The Ponybutler: A few of my fave horse-y things

Kat O’Riley a.k.a. ‘The Ponybutler’ reflects on a few especially appreciated gifts she has received over the years.

From Kat:

I’m happy to admit I still experience the odd childish frisson (i.e. “Goody!!”) of excitement and joy at the prospect of Christmas–but the intensity of my first 15 formative and fruitless years spent fervently hoping first Santa, and then my parents, would present me with a beribboned pony, can’t really be recaptured. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’ve turned all grumpy and Grinchy. In fact, it may sound corny, but when I finally bought that magical ‘horse of my own’ in my 20s, it was such an epic fulfillment of looong held hopes and dreams, much of what’s followed was bound to be anticlimactic!

Oh sure, acquiring that Nobel and the Pulitzer was fun (along with my astronaut hubby, 11 honor society/athlete kids, and that dual track career in modelling and neurosurgery… just lucky, I guess!), but any person of the ponybutlering persuasion is keenly aware they have indeed received the ultimate Gift That Keeps On Giving. Starting with that 50 pounds of manure the average horse produces each day, along with all those thrilling vet bills, and the staggering tab we tend to run at Tack Nirvana, it’s Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah et al. every day of the year.

Unless one is conveniently wealthy enough to ensure one’s involvement in the horse world is simply not a sacrifice of any kind (big “HA!!” for most of us), one can’t help but feel a bit privileged in the non-monetary sense… even if we never quite anticipated the definition of ‘privilege’ would include staying up all night with a colicky horse, or consuming cut-price food and wearing pre-enjoyed clothes in order to finance drilling a new well. However, all this acknowledgement of good fortune doesn’t mean we must be immune to the charms of certain shiny objects, so to speak.

Over the years, I’ve given and received a few gifts that have been pretty inspired, and also stood the test of time. So today, whilst others do the mall crawl and fling merchandise into overflowing carts, I have decided to relax and reflect on some of the items that have fantastically enhanced my equicentric existence. Let’s see…

HEADLAMP: I thought these L.E.D. lights-often used by cyclists and outdoor types-looked awfully dorky at first. Then, I read an article in a British horse mag about a rider using one around her stable; when I found myself with a barn sans electricity, I bought a Petzl headlamp for around $30 (lamps range from about $20-50 and are available at many outdoor stores). I’ve long since progressed out of the ‘dark age,’ but even in a barn with power, I don my headlamp at night when I need super illumination for some pesky task. My little Petzl and I are alarmingly close–“Aren’t we, my precioussss?!”


SWISS ARMY KNIFE (+ SWISS CHOCOLATE): There are other ‘multi-use’ tools out there, but as a ponybutler of Swiss descent, I cannot condone the use of anything but a genuine Swiss Army Knife. (Both Victorinox and Wenger are official manufacturers.) Knives range from about $10-125 and are widely available to those with impeccable taste. Swiss Army Knives are sooo smart, they can almost fix/make anything all by themselves. As for the chocolate, what experience can’t be improved by some of that Made in Switzerland cocoa ambrosia!?


CALENDAR: When I began horsekeeping, I embarked on a tradition of buying a horse-themed wall calendar annually. Choices abound, especially in seasonal mall kiosks; they retail for about $10-20. Buy one with the largest ‘daily squares’ available, so you can jot down lots of info. My early pithy style has evolved into quasi-journaling, logging important equine details (vet, farrier, etc.), as well as the weather and more significant events. It’s amazing how much you can fit into those little squares; if I’m ever questioned by the police, I’ll be able to tell them exactly where I was on any given day… on second thought, um, maybe I just better clam up till my lawyer arrives!?


HIGH VIZ VEST: As an avid hacker who must ride across or along roadways at least some of the time, I started wearing a high viz vest a while ago. I wasn’t able to find one made specifically for horseback riding, so I ordered one from Britain costing about $30. (With the number of riders over there hacking along roads, online tack dealers offer an amazing variety of high viz products.) Now, it’s much easier to source items in the States and Canada, both online and in tack shops.


HORSE ‘X-ING’ SIGN: These signs are always handy, either on your own property-or along roads adjacent to your farm, if local authorities are agreeable. They’re available at many tack shops, for around $20-40, depending on size.


JARED E. LEE & THELWELL GIFTWARE: Just about any equicentric would be overjoyed to open a box containing a t-shirt/mug/glass/notepaper ETC. sporting drawings/cartoons by these two talented fellows. Lee also produced at least one book (I’m At The End of My Rope And You’re Tugging At It), while Thelwell penned many volumes during his prolific career (A Leg At Each Corner and Angels on Horseback among them).


In a slight variation on what Julie Andrews warbled in “The Sound of Music,” these are a few of my very favourite horse-related things. Some of the most welcome gifts I’ve received were courtesy my small group of boarders, while operating a stable for six years: a roadside assistance package, a work-of-art boot scraper, membership in a horse organization, a subscription to a horse magazine… and a chaise lounge (just in case I ever actually finished my endless chores!). But back to the whole horse of one’s own scenario–if we’re not lucky enough to receive that proverbial pony as a child, I think many of us spend the rest of our lives doing the “pinch me, I’m dreaming!” routine when we eventually realize our horse/ponybutler aspirations. That is, when we’re not too busy managing the logistics of all that gifted(!) poop production!

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!!”).


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