A group of us got to talking ponies the other day. It was unanimous that small horses can be a bit (or a lot) headstrong. My own childhood pony, a Scottish Highland, was an exception, I now believe. From the time I got her when I was about six, till I turned twelve or so, she was my almost constant companion. Now that doesn’t mean she was perfect but most of her challenging ways were due to my foolishness and my lack of horse sense. Until she came along, I had no knowledge of these creatures and I basically just saw her as a cow that my legs fit around and who looked somewhat more elegant. She became much more than a glorified bovine.
I taught her (well we colluded on this one as with most things) to race the neighbour’s dog. He would see us coming and crouch down along the fence line, sneaking almost on his belly until we intersected his driveway. Midnight would start bunching her back muscles and pricking her ears towards him in anticipation of the challenge. I’d hold her back till the last minute then let the reins loose and whisper for her to “go!” My encouragement was unnecessary; sometimes in her excitement to run she would rear against my tightened reins and then hit the ground galloping with me clasping her hot black belly with the full length of my legs. We’d shoot past the driveway just as the border collie reached the last post, pounding towards home with him swirling behind us. He always let us get away.
She was a diving board for us in the summer. I would ride her out to the deepest pool in Salmon Slough then my friends would swim out to us, clamber onto her back and dive off. Midnight seemed to enjoy the cool, standing patiently while we swam around her.
After seeing a trick rider at a circus, I decided my pony and I should aspire to belong to such a show. I never did manage to vault onto her though I could crawl up her neck while she was grazing and make her lift her head to launch me skyward onto her back at which point we’d trot around the barnyard with me facing towards her broad butt. When I got a little older, I learned to stand up and ride her; she would occasionally oblige me by cantering on command while I stood but only when we were headed towards home.
My dad showed me that I could make it seem like she could count by taking advantage of her predictable desire to graze every chance she got. I would hold the reins at her neck to prevent her from eating then ask her a math question like, “What’s three times two?” Chagrined at not being able to reach the grass, Midnight would paw at the ground. At six, I would let the reins go and congratulate her, at which point she could chomp away contentedly. One old friend told me he always thought she was the smartest horse around, so we managed to fool a few people.
Steeped in adventure stories, I taught Midnight to lie down in the tall grass, in case we ever needed to hide from anyone. Fooled by these same stories, I ran sobbing back to the house one spring desperate to fetch my dad, the tractor and a chain or rope. Midnight had sunk to her belly in quicksand and I feared we might not make it back to her before she was swallowed up by this threat of which I’d read so much. Incredulous, Dad started up the tractor just as Midnight ambled into the driveway, mud caked to her back and legs from her proper wallow in a shallow puddle. You’d think a trick rider might recognize when her horse was simply rolling to scratch the winter fur off her back.
Another time, she stepped on my head. I had ridden her out into the meter deep snowfield for some crazy reason, then when she refused to go any further, I had to dismount and lead her to get her back to the road. There was a big berm by the barn and she scrambled up the one side but would not descend. I tugged and tugged until finally she just leapt forward, pushing me backwards and stepping on my head with a back hoof as she launched herself onto the road. Fortunately, the snow was soft, cushioning the impact. Still, I feared the worst as I staggered towards our neighbour wailing, “Is my head squished in?” Midnight went to the barn for her oats.
There were many more adventures with Midnight: we snuck her into my friend’s house (no stairs); she galloped ahead of us while we skied behind her; we played horseback tag with the neighbours; I rode her out of my childhood and into adolescence and beyond to my first years of college when we gave her to another family and she had another life with another girl. I miss my friend.