Animal Stories

Year 2003



The Little Black And White Pony

Cheryl Walker

        The little black and white pony lived on an island.  There were beaches, boulders, long grasses, trees and bushes on the island. 


          The Atlantic Ocean was warmest this time of year - mid-summer.  The water was slate gray and roiled around the island like it was trying to drag the island down into the water.  But this was impossible.  The island had been there, strong and sturdy, for years.  And the island would stay there, sturdy and strong, for many a year.


          One day it was time for the annual roundup.  The children and adults got into their boats.  They formed two lines of boats.  Each line stretched roughly from the island to the mainland.  The ponies would swim between the lines.  Some people on horseback herded the ponies off of the island and into the water.


          Some of the ponies knew what was happening; because they had been in the roundup in years past.  They reassured the newer, younger ponies.


          After the ponies were in the water, the people in the boats watched the ponies swim toward the mainland.  The ponies swam and swam.  The people on horseback got into the water to drive the ponies through the surf to the mainland beach and into the waiting corral.


          The waters of the bay were cold even this fall time of year.  But the ponies were swimming valiantly.  The heat from their efforts kept them warm against the chilly ocean water.


          Once the ponies made land, they went into a big corral, or pen, because the people strongly encouraged them to do so.


          This was the little black and white pony's second year for the round up.  He only vaguely remembered last year's.  He had been so young and had been learning so much as a new colt.  All he remembered was that he had been frightened and that he had stayed close to his mother.


          This year he was almost two, which is the horse equivalent of being a teenager.  He stayed back at the edge of the pen and studied things.  He only ran when his young friends jostled him into it, and then he slowed down as soon as they were past him so he could go back to his vantage point and watch.


          The little mouse-colored dun pony who was his age came to a skidding stop next to the black and white pony.  She touched his nose with her nose.  Then she settled down beside him to watch what he was watching.


          The little black and white pony was watching the people.  And the people were watching the ponies. 


          Men were leaning against the corral fence and discussing certain ponies.  Some had their fingers hooked in their belt loops.  Others had a foot on the bottom railing, or were chewing the succulent ends of a pulled piece of prairie grass.  A few were scratching their heads or their bellies or their hind ends. 


          "That one is a little knock-kneed."

          "Yeah.  And that one's kinda thin."

          "But look at the way he carries himself!  He'd be a good one for your nephew."

          "Naw, they got him a hamster."


          Meanwhile, the women were looking at ponies and talking about their personalities and their looks.


          "Look!  That pony is very confrontational!  She's just daring someone to go in and rope her."

          "Yes.  'Get the enemy before the enemy gets you' she seems to be saying."

          "That other one is absolutely terrified."

          "I feel so sorry for these ponies.  They get driven from their island, through cold ocean water, then into this fenced-in pen, this corral, where everyone is watching them and they're scared to death."

          "Yes, but its better they go through this and get good homes rather than starve to death due to overcrowding on the island."

          "I suppose.  It seems like sometimes just surviving is hard."


          The children laughed and played and picked out dream ponies.  Some children, though, stood by the fence and watched the ponies as quietly as the black and white pony watched the children.  They looked at the colors, the ways the ponies moved, their actions.  And they wondered, "What are those ponies thinking?" 


          The younger ponies eventually were separated out.  The moms and dads and little sisters and brothers went back to the island.  So did some of the two-year-old ponies.  But the little black and white pony, and also the little mouse-colored dun pony, stayed on the mainland with the rest of the left-behind ponies.  The ponies that were left behind were going to pony high school.


          All through that winter, good people taught the left-behind ponies.  The ponies learned how to wear a saddle.  They learned how to wear a bridle.  They learned how to balance a bag of potatoes on their backs.  They learned how to carry a bag of sand.  Then finally they learned to carry a small human.  Now they were ready for new homes.


          In Indiana a little boy sat eating a bowl full of cereal.  "But mom, I don't want to go to school.  The kids are mean!"


          "Now honey, of course you'll go to school.  You'll break your attendance record if you don't go.  You want to keep up your grades, don't you?"


          "No," the boy muttered through a spoonful of milk.


          Just then the boy's father walked in from the bedroom.  "What's the matter, son?"


          "I don't want to go to school."  The boy looked up tearfully, "Do I have to, dad?  The kids are mean to me!"


          "I know, son."  The father crouched down beside his son and put his hand on his shoulder.  "Are you caught up on all your schoolwork?"


          "Yes."  The boy looked up hopefully.


          "Well."  The father thought for a minute.  "I'm getting some special livestock delivered today.  How would you like to stay home and help me with it?"  He looked up at his wife with a wink and a smile.  She smiled back and continued to dry the dishes.


          "You mean it, dad?  Really?"


          "Yes.  You've been bringing home good grades.  I think you can afford to miss one day of school to help me."


          Father and son walked together out the back door of the farmhouse, into their backyard, through the back gate and into the barnyard. 


          The boy and his father did all of their regular chores together.  Then the father surprised the son by walking over to the barn.

