Monday, December 23, 2013

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

The Christmas Pony

 By Julie Carter

My dad hated ponies, Shetland or otherwise. His heartfelt belief was that if you wanted to ride then do so on a real horse.

No one seems to really know what possessed him to bring home a Shetland pony for his kids that Christmas. We owned plenty of "real" horses.

In some sort of horse trade, he ended up with this short, barrel round, pitch black, Shetland. He was trading off a perfectly good bay two-year-old real horse for some cash. Somewhere in the deal, this small want-to-be horse got hauled back to the ranch.

He named him Mickey Mouse. Not for his color and not for the Disney character but because this midget was a Mickey Mouse version of what a horse was supposed to be.

Mickey repeatedly proved my dad's theory on why not to own a Shetland pony and it began on that very Christmas morning.

At daylight, Dad went to the barn to do chores. He had the pony hidden in the barn but Mickey needed water. We had no water hydrants or tanks in the barn or the corrals. Water was the creek that ran along the bottom of the small trap below the corrals.

So Dad bridled the wee equine and jumped on him bareback to ride him to water. At some point during the process Mickey reared up, sliding Dad off his back. He landed hard on his back pockets on the hard frozen ground, breaking his tailbone -- a painful reminder of his dislike for Shetlands.

Mickey Mouse, in every way, defined spoiled, barn soured, obnoxious and aggravating. If you rode him anywhere, he spent the entire time figuring out a way to unload you and make a run for the barn. His only redeeming quality was he'd run away with his head high and to the side so as not to break the dragging bridle reins.

While not our preference for a saddle horse, we did use him in other ways. He made a comical if not functional pack horse for our "kid" pack trips. We would cinch a pack saddle to him and tie to that all our treasures for the day that had been wrapped in an old green army blanket.

The mound on his back would be so huge it usually took a kid walking on each side holding the pack to keep it on the top side. Off we would go, lumbering up the road a mile or so to create our pretend world of cowboys and Indians and hunting camps.

In the height of his career, Mickey became the source of total indignation for my brother. Summer was irrigation time for all those hay meadows and Mickey was the assigned mode of transportation for the long-legged boy.

Shovel in hand, he would slip up on the pony bareback and head off for a day of directing water over hay fields. Dad told him he couldn't waste a good saddle horse on that job.

In the winter Mickey pulled a toboggan in the meadow for us -- but only one direction. We'd jimmy-rig some sort of harness for him and hook it to the sled. Then we led him to the top end of a long meadow, turned him towards home and let him go. Dependably, he would run as hard as he could back to the barn. It was always a wild ride.

None of us kids have ever forgotten Mickey Mouse. And none of us have owned a pony since then. Some lessons tend to "take" better than others.

Julie can be reached for comment at

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