BY VYLA CARTER
We all remember that special teacher in our lives- the one who made a difference to us. They may not have been the easiest or the kindest, but their impact is something we remember forever. For many riders, that teacher is their first pony. Everyone remembers their first- some were rotten, some angelic. Some were beautiful and famous, some were only beautiful to the child that loved them. Ask any rider about their first pony, they will smile and launch into a story.
I had my first pony at eight years old, and my memories of him are vivid. I remember my first show where I competed in the cross rails division and the instant I walked out of the ring, I wanted a ribbon. But, I didn’t place in anything at that show. First lesson learned.
My second show I tied for Champion. They only had one Champion ribbon and the girl I tied with was nice enough to let me have it. That ribbon still hangs above my bed and the memory of the generosity of that other rider with it.
I remember the first time my trainer made me canter without stirrups. She stood in one corner of the ring and had me go back and forth trying to go from the trot to the canter until I realized it was easier to canter without stirrups than trot. Sometimes, forcing ourselves to do the scarier thing gets us to a better level.
That first pony, Almost Golden, was born in 1992 and took me from the cross rails to Championships in the Short Stirrup divisions. While the pony brought me many gifts, the most important things he taught me were how to be tough, how to not be afraid, how to lose, how to win. And, most importantly, how to ride. He wasn’t easy, but he was a great teacher. Almost Golden taught many riders the same things, building confidence and setting them up for the rest of their careers.
Rolling Stone, a grey pony born in 1998 and owned by Further Lane Farm, is a famous small pony that has carried many well known riders, including Olympian Reed Kessler and international riders, Lillie Keenan and McKayla Langmeier. He has also carried Daisy Farish and her little sister, Coco, as well as Samantha Schaefer’s little sister, Madeline.
Over the spanse of decades, these two ponies have instilled knowledge, skill, and the love of horse showing in their riders. While these ponies have carried some who have gone on to illustrious careers, most first ponies don’t have a resume of famous riders. They do their job, year after year, quietly impacting their students – just like that special first teacher.
Here is a timeline of how each of these ponies impacted just a few of their riders:
2002 – 2005 Katie Heim: Almost Golden
Almost Golden, commonly known as Jack, was ridden by Katie Heim from when she was ten to thirteen years old. Heim competed on him in the Indiana Hunter Jumper Associate Pony Medals and the Medium Pony Hunter division. At both rated and local shows, they recieved top placings. “Jack and I were always competitive in the pony hunters, even though he isn’t your classic fancy pony,” Heim explained.
Jack taught Heim how to be patient and deal with a naughty pony. “He would always try to spin, buck, and rear- all within the first few minutes of putting him to work. He really taught me how to work through issues and keep his attention on something else. So, we would just figure eight and circle jumps until he decided he could actually go to work that day,” Heim said. She also recalls some of her favorite memories with him like jumping bareback for the first time over some big jumps.“I trusted him so much that he was the first horse I jumped bareback and had not a worry in the world,” Heim recalls. She also laughs about one time when she was eating a sandwich and Jack reached over and took it out of her hands.
Today, Heim is a professional equestrian running her own riding program, Rebel Heart Farm, LLC. She is also the assistant trainer at Colonial Equestrian, the barn where she rode Jack growing up and where he still lives today.
2005 – 2008 Dana Dettmer: Almost Golden
Dana Dettmer’s family purchased Jack when she was around 10 years old and they still own him today. Dettmer rode Jack for about 4 years, until she outgrew him and moved up to a horse. They found success in the local divisions and rated shows, winning several Indiana Hunter Jumper Association Pony Division awards throughout the years.
During his time with Dana, Jack caught a rare form of colic. “We really thought it would be the end for him,’ Dettmer recalled. He spent time at Purdue University’s vet clinic where Dana spent time on weekends and after school brushing and hand walking him. “It really ended up being a great way to learn to place horsemanship above just riding and showing,” Dettmer said. She also remembers his quirks that still stick with him today, “Jack was notorious for stealing human food of any kind. If someone left their breakfast outside his stall, it would immediately be gone.”
After outgrowing Jack, Dettmer moved up and showed in the Children’s and Junior Hunters. As an undergraduate at college, she was involved with the IHSA Team at Wake Forest University. She hopes to get back to riding when she finishes with law school.
2011 – 2012 Carrie Obrecht: Almost Golden
Carrie Obrecht owes a lot to Almost Golden, “He’s the reason why I fell in love with riding,” she says. Almost Golden, nicknamed Peaches by Obrecht, spent two years teaching Carrie important lessons and moving her up to rated shows. They started at local shows in the Short Stirrup classes and progressed to showing at rated shows in 2’6″ divisions. He was not an easy first pony, but eventually she figured him out and even won Wisconsin Hunter Jumper Association year end awards and trophies.
