He came with the name Pony-Pony. For obvious reasons, we changed it. But we didn’t go with my son’s suggestion: Brownie. To the child who’d named the goldfish with big eyes, Eyes, and the one with a gold cap, Hat… well, you get the picture. Instead, we admired the overgrown mane of this plain Jane equine and equated it with our favorite vintage cartoon character.
Shaggy it was.
Shaggy wasn’t very big but he came with a bad reputation. If you’ve ever seen a horse whisperer, you’ll know that people probably caused the problem but the reality was I had an animal I’d been warned about and I was the only one who could do anything about it.
Since I’m a protocol person, I did what I normally do—started with groundwork. That’s how you flush out trouble before you get yourself into a mess on horseback. The first problem was he had great ground manners. He was a little barn sour and herd bound, but well behaved. I didn’t want to discount what a tyrant he might have been and was hopeful it had been a personal thing but experience kept me on guard.
It wasn’t until I climbed aboard that I noticed the glitch.
He was not only barn sour, if he lost sight of a horse for even a split second, he’d go ballistic. He could trot around the ring like a perfect gentleman, albeit it a quick-strided, uncollected one, but once he lost track of a horse, he was frantic. Soon it was evident that he was green broke at best. He allowed people on his back out of the goodness of his heart but that didn’t mean he knew anything. And he didn’t. I set my sights higher.
Soon we overcame the attachment to his friends, but then I found myself up against another problem: excessive forward motion. That pony could move out. The first time I asked for a lope in the pasture, he adjusted his stride proportional to the total square footage of four acres. What was once a short stride in a small round pen was now a full gallop that covered turf in record time.
Too many bad horse wrecks had left me fearful of speed. So the first time Shaggy kicked it into overdrive, I slammed on a half-halt so fast his mouth gaped. Then the funniest thing happened: he stopped as if he didn’t understand the concern. One moment I asked him to lope, the next I recanted. How fickle. Then he did something else that blew my mind: he put his head down and walked tranquilly on a loose rein. Well, any animal I’d ever ridden that bolted off like that was intent on putting me through the side of the barn. Not Shaggy. He was only having fun.
I was mesmerized. I took a few deep breaths, got a good grip with shaky palms and picked up a trot. Then with my heart in my throat I cued for a lope. With earth whizzing by, I forced myself to sink into the saddle and used the reins only to steady and steer until the most amazing thing happened: his stride lengthened and his neck elongated until we were floating—sailing through the grass at a pace that scared the living snot out of me. I hung with him for as long as I dared but when it was time to turn back toward the barn, I lost my nerve and asked for a downshift, which he cordially delivered. Then his hooves regained the happy two-beat gait that delivered me to the barn with easy repose.
When I dismounted, legs like rubber, he rubbed his face against my shoulder as if to thank me for finally “getting” him and I reciprocated by thanking him for forcing me to try again.
Shaggy simply wanted to fly. The problem was, I was afraid to soar.
It hadn’t always been that way. I was a tomboy by trade; a cowboy by night. I wasn’t a girl who played with Barbies and sang show tunes. But I’d let life fall by the wayside with a series of failures that programmed me to abandon risk and adopt mediocrity. I was no longer the lass who’d hold tight and take flight, I was a grown woman who was riding the brakes.
As my confidence grew, so did Shaggy’s versatility. Today he’ll pull a cart full of kids singing Christmas carols through the state park at an extended trot until his heart bursts. Or take friends down the highway to the Wawa for ice cream, wait at a light while passing semis knock us off balance with a barrage of wind, evade road hazards like dead stuff and road trash and get us home on time, sweat pouring from his underbelly.
Every time I take him out I’m reminded that no matter how afraid you are, there’s only one direction you can go—forward. I needed a second chance and I got it from a pony that needed one too.
Thanks for reading.
Also by Cindy: The Aliquot Sum, a novel centered in the world of professional bull riding. Available in paperback and eBook on Amazon.