Thursday, April 1, 2010

An April Fool's Story

I promise that I do not have a horse related story for every single holiday. Or maybe I do. At any rate if you are reading this blog chances are you are a horse-crazed "fool" (see also "weirdo") and what better way of celebrating this crazy holiday than with a good crazy horse story. Bear with me, for we are about to embark on a topic very near and dear to my heart. My first (love) pony - Daisy.

Remember Daisy?
I could, and probably should, write a whole series of children's books based on my Daisy stories, but today I will focus on how she came into my life and ultimately - almost three decades ago this very day - she became mine.

Mom was working at a large riding academy and summer camp as an instructor at the time. When I say large I ain't kidding - 30+ lesson horses, 5 instructors, 3 rings. Tueday through Thursday they ran two morning adult sessions and two afternoon kid sessions, all three rings with 6 to 10 students. Saturday lessons ran hourly from 9 until noon, then from 1 until 4. It was literally a three-ring circus, and to a horseless horse crazed kid like me it was heaven. I could ride in as many lessons as I wanted in exchange for helping to groom and tack horses, taking them to get a drink between classes, and helping take care of the "old guys", a collection of horses who had retired from the lesson program. It was all the horsiness a kid could want, except...none of them were really "mine".

During these years Mom also had a little side business of buying cheap, unbroke or unfinished horses, putting some miles on them, and reselling. Mom always had a good eye, and sometimes she did not have to go far to find her projects. One day Mr. Brown, the owner of the small boarding facility next door, approached her about a mare (not Daisy - I'm getting to her) on his property whose owner was older with health problems, and was having trouble paying the mare's bills on top of her own medical expenses. The mare was a teenaged grade-type liver chestnut whose name is now lost to both Mom and I.

According to the owner, she was broke and quiet but had not been ridden in a few years. Mr. Brown remembered when she was being ridden that she had a sweet and nurturing disposition, took good care of her inexperienced rider, and he thought she might make a good addition to the lesson program. So later that week, Mom went next door with a halter brought the mare to the school. Of course, I tagged along. And on that eventful walk from one pasture to the next we met Daisy.

It started out normal enough, the mare walking next to Mom, ears pricked, curious as to what exactly was happening, but quiet and trusting nonetheless. We were so engrossed with her that at first we did not notice the commotion going on back at Mr. Brown's. Then...crashing, yelling, high-pitched panicked horse calls, and galloping hoofbeats behind us. We turned around and there she was - Daisy, all 13 hands of dappled cuteness at a full gallop, running to catch her friend.

She stopped as soon as she reached us. Mom handed the other mare to me and slipped her belt around Daisy's neck. Mr. Brown was not far behind. "I was afraid that might happen," he chuckled as he slipped the halter on Daisy. "I put her in the stall, but she jumped out. She's pretty attached to this one" he nods to the mare at Mom's side.

"She jumped out?" Mom was stunned. Mr. Brown's stall doors were a good 4' high at the window, and the stalls themselves were small enough that even a little pony would have had to jump from a standstill.

"Yeah, she'll do that," Mr. Brown laughed again, "I'll put her back up and close the upper door for a while. She'll calm down in a bit." And he led her away back down the road.

Mr. Brown was a good enough horse person to know that you can't keep a pony cooped up in a stall forever, so the next day when she seemed calmer he turned her back out in the pasture, where she proceeded to jump the fence (again, a solid 4') and come next door to find her friend. We brought her home, but this scenerio would play out every day for the next week. The first time Mom actually saw her do this, her eyes about popped out of her head.

"Damn, that pony can jump!" Mom never was one to watch her mouth, especially around her own child. The very next day she walked next door to speak to Mr. Brown.

Turns out Mr. Brown did not own Daisy. The full story of Daisy's past is worthy of its own post, so I will leave it for another day. Or maybe I will make you buy the book. Let's just say it involved a green pony, a young child, and a wild ride resulting in the child's desire to never ride a horse again. At any rate, she was basically hanging out in Mr. Brown's pasture, not doing a thing. Mom has always believed that a horse needs a job, and Daisy being only 6 years old at the time was certainly working material.

Mom and Mr. Brown spoke for a while, and he called up Daisy's owner. It seemed logical that since Daisy was going to continue to jump the fence she might as well stay where she was. It would also make it easier for Mom (who was 5' and all of 95 lbs) to work with her some. If they could get her sellable, Mom would split the sale price with the owner. He agreed and Mom got to work.

Although I was allowed to brush on and do some groundwork with Daisy, it was several months before Mom felt she was ready for me and I for her. Daisy was still green, and I was very young, but keep in mind I had more riding miles under my belt at 10 than many people do at 20, so it wasn't history gearing up to repeat itself.

Or was it.

The first ride started off well. I was riding in the big arena with a few other kids. We did some trot work: circles, serpentines, work over poles. All fine and dandy. Cantering - fine. A bit quick in the corners, but she came right back to me. Things were going so well that Mom decided to let us trot over a VERY small crossrail. I don't even think the poles were in jump cups, but were rather just laying on the supports. It was that small. Daisy, however, saw a very different jump.

To this day, Mom swears that pony cleared the standards. Completely caught off guard (no lesson horse ever did THAT) I took a tumble, and Daisy took off. And somehow, in the middle of all the ensuing choas, I fell in love.

For the next month, I continued to ride Daisy in every lesson I could. Every lesson went about the same as that first ride: it all fell apart once we started jumping. Eventually she would trot quietly over the Very Small Crossrail, but anytime we raised the bar so to speak she would act like she was at the Olympic trials.

I fell off every day that month, and while I was no stranger to the unplanned dismount my quota was full and then some.

Dad was getting a little fed up with all my bumps and bruises, and he was not the only one who noticed them. After an embarrassing PTA meeting where my teacher asked if there were problems at home he had enough. The pony would be sold by the end of the month or she was going back to Mr. Brown's.

I continued to ride her, because despite the jumping issues she really was getting better under saddle. She was a joy on the trails, and being turned out with a herd of 50 or so horses seemed to have helped her separation issues; she hardly noticed her old mare friend at all (side note - that grade mare did turn out to be a wonderful lesson horse!). I cherished every moment with Daisy, even the ones spent on the ground, partly because I knew our time together was limited.

And then it was here - the last day, the last ride. No buyers. Daisy would go back to Mr. Brown's the next day. It was April 1st.

I showed up for my lesson and lingered just a bit longer tacking up. All through warm up my mind was elsewhere, remembering all the fun (yes, FUN) we had had the past few weeks. When we lined up to jump the little 2' vertical I was a million miles away. Maybe that was the difference. Maybe Daisy felt it too. She did over jump, but not as much as before. We had turned the corner and were heading back to the end of the line when it hit me and everyone else in the ring.

"You stayed on!"

We jumped that little vertical several more times that day. Daisy still jumped big, but not standard-clearing big. And I stayed on. Every. Single. Time.

To this day I have no idea how Mom talked Dad into it, but later that night she came into my room and asked if I wanted to go out and ride MY pony the next day. It took a minute for what she was saying to register, but when it did I sat straight up in bed and said:

"Mom, if this is a joke it's not funny!"

It wasn't.

Happy April Fool's Day, ya'llDaisy and I cleaning up in the Medium Pony division. She really could jump!


  1. Wow! Great story. And I might add, beautiful form over that fence. It's no wonder you cleaned up in the pony hunter. Daisy was one classy pony!

  2. Jean - thank you! She was a class act..much better than her rider! It may appear that I am looking down, but over a jump like that trust me - my eyes were closed!!!