I figured our readers could help us out on this one...
A week before Christmas in 2007, I stopped by an auction to look at some saddles and tack for sale. I, like every other horse lover, just had to walk through the horse barns to see what would be going through the sale. There were draft horses, donkeys, a few ranch horses there. Nothing caught my eye, and I headed back down the aisle towards the auction ring.
Just before turning into the arena, I peered into a dark, shadowed stall to see two eyes looking back at me intently. In the back corner of the narrow pony stall was a little black figure who was obviously confused and downright scared. I stood there for a few minutes in an attempt to get him to come towards me. He stood rigid in the darkness and as I moved my hand towards him, he began trembling with fear. It broke my heart, but from what I could see, he was cute and I figured he would go to a good home.
A half an hour later the pony hit the sale floor. He entered the arena and stopped, his eyes bulging out of his petite forehead. A sharp tug on his lead rope by a six-foot-tall, rough-looking farmer, and the pony cautiously tried to match his big stride.
Conformationally, he was built nicely. He had a short back, straight legs and a beautiful, chiseled head. The teeny-tiny ears that were perched on top of his head were barely visible through his fluffy forelock. His was overweight and obviously hadn't missed many meals lately. He had a lofty little gait to him and appeared sound. He was also just adorable. He was solid black, about 12 hands tall, and had the fluffiest mane and tail that I had ever seen.
The auctioneer started the bidding at $1,000. No hands went up. He called out $750. Nothing. $500? No one even flinched. The price continued to drop. Finally at $100, one hand rose from the back of the room. I glanced over and my heart sank. The kill buyer.
I waited for someone to contest him, but no one moved. The silence was eerie, the only thing overriding it was the increasing heartbeat that was racing in my chest. I looked left and right, but no one had any interest in him. Right before the gavel hit, I raised my hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the kill buyer turn his head towards me. I can only assume he was surprised and angry, but I kept my focus straight ahead. He quickly bid against me and we played this back and forth game until I was up over the "price-per-pound". I signed a little yellow slip and the little black Christmas pony was all mine.
I have never purchased a horse from an auction before. Since I wasn't planning on coming home with anything with fur on it, the pony had to wait for me to come back the next day.
A farm worker met me in front of the barn with him. As I took his lead and we headed towards the trailer, I noticed that he kept his eyes glued to me the entire time. Waiting for the ramp on the trailer to go down, I reached out to touch his face and he quickly shied away from me. I walked onto the trailer and he followed willingly, and back to New Hampshire we went.
On the way home, a few of my students and I discussed name choices for him. Keeping with the fact that all of our animals here have human names, he would be "Teddy Bear," or "Teddy" for short. Seeing that I have no use for a pony, my plan was to try him out and eventually place him in a good home.
Teddy arrived home and was put into a stall. He quickly lunged for the hay and began a process of munching away on his hay and stretching up to look out the window in his stall. A few hours later, as I was closing the barn up for the night, I took a step inside his stall to check on his water. It was then that I realized what his "issue" was. He was petrified of people.
The second he heard the latch on his door move, his head jolted up and his eyes bulged. As the door began to slide open, he spun towards the back of his stall. It was when I slowly stepped one foot inside that I had hit the button: he tried crawling up and out of the back of his stall.
I stood motionless and calmly said, "whoa, little fella," a few times. After a minute or two, he eventually looked at me and stopped trying to find a way out. His eyes were wide, his nostrils flared, and he was beginning to sweat. Knowing that I had a long process in front of me, I bent down and leaned up against the side of his stall, trying to find a somewhat comfortable position while still being able to move in an instant. He looked at me and snorted. I responded to him the same way.
About five minutes later, he took one step towards me, his head pointed straight at mine, ears forward, nostrils flared. Another minute brought another step. And another. And another. He sniffed at my leg, his weight shifted back on his haunches prepared to turn and run. As I opened my mouth to say, "easy buddy," I learned how quickly the little guy could move. He backed up as fast as he could, slamming his butt into the wall, then spun to face it. I remained where I was and kept talking to him. He turned back towards me, still curious. This time the steps he took were closer together.
