by LeAnn R. Ralph
Mom and Dad were riding in the front seat of our car, and Loretta and I were in the back seat. It was a lovely June afternoon. A Sunday. The kind of day that if colored pictures were put into dictionaries and you looked up June, this is what you’d see—a deep blue sky with puffy white clouds, sparkling sunshine, and tall green grass waving in the breeze.
And yet, as we drove along the country road, I still couldn’t quite believe it.
We were on our way to the pony farm.
For as far back as I could remember, I had wanted a pony.
Whenever we had a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas and my mother asked if I would like to make a wish with the wishbone, I’d wish for a pony.
Every time someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday or for Christmas, I always answered, “a pony.”
On every birthday, each year with one more candle to strengthen the wish—I wished for a pony.
If Mom and I accidentally said the same thing at the same time (such as, “pass the butter, please”) and then we said the rhyme: “Needles, Pins, Triplets, Twins; What goes up the chimney? Smoke; Your wish and my wish shall never be broke”—
You guessed it. I wished for a pony.
Unfortunately, each time I mentioned the subject, my mother always answered the same way. “You’re too young to have a pony.”
“Why am I too young? How old is old enough?” I’d ask.
“You know I’m afraid of horses,” my mother would reply.
“Why are you afraid?”
“I don’t know—because they’re so big. I was always afraid of the workhorses when I was a little girl.”
“Did the workhorses ever hurt you?”
“No. But when we put hay up in the barn, someone had to drive the team to pull the hay fork. And that was my job. And I was always terrified. Everybody else was on one side of the barn, and there I was on the other side, all by myself with those great big things.”
“But the workhorses never hurt you.”
“No,” Mom would say. “I was just afraid of them.”
“Workhorses are a whole lot bigger than a pony, you know. So why can’t I have a pony?”
“Because you’re too young.”
“How old is old enough?”
“I don’t know. But you’re not old enough now, that’s for sure…”
Dad, on the other hand, thought it was a fine idea. “A pony would sort of be like having Pete and Ole around again, although I guess it would be a lot smaller than Pete and Ole,” he’d said when I had asked for his opinion.
Pete and Ole were the last team of workhorses my father had owned, and I could tell by the way he talked about them that he still missed them. He would tell me about the time when he worked at the canning factory and had loaned Pete and Ole to some neighbors who lived a few miles away and how the horses had come home by themselves, in the middle of the night, but had stayed hidden behind the barn, and no one knew they were back until the next day when Loretta and Ingman got home from school.
And he would tell me about the way Pete and Ole would be so glad to see him when he came home from the canning factory, following him around like puppies and nudging his arm with their noses and knocking his cap off, but that when he was ready to do some farm work, they would pretend they didn’t want to be caught.
The horses had been gone from our farm for quite a few years by the time I was born, and I envied my brother and sister. They had grown up with Pete and Ole and used to ride them when they were kids.
Then, a month ago, after I had asked if I could have a pony for what must have been the thousandth time, right out of the blue, Mom said ‘yes.’
Well, she didn’t exactly say ‘yes.’
What she really said is, “I suppose I’m never going to have any peace about it, am I, if I keep saying no.”
“But,” she had added, “we’re going to wait until after school is out for a while. And if I hear one more word about it before then—the deal is off.”
The tone of her voice and the look in her eye convinced me that she meant it, so I made sure I held up my end of the bargain, even though it just about killed me.
And that’s why I had trouble believing we were on our way to the pony farm right now. Was it only this morning after we had gotten home from church that Mom had casually asked, “Would you like to go to the pony farm this afternoon?”
The people who owned the farm were known in the area for the show ponies they raised, but they had ordinary ponies too. The farm was about twenty miles away, and after we’d gone only a few miles, I felt as if we had been driving for hours.
When I had begun to think we were never going to reach our destination, my father applied the brake and put on the turn signal.
“This is it,” he announced as he turned into the driveway.
The pony farm looked precisely the way I had imagined. Big white farmhouse. A stable. Lots of corrals. And ponies everywhere.
I was still staring out the window when Loretta leaned over and touched my shoulder.
“Aren’t you going to get out?” she said.
I turned to look at her. “What?”
“Aren’t you going to get out of the car?”
Oh, yes. Get out of the car.
How could I look at ponies if I didn’t get out of the car?
“Don’t buy one that’s wild,” Mom cautioned from the front seat.
Although my mother had finally given her permission, she didn’t especially like the idea of getting a pony.
