Lit­tle won­der:

The spot­ted pony wasn’t the horse I wanted, but she turned out to be the one I needed.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Hope El­lis-Ash­burn

The spot­ted pony wasn’t the horse I wanted, but she turned out to be the one I needed.

Iwas box­ing up books, get­ting ready to move, when I dropped one of my pho­to­graph al­bums, and it fell open. There on the page in front of me was a pig­tailed girl rid­ing a pinto pony in a lo­cal pa­rade. That was me, back in the 1980s, with my beloved Munchkin. I hadn’t thought of her in years. I took a break from pack­ing to con­tinue leaf­ing through pho­tos that brought back old mem­o­ries.

I have al­ways had an in­ex­pli­ca­ble at­trac­tion to horses. Af­ter years of read­ing ev­ery­thing I could about horses, tak­ing ad­van­tage of ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to ride, and beg­ging, I fi­nally was able to con­vince my par­ents that my eques­trian in­ter­est was more than just a pass­ing fancy. I promised, over and over, that I alone would take re­spon­si­bil­ity for all of the fi­nan­cial and other obli­ga­tions of own­ing a horse.

Fi­nally, on my 12th birth­day, I re­ceived the gift of an or­phan foal. My par­ents knew noth­ing of horses, and they were not fa­mil­iar with the say­ing about green horses and green rid­ers. The lit­tle pinto was not ex­actly the pony of my dreams---I named her, some­what dis­parag­ingly, af­ter the res­i­dents of the land of Oz. I wanted to ride English and learn to jump. Munchkin, how­ever, was a grade, spot­ted, gaited pony who was par­rot­mouthed and pi­geon-toed, and she re­quired braces on her legs to cor­rect limb de­for­mi­ties.

Un­de­terred, I stuck to my prom­ise. Bot­tle feed­ings at all hours led to bucket feed­ings be­fore the lit­tle filly was fi­nally able to eat on her own. Car­ing for her, with near-con­stant mon­i­tor­ing, was a crash course in horse care. And over time, with help from an aunt who knew about horses, we de­vel­oped a train­ing pro­gram to take Munchkin from hal­ter train­ing to un­der-sad­dle work.

To hold up the fi­nan­cial end of my bar­gain, I be­came a young en­tre­pre­neur, rais­ing chick­ens and sell­ing eggs across the county. I ran my busi­ness while still do­ing my school­work and my reg­u­lar farm chores. It was hard work, but my dream was fi­nally off the ground.

Munchkin grew into a spunky lit­tle horse, and as ponies owned by chil­dren some­times are, she could be naughty. She would some­times be­come anx­ious at feed­ing time and at­tempt to crowd me in her stall. She had a thing about not lik­ing her stall cleaned when she was in it and would try to kick me. And de­spite my best ef­forts, she man­aged to buck me off dur­ing some of our ear­lier rides.

bad pony. In­stead I would say that, over­all, she was an in­cred­i­bly good pony with a naughty streak that kept me on my toes. Work­ing with her taught me to be a kind and pa­tient leader. I also learned to read her body lan­guage, how to keep her at­ten­tion fo­cused on me and, when nec­es­sary, how to de­liver dis­ci­pline ap­pro­pri­ately. And all those times she dumped me showed me the ne­ces­sity of tough­ing things out and get­ting right back on.

But once Munchkin knew you were in charge, she was right there with you. Take that pa­rade in the photo I found. Each year, my tiny home­town held a pa­rade be­fore a lo­cal horse show, and com­peti­tors were in­vited to ride. We took our place on our horses--sur­rounded by the emer­gency ve­hi­cles with their sirens and flash­ing lights and the high school march­ing band with their cym­bals and horns.

For her first pa­rade, I could tell Munchkin was fright­ened and that I needed to step up and take charge. I de­lib­er­ately be­came a calm­ing pres­ence, a leader who would show her the way. That did the trick. We rode in that

pa­rade and in many oth­ers in the years to come with­out in­ci­dent.

Even­tu­ally, I out­grew Munchkin. She went on to raise an­other young girl, and I moved on to a big­ger horse. Leaf­ing through the pho­to­graphs, I couldn’t help but think about how this lit­tle mare had shaped my horse­man­ship and outlook. It was so much more than just learn­ing how to care for, train and ride a horse.

Look­ing back now, I re­al­ize that per­haps the great­est gift I re­ceived from work­ing with Munchkin was a be­lief in my­self. If I have a prob­lem that seems to be in­sur­mount­able, I have con­fi­dence that I can per­se­vere and over­come it. I did it with her and I can do it again with any­thing else. As a high school teacher, I try to use those ex­pe­ri­ences to teach oth­ers that achiev­ing your goals is pos­si­ble with hard work and ded­i­ca­tion. I try to show my

Look­ing back now, I re­al­ize that per­haps the great­est gift I re­ceived from work­ing with Munchkin was a be­lief in my­self.

stu­dents that set­backs are likely but that they can be over­come.

None of this would have been pos­si­ble if I had started out with a per­fect pony. As a child, I trea­sured my Munchkin. Now, as an adult, I cher­ish her mem­o­ries and the lessons she taught me even more.

TREA­SURE: Teenaged Hope El­lisAsh­burn puts some fin­ish­ing touches on her pony, Munchkin, at a lo­cal horse show dur­ing the 1980s.

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