Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Pony Tails


Back when I was a teenager, I bought many starved and often abused horses and ponies to bring back to health, train and find good, loving homes for. Hippy was one of these. A lovely, tri-coloured pinto, she was as wild as she looked. She had a mane and tail that dragged the ground, and truly believed humans were devil-spawn. I don’t know if I’d ever seen a horse as mortally afraid of people as she was, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such complete fear since. Still, I saw something in her, something special. She’d come by her fear honestly. I would prove to her that people could be good. That she wouldn’t be harmed, and I would give her a new chance of a good life. At least that’s what I was determined to do.
In the beginning, handling her took a great deal of thought. Absolutely terrified of any touch, I had to do something to get her past that sense of fear. I have to say, training a three year old, sturdy pony, even one that was neglected and bony, is nothing at all like halter breaking a foal or weanling. Fear lent her a great deal of strength, and that big pony dragged me all over the place until we were both breathless. Giving up wasn’t an option. It was imperative that I win every battle, or it would be that much harder to catch and work with her the next day. I used a very long lead rope so I could have some leverage and a bit of an advantage. Unfortunately, the length of rope often gave her an advantage as well. We would face off, she splay-legged and staring at me with eyes that said I was an alien being, and surely meant to eat her alive. I on the other hand, had no such intentions at all. All I wanted was for her to realize I wouldn’t hurt her. If it was up to me, no human would ever frighten or hurt her again. Anyway, we would come to an impasse of sorts. Neither of us would concede defeat. She wasn’t about to give me an inch, yet I wanted so much more. Hand over hand, I would slowly work my way up the taut rope towards her. Sure, she would leap into the air, legs flailing, throwing her head back and forth in attempts to get away, but I’m stubborn now and was just as stubborn back then. Inch by inch, I would work my way towards her. At the point where I could actually touch the soft nose between wildly flared nostrils, I would have to wait a little bit. That was not the time to be hasty. It was the time where I would be at the biggest risk of injury, and it was important to be ready for anything. There were all kinds of possible scenarios, some of which were incredibly hazardous to the handler. The worst of which was, if she was to respond by lashing out at me. The potential was certainly there. She was frightened, of me. A horse is a flight or fight animal. If it can’t flee, there’s a good chance it will strike out to protect itself instead. Still, I didn’t feel threatened by Hippy. She wasn’t that horse. As afraid as she was, she wouldn’t strike or bite. I could sense it, slowly, ever so slowly, my had would reach out to touch velvety skin. Invariably, she would catch her breath and gasp, anxiously gulp at the horror of being touched, but she allowed it. If a horse has the right temperament, the right smarts, it won’t act out with any sort of attack. It was something one can sense, especially after working with many horses of all kinds. I would spread my fingers over those flared nostrils, allowing her to suck in my scent. She had to know that my scent meant safety, trust and more. Of course, to think that she would come around to my way of thinking just like that isn’t anywhere near possible. I persisted, she tolerated and after I managed to run my hand softly all over her muzzle, I would encourage her to go through the gate back into the round pen.
It only took a few days of this, before I was able to easily catch and lead her around. A very good thing, as just like Grandma, a horribly starved red and white paint pony I had purchased at the same time, she had lice. To say they had lice would be making less of the situation than it was. Those poor ponies were crawling with lice. I had to be able to handle Hippy all over, in order to deal with the lice problem. They were starved, lice-ridden and because poor Hippy was young and so malnourished while growing, she had ringbone. I had the vet check her over and he said that only time would tell if she’d be useable, or not.
Well, time went by, thankfully her ringbone fused as she grew, and didn’t cause her pain. Hippy soon realized that we humans were pretty great. It always amazes me just how forgiving an animal can be. Though she’d been starved and mistreated, she turned into the sweetest pony that we could absolutely trust. Not once did she even attempt to kick or strike out. Not once did she try to bite. It just wasn’t her temperament. She was sweet by nature, thank goodness.
With good feed and care, she blossomed and I began to train her. If I had the chance of selling her on to a good home, she had to be as bomb-proofed as was possible. To that end, I trained her to harness, we played and goofed around with her a lot. When she had put on enough weight and completely recovered her health, I began to train her to ride. She was great, in fact, beyond great. Hippy was like a sponge and was about as willing as could be. Incredibly easy to teach, other than a few hops the first time she was ridden, she simply acted like a trained horse. I love when that happens, when we do everything right, and a horse or pony simply goes along with whatever it’s asked to do.
So, Hippy began to go out once in a while. Like every beginner, she needed to experience life. Things like cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles had to be accepted without a big reaction. In the winter, there were things like snowmobiles to frighten a horse. There’s something about those noisy machines, hopping and bopping over the fields and through ditches that is very scary to a horse. As we don’t want our horses to be afraid of such things, we try to show and let them experience as much as possible. It’s only through exposure to the unusual that horses are able to learn to accept them, that along with positive reinforcement. To punish an animal when it’s afraid, only compounds problems.
One lovely, winter day, I decided to go riding and took someone else with me. Hippy was used to the people she knew, but needed to be ridden by strangers as well, especially male ones. Many animals aren’t crazy about men, especially after they’d been hurt by men. I didn’t want Hippy to go through life thinking all men were evil, so a male was about to ride her.
The ride started off well enough. Away we went, bareback, because there’s nothing better in the winter than sitting one’s butt on the nice, warm back of a winter-furry horse, or pony as it were. We walked along, chatting and pretty much enjoying the day. Sticking to the snowy shoulder of the gravel road, I kept an eye out for vehicles of any kind while also observing the big pony and rider beside me. I could see that she was thinking. There was something about the way her ears flicked back and forth, the very way she was carrying herself that said, ‘hey, any second now, I’m going to do something. I don’t know what, but it’ll be something, that I can promise.’
“If she takes off,” I said as I observed my thinking pony, “turn her into the ditch. She won’t go far in a ditch full of snow.”
The words were barely out of my mouth, when away she went. Thankfully, after the first few strides of what looked to be the beginnings of a full-fledged gallop, her rider turned her into the ditch. With three great leaps, she was stopped dead in the middle of the ditch. Now, when I say ditch, imagine it so full of snow that there’s barely a slope from the road down into it, and the adjoining fields are the same height. That’s right, it looks just like one continuous field of white snow, and they were stuck in the middle of it. While Hippy looked around as if a little confused by her change of circumstances, her rider simply stepped off and up, as they were in that deep.
“Get back on,” I chuckled, “she’s going to get herself out of there in a moment or two, and it’s better to be on than left behind.”
He obligingly straddled the almost buried, big pony and sat there, looking like a jockey does when perched on a race horse. As I predicted, Hippy decided to exit the ditch, and did so with a few dramatic leaps. Funnily enough, she wasn’t done yet. After a few strides, she took off again, only to be steered back into the ditch. It took a couple more of these before she decided enough was enough, and the ride could continue. Many people wonder how we who deal with snow manage, but I have to say, it certainly comes in handy at times. Hippy learned that taking off is no fun and gets one stuck in a ditch, and she learned that males don’t always hurt either. All in all, it was a very good ride.

Leave a Reply

About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
All rights reserved. No part of this website or book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic or mechanical – without the prior written permission of the author.


 Oakbank, MB