job of “listening” to the animals that cross my path so seriously.

You loved to suck on your tongue after eating every peppermint so you could savor the flavor and you loved being rubbed behind your ears. I remember going to the tack shop to buy you a new pink halter, pink splint boots, and two hot pink buckets shortly after Mom and Dad bought you for me. Guess what….I still have all of them! I remember you running out the gate at the fairgrounds and dumping me on the drain pipe on your dash back to your stall. I remember how mad Shep was at you for doing that to me; so mad that he went back to Barn E himself to bring you back up to the show ring. I remember sitting on the bleachers watching as you turned right around and did the same thing to Shep. I remember you dumping Mere at the Sedgefield Show and the braider hearing “loose pony” over the PA just as your thundering hooves rounded the corner. Apparently you over shot your stall and came to a skidding halt only to quietly back up into your stall as if nothing had happened. I don’t know why everyone was always so amazed that you went back to your stall when that was what you did (with or without a rider). It’s  just not what most loose horses or ponies do. I remember riding you bareback chasing the geese around the pond at Triton. And I vividly remember the time I took you out to the power lines and fell off. Those power lines are now I-540! It was a long walk back to the barn and I didn’t hear your galloping hooves. I knew I was going to be in big trouble once you made it back to the barn without me.  Lucky for me Alvin heard your shoes headed towards him and he grabbed you as you tried to fly by. And as I turned the corner from the tree line there you were, furious with Alvin for delaying your arrival back to your stall. Boy was I lucky he caught you! He kept us both out of trouble that day! I have 23 years of memories with you and I will always treasure every one of them.

Thirty nine years is a long time for a pony to be on this earth and you were special to many during all those years. They say cats have 9 lives and I’m not sure how many a pony gets. What I do know is that you used up every one you were blessed with. Many people thought you were stubborn; to me you were just smart. You loved everyone and everything. As far as I am concerned you were a saint long before we said goodbye to you a year ago today, May 23, 2012.

Northlands Speechless

First Championship - Short Stirrup Hunter Division

Baby Pinky


  1. Wow. Erin you did a beautiful job of cataloging the life of our precious pony, Pinky. For 23 years Pinky was a blessing to our family. For all the tears and laughter you brought through the recap of these fond memories, and for the time and care you put into accurately portraying Pinky's life, I will thank you for years to come. Love you!

  2. Erin, that was a beautiful tribute that mesmerized me from beginning to end. Pinky was an amazing friend and family member. Thank you for sharing this testament to your love for Pinky and all animals. Debra Boyd