Second Chance Pony

My Mom and I went to the spring mixed breed sale at the auction house. I promised myself I wouldn’t come home with anything, but I brought along my horse trailer. You know, because it’s easy to hook up the trailer and take it along through city streets and find parking when you absolutely won’t be bringing home a horse.

I was always on the lookout for a good horse, and sometimes they made their way through the auction. But on this day, I didn’t see a horse who caught my eye as we walked through the maze of connected barns.

Following the crooked aisles flanked with temporary stalls, looking like a group of teens put them up with no set plan, I spotted what looked like a miniature horse or a little pony, smooshed between two horses. I stopped to look, only because I wondered if he could be stuck.

He stood, squished up against a palomino quarter horse with a bit of a wild eye. When we stopped to see, the mini pushed himself around to the front to greet us. He was a malnourished looking thing. Though, someone had tried to clean him up for the big day. I could see curry marks on him from the quick removal of dried up manure and mud. His hair was thick, making it difficult to see how skinny he might be, but his hip bones stuck up like beacons. I wondered if he could reach the hay.

As sweet as he looked, and as much as my Mom lingered there for a moment too long, telling me what a great pony he’d be for my 3-year-old daughter, Madeline, I resisted and walked on through the maze of never ending horses.

We made our way back to the bleachers surrounding the auction pen. Regulars sat ready with their food-truck poutines and canned pop, well worn writing pads with important notes and dirty old pens perched on their ear as horses entered one by one. Flipping through their note pads and jotting down information, or raising their hand for a chance at a deal.

My mom and I took a seat in the less intimidating section and watched what the horses were going for. The auctioneer spoke a foreign language. My ears had become accustomed to understanding every few words. I was left to piece it together. He always announced the last bid price 4-5 times, so that one was easy to understand!

The meat guys were getting a lot of horses that day. My mom, appalled at such an affair, just hadn’t acclimated to what happens to unwanted horses.

I could see the mini waiting for his turn beside the bleacher. Led in by one of the auction guys, he walked in without a care. He was black and white, thin with untrimmed hooves. I refrained from raising my hand during bidding. Despite my mom’s nudges, I didn’t need a mini. I had to stay tough at the auction house.

With 100 acres and lots of grass at home, I could easily take home horses I just didn’t need. Without the pre-auction ‘pep talk’ I gave myself, I just might come home with everything there. But I didn’t have to use willpower to keep my hand on my lap for long. Not a single bidder raised their hand for a chance. He sold to the meat guy in what seemed like under 30 seconds for $25.00.

My heart sank.

A horse who finds himself at auction has one job to do. Make some kind of connection with one person. Just one person, one kind eye, one loving look to stay in their minds for a chance at a home.

And that’s what this pony did. I was going to be a sucker for it. I just knew it.

After the auction, I went out back to the trailer parking area to find the guy that bought him. The meat guys seemed to stand in the shadows during the auction, and I didn’t know what he looked like. I weaved around the trucks and trailers asking where I’d find the guy who picked up the miniature. It was against auction house policy to do side deals in the parking lot. I was taking my chances.

He was in a rush when I found him. Hopping in his rig to get in the trailer line for pickup, he didn’t want to be there ‘all night’ waiting to load. We quickly came to an arrangement. I don’t think he even ever looked me in the eye. I’m sure he contemplated whether I was some crazy animal activist. Buyers weren’t allowed back there. To get me away from his rig, he agreed I could buy the pony for $50.00, doubling his money. In his effort to keep on the good side of the auction house, he required me to fill out the paperwork in the office to be allowed to take the pony. The meat guy was a regular. A secret parking lot side deal would not make him friends.

A few hours drive home and not a peep from the trailer, I imagined what Madelines’ reaction might be. No one was expecting me to come home with a little pony, not even me! My smile widened as I drove up the farm lane.

Madeline was about to get her very own pony. She leapt through the door of the trailer to greet him and lead him down the ramp as if she were an old pro. The pony knew right then he had it made-in-the-shade. When I asked what we should name him, Madeline looked down to the gravel driveway, picked up a small rock and declared her new pony’s name would be Stone. A family giggle ensued. But there he was, the newest addition to the herd, Stone.

I had the vet out in the first week. He figured Stone was about 19 years old. He was most likely used as a carthorse and then abandoned to a field, and now into our family. It turned out he was a few inches taller than a mini, so small (or extra extra small) pony he was!

We gave Stone the paddock in front of the house so Madeline could see him from her bedroom. She gathered up all of her pink brushes and pink lead rope to keep near the gate, declaring she would spend most of her time with him, and that she did.

Madeline would spend hours in the paddock, leading him around, stopping for a grooming session and sneaking carrots and apples from the kitchen fridge to indulge him. Stone was quite happy to be a play pony and as the first summer wore on, he ended up getting pretty round. We had to put the old guy on a diet.

Madeline started junior kindergarten that fall. Waiting for the bus would include leading Stone around the field and telling him about her morning. She would quickly say good-bye, duck under the fence, and grab her knapsack on the first sight of the bus cresting the hill. Tossing the lead rope beside the driveway, she would pick it up and go back to grooming and playing with Stone after school.

My heart was full. It was the best $50.00 I had ever spent.

Update: After a few years of learning horsemanship from the best teacher in the business, we moved on to getting Madeline her first riding pony. We gave Stone to a friend for her daughter to play with.He has since helped a few little equestrians learn about horsemanship. We are overjoyed to know, at about 30 years old, he is still melting the hearts of little girls.

The gorgeous photos of Stone in this story were kindly provided by his current home with Mad River Equine. They were taken by One Shot Photography

elizabeth mccowan, creative writing, horses, art, digital art

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