The Greatest Teacher I’ve Known

Every kid has a favorite teacher from when they were growing up.  I’m no exception.
Mine just has four hooves and a tail.
This is Snappy — CSA’s Snapdragon.  
It’s been a number of years now since his passing, and it’s taken me this long to figure out what to say as a tribute to him.  And anything I say can’t match what I still feel for one of the most extraordinary horses I’ve had the privilege to know.
Snappy is the greatest teacher I’ve ever known.
He taught me how much fun I could truly have while riding, and more importantly, he gave me a precious gift: He taught me how to trust a horse.
I only rode him for about a year, but in that year, he transformed me from a timid and unsure rider who was intimidated and sometimes flat out scared by the horses I loved, to someone who was prepared enough to take on the challenge of a green 3-year-old mare.
He didn’t belong to me…but I was his, in the way he took care of me and gave me everything I needed.  He had the unique gift of knowing the extent of his rider’s capabilities, and safely expanding their comfort zones.  My first time running him in gymkhana games, he went through slowly, teaching me the patterns.  But in subsequent times, he ran those games like the trained gamer he was.  It terrified me, but he knew what he was doing…and he also knew what I was capable of, far before I thought I could handle it.
There’s so much more I could come up with…countless stories and anecdotes about him…all of the “firsts” he gave me…blue ribbons, trophies, end-of-year awards, bareback riding, galloping across an empty field, jumping…a connection.
He bravely withstood several injuries, health challenges, even partial blindness, adapting and carrying on with his care-taking ways.  Eventual complete blindness was the only thing he couldn’t handle and would have severely compromised his quality of life, so the decision was made to put him to his rest.  He was in his mid-30s, and was still giving lessons until very near the end.
He had a true heart of gold and would give it all to his rider.
Thank you, Snappy, for being the greatest teacher I’ve ever known.  I owe you everything.

On Ponies

This post was inspired by Mel’s comment about having an obsession with cute ponies.

Ponies.

Ponies can be summed by by the statement of one simple fact: “Pony” is a four-letter word.  Their behavior can be passed off with a disgusted shake of the head and a an under-the-breath mutter of “Pony.”  Or it can result in a bemused grin and a delighted exclaimation of “Ah, ponies.”

I’ve been around ponies in some capacity for my entire equine life.  The last 13 years, I’ve been owned by one.  I wouldn’t change any of it.

Ponies are an education unto themselves.  They can be alternately sweet, mischievous, bratty, irksome, playful, grumpy, and winsome…all within the space of a day.

Fortunately, my time around ponies has been spent with what I consider a very special breed — the POA.

The Pony of the Americas is a rather unique pony breed.  They’re much more similar to a small horses, both in confirmation and attitude, than a typical pony.  Say the word “pony” and most people think of Shetlands…short, fuzzy, and ornery little things that delight in unmounting their riders.  Not that all of them are that way…but a breed reputation does have to develop from somewhere.

The POA was originally developed in the mid-1950s, and the foundation registered stallion named “Black Hand” was the result of an Arabian-Appaloosa mare crossed with a Shetland pony.  Breed standard calls for the confirmation of a small horse instead of that of a pony.  They are to have the spotted coat and distinguishing features — white sclera around the eye, striped hooves, skin mottling –of an Appaloosa, an athletic, well-muscled body, and a more elegant head and neck.  Breed standard calls for a height of 46″-56″ (11.2-14hh).

Above all, the POA is a children’s breed and organization.  The only classes adult can show in are the in-hand Halter classes.  All other classes are for those 18 and under, and divided into four age categories.  Its main purpose is in showing, but one of the hallmarks of the POA is its versatility.  The shows themselves encourage ponies and riders to try a little bit of everything, and then further incentive programs are offered for outside sports such as distance riding.

During my years of showing with Mimi, my typical show day would look something start at 6am, and go until at least 6-7pm.  During that time, we would do in-hand Halter and Showmanship classes, then move to the under saddle classes, both Western and English.  Western — Bareback Equitation, Stockseat Equitation, Western Pleasure (two classes, one for the pony’s age group and one for the rider’s), Trail, Reining, Western Riding.  English – English Pleasure (again, two classes), English Equitation, Hunter Hack (combined flat/jumping class), Hunter Over Fences, Equitation Over Fences, and Open Jumping.  After that, it was Gymkhana.  6-8 different gymkhana games, depending on the show.  A typical offering would be Pole Bending, Barrels, Texas Rollback, Single Pole, Handy Horse, and Flags.

So, we’ve established that POAs are versatile and have endurance.  Is it any wonder Mimi came into distance riding with a good base on her?  POAs have also shown their mettle in just about any other equine sport that’s offered, including distance riding!

But what’s so amazing about the POAs is their attitude.  They are not your average snotty-brat of a pony.  The sweetest and most willing equine I’ve ever had the priviledge of knowing and riding was a POA…CSA’s Snapdragon — “Snappy” — was the first POA I rode and showed.  He was an absolute gem, and in all of my years around him, I never knew anyone that fell off of him.  He was the one that taught me how to love horses and riding again, and gave this very scared little girl back her courage and showed me how to have fun on horseback.

And 98% of the POAs I’ve known have shown at least some degree of that sweetness and willingness.  If it says anything, I would consider another POA as my next endurance horse if I found one with the right confirmation.  That’s the trickiest part — current trends have been producing big, muscular, Quarter Horse-inpsired type of POAs…not suitable for endurance.  But POA registry is open book, meaning POAs can be crossed with other breeds, and as long as they have the marking characteristics and meet the height requirements, they qualify for registration.  Which is how Mimi is actually half Quarter Horse, and still registered POA.  Every so often, a half-Arab POA shows up…that might be a good endurance cross!

Sorry for the complete lack of pictures…all of my show pictures are old school, menaing film camera.  Meaning I still have to scan them into my computer in order to do anything with them.  And seven years of showing is a lot of pictures.