Tromping through the year’s first real snowfall, neighboring folk in our area met at a nearby farm to welcome the holiday season and the newest “horsey set” members. Farmers and landowners of five to 500 acres, foxhunters and car followers, gathered to meet the family who had just been initiated to country living.
Piling food on plates from a festive table, balancing cups of cheer on our knees, we listened to the new guys on the block explain why they decided to forsake the conveniences of suburbia for the chance to look out their windows at pastures rather than pavement.
“We wanted to be settled by Christmas,” the missus said, smiling as brightly as the tree lights. “We bought the farm just so our daughter, Melissa, could have her very own pony. (Obviously Melissa was an only child.)
“It’s really so much better and less expensive than having her ride lesson horses,” she insisted. (Better, perhaps, but less expensive? Mentally I calculated figures as she began her tale of the move and pony acquisition.)
“We moved from Foxwood Estates, from a house on only a half acre of shrubs and flower gardens,” she explained. (Foxwood Estates house—$65,OOO.) “But of course we couldn’t keep a pony on only half an acre of shrubs and flower gardens. So, we bought the old McNeill farm, the one with 10 acres, which includes two paddocks and a huge pasture. (McNeill farm with 10 acres—$250,OOO.) “Well,” she continued, “the house had just been remodeled, but there was only an old cow barn. We tore that down and built a very nice two-stall barn.”
Not full-fledged horsefolk yet, but they were learning. Next time they’d find a splendid barn and tear down the house. (Less-expensive-to-own pony now $265,000.)
She continued. “We found a darling little brown pony right up the road from us that a boy had outgrown. The pony was a little older, maybe 12, and so fuzzy and adorable. Melissa rode him and loved him, and he only cost $300. So she called her trainer, and the trainer came to watch Melissa ride the brown pony. But she said, ‘Oh my, no, no, no! Look at the way he moves!’ Well, he seemed to have four legs that all touched the ground, but the trainer said they went in different directions at once, and when Melissa goes showing the judge won’t like that at all.”
Here Melissa’s father chimed in. “So, the trainer took us looking for another pony,” he said, grimacing more than grinning. “And sure enough, she found one. This one moved his legs the way the trainer liked. He was a gray pony from Ireland, and he cost $3,000.” (Cost of inexpensive pony so far: $268,000, including farm and stable.) “But,” he added, seeming pleased, “that did include a genuine leather halter.”
“Of course,” Melissa’s mom added, “our daughter couldn’t ride a pony bareback with just a genuine leather halter, and so we went looking for a saddle and bridle. We found a wonderful buy. It was a very pretty little saddle made, let’s see, somewhere in South America, wasn’t it dear? Oh, yes, in Argentina. And the bridle came from Japan. But the trainer said, ‘Dear heavens, you cannot send Melissa into the show ring on an elegant pony with,’ and here the trainer sneered, ‘inappropriate tack!’ So, back the equipment went, and the trainer took Melissa to Tack World and found a saddle made somewhere in Germany and a bridle made in England. Now we could send Melissa into the show ring with pride.” (Cheaper-to-buy pony now up to $268,575.)
Melissa’s dad picked up the thread of the yarn. By this time my husband, understanding every poignant word, having been through much the same scenario, was listening with rapt interest.
“Melissa used to ride in blue jeans,” he said, “but, of course when you’re going into the show ring with an Irish pony and a German saddle and an English bridle, you cannot ride in Texas pants. So, the trainer took Melissa back to Tack World, where they do not have jackets made in Romania, and found her a wonderful jacket and breeches made by Harry somebody, also from Great Britain. She promised us that Melissa probably would not outgrow the wonderful outfit for a whole year. Along with the jacket and breeches, however, it seems a child must have a pair of perfect-fitting boots. It also seems that children’s boots must be custom-made to fit their little legs properly. Ready-made children’s boots do not become children riding expensive Irish ponies. Now she’s fully outfitted for the show ring.” (Rising cost of bargain pony now $268,910.)
Refilling her cup of Christmas cheer, Melissa’s mother continued. “Well, it seems that while Melissa was properly outfitted, the pony was not. We didn’t even have a correct lead shank. I had always used a piece of old clothesline to lead the pony around, but it seems that is unsafe. So, we bought two lovely leather lead shanks, in case we lost one, with brass chains and snaps, and a full set of brushes and curry combs, with a lovely wooden box to live in. (Nominally priced pony now up to $269,030.)
My husband, warming up to these kindred spirits more and more, urged Melissa’s parents to continue. Her father said, “It also seemed we needed a proper feed tub and three-cornered water bucket. Horses lived for several million years without the benefit of three-cornered water buckets, but the trainer deemed this necessary for a gray Irish pony. Also, Melissa wished to ride all year, and to show in winter and summer. This meant you must clip the pony, which cannot be done with scissors. It requires a pair of large animal clippers and several sets of blades, because in winter the pony resembles a yak. Of course, when the pony is clipped and it’s cold, you cannot turn him out naked, so of course we had to buy a sheet, a blanket, a rug made in New Zealand, and a cooler, worn only at shows.” (Economical pony now up to $269,31O.)
Melissa’s dad pressed on. “In order for our daughter to show the pony, of course, she needed transportation. It seems trailering, even a short distance, can cost up to $50, and longer trips are charged by the mile. Figuring Melissa will be showing, according to her trainer, 48 weekends a year, we decided to purchase a trailer. With a dressing room, naturally, as Melissa might get dirty wearing her Harry Whatsizname’s outfit too many minutes before she actually mounted the pony to go in the show ring.
“Now, we owned a Subaru, which was wonderful for living where there is no public transportation for 30 miles and where the nearest store is not just down the block. Of course, this wonderful little car’s transmission would have been horribly injured pulling 2,500 pounds of trailer with 950 pounds of Irish pony. So we traded it in and got a new four-wheel drive pick-up truck that gets 865 feet to the gallon.” (Better-than-lesson-horse pony now running about $287,310.)
“Ah, but my dear,” Melissa’s mom reminded Melissa’s dad, “we finally have everything we need, and here we are settled among all these nice horse people just in time for Christmas. And Melissa is having such a wonderful time! This grand new lifestyle also makes it possible to give and receive some truly unusual Christmas presents.”
“Yes, indeedy,” Melissa’s dad agreed heartily. “For instance, this Christmas I am giving you a six months’ supply of the best alfalfa hay east of the Mississippi!”
Turning to my husband, who was now grinning from ear to ear, he added, “We bought 10 acres worth of pasture for this pony, but the trainer tells me that grass has good nutrients only for about eight weeks out of the year, and even then we must be careful because the little devil might flounder.”
“That’s founder, dear,” Melissa’s mom said gently.
“And, I’m giving you a set of lovely shoes, four of them, two with borium tips,” she added. “What makes them even more exquisite is that they are also corrective!”
Her husband continued with glee, “In your stocking I am stuffing a certificate good for one teeth floating with the horse dentist of your choice.”
“And you, my darling,” she grinned back, “will find nestled under the tree a gift-wrapped box that holds a whole year’s supply of paste wormer. Oh, I tell you,” she rejoiced, “the possibilities for gift-giving are simply endless!”
This story was originally published in the book Horse Folk Are Different, published in January of 1987 by The Chronicle of the Horse.