BY BIANCA JONES
I knew when I first saw him, that I wanted him. Sonny was a 14.2 hand sorrel quarter horse pony. We were told he was 10 when we bought him, but one vet dental appt told us that we were deceived—he was five and green-broke at best. “Green-broke” is the term for a horse that has stopped bucking and crow hopping when you put a saddle on them. “Green-broke” is not the term for a horse meant for an eleven-year-old beginner to intermediate rider.
We bought Sonny from an auction. I watched him race around the ring, his eyes wide and muscles bulging as they made him run, so spectators and buyers could sense his capacity for speed. And Sonny had speed. Even when I later got him home, or took him to a flat area to run I could never seem to tire him out. The adults standing around me commented on “the powerhouse” they saw.
But I saw a scared horse running. To the absolute horror of my mother, I shoved my arm into his pen. I remembered how his wide forehead had felt pressed against my shrunken hand. Sonny just sniffed me before pressing against me. The horse equivalent of a hug. Hearing his nervous whinny as the whips cracked and people shouted, I wanted to hug him.
SOLD to buyer____. Relieved that we won a bidding war against a young Amish man I vaguely knew I didn’t quite trust, I waited for them to bring him out of the ring. He was mine. Sometimes I think that I saw his eyes light up when he saw me. Maybe they did.
When I got him back to his first home (I bought him in NY and moved him with me back to Michigan) I turned him out in his pasture. For the first time, I got to pet him without his hawklike ever-present seller standing nearly on top of me. That seller proudly called him “Little Red,” a name eleven-year-old me found to be both on the nose and idiosyncratic. I traced long gashes that went over his back and down his legs. If I wasn’t sure about it by his scars, when I raised my hand to wave at my mother and he flinched, I knew. Someone used to hit Sonny.
Horses don’t forget, and it took me years to get him to not flinch and jump from a raise in my voice or tone. Sonny was technically a pony but he was a stout boy. I have never medically achieved 5 foot 3 but I would go on to fight with trainers because I refused to use harsh tools. I never wanted him to feel intimidated again. I felt more like a teammate of Sonny’s than his alpha.
That first evening, I set Sonny loose in his new pasture, rolling hills covered with green grass, enclosed by a white fence. As I watched Sonny run into the sunset. I knew his new name— “Sunset’s Courage.” I could hear it in the future over the show barn intercom. I watched him prance in the glowing sunset. He was beautiful. My heart hurt because I loved him so much. There was something surreal about watching a fiercely independent animal that you know is truly dependent on you.
Sonny taught me true responsibility. He taught me the need for consistency and trust. Throughout the next six years, he and I went on countless adventures trail riding and showing. Time and time again he showed up for me, trusting me totally as his rider.
The very first time I showed him was at a small 4-H event in Kent County Michigan. While the shows were local and small, my nerves were anything but. I had studied the showmanship patterns for hours the past weeks and spent even more hours practicing pivots, and setting him up square. When showtime struck, Sonny knew the pattern even better than I did. His ears remained pricked as he waited for each new command and the subsequent affirmation of his actions.
We entered the ring, and I exhaled anxiously. Ever the empath so did Sonny. With flared nostrils and his neck arched, Sonny literally danced his way through the entire pattern. Thirty minutes after we exited the ring I received our score and the judges’ feedback. 2nd place – Well-mannered horse, flawless pattern, negative points for equestrian technique. Confused, I later asked the judge what I had done wrong in my presentation. His answer? “Inaccurate presentation for the breed.” With all of Sonny’s theatrics, the judge thought he was an Arabian and I had none of the proper tack.
But that was Sonny. Some trainers called him difficult, or defiant. Other trainers found him to be stubborn and a little too clever. Honestly? I think at his core he was just dramatic. As a new teenager, I found his theatrics relatable to my own turbulent emotions.
However, our story was not meant to be forever. As I progressed through my teenage years, I came into my own. I learned what I wanted to do with my life and what I wanted to study. I grew from a child that wanted to be a Veterinarian, to a late teen who never wanted to take another Chemistry course again. I knew I would go to college, and then no one would ride Sonny, and find his crow-hopping tantrums as unacceptably amusing as I did. I knew I would have to sell him. He had been the best companion for six years, and I knew I needed to let him be someone else’s passionate partner.
I sold Sonny when I was 17 years old. I was applying to colleges and hadn’t ridden him in months. I knew I couldn’t take Sonny with me to school, and he was smart. He deserved to be ridden regularly. In a stroke of poetic irony, I sold Sonny at an auction in Michigan. It was the kindest thing I’ve ever done, and my greatest regret. That day I sold a piece of my heart to a kind man with a large farm of horses.
I still see him, in my mind and in my dreams. I am standing at the gate and call to him. He whinnies to me and runs towards me. He never reaches me in my mind. In my mind, I always see him as he was when I met him. Running.
Bianca Jones is a college student in West Michigan studying psychology and writing. Bianca started showing Dressage and hunt seat equitation when she was eight and retired eight years later to go to college. Bianca now spends her time working, studying, and reflecting on the lessons she learned from her horses.
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