The sorrel stallion charged down the runway and slid to a stop with the rails of the auction pit only inches from his nose. With eyes wide-open and nostrils flaring, he tossed his head and threw his flowing mane to the side. He eyed the audience, stomped, snorted and then did something that I did not know horses could do—he seemed to propel himself straight up, turn himself in the air, land, and tear back up that same runway at top speed. He disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. He was, then he was not—there was nothing in between.
This little stallion was the first moving mustang I had ever seen. I have been around horses all my life but I have never observed such athletic ability. A few hours earlier, I watched an experienced mustang gentler lead this young stud around the ring only minutes after he was first roped. Surely he would sell quite high in the ensuing Bureau of Land Management wild horse auction.
He did not sell high. He did not sell at all. No one even bid on him. For all his ability, for all his willingness to learn, for all his stunning beauty, he was not a horse. He was a pony and modern American adults do not ride ponies.
I ride ponies and I am an adult. I ride ponies and I am a large adult. I ride ponies and I ride them long and hard. I have ridden Holland, a 13 hand Shackleford, fifty miles in a day on several occassions.
I ride because they give me what I want, which is to ride for hours on end on woods trails with my family. I have no need to pull a beer wagon. I do not fox hunt. I will never ride in the Kentucky Derby. In short, I do nothing with my ponies that would require me to feed an extra 400 pounds and two hands of horseflesh. My Indian Horses range from about 13.1 to 14.2 hands. They have heavy bones and iron-hard hooves. I doubt if any of them weigh over nine hundred pounds. Each carries my two hundred pound frame with grace and ease.
I ride ponies because they are healthy, easy keepers. My Indian Horses do not need grain. Indeed, it often takes quite a while before a mustang will even try the taste of grain. They live wonderfully on grass and hay. With the help of mineral supplement, they grow tough, dense hooves that have yet to require a shoe.
I ride ponies because they are easier to handle than tall heavy horses. I do not need a cherry picker to saddle up. I do not need an elevator to mount up. When I fall off, I only have a short descent to make. When they step on my feet, I do not end up lame.
Even with all these advantages, I am still asked why I ride those poor little things that are, after all, “only ponies.” Americans love big things. We are the only nation that feels the need to super-size a meal containing a three-layered hamburger. We drive SUV’s and root for 7ft tall basketball players and 300-pound football players. To make matters worse, children often start out on ponies and then graduate to horses. Ponies are viewed as the equine equivalent of training pants and horses, especially big horses, are the big boy pants of the properly potty-trained equestrian. Many riders are self-conscious of their own weight problems and feel that they call attention to their weight by riding the smaller equines. Worst of all, many riders are simply unaware of the carrying capacity of a well-built, well-conditioned pony. I will never forget being told by a woman with life-long equestrian experience that my 14-hand Indian Horse could never carry her because he was “just a pony.” She looked to weigh about fifty pounds less than me.
Not all cultures have shared our silly prejudices against ponies. Gall was one of the top four leaders of the Sioux and Cheyenne forces at the Little Big Horn. As a young man, he weighed around 240 pounds. When Custer’s men looked up to see Gall riding over the hill to them they did not see him astride a Clydesdale. Nor was he even riding a Warm-blood. Like all the victorious warriors on that day, he rode in on a mustang, likely one that was “just a pony.”
Aside from all of their other advantages, I ride ponies because of the sense of history that they project. I ride ponies because DeSoto invaded America on ponies. I ride ponies because Crazy Horse defended his America on ponies. I ride ponies because there was a Pony Express but there never was a Horse Express. I ride ponies because Quannah Parker lived on a pony and I ride ponies because Roman Nose died on a pony.
I ride ponies because heart is not measured in hands.
(This brief essay is an excerpt from my book, And A Little Child Shall Lead Them: Learning From Wild Horses and Small Children)