Reality Bites: When You Can No Longer Give Your Child Pony Dreamland

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY MEGAN HOFFMAN

I have been living in a dreamland, sort of like Pony Mom Land at Pony Finals. This world exists of beautiful ponies and clean children in bows and bow ties. It was a beautiful place. 

Pony Dreamland felt a little like we had slipped into a party where everyone is this incredible combination of glamour and dirt. Muddy golf carts with purebred dogs on the back napping on Burberry blankets. Girls mucking stalls in $5000 boots. Dreamland was a place where my son, Ziggy, could show for three weeks at a time. Shipping costs seem reasonable, and running to the tack shop for a couple of Tailored Sportsman was no big deal. That initial nausea you felt after paying the first “AA” show bill had long disappeared, and been replaced with good old fashioned denial.

And through it all, I kept telling myself, “This is what Ziggy needs. This is what Ziggy needs.” 

Until the money ran out. And then I woke up. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

This year has been a challenging one. My husband and I split. We were living separate lives for a while. One of us would stay with my parents to get Ziggy to his training north of Atlanta, while the other stayed with our younger daughter. Every week, we swapped places. I told myself we did it to keep Zig in training. In reality, I needed an escape from my failing marriage, but I was too much of a coward to admit it. 

The financial stress of Pony Dreamland life added to the weight, and my marriage broke. My kids and I moved into a new house, and the pony moved to a smaller (but still wonderful) barn closer to our new home. 

Facing the reality that we had reached the end of the yellow brick road felt like someone had dumped cold water on my head. And while I was still dripping wet, I had to turn around and do the same thing to my child. The child I had told that I would make sure his dreams came true. Not only had he felt his family being shattered, but he had his dream crushed as well. 

I remember the moment the scales fell from my eyes. I was talking to my lovely trainer about Zig’s next pony. I was a raw nerve with everything going on in my marriage. In the pit of my stomach I could feel reality hovering behind me like a specter. The trainer rattled off options, and I listened while mentally calculating the money. I couldn’t afford the great pony. Fine, but I couldn’t even afford the “just okay” pony.  There was no budget anymore. Instead, survival. Pay my mortgage, or buy a pony? Ziggy cantered around the ring like everything was normal, and I watched—knowing that nothing would be the same. 

That was the end of the road. I couldn’t keep doing what we were doing. I sat in my car and cried while Zig lessoned. I cried for believing that we could afford the life we had tried to live. $150,000 spent in our first year of his riding. More on the second. First, I cried. But then I wiped my tears away, started making calls. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I called all those amazing people that had loved Zig’s story. I called Teena Mogge, who told me Zig reminded her of Brian and gave me words of encouragement. I called R.L. Jacobs, who started the amazing House of Opportunity so that everyone can have the chance to ride and train. R.L. reminded me that this challenge would only improve Ziggy riding. Developing grit is not easy, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. But the results would be worth the pain. 

I knew he would be fine. As long as he could ride, he was fine. And, even through my tears in the car that day, I was going to make certain he could still ride. Riding gives Zig purpose. It gave him confidence and discipline. It makes him who he is, and he didn’t need a six-figure pony or Fabbri boots to gain all that. He has found his thing, and we will find a way to keep it. 

To realize that you can’t give your kid what you really want to give your kid, that’s humbling. When they have seen the other side—the shiny, fancy side—they know it’s there. It’s there, and you can’t give it to them anymore. Instead of grooms prepping his pony, Ziggy will prep Patrick himself. Instead of shows in Gulfport and Aiken, we will do shows up the road. He may not be able to have that perfect medium that will teach him and move like a freak, but he will have the pony he is offered and will ride that pony as best he can. 

But even through these changes, we are so lucky. Zig has already had so many dreams come true. Mclain Ward texted him at Pony Finals to wish him good luck, and regularly checks in with us. (he really is a gentleman hero). We have the world’s most wonderful trainers, Janet Salem and Scott Armour, bending over backward to give Zig their time and training. Zig has ridden against the best pony jockeys out there. 

But life is ever-changing, so things have to change. And that’s okay. Zig hops out of the car three days a week and spends three hours at the new barn. He has a wonderful barn family. He is the hardest working kid I know, a perfectionist when it comes to learning how to ride, and he takes his sweet time cleaning his tack (like Beezie.) He told me the other day, ”Mom I don’t care where I am I just want to ride. I want to ride as much as I can.” And so he does. 

The next pony may not be fancy, but it will be his. McLain told us during our visit, “Let him ride the bad ones. Let him ride them all.” So that’s what we will do. And to Zig, it will be a dream.


Megan O. Hoffman, a pony mom to Ziggy, writes picture books, middle grade, and articles for a variety of publications including The Plaid Horse. She draws on her weird and wonderful experiences to inspire her stories. Upon graduating from New York University, Megan worked in the public schools of NYC, teaching literacy to amazing middle school kids.