From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

The Wonder Pony

Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.

Kahlil Gibran

Nearly every little girl dreams at least once in her life of having her very own pony. One day it’s going to be a pure white beautiful pony, so sweet it seems God himself made her out of sugar. Some times you’ll have a jumping pony, a rich bay in color and you’ll compete against the best of them. On another day, you’re going to have a gleaming black pony. It will be a parade pony with braids in her mane and every little girl who’s not lucky enough to have the pony will swoon at your privilege. But the best part of the dream is that she is your very own pony and the most precious thing in your life.

I imagine it must have been some early morning, and although the man at the meatpacking plant had had a long night, he was sure that the little yellow animal with a long white tail wasn’t one of the steers that careened down the plank path. I can see him scratch his head as he considers the pony that calmly stands at the threshold of the semi-trailer full of beef on the hoof from South Dakota’s grazing ranges. Fortunately, the pony stays in the trailer until both levels of cattle unload themselves and stand lowing in the holding pen. The attendant approaches the pony and leads her off the truck by her furry white forelock and ties her to the bumper of his truck. Right now he has work to do, figuring out the future of a small yellow pony would have to wait.

“What?” Jean said after she answered the telephone at her stable. “Sure, they graze those steers in huge fields, anyone could have abandoned a pony by just tucking her in the gate one night.” After a short pause I hear Jean continue, “Of course I’ll take her, you can hardly wrap her up as a rump roast, can you?”

I sat on a hay bale writing my name in the dust on the stable wall. I was staying out of the barn aisle as my mom walked horses down to the indoor arena. I was only five years old at the time but I had loved horses for all of those five years, and I understood enough of the barn owner’s one-sided conversation to hope that something very good was going to happen. I met my mom on her way back down the row of stalls and hopping from foot-to-foot I said, “I think a pony is coming! Jean said . . . and I heard her say . . . I think a pony is coming, Mom!” How right I was—a pony was coming.

Soon I had that wonderful dreamed of pony . . . well, maybe not all that wonderful, but she was mine! When we first met her, she was thin and filthy and her mane and tail were tangled and burr-ridden. She was too old for the vet to guess her age but she was just perfect to me.We spent many summer afternoons together, sometimes my mom would pony us down the road to an empty field and we would bring a picnic. Bailey would graze and we would snack and lie in the sun for awhile. The breeze would catch her white forelock and fluff it up into a white shrub between her tiny little cat-like ears.

Bailey was probably the most patient pony I have every met. In the winter we would put her little saddle on with her little breastplate and tie a Flexible Flier to the back with a lunge line. Someone would lead and someone would ride on the sled. We spent many happy hours in the snowy yard. Sometimes the sled would skid up against her furry little fetlock but Bailey didn’t mind. I suspect she was glad to have a home in spite of its irregularities.

The wonder pony that Bailey was stayed with me as I shopped for a show horse when I was older, and I ended up with a lovely buckskin mare that I showed in Class A. We moved our horse family to a show barn full of lovely Arabian horses and, of course, Bailey came along too. Envision stall after stall of curvy necks and refined heads, shiny and slick over the top oak board, and right in the middle, two little yellow cat-like ears and a fluffy white forelock above two big brown eyes peering into the aisle waiting for the grain cart. Bailey was probably as out of place in the show barn as she was in the truck full of steers but everyone at the barn loved her.

The years have flown by since I sat in Jean’s barn, writing on the wall with my wet finger, and Bailey has always been my pony. Other children would ride her around the arena at the stable. They would brush her long, thick mane and tail and say, “This is my pony,” and, because I knew they were dreaming, I would smile and still know that Bailey would always be mine.

Bailey lived the life of a champion show horse in that barn. She wore a little blanket in the winter and was lovingly cared for, but even a champion show horse can’t live forever. Bailey got sick and the vet came to see her every day. My little yellow pony had the best medicines and she stood in her deeply bedded stall with a fan in the door to keep her cool. She wouldn’t eat and although she didn’t seem to be in any pain, the light had left her eyes and she spent hour-afterhour lying in her stall. Finally one day Bailey got up and with determination knocked over the fan in the doorway, stepped over it and marched down the aisle past the lovely heads of her equine friends. Several of us in the barn followed Bailey outside. She seemed to be “on a mission” so nobody tried to grab her and interrupt her journey. Bailey walked briskly up the hill in front of the stable with her entourage of people trailing along behind. She walked to the old oak tree that stood outside the gate of the pasture she had always shared with the young foals that she babysat.

It was cool and breezy and Bailey lay down in the thick grass. I knew that it was time for her to go and I sat in the grass beside her. I lifted her head to my lap and smoothed her forelock down. I examined the way the fur on the dish of her face never laid straight and stroked the fuzz in her little cat-like ears. How I wished I could have been there for her birth, knew how old she was or even what breed she was. What would have happened if we hadn’t taken her in? I wished I could have protected her at the time of her life where as far as the world knew, she didn’t exist.

Soon her ribs rose less and less, her breathing slowed little by little and then stopped completely. I felt a tear stream down my face as the wind grabbed her smoothed forelock and fluffed it up again, as it had always been. I was grateful to have shared so many years with Bailey and to see her into God’s hands. She was His now. She was finally home, where she really belonged.

Lauren Thoma

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