By Claudia Costa-Jacobson
I had no business buying her.
I was a college student and a mom of a little girl who was sick very often. There were lots of reasons to be practical. I lived my life with a parachute at the ready, an umbrella always within reach and no dreams, but lots of worries. Furthermore, I recalled as I stood at the muddy paddock, I already had two very safe ponies.
The first horse in my life was a statue somewhere in Central Park. I climbed on it whenever Dad took me there. It was pure childish pleasure. I would sit straight up, dressed in my wool coat, hat and patent leather Mary Janes. I loved that horse. Sitting up on her I could look around and see things I wasn’t aware of as a little girl on the ground.
My second horse was painted in bright colors on the door of a barn in the tiny hamlet of Potter Hollow. It was in an equally colorful harness, pictured in a forward moving trot with all four hooves off the ground. I would see him in black and white when we passed at night heading to our house on South Mountain in Conesville. On the way home to the City, we would usually pass in the daylight and then I could see the colors. It was my idea of a gypsy horse ready to pull a wagon, the horse at Potter Hollow.
Back to the muddy paddock. It was a cold spring day. I was about 25 years older than the little girl climbing the statue in Central Park or staring at the folk art horse on the barn. My friend and housemate had come with me to a small farm outside a small town to buy ponies. Along with the mud there was a fair amount of horse manure and an earthy smell that I liked. If someone had asked, I would have denied love at first sight, but reality would have begged a pardon.
“I’ll buy her,” I heard myself say.
“Who do you want?” my friend asked.
“I want her, the young mare with the big mane,” I said pointing.
I can’t recall if she was already named Sarah, or if that was my idea. Sarah was reddish brown with a very thick golden mane. Sarah’s mother was named Jessie. She was the picture perfect pony in a child’s story book. Jessie was grey with more dapples than could be counted and a sweet, timid personality. Jessie was again pregnant, due in early summer. Both mares were trotting wildly to avoid the unwanted aggressive advances of a reddish gold stallion, Sarah’s sire. He had no training and no manners. In order to buy any, the owners insisted that we buy all three of these ponies.
We put our money and then our heads together. We hired Stan Dibble to truck them. We offered to give Stan a free stallion if he would drop the stallion off at his farm prior to getting to our place. Stan was a farmer, a tall man, strong and smart. His childhood was spent on a hardscrabble dairy farm at the top of Dibble Road in Andes, the same road where my in-laws, Bob and Alice Jacobson live. He had an eye for horses and even though he knew no horse or pony is ever free, he bought our plot. When he arrived at his farm, he led our 700 pound problem stallion off the trailer into his barn without incident. He had a big barn, a hot electric fence and horse sense.
We thought we were ready when Stan unloaded our new ponies. Oh they were cute! Sarah and Jessie stayed close together in our tiny paddock. We had a tiny barn with a wood floor covered with clean straw. There was good hay and no pesky stallion to bother them here. It was much better than where they had been living. I remember thinking that this pony business was a lot easier than having a baby.
Then morning arrived. I came downstairs and was heading for the coffee pot when my friend said, “They got out!”
I asked, “When did you let them out?”
“No. They are out! They got out!”
“No. They couldn’t,” I said.
Pony lesson #1, yes they could. I looked out the window. The two sweeties had kicked a large hole in the front wall of the barn and escaped to the paddock. Lesson #2, do not close the top of the stall door or the ponies will kick down the wall. Rebuild the wall quickly. Lesson #3, do not remove Sarah’s halter without Stan, who could immediately replace the old halter with a new one, or Sarah would rear up, put her hooves on my shoulders and lunge at my face. Lesson # 4, Shetland ponies need very little grain. See Lesson #3.
It was a time of learning for me. I took a college course and learned to ride. Years later I took lessons in driving horses, one sport I was good at and loved. Sarah needed some time to grow up. I needed time with horses and ponies who were well trained so when I finally put a bit in her mouth and reins in my hands I wouldn’t hurt her mouth.
Riders communicate with their horse using their legs, moving forward or sitting back in the saddle, as well as with the bit and their voice. Drivers have only the reins and their voice. A driver uses the whip to apply pressure and it takes instruction to develop gentle effective technique, not to mention how to drive straight. There is no steering wheel. You need a fast thinking head, ready for an old fashioned spook.
Sarah needed about two years of training, including one year of me walking near her while someone else drove her to insure she would be a safe pony with my daughter. There were more challenges. Ponies can be very quick to think of mischief.
My $100.00 investment bought me lots of fun, and joy, too. My daughter learned to drive, first driving a pony, then a small tractor and finally on an old car with a standard transmission. These were steps a lot of Delaware County kids used to take. ~