Just a Broken Down Pony by the Side of the Road
I have tried to write this on several occasions and put it aside. It was too soon or too raw or the words simply would not come to me. How do you prepare a fitting good-bye for an animal who has been a member of the family for over twenty years? How do you sum up a life that spanned and was an integral part of your daughter’s entire life growing up? How do you say thank-you and have it mean something special?
Buddy the pony led a charmed life. Looking back, I see that now. He was only about three years old when a gal’s car broke down on the side of the road in rural Pennsylvania. The road happened to run alongside a pasture where Buddy was standing–thin, scraggly, and in bad enough shape that the gal was determined to go back and get him. It turns out, lucky for Buddy, that the girl with the broken-down car was an accomplished rider.
Buddy, the Christmas Pony
We came along and bought Buddy from that gal for my then five-year-old daughter. Looking back, it was a poor choice putting together a green pony and an inexperienced rider, but they toughed it out together. Buddy was a Christmas present that year. He was kept hidden behind the barn until the magical moment of the big reveal. When I slid the barn door open, Buddy walked up to my daughter as if on cue. Everything was perfect, except…she didn’t believe Buddy was a gift from Santa. My logical, scientifically-minded five-year-old insisted that the pony would not fit on the sleigh and instead he must be lost. She cried, “We have to find his owners!” Oh, well.
Somehow the truth was sorted out and the two of them had many years together attending Pony Club Camp and rallies. Buddy (now knick-named Buddy the Butthead), must have had a lot of cow pony in him, because he excelled at Polocrosse. The game is like is sounds, polo and Lacrosse, but on horseback. Buddy would track the ball and go after it without urging or steering. He was also a brave and intrepid games pony. As for show jumping, dressage, or eventing–not so much. He did not care for those activities but always put forth his best effort.
Little Girls Grow Up, No So for Ponies
Years flew by and sad thing about ponies is they do not grow up but littles girls do. Soon my daughter was much too tall for Buddy and her skills demanded a more accomplished mount. Buddy was leased to a lesson barn for a few years where he taught many a kid how to post (he had the smoothest trot). He was generally kind to beginners and indeed many kiddies had their first and perhaps only pony rides at our farm during various office parties and events.
It soon came to pass that Buddy was going to fulfill another role in life–that of babysitter. His astounding good luck in life did not abandon him in this regard either. It turns out I ended his lease at the riding school in order to take him back to my farm a scant week before a tremendous fire broke out at the school, destroying the barn and killing some horses. I shudder to think what might have happened to my little pony if he were there, panicked, and could not get out of his stall.
As my daughter moved from high school to college, horses were no longer a part of her life, but Buddy always enjoyed her visits home. He had a new job keeping a series of big dressage mares in line and did it admirably. The mares always adored him and tolerated his shenanigans. It was amusing to see a medium pony and a towering warmblood making googly eyes with each other. One lucky pony with a lot of charisma, indeed.
It came to pass that Buddy started to fail–although he would never show it! He had a bad knee that was swollen and fused. He dropped weight and his coat lost its luxurious copper penny shine. I knew the time was coming and that I had to make the decision when it would be. My daughter, now in Medical School, and my husband snuck out to the barn one Thanksgiving visit to take a picture of her with Buddy, now towering over him, but in the same position as that first picture when she found him Christmas morning. She put the two side-by-side in a frame and gave it to me for Christmas that year. It was a stark reminder of how the child grows and leaves the pony behind in life, but not in her heart.
Releasing Buddy to Find His Old Friends
The following Thanksgiving when my daughter was in her first year of medical residency at a big city hospital working long hours and dealing with the raging pandemic, she got the rare opportunity to come home. We had talked about the fact that Buddy was getting weak and we should not risk him going through another winter. We made plans to have the vet come to put him down when she could be home and with him. No matter how prepared you are, it is never easy. After Thanksgiving dinner, family and friends trooped to the barn to feed him treats and say good-bye. On the day after Thanksgiving, we brushed him and I braided a sprig of holly in his mane to send with him to the afterlife, since he was our Christmas pony after all. I whispered in his ear to find Brenner, Walzengel, Dressed for Tea, and all his big horse buddies who have gone on ahead of him. He was still a lucky pony because he was in the hands of people who cared enough to put their pain aside in favor of his comfort and dignity in passing. I hated to let him go, but I had to do what was best for our pal, Buddy.
My daughter wanted to have something to remind her of Buddy wherever she may end up. We elected to have his body cremated and chose Agape Pet Services, which I highly recommend for their respectful treatment of the remains and efficient service. I took down all my daughter’s show ribbons she had earned over the course of her riding career and sent them to a wonderful artist to make into a memorial box for Buddy. The designer at Topline Design Ribbon Wreaths is a saint. She worked with me to select the best cover image and took enormous care in making sure the most sentimental of her ribbons were readable along the sides. Look at what a wonderful creation she designed! Inside, I placed a braided lock of his mane, a small bag of cremains, a few medals she won, and other memorabilia.
How do you sum up a life? I’m still not sure I’ve done Buddy justice. But I’m sure he’d forgive me.