Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Silverado: The pony, the legend

Please pardon the quality of the pictures, they were taken around 1999 with a video camera. I can't get to my old photos easily these days

In 1994, when I was twelve, my riding stable got a new lesson horse. He was small, chunky, and decidedly weird looking compared to the other residents of our stable, which were mostly stock horses in solid dark colours with the occasional pinto or blanket appaloosa. Sil was white with blackish grey smudges, bright pink, freckly nose and eyes... and other areas, a wispy salt & pepper tail, and a funny short mane which stuck up like a push broom, and this silly puffball of a forelock. He stuck out like a clown at a wedding.

He was a black few-spot varnish blanket appaloosa Pony of the Americas, which was an breed developed as a stock-type, appaloosa-patterned pony, larger than a Shetland, but smaller than a standard horse. He looked pure white with black smudges, but when he was wet you could see the blanket pattern he was born with clearly under the white hair.

He was much smaller than the other lesson horses, too; we only had a couple of actual ponies and they were all privately owned. He was a little over 13 hands high, or as I thought of it, armpit high, because his back fit perfectly under my arm when I'd graze him out in the grassy area near the parking lot.

I remember the first time I saw him, the day he arrived; I was fooling around in the arena on the bay Quarter Horse I was leasing at the time. My riding instructor came bolting into the arena bareback on this little white chunk of a thing who trotted jerkily along, throwing his head all over the place. My first thought about Sil was "man, that pony needs a tie-down"

It wasn't long before I got some first-hand experience with him. Sil had a bit of a temper, could be more stubborn than a mule, but he was super fast, responsive, and full of character. By spring a lady was leasing him, but she was scared to death of him, so I'd ride Sil while she rode my big, sweet lease horse, Taos. Sil and I got along great, so well that he would often refuse to cooperate with other children during lessons and I ended up being the only one who liked to ride him.

When fall came around that year, the stable owner decided to downsize the lesson herd, and Sil the temperamental was at the top of that list. Unbeknownst to me, my parents decided to buy him! Christmas morning I opened a card with a picture of Sil in it, telling me that he was now my pony. Talk about a dream come true!

We had such fun together. With him being so small, I could hop on and off him easily and we would go weeks without using a saddle, especially in the summer when it just gets too hot for that nonsense. Once, he had a saddle sore at the same time I had a broken arm, and my doctor used to gripe at me for riding bareback in a cast.

We used to spend hours rambling through the brush in the pastures with my friends. One of the pastures ran along the access road for the freeway and we'd cut yucca stalks and choreograph mock sword fights on horseback which we'd perform any time a car went past.

Before we bought him, Sil had been used for polo, western games (barrels, poles, etc.) and stock work. He was incredibly responsive, something you had to be careful about, especially when you were bareback, because you would be galloping across the pasture, shift your weight slightly, and suddenly finding him going the opposite direction in a flash; sometimes you didn't always make the change with him.

We competed casually at various playdays in our area, doing barrels - clover and straight-away, poles - straight-away and flying W mostly, pylons, baseball, etc. We were always pretty middle of the pack; he was very competitive, I was not. You could not open the arena gate until after we had come to a flying, circling stop as there was no pulling him in after a run. If that gate was open, we would be going out it at top speed. Once someone did open the gate. I managed to save my leg from being crushed against the gate post as we shot out and we finally stopped inches from the front of a parked car.

At one playday, we had just crossed the line to start the timer for a run when Sil stopped dead for what must have been the longest wee in the world before breaking back into a flat-out run to finish the pattern.We must have set a record for the slowest run.

I remember one time during a practice run Sil's feet slipped out from under him during a top-speed turn and he fell. I was flung up onto his neck and we slid a good few feet on our sides before coming to a stop. We both got up, legs shaking, and he proceeded to nose me all over, as if he were checking for damage, before tucking his head under my arm for our walk out of the arena. We decided to call it a day after that run. Luckily my mom wasn't there for that one as even a good run made her nervous.

Sil was an absolute glutton and loved his food. He had been abused before coming to our stable and had some trust issues and was rather fearful of men. I wonder if his food issues came from the abuse, or were just because he was a pony. His favourite treat, when he could steal one, was a jelly doughnut, and he once knocked me off the bleachers in order to get his teeth into my Taco Bell taco, which was just all sorts of wrong.

He was a terrible escape artist and was always getting out of his stall and into the feed room. He once untwisted the wire holding his stall door shut, pulled out the door bar, unclipped the door chain, and unscrewed the lid on the sweetfeed bin for a royal midnight snack. On another occasion he opened the gate of the pasture and led a raid on the main feed room. Luckily neither he nor anyone else suffered any adverse effects from these adventures.

Sil could be a little touchy about other animals. He wasn't keen on dogs and we had to keep him away from the potbelly pigs which roamed the stable. I was in the barn once and heard a horrible shrieking, I looked up in time to see one of the pigs flash past the stable door, screaming its head off with Sil in hot pursuit, nipping it on the rump every few steps.

Sil's was always though of as ugly by most of the stable. He was odd, but I thought he was lovely. He was small, but he had a certain dignity in his bearing, unless he found something good to scratch himself on, then dignity was out the door. It was particularly funny when he would try to roll as he was a rather chubby pony and could never make it all the way over and would finish the session by scratching his belly on the ground with his lower lip hanging and his ears flopped to the sides like a sleepy mule.

Sil would always nip you on the rear when you'd pick his front hooves, and fart on you when you'd do his back ones. I taught him to shake hooves, which I soon learned to regret as he'd do it whenever he was bored or thought the treats had been too infrequent as of late.

He loved being washed, especially when I'd direct the stream onto his muzzle, and his favourite place for scratchies was in his ears, he even had a special, tiny body brush just for that purpose. He would stand with his eyes closed and lip dangling, practically purring, while I gave his ears a good brushing.

He retired to my aunt's place about an hour from our house around 1998, when I was in high school. He shared a pasture with a changing cast of goats, cattle, horses, and llamas. He particularly liked it when we would go for a ride down to the river. He loved going out to his belly and splashing vigorously, he never quite got up the nerve to have a roll in the water, though you could tell he wanted to, badly.

There was a billy goat out there who took a major fancy to Sil and when I'd go out for a ride, Billy would hustle Sil off into the underbrush, trying to hid him. When I would finally catch Sil, the goat would run along side, yelling, and trying to hook his horns around my foot to drag me off. He wouldn't stop until Sil gave him a good stiff kick in the head.

Sil died in the late summer of 2001, when he was around 15. I still miss him and have never formed a connection with another horse the way I did with him.

I have tried to include Sil's most distinctive markings in his little Magpie portrait, namely his anchor tattoo, bowling ball holes, start button, and that odd roan leg. The Welsh Pony mold perfectly captures his spunky, humorous character.

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