          "We've got to get some straw down in Ol' Charlie's stall," the father said.  They walked around Ol' Charlie's bare stall, complete with feed trough and an old water bucket.


          "Dad!  Are we getting another bull?  Charlie broke through the barn wall, so we sold him!  What if this new bull breaks through the barn too?"


          "Don't worry," his father said with a smile.


          Later, after all was ready in Ol' Charlie's stall, the men ate their mid-day meal.  Just as they were pushing themselves away from the table, a three-quarter-ton nineteen seventy-six rust-colored Chevrolet pickup truck rumbled up the drive.  The very loud, rumbly truck was pulling a stock trailer behind it. 


           The little boy watched with his mother and dad as the driver pulled halfway around the farm's circular driveway.  As the stock trailer passed by the family, the little boy gasped at what he saw inside.


           In that stock trailer was... a little black and white pony!


          "Dad!  A pony!"


          "Yes son.  He's for you."  His mother and father beamed at his unabashed joy.


          "He's the special livestock, and he's mine?"  The little boy beamed.  He went over to the side of the trailer.  The little black and white pony turned its head to look at the little boy.  The boy put his hand up to an opening in the side of the stock trailer.  The pony sniffed the little boy's hand.


          The man who had brought the pony opened the back of the trailer.  He went inside the trailer. 

          "Whoa, boy.  Move over," the man said to the pony.  He walked up beside the pony and unhooked the pony's lead rope from the side of the trailer.  Then he led the pony out.


          The little black and white pony stepped hesitantly down out of the trailer onto the ground.  He stood looking at the farm around him.  Everything seemed strange and different.  He had never been here before.  He tested the air, smelling for dangerous smells.  He was tense and he pranced a little but he never lost his composure.  The training he had received served him well.  The man who brought him tied him to the side of the stock trailer.  Then he carried from the cab of the pickup truck the pony's bridle, saddle, and saddle blanket.  He sat them on the ground in a heap in front of and to the side of the little black and white pony.

          "This is your riding equipment," the man said.  He went back to the truck cab and brought out three brushes, a comb, and a hoof pick.

          "This is your grooming equipment.  Always start out by grooming your pony to remove any loose dirt and debris.  That way his riding equipment will fit him more comfortably and he won't buck you off."


          "Buck me off?" the boy asked.  He was getting a little nervous about this whole pony riding idea.  He loved the pony, though.  He stepped over to the pony's head and stroked him on the cheek a bit.  The pony responded by nuzzling the boy's arm.


          "Yes.  Just like in the rodeo.  If you put the saddle and saddle blanket on the pony's back, but there is something hard or sharp on his coat, it will be uncomfortable for the pony.  Then when you get on, it will hurt even worse.  It will be everything the pony can do not to try to buck you off his back, like the horses do in the rodeo.  A pony like yours wouldn't do it to be mean.  He would only do it if it was his last resort and it hurt so bad he couldn't stand it.  The idea is to make sure he never gets in that position.  Keep him clean and the saddle and saddle blanket clean so he doesn't get that uncomfortable."


          The boy looked at the pony hopefully.  "He doesn't want to buck me off?"


          "No, not this pony.  He wants to take care of you when you ride him."


          "Wow.  This is kind of scary."


          "Are you too scared to ride him?"


          The boy thought.  He looked at the pony.  He looked over at his parents.  Then he looked at the man.  The man was holding the pony by its halter and gently stroking its neck.  He looked at the pony, not the little boy.  The man had such a gentle demeanor.  The pony was affectionate, though a little tense.  The boy decided to risk it.


          "Yes, I'll ride this pony if you'll show me how."


          "Sure, son.  I can show you."


          He spent the next hour teaching the little boy how to groom, saddle, bridle, and ride the little black and white pony.  He led the pony and boy around the circular driveway a few times.  The boy learned to start, stop, and turn his pony.  The man even led the pony into a bouncy trot.  The boy hung on, bouncing on the pony's back and whooping with delight.


          The man had the boy take the pony around the driveway a few times by himself.

          Whenever the pony wanted to stop and eat grass, the man would say, "Pull his head up.  Kick him in the sides to make him go.  He knows better than that.  You need to make him go." 


          The man and the little boy's father and mother watched the little boy and the little black pony.  They talked softly to each other.  Every once in the while a gentle laugh filtered through the air to the little boy and his pony.  Then the man had the little boy's father help him carry a sack of feed and some bales of hay into the barn.


          When they had finished with the feed, the man called the boy over to him.  The boy turned the pony's head and nudged it, and they came and stood before the man.  The man had the boy dismount, teaching him how to do so in the process.  The boy practiced climbing into and out of the saddle a few times.  Then he practiced saddling and unsaddling the pony until he could do it twice by himself.


         When he was satisfied the little boy had learned all he needed to learn, the man talked briefly with the boy's parents, then got back into his truck, waved goodbye, and drove away with his trailer.


          The boy stood with his new pony watching the man drive away.  His father stood beside them as his mother went back into the house to start dinner.


          This was just the beginning of many more adventures for the little boy and the little black and white pony.