BY KIRSTY WRIGHT
Trainers have many horses and ponies wander through our lives. From the perfect packers that we wish we could clone, to the fearsome fiends that make our lives more difficult than they need to be, they all have a purpose and they all teach us something along the way. However, once in a while as a trainer you will come across a horse or pony who alters your perspective on everything. One that teaches you things you didn’t know you needed, and changes your life forever.
I’m a pony addict. One of my favorite ‘side hobbies’ is to take a diamond in the rough pony and train it till it sparkles. I usually find these ponies online, fatten them up, put some miles on them and send them on their way. That was my plan when I saw a video on Facebook of a pony trotting around a sandy round pen. Even though the pen was deep, I could tell it moved well and contacted the owner.
We exchanged the usual messages about the pony’s age, height, etc. Her name was Noelle, and the owner told me her age was approximate because she was a rescue. That’s where the story gets interesting!
The owner explained the pony was found wandering in the woods by the sheriff. Since no one claimed her, they called the rescue instead of putting her down (the normal procedure). She had no idea about the pony’s past except that she was about 8 years old, was obviously unbroke, and had limited handling. I was also told the pony was stall aggressive, and had to live out in a pasture. She stated she just didn’t have the time for the pony, but liked how quiet she was in the round pen and thought she might make a nice lesson horse eventually.
Now all of this combined information normally would make me run and hide. I wasn’t setup for rescues. I normally only work with ponies that have at least been sat on. I needed something that wouldn’t eat a child alive, but for whatever reason I found myself driving to see the woodland creature for myself.
The pony was pretty much as advertised. She pinned her ears at me when I went to catch her, but once caught seemed easy enough to lead. She trotted in the round pen and pointed her toes nicely. Against all better judgement, I bought her that day. When she came home, she settled in the pasture just fine. Call it naiveté, but I arrived at the barn the next day filled with excitement about my new project.
That excitement soon dissipated when I couldn’t get anywhere near her. Two hours and countless treats later, I finally caught the wild beast. We were both dripping with sweat from the battle, so I decided a good hosing was in order, but Noelle literally climbed up the wall to get away from the hose. It was at this point (or maybe at some point during the 2 hours in the pasture) that I realized that I might have bitten off more than I could chew.
The next few weeks were filled with “What did I do?” moments as Noelle struggled with simple tasks that most yearlings can handle and I struggled with the process of introducing her to everything from the hose to hoof conditioner. Some terrified her. Some didn’t bother her at all. I constantly wondered what had happened to this pony in her prior life that ended up with her wandering around in the woods?
Noelle was aggressive in a stall, but seemed to realize that I wouldn’t hurt her and slowly started to trust me. We had major setbacks in those first few weeks—a groom blowing the isle while I was trying to pick her feet had her jumping on top of me, and the first visit with the vet was unpleasant to say the least, but over time she settled in to the show pony lifestyle. There was just one major hurdle left to overcome… actually sitting on her!
After many months of ground work, I finally decided it was time. I had taught her pretty much everything a 4 year old would know how to do before being ridden. Plus, she followed me around the pasture by then and trusted me completely. One day I was feeling brave and just hopped right up.
Noelle took to riding extremely well for an 8ish year old who was entirely feral a few months prior. Once I was on her back, things seemed to move along at lightning speed. First walking, trotting, and cantering, then poles, then jumps, then lead changes. It all started to fall into place, and Noelle seemed to love having a job to do. I started to put kids on her, and she toted them right around. We took her to shows first to visit, and then eventually to show. Everything seemed to fall into place for the little woodland pony.
Now 16 months down the road, Noelle is competing in the medium children’s pony division and preparing to transition into the greens in December. She is brave to the jumps, and has plenty of step and scope. I have absolutely no idea what breed she is or what happened to her in her 8 years prior to me, but I know that she loves to work, loves any kind of treat, and loves her 2pm nap in her stall every day.
Noelle is the pony that transformed my idea of what I could handle as a trainer, and what a pony could learn beyond their formative years. Her show name is “Bobbidi Boo” because she is my transformation pony. She wandered out of the woods and into a show pony career. I will be forever thankful for everything she has taught me about patience, trust, and perseverance.
Kirsty Wright grew up in England riding and showing ponies. After attending equine college in the UK, she decided to move to the US where she settled in Florida at the age of 20. Since then Kirsty has engulfed herself in the American Hunter/Jumper circuit learning the differences in the sport from country to country. Kirsty’s passion is finding project ponies and turning them in to successful show ponies.