BY HELENE DUDLEY
You are putting your child in danger!
That’s hard for a parent to hear, especially when it’s true and yet—here I am.
My ten-year-old kid loves riding. Last year, it was time to get him a consistent ride. We’re on a budget, and my husband isn’t the biggest fan of horses. In fact, his severe horse allergy actually means they try to kill him, so I couldn’t sell “horses” as a family sport. My son’s trainer presented adorable, experienced ponies, but the cost of leasing, showing, board and lessons was not in our reach.
Driven by desperation and my inadequate budget I wondered: “Who breeds those wonderful ponies and how do they gain experience?” I watched a lot of green ponies at hunter jumper shows, took notes and cross referenced with USEF’s ranking to identify America’s most successful pony hunter jumper breeding programs. I was thrilled to learn that Sugarbrook Farm was one of the best, and close by.
Driving up the driveway past stunning stallions, pony mares, top quality fillies, colts, tiny foals, we felt like we landed in heaven. My son smiled quietly as he disappeared into pony paradise.
Sandy was wonderful. She introduced her ponies, their pedigrees and successes—her strategy was on point. I was impressed. We found my kid cuddled up with a sassy looking, chestnut pony mare. Her name was Chloe. She was 3 years old and had just been started under saddle. I helplessly watched as my son’s heart exploded.
My son and I barely talked on the drive home. He smiled, tears of love on his cheeks while I tried to breath through the realization that I had gone to the dark side and sold our souls. A few days later I called Sandy again, this time arranging to purchase Chloe.
The early days with a green pony were not easy. Riddled with fear that I signed my son’s death warrant or made him fearful of horses, the responsibility weighted on my shoulders. We found a wonderful pony, but now we had to train her. The dark side was dark.
We arranged to board Chloe at Sugarbrook Farm for the next few months. We visited every few weeks to lesson on her, and Sandy’s professional trainer continued the pony’s education and in hindsight it was great to connect with Chloe on her home turf. While she learned, we searched for Chloe’s new home: a calm barn, roomy pastures, opportunities to trail ride, a round pen, several rings and friends + a pony size hunter jumper trainer. When we found the perfect match, we immediately started lessons at the new farm to build comfort and a relationship between the kid and his future trainer.
Today marks two months since Chloe’s arrival at her new home. My son spends hours in her stall’s windowsill, reading and relaxing with her. They both seem to love that. We enjoy collaborating with our new trainer who has vast experience with young horses. We approach the project as an educator team: staying involved, honest and consistent. At this barn, he is not the only kid with a younger horse and that camaraderie has become invaluable.
We go to the barn 5-6 days a week, and set aside plenty time, as rushing serves nobody, especially not a young pony. On the car ride we have an honest talk about where we are ‘at’ mentally – If my son feels stressed and I don’t, I help saddle the pony etc. We do everything we can to put Chloe’s welfare first, so sometimes a planned ride turns into a stroll bareback in the round pen, a guided walk around the property or a pony spa day. We’re still learning to set realistic goals.
I am not a pony-sized rider, so I walk the pony daily. Chloe enjoys the change of scenery and the opportunity to stretch her new muscles calms her. Sometimes, if my kid is busy, I lunge her or work her from the ground.
I realize this is an attempt to offset danger by effort and mindfulness. I have experience, but still research new methods daily, raising a young pony and keeping my child safe is very humbling.
Chloe is a wonderful pony with immense potential, but with any young pony, no day is ever the same. Raising her is a journey in horsemanship and my kid has to improve fast. When he chose a young pony, he also chose a long journey together.
For now, their victories are small, daily accomplishments, not ribbons. Riding, as he knew it, changed but as my son puts it: “Chloe and I are working on it, don’t worry!”
Helene Dudley – incurable horse geek devoted to coffee, flat work, kids and ponies. Grew up surrounded by horse folk in southern Denmark, today she lives with my husband, son, dog and pony in Florida.
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