Dad paused before shutting the car door and looked in at my mother. “Now, Ma,” he said, “do you really think I’d let her get one that’s wild?”
My mother smiled sheepishly. “No, I guess not.”
Dad, Loretta and I were going to look at ponies, but because of the polio paralysis, Mom had decided she would stay in the car. Walking around with crutches was hard enough, but trying to maneuver on unfamiliar ground was harder yet, she said.
I had no more than gotten out of the car when I heard the screen door slam shut.
“Can I help you?” asked a man who was settling a cap on his head as he came down the porch steps.
Actually, it wasn’t a cap. Dad wore caps. This was a hat. A cowboy hat. A straw cowboy hat.
“We’re looking for a pony,” Dad explained. “It’s for her.” He tipped his head in my direction.
“We’ve got lots of nice ponies,” the man said.
“We don’t want anything fancy,” Dad continued. “Just something she can ride around on for fun.”
The man smiled in a way that told me he knew everything there was to know about ponies and about riding ponies.
“We have plenty of nice ponies we don’t take to the horse shows for one reason or another,” he said.
The man started with the corral next to the barn. From there we moved to a corral on other side of the barn. And from there we moved into the barn itself—a long, low building with an aisle running down the middle and stalls on both sides.
During the next hour and a half, we looked at many ponies.
Mares and geldings.
But with each pony the man brought out, Dad found something wrong with it. This one had a stubborn look, he said, and he didn’t like the way that one stomped its back foot when he patted its hind quarters. The next one laid its ears back when Dad walked up from the front. The one after that stood with its front feet turned in toward each other. And the one after that stood with its feet turned out.
Then there was the pretty gray pony with a black mane and tail.
In Dad’s opinion, the gray pony was too old. The man said it was twelve and that twelve wasn’t old for a pony. I knew from reading in the ‘H’ volume of our encyclopedia set, which had been perused so often it automatically fell open to the horse entry, that each year in a horse’s life is equal to three human years. That meant the gray pony was like a thirty-six-year-old person. And I didn’t think thirty-six sounded old. After all, Dad was lots older than thirty-six, and HE didn’t seem ‘old.’ But Dad still said something a few years younger would be better.
The next pony, a palomino that was a golden color just a shade darker than our dog, Needles, was only three. But in Dad’s opinion, three was too young.
“We want one who knows a little bit about life,” Dad explained.
The man put the pony back into its stall and latched the door.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but that’s all I’ve got to show you.”
What was he talking about? With so many ponies around here, how could that be the last one?
“Nothing else you think would work?” Dad asked.
The man shook his head. “The rest of what we’ve got are either stallions, pregnant mares, or mares with a nursing foal. I know you wouldn’t want a stallion, although if you wanted a pregnant mare, or a mare and foal, I’d be happy to show them to you.”
“No,” Dad said, “one pony is all we need. My wife isn’t too happy about getting one, so I’m sure we couldn’t talk her into two.”
The man grinned. “I see.”
“Well,” Dad said, turning to go out of the stable, “if you don’t have anything else to show us, thanks for your time.”
My stomach suddenly felt hollow.
After all the years I had spent wishing.
After finally convincing Mom to give her permission.
After spending the whole afternoon looking at ponies…
This was IT?
My throat began to tighten up, and I knew that in a minute, I would probably start crying. And I didn’t want to cry. Not in front of the nice man.
Loretta put her arm around me. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll find a pony. Not today, I guess. But someday.”
I hated it when Mom said ‘someday’ because that usually meant ‘never.’ Like when I asked if we were ever going to go on a summer vacation—a few of the other kids at school went on summer vacations with their families but we were too busy milking cows and baling hay to do anything like that—and she said, “I don’t know…maybe someday.”
We had almost reached the door of the stable when the man cleared his throat. “Wait! I forgot about one.”
I spun around to look at him.
“She’s in the far pasture,” he continued. “We tried breeding her this year, but something went wrong.”
I hastily wiped the tears from my eyes.
“I can show her to you if you want. Do you have time?” the man asked.
Dad pulled out his pocket watch. He glanced at me. “Yes,” he said. “We’ve got time.”
We waited in the shade of the barn while the man went out to the pasture. He came back ten minutes later leading a plump, brown pony with light brown spots and a white mane and tail—and I knew that this was THE ONE.
Now all I had to do was convince my father.
“How old is she?” Dad asked.
