Only ponies, like only children, need a little extra TLC. Kat O’Riley shares the story of her attempt to fill the gaps in her only pony’s social life.
When You’re An Only Pony
(Based on J.D. Souther’s 1979 hit song “When You’re Only Lonely”–it’s worth checking out!)
When the world is ready to fall on your little withers,
And when you’re feeling lonely and small,
You need someone there to hold you,
You can neigh! out my name… when you’re an Only Pony,
Now, don’t you ever think you’re alone, ‘cuz you’re my Only Pony.
My first horse lived with me on a cattle ranch out west; more accurately, I stayed in a shabbyUNchic mobile home with a gazillion mousey roommates, while ‘Thor’ roamed a huge pasture alongside 50 cows and their boyfriend, BillyBob the Bull. This suited Thor very well, especially after he noticed if he cozied up to BillyBob when I came hiking out with my saddle, I had a strange tendency to lose interest in riding.
When I left the ranch, Thor stayed. In my new incarnation as a boarding stable operator, I acquired an Arab mare ‘Allie,’ who had plenty of equine buddies to hoof around with. A decade passed, and Allie and I migrated east to Ontario, where a feisty young pony was waiting for us on my next enchanting “Fix Me Up–I’m a Money Pit!” property. It wasn’t until Allie succumbed to old age some years later that I first became the keeper of an Only Pony (OP).
After spending her formative years helping me acquire my Ponybutler certification, ‘La Ponita Velveeta’ (V) needed a new challenge–a friend who ran a h/j barn thought this busy little mare might have other talents. To my surprise V, quickly morphed into a competent pony hunter, so I found a way to get my equifix by helping an international competitor exercise her constantly changing string of endurance Arabs.
Eventually, the thrill of dashing down roads and trails on unfamiliar, high octane horses exhausted my overworked adrenal glands; tootling along on a beastie more dedicated to the conservation of energy became incredibly appealing. Thus began my real odyssey in the sometimes taxing OP world, as V made the transition from pampered show pony to slumming it, back on my rustic farm.
As an experienced Ponybutler living the equicentric dream (with an outstanding bill at Tack Nirvana to match), I know the objects of my obsession are generally gregarious herd animals. If for some reason a horse finds itself living solo, other critters often mitigate OP loneliness. Thor was evidently content with his bovine crew; goats, sheep, and even cats or chickens are commonly pressed into horsesitting service.
Although I had a couple of cats and dogs, none of them really bonded with V; in fact one cat with an exceptionally low boredom threshold made a game out of smacking V’s nose every time she lowered it to eat hay, and was banished to the house. My chillaxin’ chestnut mare showed no outward signs of OP stress–clearly regarding agitated neighing, fence line running, and food refusal as absurd concepts–but still, I worried.
Since whisking V off to another farm, or bringing in a companion equine, simply weren’t viable options at the time, I concluded it was up to me to provide my OP with appropriate social stimulation. As the former leader of a Boy’s and Girl’s Club, thoroughly acquainted with the principles of creative play, I felt well equipped for my new role as PBF (Pony Best Friend)–how hard could it be? Admittedly, V failed to see the point of a treasure hunt unless she could follow a trail of oats, and she merrily crushed our painstakingly crafted papier mache Easter egg before we even had a chance to paint it; I’d neglected to mention it wasn’t a piñata. But there were more successful activities, one of which drew on V’s endless zest for knocking things over. I placed pails of water, jump standards, and plastic garbage cans throughout her paddock, with satisfactorily sloppy results.
I also began to make the time to read to my OP, and was bemused to find she clearly favoured the dense prose of War and Peace over the adventures of Harry Potter–who would have guessed? V displayed no real interest in television (with the exception of her daily dose of “As the Stable Turns”) or radio, although she tolerated my marginal singing, so long as I inserted an animated “Velvet!” into every second line of whatever number I warbled. Field trips to forest trails and pony play dates were thankfully facilitated by the trusty Ponymobile; since V’s pint-sized trailer is in much better shape than my rust bitten truck, at least one of us traveled in style. We relished visiting interesting places and people, but my OP seemed quite content to come home to her comfy bed (not to mention the pillow mint).
With the recent addition of miniature horse ‘Sugar Bear’ to my appropriately Lillipution property, V once more has equine company, but I like to think a certain pony enjoyed her Entertainment by Ponybutler phase. As for me, given the number of OPs I’ve spotted while driving country roads, I’ve been thinking the formation of some type of OP support network might be a worthwhile project: “OP’s of the world, unite!”
About Kat: I’ve heard that fortunate people have one great passion in life; aside from dark chocolate and my husband–not necessarily in that order!–mine has been “everything equine.” Beginning with lessons as a kid, I’ve been lucky enough to break a variety of bones riding a wide selection of breeds, in a number of disciplines–from TB racehorse (clavicle) to eventing Appaloosa (tibia) to endurance Arabian (ribs). It’s also been my privilege to play Ponybutler to my own hooved beasties on a succession of scarily rustic farms, over the past 20 [very] odd years. The dream continues!
Kat and her ex-hunter pony partner of 14 years (Provincial Velvet a/k/a the Amazing Velveeta a/k/a “Velvet, NO!!”).