BY JESSICA GRUTKOWSKI
The only tangible memory of my childhood lease horse is a 3×5 professional photo taken by James Leslie Parker from The Hampton Classic in 1992 — the last time I showed as a junior. Back then, we didn’t have phones to record lessons or social media to search for old videos. I’d be lying if I said I’d never Googled her, but it’s likely she’s crossed the rainbow bridge by now.
We’re approaching the final weeks of my twins’ first ponies leases. Sadly the thousands of photos, lesson videos, amazing memories and countless ribbons haven’t eased the pain of saying goodbye. These ponies have not only become part of their lives, but also part of mine. Many girls at the barn have grown to love them too.
Back in January when their leases began, my twins posted on their Instagram accounts just like many young equestrians with grand prix dreams. Almost instantly, my daughter connected with her pony Dreamer’s former lessee, Ava. Over the course of a year, through quarantine and unknowns, their virtual friendship grew as they bonded over the love of a special pony.
It wasn’t until last month, when their barn friend posted a video edit of Dreamer from several years back at WEF, that we began to realize just how many little girls’ lives this pony had impacted.
Young girls that my daughter had never met before saw the video on social media and commented, “Is that Dreamer? I miss him!”
One girl had leased him when he had a different name, while another girl chimed in saying she had taken Dreamer to Pony Finals. Years had passed, but his signature “prancey” trot, sweet black face and crescent moon star made Dreamer unmistakable to all who loved him.
Almost a year later, Ava and my daughter Zoe met in person. Despite wearing masks, and staying socially distanced, it was amazing to see them together for the first time — acting as if they had been friends for years. Ava got to spend time with Dreamer, and meet his pony friends.
Seeing Ava with Dreamer helped ease my daughter’s anxiety and fears. Nearly 12 months had passed, but it was clear that Dreamer remembered Ava. To my chagrin, he also remembered Ava’s mother, a lifelong equestrian who also loved him dearly.
“I think it’s because I spoiled him,” she laughed.
It’s in this way that ponies connect equestrians through generations. When our barn moved to a new home on November 1, we were excited to make friends and learn from each other. During our first week of lessons, my twins and I began chatting with another young girl in the viewing room.
She introduced herself as the daughter of the head trainer at Seahorse Stables, which also operates out of Redgate Farm. The girls quickly bonded over their love of cute ponies and were talking up a storm, watching their friends ride down in the indoor ring.
When the next lesson group shifted, we explained that the pony entering the ring had a really cool name from Harry Potter. Before I could utter the words “Hufflepuff” she lit up with joy and exclaimed that he was her first pony.
We couldn’t believe it — what were the chances? She went down to give him pats and meet his new rider, Isabel. Who knew that while we were moving to a new barn, Hufflepuff was actually coming home. How special for young riders to know they could be reunited with their past ponies in the most unimaginable ways.
My other daughter’s medium pony is staying in the barn and beginning a new chapter with two young riders. Having Benny stay has been bittersweet for Izzy; she knows their story is complete. For weeks she put on her happy face, but it wasn’t until she saw her friend tack him up and ride that she unraveled.
The tears poured out, quietly at first, as if she didn’t know why she was upset. After explaining it was normal to feel this way, she said she wanted to be happy for her friends but couldn’t keep her feelings in. We had a silent moment in the tack room alone, hugging and crying, and then she was able to gather herself. In less than one year, this sweet pony had become her everything, and now he wasn’t “her Benny” anymore.
For weeks my twins had argued about who would have the more difficult situation. Would it be worse to have the pony leave the barn for a new job, or stay and move on with a different kid? There is no easy answer, except that both situations cause pain, but time will heal, especially when they bond with their new lease ponies.
We still don’t know if Dreamer will be able to stay at our barn when his lease officially ends next month, but we know that his memories have created lifelong friendships, and we’re excited for his next lessee to be part of this special fan club. Either way, Dreamer will go home to Simon Says Welsh Ponies before finding his new job, just in time to make another young rider’s holiday dream come true.
Based in Fairfield County, Jessica Grutkowski is mom to 12 year old twin equestrians and is recently back in the saddle after a 20 year hiatus. She enjoys riding and showing, while sharing her passion with her daughters. Being a “barn mom” is one of her favorite roles, and one she takes very seriously.