From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

A Prince of a Horse

Do not wait for great strength before setting out, for immobility will weaken you further.

Phillipe Vernier

“She’s small enough, she could ride Prince,” one wrangler said. The other one cast a dubious eye over me and then reluctantly agreed. “She rides better than the rest of them. I guess she could handle him.”

“Who’s Prince,” I asked? I had looked forward to the horsemanship program at Girl Scout camp all summer. Standing hopefully beside a big beautiful chestnut that I had secretly picked out as my mount, my heart fell when the wranglers brought me to another corral and I saw the bay equine that awaited me. A pony, Prince was a pony!

I would never live down the short jokes now. The other girls got tall, beautiful horses and here I was, the short girl who was always teased for being little, stuck with a short, darned pony. It was a moment before I noticed the wrangler was addressingme. “Iwouldn’t put any of these other girls on Prince,” hewas tellingme,which bolsteredmy spirits slightly. “But I know you have some riding experience. He’s not like these dude horses; he has a mind of his own. Be real careful with him around water.”

He hurried off to help the other girls saddle their big, tall, gorgeous horses while I led Prince out and tied him to the hitching post. He rolled an evil eye at me, clearly displeased to be asked to do something. I glared right back at him and saddled him up, struggling to get the horse-size cinch snug around his abdomen. Ready to face my camp mates, I braced myself for the short jokes.

OOOOH,” they squealed. “He’s sooooo cute.”

“You get to ride a pony? No fair!”

“I want to ride him.”

“He’s just your size, you look so adorable together.”

Prince pulled his first pony moment where a recent rain had left a big puddle of water. I was relieved that he didn’t balk before entering the water, so was taken unawares when he then stopped short.When he put his nose down, I thought he wanted to drink and gave him his head. Belatedly, I remembered the wrangler’s words as Prince’s knees started to buckle and I pulled his head up. He was trying to lie down and roll, with me, the saddle and everything! Thwarted in his desires, he wouldn’t leave themud hole. It tookmuch pounding with heels and slapping of reins to get him moving again.

The trail grew narrow and rocky, wending its way between lodge pole pine and aspen trees, going up and down hills. Coming down the first steep hill, it seemed that the saddle suddenly got a lot closer to Prince’s ears. It was then that I realized that the saddlewas rolling loosely on his back. I knew I had tightened the cinch! But Prince was apparently good at puffing up his belly and with his round barrel it didn’t take much for the saddle to slip. I barely made it to a flat stretch to jump off him and re-tighten the saddle.

With his short little legs, Prince didn’t walk as fast as the horses so we got farther and farther behind. While everyone else was walking calmly, I was locked into a battle of strategy with Prince; walking wherever there was a downhill section, then allowing him to trot on the flat and uphill sections to catch up. Whenever I started him into a catch-up trot, there were yells of complaint from the girls on the horses behind me, whose horses also started trotting.

Then we came to the river. It was when the water was up to his chest that Prince stopped in the middle of the stream and started bobbing his head. But I was wise to him and wouldn’t give him his head. He started pawing the water in frustration. I couldn’t budge him. Kicking did no good because my feet couldn’t reach his sides through the water. I needed both my hands to keep his head up and Iwas nearly dislodged fromhis back by his vigorous flailing. I could see the wranglers trying to help, only to have their horses shy away from the eruption of water Prince was creating. Finally one got close enough to grab his reins and, spurring her horse, dragged Prince from the water, me clinging to his back. I was sopping from head to foot; the counselors who’d tried to help me were drenched. Only Prince was happy. He stretched out his nose and shook, scattering water everywhere and nearly throwing me from the saddle. Then he grunted and sighed, telling us just how pleased he was with himself.

Soon after the river, we came to the most dangerous part of the trail. Because he couldn’t drown me, I guess Prince decided to murder me instead. We were carefully walking along a narrow trail chiseled from the side of the mountain. Prince chose that moment to turn like a gymnast on a balance beam and charge back down the direction we came. I barely got him stopped before he knocked the other horses off the narrowtrail like a bowling ball.Onemisstep andwewould all be toast, falling over the side. I could hear thewrangler yelling to me, but with horses between us she couldn’t come to our aid. I had to get Prince to back up and turn in the correct direction on that narrow trail. And there was no one there to do it but me. Maybe all the times before when he had tested me had earned me some begrudging respect, because this time he listened to my hands and my voice. He turned on a dime and continued up the trail like nothing had happened.

When we arrived in camp, I was braced for complaints about my unruly mount disturbing everyone’s ride. But instead, all the girls flocked around and admired my “darling” pony. “Ohhhh, he’s so cute,” they squealed! “He’s just adorable,” they cooed. “I wish I could ride him,” they said wistfully. Were you on the same ride I was on? I wanted to ask. Didn’t you see him try to roll me in mud, bolt down the road, fight me all the way when I kept him to a walk, have to trot to keep up, turn into a fountain in the middle of the river, try to drop both me and him in the lake? And you think he’s cute?

After grazing the horses, we were instructed to find a strong tree and tie our horses using a quick release knot. Finally, I thought, something I can do right. Just as night started to settle over our mountain camp, we hear the cries of “loose horse” and the wranglers all jump up and rush into the dark to catch the wayward beast before it gets hurt. It was Prince, of course. And while some didn’t believe that I had tied him tight, I knew at least one did. Apparently, he could untie knots. Now he was double-tied.

The next day Prince was a perfect gentleman on the trail ride home. When we came to the river, we were prepared for him. A wrangler rode on each side of his rump and the moment he hesitated to try to take a bath, they both slapped him with their ropes and he gave up on the idea.

“You know,” the counselor told me on the bus ride back to camp, “It wasn’t just because you are little that I put you on Prince.He could have easily carried any of these girls, but you

had the riding skill to handle him. And, you got a better ride

than anyone here because you had to match wits with a very

clever pony.”

   It was a while before I realized what I had learned from

Prince on that ride. Society is geared to looking up to the tall

guy and down on the short one, often overlooking and undervaluing

valuing little people. But those who are small can still be

tough and smart—and keep you on your toes. Genghis Kahn

almost took over the world on horses no bigger than Prince.

It’s not how small you are, but how you use it.

Janice Willard, D.V.M., M.S.

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