Where Are They Now? featuring Tonka Toy

Photo courtesy of Julia McCullough, Photo by NKC Photography.

BY Emma Gosselin

Every IEA or IHSA show has those few horses or ponies that each rider hopes to draw. Maybe it’s because of their easy going nature, ability to find a distance for you, or their smooth and easy to sit trot, these draws always end up leaving lasting memories on their riders.

If you showed in IEA or IHSA Zone 1 or even at IEA Nationals, Tonka Toy, affectionately known as “Tonka” was probably one of those draws for you and your teammates. 

Before Tonka became the IEA wonder pony he is known as, he was found tied to a piece of farm machinery as a prize somebody had won in a poker game. From there, he became a well known wonder pony at Camp Marshall Horse Show Series in central Massachusetts and the Woodstock Fair’s Children’s Hunters, Equitation, Hunter Type Pet Pony, and Pony Hunter divisions. Tonka also won the Stables at Still River Jumper Classic under the lights at Woodstock against 30+ entries, a memory his rider fondly shares. 

Tonka worked as a school pony at Four Winds Farm in central Massachusetts. He spent his days teaching riders the ropes, showing at local horse shows, and even working at and attending horse summer camp. He was an IEA and IHSA fan favorite and was even voted Pony of the Year for his all-star efforts showing at IEA Regionals at the Eastern States Exposition.

A social media post to gauge support and gather “remember when” stories on Tonka was posted in early 2022 as a precursor to nominating Tonka to the Horse Stars Hall of Fame for his service to IEA and IHSA teams alike.

One rider remarked “I warmed him up for a couple of shows. I remember this one show and the woman at the gate asked me the name of who I was warming up, and a group of young girls saw him and all yelled ‘Tonka!’ He needed no introduction!” 

Tonka Toy. Photo courtesy of Julia McCullough

Another fondly remembered her show days, “I was lucky enough to ride him myself as a young middle school crossrail rider and even luckier to watch him carry some of my best friends to victory in both IEA and IHSA.” 

One coach shared her appreciation for Tonka helping to make IEA and IHSA run smoothly.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to have him at so many of our shows for many years. Always a favorite draw for everyone and particularly memorable for my rider who won a ribbon at Nationals on him,” she says.

After retiring from his many years of teaching riders the ropes, Tonka was purchased by Julia McCullough who was the one who found him tied to farm machinery many years ago and won the jumper classic at Woodstock on him. She said she knew from the time she was 14 that she wanted to be able to repay Tonka for all he did for her once he reached retirement, which is a promise she has held true to. Tonka spends most of his time teaching McCollough’s younger cousin the basics of trail riding and horsemanship and hanging around with his best friend and McCollough’s other horse, Charlotte, 

A social media post by McCullough highlights her love for Tonka, and her promise to love her horses in their golden years: 

“When I had the opportunity to purchase a second horse two years ago I could’ve gotten a new one, a young one with potential to carry me to competition. Instead I purchased the old, half blind lesson horse who taught me how to ride. The one who bucked the entire way around the arena the first time I took him to a show. The one who picked me up when teenage angst had me feeling like my world was falling apart. The one who gave me the wings and confidence to fly. I chose the pony who the little girl inside me would’ve chosen all those years ago.”

Cheers to retirement, Tonka! Thank you for all you have done for so many riders. 

If you know of a pony who was once a superstar in the show ring and now has a new job title, whether Short Stirrup King or Retirement Queen, send us an email!