From Being Ponied To Being The Pony. / by Marian Michalson

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     Winter has finally hit. With the wind chill at -3, my weather app informs me there will be a "cold wave" coming this weekend. Are we not already in the middle of a cold wave? It's a good thing I don't live further north anymore. 

    Before this miserable chill fully took hold, Bartletts added "pony" to his repertoire of skills. Annie had just turned six, and like all of my favorite children not related to me, she likes to play with horses. She's taken some lessons on perfect little ponies in the area, but non of my horses were safe enough for her to ride. That is until Bart stepped off the trailer. 

     In just a few short weeks, Bart has become more and more relaxed walking around the ring, trotting over a series of poles, and practicing his lateral work and bending. So far he has just been ridden in a rope halter and taking it slow while his body heals from racing. Giving a pony ride seemed like a good, low stress activity to keep Bart mentally stimulated. 

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     I offered for a fellow equine friend to bring her daughter out to ride Bart. "Bart?!" she exclaimed. Even her non horsey husband had enough sense to question a fresh off the track long time racehorse as a kid safe candidate, but gave in. Annie came out ready to groom, pulling up a step stool so she could reach his back. Bart happily stood with one leg cocked while she practiced following the direction of the hair with her brush. She also gave a valiant effort picking out his feet and he stayed perfectly still. 

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     Once Bart was tacked up, Annie grabbed the reins and headed out to the arena. She was more interested in leading him around than getting on. She took a couple of laps around the ring leading him over the poles. Her ground work game will be strong! Once on, Bart was a good teacher. He would get a little tense when she held her breath, and would relax with his head down when she relaxed. I think this is always an important lesson for the kids to learn quickly, and it's much easier to learn when there is a safe yet tangible difference in the horse. Horse and rider were happiest while Annie practiced her two-point over poles. She is clearly meant to be a jumper rider! When she was adequately frozen in the 30 degree weather, Annie slid down. Bart turned his head asking for a pet and Annie happily obliged. 

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     Not too many horses will go from being ponied at the track for close to 12 years to taking care of a kid a month later, but add Bartletts to the list. He's finally not begging to work everyday, and the arctic blast gives me a good excuse not to make him.