Jack taught Obrecht many lessons that followed her through her riding career. “He taught me how to to ride. It never came easy and I had to work very hard,” she said. He was not an easy ride and could be very stubborn at times. Obrecht recalled one show when they were laying down an amazing round and right before the last jump, Jack trotted. She explained that’s just how he is sometimes and although it never came easily, he rewarded her with a great education.
Following Jack, Carrie moved up to a horse and and throughout the years has ridden in hunters, jumpers and equitation.
2013-2014 Lauren Crawford: Almost Golden
Lauren Crawford has an impressive resume from her time riding Jack, “I received Champion at every show I went to with him,” she said. Crawford competed on Jack in the Short Stirrup Hunters and Equitation. The pair competed at local shows and he also took her to her first “A” rated horse show.
“As my first pony, he really kick started my love for riding and made me want to continue,” Crawford said about Jack. He was able to teach her the basics, like how to do lead changes and find distances. Crawford recalls, “My favorite memory was when I was at a show and we were heading to a jump and he bucked. I didn’t even know what a buck felt like at that time, so when I got out of the ring my trainers asked if I knew what happened and I had no idea. I still remember the whole thing happening and it is what I think of when I remember Jack.”
After riding Jack, Lauren went on to lease multiple different ponies and horses. Currently, she owns a young horse that she and her trainer are working with and moving up through the divisions.
2014 – present Gracie Guenthner: Almost Golden
Gracie Guenthner currently leases Almost Golden as a lesson pony. Although she is no longer showing him, they had a successful and fun time at the local shows in Indiana and also traveling to some rated shows. Jack took Guenthner to her first show, where they competed in the ground poles.Throughout her years riding him she has moved up to the 2′ Short Stirrup divisions.
“He has been the best pony to me. He taught me everything I know about riding,” Guenthner exclaims about her favorite pony. Jack has taught her the ropes of riding, including how to handle bucks and refusals. One of her favorite memories of Jack is getting on him bareback in the winter and riding him around the pasture in the snow. Like his past riders have said, he will eat anything and Gracie still spoils him with apples and oatmeal pie cookies every time she comes to the barn.
Guenthner has been showing other ponies and hopes to move up to the pony divisions with a new mount soon.
2007 Madison Billings: Rolling Stone
During a part of the 2007 show season, Madison Billings rode Rolling Stone in the Small Green Ponies. He was the first pony she showed in the rated divisions. “He basically taught me the ropes on how showing goes,” Madison said. Together they won many top placings at rated shows and attended USEF Pony Finals.
One of the most important things that Stone taught Billings is that riding is a team effort and not a one sided action. He also taught her to pay attention to the cues the horse is giving the rider.
Billings went on to show in the Junior Jumper division. She is currently riding on the Texas Christian University Equestrian Team and looking forward to her senior season.
2008 – 2011 Sophie Michaels: Rolling Stone
Sophie Michaels is the current owner of Rolling Stone. Together this pair showed in the Small Pony Hunters and Pony Medal classes. Rolling Stone and Michaels received many prestigious awards during their time together, including Champion at the Washington International Horse Show and a Reserve Champion at The Devon Horse Show during Michaels’ first season with him. They also picked up a 2nd place over fences and a 6th place overall at USEF Pony Finals in her final year competing on him.
Stone helped set up the rest of Michaels’ career, “He was the first pony I ever won on at major competitions. He helped me to become more competitive and confident in my riding and future career.” He also taught her how to be patient and soft as well as how to have a sense of humor when riding. Michaels remarks on how good of a pony he is, “He was incredibly well broken for a backyard pony from Arkansas. His lead changes were automatic and he could turn on a dime, so handy hunters were always the most fun.” Sophie felt they had a special connection when she was riding him.
Michaels moved up the junior ranks and is now an amateur. She shows in Grand Prix’s in the United States and Europe.
2016 – present Coco Farish: Rolling Stone
Coco Farish is the current rider of Rolling Stone, also known around the barn as Stoney Pony. Farish started riding him almost 2 years ago when the the current owner sent him to her farm as a practice pony and to eventually be retired. Instead, he got fit and Farish started showing him in the Small Pony division at local shows. She eventually took him to rated shows and USEF Pony Finals. Some of this pair’s biggest achievements include winning Grand Pony Champion at the Hampton Classic and placing 13th overall and 10th over fences at USEF Pony Finals in 2017.
Although he was not her first small pony, Stone has taught Farish many useful skills. “He really taught me how to find the jumps,” she explained. She went on to say how his bigger motor, compared to past small ponies she has ridden, helped her riding. Farish also noted how she always gives him a treat after rides and now he looks for it right when she gets off.
Farish continues to show Stone and hopes to compete him at USEF Pony Finals this year. She notes the importance of the pony’s legacy and the responsibility she feels to continue it. “They [the past riders] knowing that I did well on him makes me feel really good.”