Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dad, Can I Have a Pony?

Photo by Peter Van DorpeIt was a routine visit to see my dad. The bright sun streamed through his window, and the vibrant pink rhododendron blossoms were swaying in the brisk breeze. I chatted about what a perfect hay-drying day it was; how the crew would be happy with the 500 bales coming in that afternoon, and if the weather held we’d have another thousand in by the end of the week. Dad was known for his workingman’s handshake, so it was no surprise when he squeezed my hand really hard. It was a surprise when he didn’t let go for a few minutes, and when it did let go it was forever. 

I thought about not going to work the next day, but there was a project depending on me being there. I remembered dad always said, “If you say you’re going to do something, do it,” and, “There’s no excuse for not getting a job done unless you’re dead or in the hospital.”
So, I went to work promising myself after that one task I would take a week off. My co-workers arrived as usual, “Hi, how’s the coffee this morning?” and a variety of other greetings as they walked past. One friend, Mark, chatted a little longer that morning, “Hey Vicki, I want you to know you were right. We bought our daughter a horse and it’s the best thing we ever did.” He went on to talk about his daughter’s good grades in school and how she helped around the barn, but I didn’t hear much. I was lost in memories of my dad, the farm I grew up on and a long forgotten pony. Someday, when I can compose myself properly, he will know how much those words meant to me.

Photo by Vicki SchmidtAs a kid, I can’t remember not wanting a horse. We had cattle, but to me they were just odd shaped horses. I’d sit on the backs of the tamer cows and steers when they were tied in their stalls, and I remember trying to weave their short manes into braids like fancy show horses. One morning my dad was rototilling the garden and I was walking behind him picking worms and putting them into a can of dirt so we could go fishing later on. When he shut off the rototiller I asked if I could have a pony. He said, “Maybe someday.”

I ran into the house all excited and told mom, “Dad’s getting me a pony on Sunday.” Needless to say, the next few minutes were mass confusion, and by the end of the day I had learned my first lesson in disappointment: There is a big difference between “someday” and “Sunday.” That afternoon I lead a weanling calf into the barn, saddled it with a rug and a piece of rope, determined I was going to ride. A neighbor standing beside my dad and talking cattle commented, “You really need to buy her a pony.”

That week dad traded some work towards an old saddle he’d found in a friend’s barn and brought it home to me. I cleaned it up and thought I’d struck gold. The calves weren’t impressed, and the girth wasn’t long enough to go around the cows, but it was a saddle, and for some reason it didn’t bother me that I didn’t have a real horse to put it on. Sunday morning came and I woke to the cattle dealer’s truck grinding gears as it came into the barnyard to pick up calves. The sound of a whinnying horse bolted me out of bed and crashing down the stairs. There, standing in the pasture was not one, but two of the most beautiful ponies in the world.
Photo by Vicki SchmidtFor the next few days I brushed and braided their manes, cleaned water buckets and stalls, saddled the ponies and struggled to bridle them. I was too short, but eventually I got the job done. Within a couple of weeks I could actually climb up onto the smaller pony, named Dynamite, all by myself. Dynamite lived up to his name. Not only did I learn to ride on that pony, I also learned how to fall off, land on my feet and get back on. I learned that scrapes, bumps and bruises all hurt, but all eventually heal. Some leave scars, but even those fade with time. I also learned that just because you are nice to something doesn’t always mean it’s going to be nice to you. 

From that pony, my mom and dad and the land, I learned a few other valuable lessons as well:
Other beings will often help you find your way. The few times I explored trails and didn’t know where I was, my pony found the way back to a place I knew. He also taught me that sometimes it’s better to listen to his language and cross the brook further downstream. The waters may look calm, but sometimes others know what lies beneath is not safe. 

Make sure every being that touches your life has a warm and safe place to rest. Whether it’s a high spot of dry ground, the shade under a big tree, a softly bedded stall for your livestock or sharing your couch or spare room with a friend you haven’t met yet, humans and horses both do best with a good night’s sleep and an occasional nap. 

Share drinks with friends whenever you can. Morning coffee, afternoon tea or a cold beer after a hard day’s work all go better with friends. And, never ask your horse to drink out of a bucket or trough you wouldn’t drink out of as well. 

It’s OK to not forget, but do forgive and pay attention next time. Sometimes years pass before a lesson learned is realized. Life’s bumpy rides, broken bones, bruises and bucks are often caused by things out of our control at the time. The way horses and people are raised sometimes makes them want to kick you. Don’t take it personally, learn to read the signs and dodge the kick. Above all else, never kick back.

Photo by Vicki SchmidtA $50 pony is the best therapy for a kid. If your kid wants a pony and it’s not an option at the time, find one they can visit, brush and help care for: because there is nothing like the nuzzle of a pony to complement the love of a parent.

Written in memory of my dad, who never understood why I wanted horses, and in memory of my mom, who always did. Vicki Schmidt, Troika Drafts, Hebron ME

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