First love

I threw a flake of hay to the small gray pony. As I stood there watching him eat, I tried hard to analyze just why this little creature fascinated me. I had, perhaps unwisely, acquired him for my still-too-young-to-ride grandchildren. I had ignored the arguments of people who believe that ponies make for hard hands and short tempers É that children are better off with older, broke horses. I wasn't so sure I disagreed. But it was too late - I was already in love with the pony.I threw a flake of hay to the small gray pony. As I stood there watching him eat, I tried hard to analyze just why this little creature fascinated me. I had, perhaps unwisely, acquired him for my still-too-young-to-ride grandchildren. I had ignored the arguments of people who believe that ponies make for hard hands and short tempers É that children are better off with older, broke horses. I wasn't so sure I disagreed. But it was too late - I was already in love with the pony.

Story originally posted by: Robin BarkerReprinted with permission of the author and Western Horseman magazine, Copyright January 2001

I threw a flake of hay to the small gray pony. As I stood there watching him eat, I tried hard to analyze just why this little creature fascinated me. I had, perhaps unwisely, acquired him for my still-too-young-to-ride grandchildren. I had ignored the arguments of people who believe that ponies make for hard hands and short tempers – that children are better off with older, broke horses. I wasn’t so sure I disagreed. But it was too late – I was already in love with the pony.

Soon I was taking time out of a busy day to run a brush over him, pet him, or just stand there admiring his every feature. I did everything but bring him into the house like a dog.

The Visitor
Then one day in late spring I looked up and saw the little girl who had moved in across the road from our place in eastern Washington. She peered out from behind stick-straight bangs, her large doe-like brown eyes gazing into Turbo’s pen.

The bright, articulate 5-year-old said her name was Courtney. Her eyes jumped back and forth between me and Turbo; I had found someone who admired him as much as I did. I asked if sometime she would like to ride him, and she accepted immediately and eagerly.

Courtney did not know how to ride, but she had a deep desire to learn. The only thing I insisted on was that she wear pull-on boots. The next day she stood in my driveway with a big smile and a brand-new pair of brown cowboy boots. She was ready to ride.

The Lessons
I loaded Turbo up with my horse, and we headed to the desert. I led Turbo while Courtney held tight to the saddle horn, nervous and thrilled at the same time. After we got home, I turned them loose in our arena to see how they could do by themselves and began teaching Courtney how to pilot the little horse.

She was dead serious. She paid attention and remembered the smallest of details. When she was able to trot him, lope him, stop, and turn him – in other words to show me that she was in full control – we went back to the desert, and she and Turbo were on their own.

More Lessons
Spring was turning into summer, with long, hot dusty days. It didn’t matter to Courtney; she had the bug and wanted to ride all the time.

Because I am conditioning our horses for hard work, I put lots of miles on them at a pretty fast pace. Courtney would ask to go more often than I could take her, partly because she and Turbo just couldn’t keep up.

One day she announced in all seriousness to me that she knew the only way I could take her more would be if she learned to ride as hard and fast as I did.

"I’m going to prove to you, Robin, that I can."

She began to challenge herself, and Turbo seemed up for it too. They got faster and better with every ride. Courtney complained little of the heat or the dust or how far we were going or when we would get back. She wanted to ride, and that is just what she was getting to do.

There were some pony problems. Turbo had a bad habit of dropping down to roll when he got sweaty. Oh, Courtney hated that! I explained to her there was really nobody else to get him over it. I bought her a little pair of spurs, and it took very little time for Turbo to stop trying to lie down. Instilling confidence in Courtney to always stay in the driver’s seat and commit to being the one in charge has been our biggest challenge.
photo: loveletters Courtney and Turbo perfecting the barrels.
She and Turbo joined the Columbia Basin Barrel Racing Association and began a whole new phase of their relationship. Courtney learned patience and perseverance as well as good sportsmanship. She was a novice rider with an untrained horse; that meant there would be some frustration and disappointment, but there would also be pride in new accomplishments.

Her last barrel race for the season was a great success. It by no means set any speed records, but it was a clean and perfect pattern. As they turned the third barrel and headed for home, Courtney’s face radiated pride and love for the pony.

Graduating Ponies stay forever the same. Their little riders grow up and move on. Courtney started kindergarten in the fall, and I wondered if this new adventure of school and friends would put her horse interests elsewhere. It hasn’t. She seems more horse-oriented than ever and comes over almost daily to ride. She is independent and self-sufficient – she catches, saddles, and gets on Turbo by herself.

I know the day will come when they will no longer be a pair. But I feel confident that Courtney’s love for horses will remain.

And Turbo? Well, there are grandchildren waiting, and, of course, there is me.

My fascination, I have decided, lies in the fact that Turbo was not there when I was 5. But he is now.

Want to see more pictures of Courtney and Turbo? Click here!

Robin Barker, a free-lance photographer and writer, and her husband, Mike Corey, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association pickup man, live in Moses Lake, Washington.