“Let’s see,” the man said, as he latched the pasture gate behind them. “She’s…five. No. Six. She just had a birthday.”
“That’s a good age,” Dad said. “Not too old and not too young. And you say you tried breeding her?”
The man turned from the gate and patted the pony’s neck. “Yes. And we thought she was going to have a foal, too, but then we found out she wasn’t. Or maybe she was and lost it early on. We just don’t know.”
“I see,” Dad said, walking all the way around the plump pony who in turn was watching Dad.
“Want me to lead her around for you? While your little girl rides?” the man asked.
“No, I’ll lead her around,” Dad replied. “That way I can see if we’re going to get along.”
The man handed Dad the lead rope.
I petted the pony’s soft, brown nose. She nuzzled my shirt and left a streak of muddy dirt on my shoulder.
“How come your nose is so dirty, little pony?” Loretta said.
The pony turned toward my big sister. She looked at Loretta and then took a step closer and nuzzled my sister’s bare arm.
“Eeeeeek,” Loretta said. “Your whiskers are prickly.”
Dad and the man smiled, but they laughed out loud when the pony began licking my sister’s arm.
“She sure seems like a friendly little thing,” Dad commented.
“You can say that again,” Loretta said, wiping off her arm with a Kleenex she had taken from her purse.
Dad lifted me onto the pony’s back.
If I had been sure before that this was ‘the one’ only by looking at her, I was completely convinced now. The pony felt just right. Not too tall and not too short.
Dad took hold of the pony’s halter. “Come on, girl,” he said.
He led the pony along the driveway. “Is it fun?” he asked, looking over his shoulder at me.
Fun? This was more than just ‘fun.’ It was Heaven. It was all the Christmases that had ever been, or ever would be, rolled together into a single moment.
“Oh, Daddy! Please? Please-please-please-please-pleeeeease can we get this one?”
“Hmmmm…maybe,” Dad said. “Let’s see how the trip back to the barn goes.”
He let go of the pony’s halter. Although he was now holding the end of the lead rope, when he turned around, the pony turned around too, and as Dad walked along the driveway, the pony walked quietly beside him.
After we arrived at the spot where Loretta and the man were standing, Dad stopped. So did the pony. He patted her neck. “Good girl,” he said. “Good horse.”
“Why did you do that, Dad?” I asked.
“Why did you let go of her halter?”
My father tossed the end of the lead rope over his shoulder—as if this was something he had done many times before—so that both his hands were free.
“Some horses, when they get the opportunity, will try to run back to the barn,” he said. “I wanted to see what she’d do.”
“I get it,” Loretta said. “It was a test. Did she pass?”
“I don’t know? Did she?” he asked, giving me a sideways look.
“Oh, yes. She’s a very good pony,” I said.
Dad took a step forward. “I want to try a couple more things.”
He put his arm around the pony’s neck, and she leaned her head against him and rubbed her ear against his ribs.
Dad removed his arm and slid his hand under the pony’s thick, white foretop. She tilted her head to the side, as if she were really enjoying the attention.
“You can tell a lot about a horse by putting your arm around its neck,” he explained as he rubbed the pony’s ears.
This time she turned her head in the other direction, so Dad could get at her ears better.
“If they let you put your arm around ‘em,” he continued, “it means they like people…and you don’t want one that won’t let you touch its ears…so…yes…I think this one will work out fine.”
It took a few seconds for Dad’s words to sink in.
“Do you mean it? We can get this one?” I asked, wondering if I had heard him say what I thought he had said.
My father smiled. “Yes, we can get this one. If this is the one you want.”
I slipped off the pony’s back and walked around to her head.
“Do you want to be my pony?” I asked.
The little brown pony lifted her nose and nuzzled my hair. Then she licked my forehead. Once. Twice. Three times. Unlike the cows’ sand-papery tongues, the pony’s tongue was smooth.
Dad, Loretta and the man from the pony farm all burst out laughing.
“I think that means she’d like to be your pony,” the man said.
I threw my arms around her neck. “I want you to be my pony too.”
But as I rested my cheek against her thick white mane, it dawned on me that—in a way—this was the end of a dream come true.
Although even better yet, it was also just the beginning.
Excerpted from the book: "Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam" by
LeAnn R. Ralph (trade paperback; October 2004; 190 pages; $13.95) To order the book or to read more sample chapters or sign up for LeAnn's free newsletter, Rural Route 2 News, or to order books visit -- http://ruralroute2.com