BY SELENA HULBERT
It was a late fall evening when Beanie Cone, our trainer and owner of Hunters Edge Stables, had just finished buying a horse. He noticed a pony that was for sale in the adjacent pasture. Beanie wasn’t really looking for a pony, but asked to see it ridden to see if it could work for his lesson program. A young girl saddled the pony up and took to the ring. They made their way toward the first jump when the pony, ears pricked and unsure, came to a screeching halt. Beanie looked at the owner, then at the pony, and finally said, ‘We’ll take it.’ Onto the trailer it went.
For the next few months, different kids took their turn on the new lesson pony they named Duck.
She settled into the barn, and began to learn her new job. Duck was wiggly, wouldn’t pick up the correct lead and flew around the ring like her tail was on fire, but she was sweet and gentle around the kids. Samantha, my 9-year-old daughter, fell in love with her. After many weeks of pleading by my daughter, we agreed to a short-term lease.
As we got to know Duck, we researched the freeze brand on her neck and discovered that the Bureau of Land Management pulled her from the wild as a yearling from Bald Mountain, Nevada. She was an American Mustang! Beyond her freeze brand, we didn’t know much else about her background. She certainly had never experienced the hunter jumper world. But lucky for us, she was a quick learner.
Samantha and Duck spent many hours lessoning and learning. They signed up for barn shows and the MegFord Schooling Shows, which gave them both experience. They mastered picking up the correct lead and slowing their pace down. Things were looking up, and both kid and mustang were happy for the arrival of summer. The green grass grew tall, and Duck enjoyed a few too many treats delivered by her adoring child. Beanie noticed she had become quite round. Though we cut her treats and managed her diet, she continued to grow. Eventually, we noticed her udders had filled and there was another surprise to be had—Duck was going to have a baby!
Three weeks later in the middle of the night, Duck gave birth to a beautiful, healthy buckskin filly. Duck was the perfect mother. She nursed her and protected her filly, gently stepping around her while she slept.
Over the next 6 months, we fell more in love with Duck. She allowed the kids to come in and pet her and the filly, and was completely content with all of the attention. In the bustle of our busy barn, she showed no signs of fear. As weaning time approached, we decided to start Duck back on light work. She happily allowed Samantha to walk and trot her around the ring while the little buckskin filly followed in tow. It was a magical 6 months.
When it was time for weaning, we walked Duck and her buckskin filly down the road to a neighboring barn. We left the filly there that day, and Duck calmly walked home with us. It was a peaceful transition into her new life as Samantha’s show pony. Duck won our hearts through the experience, and we decided to buy this special mustang.
Over the next year, Samantha and Duck slowly got back into work. Duck had remembered all of the lessons she learned in the hunter ring. She and Samantha continued to improve, and by the end of the year were ready to attend their first ‘A’ rated show. It was a great experience, and they walked away Reserve Champion in the Children’s Pony.
We made the decision to move Duck into the Green Medium Pony division for the following year. Samantha dreamed of Pony Finals.
“Can you imagine if we make it to Pony Finals, Mom? I know Duck can do it! She’s the best pony ever!”
I agreed wholeheartedly, but Pony Finals was the national stage and there was still a lot of work to do.
We headed to St. Louis in January for the first show of the season—a real test. Duck was unsure of indoor arenas and the show turned out to be a disaster. Disqualifications, refusals and a ton of frazzled nerves! Both Beanie and I tried to temper Samantha’s expectations, but she was still determined that her and her beloved mustang could make it to Pony Finals.
They prepared for Springtime in Dixie, and headed to the first hometown show of the year. Looking great, the pair came out with Reserve Champion. Both Beanie and I knew that it should qualify Samantha for Pony Finals, but were reluctant to tell her until we knew for sure. The next week was Springtime Encore. With a larger field of combined green ponies, the pair again finished as Reserve Champion. It was official—they were heading to Pony Finals!
This young girl and her mustang have made it to the big show. Patience and perseverance has paid off.
As we pack and prepare for our trip to Lexington, I think about Samantha and Duck. I’m amazed by the partnership they have formed. They have overcome inexperience, a surprise filly and plenty of daily obstacles. Their determination and commitment to one another makes me incredibly proud. It is a reminder that dreams can come true!