by Laura Crum
I’ve written about my son’s pony, Toby, before—Magic…and Toby the Pony. Click on the link to find the full story of our magical little white horse. In the context of my own life with horses, the next two years were dominated by this pony. I spent most of the first year leading the pony around with my five year old son on him. I seldom actually rode myself. (Though once in awhile I did ride Toby to give him an “attitude adjustment.” Toby was a good pony, but he was a pony.)
To those who think this sounds like an incredibly boring horse life, all I can say is that it wasn’t at all boring, from my point of view. But I’m not sure I am going to be able to explain why I loved this part of my horse life so much. However, I’ll try.
Partly it was because I had truly come to understand that my greatest joy lay just in living with horses, and whether I rode or not wasn’t that important to me. Partly it was because having a pony of my own had been my childhood dream…and now I was making it come true. At last I had a pony (!) Toby was the first pony I ever owned and I still smile, thinking of him. And partly it was because I was just happy with my life overall.
Another factor was that I had achieved the goals I had set myself in my life with horses. I had been a reasonably effective competitor at cowhorse, cutting and roping; I had trained some horses that I was really proud of. I’d crossed the Sierras many times on my own horses and camped with them in some amazing places. I’d worked as a cowboy on a commercial cattle ranch. There wasn’t anything that I had once been burning to do with a horse that I hadn’t yet done. And the depression I went through had freed me of the need to see my life with horses in terms of goals. I was happy just to enjoy my horses and my son. I think the fact that I was older helped, also.
But mainly, of course, I was happy to spend my time this way because I loved my little boy so much. As I said in the last post, I would have done absolutely anything to give him a happy life, and I thought, and still think, that raising a child around and aboard horses (if you can do it without injuring or scaring them) is a fine way to create a happy life. Lest you suppose this is just my own prejudice, you may consider the fact that the number one therapy for handicapped kids is “horse therapy.” People pay big bucks to let their handicapped child get led around on a gentle horse. If it can actually “cure” handicapped kids, how good must horseback riding be for kids who are not handicapped?
So I took much delight in spending my horse time leading my child around on our steady pony, feeling that I was giving my son a huge gift. And I really believe this from the bottom of my heart, in the same way and to the same degree that I believe in attachment parenting. It doesn’t matter if my son grows up to be a horseman or not. That isn’t the point. The point, to me, is that riding and interacting with horses throughout your childhood helps you to feel strong and comfortable within yourself, and to connect in a positive way with the natural world. That is, if it’s a positive experience.
I took this part of it very seriously. As a young child I had many very “scary” moments on a horse. Because I was passionate about horses, these moments had never deterred me. But I knew many others who had been scared, or injured, or both, and who never again had any interest in horses. So I resolved to do everything I knew how to do (and I knew quite a bit about horses at this point in my life) to give my son a positive experience.
To this end I bought Toby, a very steady 20 year old pony. To this same end, I led my son around for a year on the pony before I let him ride independently. I took the stirrups off the saddle for this whole year, in order that my kid should develop a good seat. I cannot count to you the miles I jogged, leading Toby as my son learned to trot on the critter. My long legged husband ran alongside the pony, as my son learned to lope. Once our child was pretty confident at all three gaits, I began lunging Toby with my kid aboard. And only when my little boy seemed absolutely solid, did I let him begin riding Toby independently—in our small riding ring. When we rode in larger spaces, I ponied Toby from my own horse, Plumber.
This may sound overprotective to some, perhaps. But a lifetime of experience with horses had taught me to be careful, and my whole aim was to create a positive, rewarding experience for my son. And it worked. My little boy became a confident, happy rider. By the time he was seven years old, he could walk, trot, and lope Toby independently, and control the sometimes strong minded pony competently. And he began asking me to take him out on trail rides.
Here is where I had a problem. Because Toby just wasn’t the right horse to take a seven year old out on the trails. He had a tendency to be “forward” outside, and I knew perfectly well that riding outside was very different to riding in an arena. Many more variables, a much less controlled situation. And so I hemmed and hawed about the trail rides. We took a couple of short ones (around my uncle’s ranch) with me ponying Toby from Plumber. And then life, once again, intervened. Toby got sick.
The story of Toby’s death is described in “Magic…and Toby the Pony.” I will just say that it was very hard on my son when we lost his pony to cancer just after my little boy turned seven. Toby is buried here and at least once a month my son talks about how he misses him. Toby truly was a very special and important part of my life with horses and I will always be grateful to him. He was the first forever horse that came to me for my son.
Fortunately Toby was followed by another great horse. I have always believed that Toby sent us a gift in his passing and brought us another forever horse to take care of his little boy. Because of losing Toby, Henry came into our lives. (To be continued.)
Toby is featured in my 10th mystery, Chasing Cans. Click on the title to find the Kindle edition of this book. (I have to add, I just read the Amazon reviews of Chasing Cans, and there is a group who absolutely hates this book, due to the fact that it is about a mother with a new baby. Yes, it is also an exciting mystery with lots of horses and a dastardly barrel racing trainer and plenty of action, and also includes the wonderful Toby. Most people, even the haters, point out that it is as well written as the previous books. However, fair warning: if reading about the "mama" experience turns you off, don't bother with this one. And if anyone who has enjoyed this book would post a review on Amazon, I'd be really grateful. This is one of my favorite novels in the series. I have to admit that it makes me sad that the non-mothers who hate reading about a career woman turning mom are the ones who seem mostly inclined to review it. I have no problem with anyone else's path, but since my own path became motherhood, I wanted to write about the experience. I tried to be faithful to the reality--joys and trials--while still crafting an exciting mystery. See what you think.)
This saga begins here.