Unlike many, I am quite fortunate to say that I still have my first pony of my very own. A unique kind soul, one of my dearest friends, who is affectionately known as Deno.
It all began when I was at the ripe age of 10, and at that time in my life my main priority in my riding was how many times a week I could go ride outside bareback. I was not very focused on being a serious competitor, all I wanted to do was have fun. But I was getting to the point where I was beginning to think about incorporating “having fun” into becoming more serious in my riding.
My family could not afford to buy a pony, so we searched for something inexpensive that I could learn on, but something reliable enough that I could do fun things with, like hop on just with a halter and leadrope and play around on the farm. One day I was searching around on the computer and on the screen appeared the most adorable, unique looking pony.
At that moment, I knew he was the one. This was the pony of my dreams.
My Mom called up his wonderful owner, Rachael, and they discussed times that we could try Deno. It was in late October, which fed into the time period where the annual Virginia Horse Shows Association Finals was approaching. Rachael was taking her young mare Lily, along with Deno’s primary rider of five years, Chelsea, (who I have come to have a great, lifelong friendship with) so she said she would bring along Deno for us to try. I still remember the feeling I experienced when I first saw that beautiful white face, pricking his ears at me. I felt as if I had just met a movie star!
So of course I fell in love with everything about him. Deno is known for his big, comical personality, and how he will do absolutely ANYTHING for food. My mom was outside of the barn where the horses were stabled, and just as my Mom was explaining how safe and knowledgeable we were, Deno comes jogging loose down the barn aisle!! I had been filling his water buckets, and despite the fact I carefully closed his door all the way, he managed to butt his head against the door, shove it open, and began to trot off! Luckily he just jogged into another horse’s empty stall and began to eat their leftovers. Luckily Rachael just laughed about what a goofball he is. She told us that if we leased him for 3 years, then we would own him, and of course we took her up on that offer!
Through our journey there were many ups and downs, not just in the tack, but we faced many inevitable setbacks. The first summer I had Deno he strained his deep digital flexor tendon, and as you may know soft tissue injuries take what feel like eons to heal, even just strains. But that just made our relationship stronger through all the hand-walking and hand-grazing, and all the care involved. But he came back sound!
Deno taught me how to be a more strong, effective rider, and really made me work, which I am incredibly grateful for. My last year consistently showing him was in 2015. I had big goals at the beginning of the season. I wanted to attempt at dipping my toe in the Regular “A” rated Large Pony Hunter. It was a long shot, and he was no longer eligible for green status, so we were faced with the daunting 3’, and let me tell you, a 3′ jump looks really big on a pony.
I have to admit, I’m a pretty big dreamer, and I really had an even bigger goal I wanted to accomplish. I really wanted to qualify for Pony Finals.
For Pony Finals you just need one Champion or Reserve Championship in your division at a rated show to qualify. I knew I couldn’t afford to do a bunch of rated shows, and I knew I would most likely not qualify in one show, even though that was the way it had to be done to reach my goal. Athletically, I knew it was quite a reach. My pony is perfect the way he is, and I could care less that he is not as fancy and athletic as the ponies competing in that division. So even if I got to do the rated Large Pony division, the likelihood of qualifying was pretty low due to the quality of the other ponies being so high.
But I persisted.
We were preparing the week before a show and I thought we were going to try it. But then as the week went on, I realized Deno was struggling, and that putting together that many large jumps was just too much of a stretch, and it wasn’t worth the risk of getting him injured, or making him uncomfortable.
Of course I was heartbroken, because that had been my goal for such a long time. But it made me really reflect on how when I got Deno, I was just the horse crazy little girl with not a whole lot of focus on horse shows and tri-colored ribbons. Pony Finals was no longer important to me. I realized I had a treasure far greater than Pony Finals.
I had Deno.
So Deno and I continued to horse show, doing the large ponies on the local level. We had a lot of success and a whole lot of fun.
Then it all came full circle at VHSA Finals 2015, our last competitive excursion together. We had one of those jumping trips that make you feel thrilled inside for a lifetime. It was the best trip we ever had. It made me cry tears of pure joy.
We jogged in 6th out of 29 ponies, most of them far fancier than my perfect, chunky little Painted pony. That moment is instilled in me forever. The pride I felt for my pony. How good it felt, to prove wrong all of the people who told me he wasn’t fancy or athletic enough, or that he wasn’t suitable for the job. It all came out in the wash. It seemed like, once I became less focused on competitive achievements, I actually got results.
I watched a few young riders and their high quality ponies around the horse show, and realized that Deno and I had, and still do, something that sadly they did not possess. Unlike them we have not only a partnership, but a deep and understanding friendship.
We galloped (well, really fast….ish cantering) in fields, rode bareback, did costume classes, I cried on his shoulder, read books in his stall, and sat in wonder of how incredibly lucky I was, and am blessed to still be. I am thrilled today he’s still in the barn, teaching other kids and being leased by my dear friend Emma. I envision him being my children’s first pony one day. I may be slightly biased, but I strongly feel he’s the best pony to walk this planet. I am truly blessed to have a once in a lifetime pony, and to have received so many lessons from him, in and out of the saddle.