Lessons in the Learning: When Figuring Out the Pony is the Journey, Not the Destination

Photo © A&S Photography

BY PONYMOMAMMY

Being a mom, and an amateur, and a pony mom comes with a unique set of challenges, but it also comes with an amazing perspective. My pony-kid has recently turned a corner in her riding, and without my own riding experiences, I don’t believe I could fully appreciate the amount of work it took to get there, or the pure joy I have found in celebrating her successes.

My child’s first pony, Gracie, not only taught my pony-kid—she helped raise her. Gracie had just enough sass to make sure she was paying attention, but never so much that I worried about her safety. One day my child cantered around the field bareback in a halter, and let go of the rope “reins” as if she were flying. It was a lovely moment, but I warned “You might want to keep a hand on the reins so if she tries to snag some grass you don’t go flying off.” I swear on all that is holy, that pony looked me dead in the eye, winked at me, and slammed on the breaks to grab a snack. Child summersaulted over her shoulder, but when the same child panicked at a show that pony would pack her around, swap leads and take home champion every single time. One in a million.

I am a firm believer in that good ponies make for good riders, but perhaps we stuck with that unicorn of a pony a bit longer than we should have. Maybe she allowed my child to get complacent, because she knew if everything fell apart that Gracie could bail her out. Yes, she was a beautiful rider (I’m not ashamed to admit I was envious of her equitation at times), but she lacked the skillset to adapt, get out of a jam or take her riding to the next level. 

She might have remained a pretty passenger forever if I had the financial ability to continue buying “Gracies,” but the price tag on a big eq packer exceeds the cost of most people’s homes. Even though being the “poor kid” at an AA show still puts us leaps and bounds above most Americans, it did not change the fact that we had to go the bargain route to have competitive horses and ponies.  

Photo courtesy of PonyMomAmmy

The pony we purchased post Gracie was exactly what we were looking for: eligible green (but not truly green), imported, lovely mover, good brain. Not much of a hunter background but checked most of the boxes. The next year was filled with highs and lows, but definitely more frustrations than victories. Lead changes were there, but not auto (and he would sometimes throw in a bonus change when he was mad). He was, and is, as sane as they come. Could care less about the jumps, or the woods, or birds flying out of trees in his face. But he would call BS if the kid spaced out. 

There were shows that they were so close to getting it all together (and some shows where they mostly had it together). But there were also shows where they were excused from the ring again and again, and shows where the kid hit the dirt, and shows when she was so frustrated that I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had wanted to give up. The pony wasn’t being bad, but he was a green PONY. He likes feeling like his rider is the leader, and my kid wasn’t always the leader. 

I could relate. I’ve been there. I remember being around 15 years old, and my mom coming to pick me up at the barn, to find me sitting in the dirt of the covered ring sobbing because my 3 year old OTTB was trying to charge at me on the lunge line. I remember just a year or so ago, I couldn’t get a left to right lead change on my own green pony to save my life, but my trainer could. I still know the feeling of watching my peers move up divisions, while I lag behind. It’s discouraging. 

Photo courtesy of PonyMomAmmy

For a lot of kids, these transitions are the “make it or break it” point. When it gets hard, it’s time to buckle down and work harder, or give up, but you can’t half-ass it. The horses know, and they will call your bluff.

I offered to sell or lease him so we could find something easier for her to ride, but she flatly refused. It would seem she not only got my love of ponies, but also my stubbornness. When confidence finally caught up to her determination, the magic started to happen. 

The pony was more than a little surprised at this bossy kid who suddenly had the authority over him, but he respected her. She dug in her heels (literally and figuratively), attended clinics, switched tack, watched extra lessons, and read books. But above everything, she started to believe in herself. 

Photo courtesy of PonyMomAmmy

A funny thing happens when you are confident in the saddle. Our pony finally had a leader, and started to fall in line. They moved up to the pre-greens at their first show of the year, and out of 14 were the only non-professional (and only pony!) in the division to take home top ribbons both days. Her confidence grew a little more. The next show they did the pre-greens again, and added on the 12-14 equitation, and then a jumper class the end of the 2nd day. There were some missed changes, and a jump-drive-by or two, but she believed she could do it. Her trainer believed in her, and the pony had faith in her.

This past weekend, we had a schooling show literally across the street from our barn. There is an A show at this same venue in a couple weeks, but she needed to show her trainer (and my pocketbook) that she was ready for the challenge. She rode like I’ve never seen her ride before. She was on it. She went in the ring with a plan, and a backup plan just in case. The pony marched around without missing a beat. 

Photo courtesy of PonyMomAmmy

Was it perfect? Nope. Was she champion? Also nope, but did get darn good ribbons in a competitive field. Did I care about perfection or champion? Not. One. Bit. The smile on her face was all I cared about. That was honestly the most fun I have had at a show in my 40 years—more fun than winning myself. 

THIS is why we do this crazy horse thing. This is the accomplishment she will remember one day down the road when she meets another obstacle that seems impossible to overcome. She will remember that she has a momma, and a trainer, and barn friends who believed in her, even when she didn’t believe in herself. One day when someone tries to talk her into something she shouldn’t be doing, she will remember how she was able to be stronger and smarter than an animal 10 times her size. She will have the tools to be a leader, and not a follower.

Photo courtesy of PonyMomAmmy

When I was a kid and hit rough patches in my riding, my parents were always super supportive, but they didn’t have the frame of reference to really understand. I might not always get the whole ponymomammy thing right, but that feeling when she just “got it,” is one of the best moments of parenting that I’ve had, to date. And knowing that when I tell her how proud I am of all her hard work, that she knows that I KNOW just how much work it took, makes it that much sweeter for her too.