As I entered the 3rd grade, we moved to the house I consider “the place I grew up” in Monches, Wisconsin. This is a small unincorporated town, if you can even call it that, a blip along County Road Q on the Oconomowoc River. Our town had a bed & breakfast, a glass blower, a church, a gravel pit, and a bar. If you rode your pony all the way around the pond it took about half an hour.
But we finally had a little land to call our own, or rather, our little land was connected to a much larger parcel of land owned by friends of my parents, including a woman who would become a kind-of grandmother to me in many ways.
So you know what that meant – I could have a pony in the backyard!
When we first moved there, I immediately made friends with the two nearest horse owning neighbors. We would ride together, me holding on to one of them while they attempted to steer a renegade pony on the 6 inches of gravel next to the county road. You can imagine that it drove my mom crazy to have me not be in control of my own destiny. My dad was instructed to build a stall under the house and off mom and I went to find me a suitable mount to terrorize the town.
What we found was an inappropriately named mixed-breed long backed cranky pony named Sugar. He was perfect for the job. Or rather, he was priced right for the job.
We brought Sugar home and immediately I set up jumps in our front yard, using drink coolers and broom handles that I found (sometimes procured) laying around the house. After one too many episodes of reclaiming his beer cooler for the boat, my dad broke down and constructed some real jumps. At the same time, we borrowed the land belonging to our good neighbor friends so I now had a hunt field and no longer needed to listen to my dad curse as he mowed the lawn ripe with hoof divots.
Of course, who would I be if I hadn’t at least tried to show him?!?! So off poor Sugar went to participate in some local shows. My mom thought she was clever, giving him the show name of “Grass, Food and Longing”, a spoof on the old roadside signs for gas, food and lodging. Sadly mom spelled it “lounging” which was quite confusing for show announcers. I was forced to braid him myself and I’d always put a fishtail braid in his thick luxurious tail – this pony had no need for those expensive extensions!
Sugar put in as much effort as he felt was justified – enough to get over the jumps and down the lines, but really no more. When we’d come home from a show, I’d ride him down to the river and stand in the cool water to soothe his puffy ankles. Sugar was no spring chicken anymore.
Even though Sugar was a bit of a crank, he was worth his weight in gold. I rode him everywhere, primarily bareback, often with a halter and lead, sometimes I even tied it to both sides of his halter. His long back came in handy, as I once rode him “double double” with three of us giggling through the trails on my pony. He served as the Easter Pony every year, delivering a basket of colored eggs to the neighbors, he walked in parades and gave pony rides, and endured me “teaching lessons” to my non-rider friends. He even served as the ring bearer in a wedding. Sugar never spooked at a semi barreling down the double hills of our county road, you could ride him in the river and go swimming or trail ride in a snowstorm without a single slip. When I think back about him, I realize just how special he was and while he may not have been the fanciest of ponies, he was dependable and safe and allowed me to really enjoy what riding is all about.
I’m sure I never said it to him, but I’ll say it now – thanks for all of that Sugar, you were an amazing friend. And in particular, thanks for not killing me on any number of prime occasions to do so.
This is Sugar’s “retirement” party during the Wisconsin Hunter Jumper Association Fall Show.