A half an hour passed. My legs were starting to cramp and I needed to move. He had sniffed my entire body again and seemed OK with me. But every time I did something even as small and scratch my , he would flinch and immediately go backwards. Eventually, I slowly stood up and he did not panic. He stood there like a statue, trembling the entire time, but his flight response had waned.
The next morning I fed him his breakfast first, then continued with the rest of the animals. I came back to him, and he was obviously more comfortable with me. I stepped inside his stall and he did not try to flee. However, he did stand like a statue, his eyes glued to me. I let him walk up to me, and then I slowly started touching his head and his neck. His shoulder was too much for him, and he backed away. Eventually he came back up to me, and we repeated the practice. Ten minutes later, it was time for me to leave and let him finish his breakfast.
That afternoon Dr. George was coming out to evaluate him and update his vaccinations, so back into his stall I went for another session. Teddy and I worked on his personal space issue some more. This time my concern was getting him to allow me to run my hands over his back and hindquarters. He would just tremble when I touched his back, hips, hind legs. He never offered to kick, just stood totally still, his skin moving as fast as his heart. He flinched and shook, but eventually he realized that he was safe I wasn't going to hurt him. I put his halter on his head, and turned him out in one of the small paddocks until the vet showed up.
A few hours later I received a phone call saying that vet was on his way and would be at the farm in about 30 minutes. Surprisingly, Teddy was rather easy to catch. I stood at the gate and he eventually walked up to me. When I put my hand out to touch him, he shied away but didn't really move. He brought his dainty little nose back towards me and I attached the lead to his halter.
Dr. George pulled in the driveway a little while later. He remarked at how fat Teddy was and how he needed to lose about 100 pounds. (Keep in mind that this pony is only 12 hands tall...) We checked his teeth and determined that at that time, he was about 14 years old. Dr. George checked him all over, found nothing wrong with him and then floated his teeth, gave him his vaccinations and drew blood to update his Coggins.
A week later our farrier showed up and spent about an hour working with Teddy to trim his hooves. Although he had no trust in our farrier, he was well behaved and never offered to flee or be naughty.
Throughout it all, I worked with Teddy on quite a few different topics, but was shocked to learn that he was very well schooled on the ground. He crosstied, led nicely, and had great patience. He was a willing, albeit cautious, student. He became used to being handled and touched, no longer shuddering when someone walked into his stall or ran their hands over him.
Finally it was time to see if he was trained under saddle. The short version is that no, he was not. We saddled and bridled him in the barn and brought him to the arena. He was perfect with his bridle and never fussed with it. However, he kept looking back at the saddle with suspicious eyes. I lunged him for a few minutes both ways and he seemed comfortable. I then ground drove him and was pleased that he knew the cues to stop and turn. It was clear that back in his day he was a driving pony.
The next few days we repeated this process until I was certain of Teddy's comfort level. Shortly thereafter, one of my students hopped on him with me at his side. Although this pony was extremely well-behaved and did nothing wrong, it was quite obvious that he had never been ridden before. He became used to carrying weight on his back and learned how to balance himself underneath her. We practiced stopping, walking and turning until she was ready to take him off of the lunge line. He listened to his rider intently and did a perfect job. She eventually clicked to him and asked for a trot, and the little bugger listened to her! His trot was that of a typical pony, short strided and bouncy. He looked great doing it and seemed happy to have a job!
Over the next few months, my more advanced students rode him in the arena and finally in small lesson groups to get him used to traffic. Teddy was a total trooper and became so solid under saddle, that I started teaching my younger children on him. He quickly became the barn favorite and learned to love - not fear - all of the attention he was getting.
Teddy accompanied us on many trail rides, trips to the ocean and even went on a week-long camping trip with us in the White Mountains of New Hampshire! He has always been sweet, reliable, and just downright adorable. His trust in humans has long been reestablished and he has never faltered.
Teddy is ready to move on...
With Faith and Linus's expensive and ever-ongoing medical bills, we need to cut back and Teddy needs a job. Although letting him go is not something we had originally planned on, I feel that his training and personality will be an excellent match for a family-type situation.
We are looking to either lease him on- or off-farm, or possibly sell him to an absolutely perfect, loving home.
If you know anyone who might be interested in him, please have them email me at GreenwoodStables@aol.com and I will get back to them with more information.