During the summer of 1977 most little girls were asking for a new Malibu Barbie for their birthdays. I liked Barbie too, but what I really wanted was a living, breathing pony. Not just any pony either. I wanted Squaw.
Squaw was a Pony of America with a nasty reputation for being willful, stubborn, a little too fearless, an escape artist, and full of boundless energy. In short, she was just like me. At the young age of 6 years old, I didn’t see her traits as bad or nasty, I only saw a beautiful pony that wasn’t afraid or too conditioned to try new things. I saw a friend.
Most parents living in suburban America at the time would not have succumbed to the pleadings of a 6 year old to get a pony for their birthday, but mine did. My mother had a horse growing up in rural east Texas and it was something she wanted to pass along to me. Like millions of people of her age in the 1970’s, she and my father were only one or two generations off the farm and still held tightly to some of the ideas of rural life.
We lived in Austin, TX that was also at the crossroads between rural and urban life. This short moment in time was the perfect mix for my pony and me to explore our world together. Our adventures took us far and wide as we road through the rugged woods of Westlake Hills before it was developed. Many times my mother would hike with through the Wild Basis Nature Preserve (which was not yet established) and at the end of the hike I was allowed to gallop all the way back to the barn which was miles away. I can still feel the thrill of charging through the woods, leaping over creeks, darting under trees and scrambling up the steep limestone slopes.
Riding on the trails was often the reward for making it through tedious lessons and shows. Riding in general became a common bribe for my parents to get me to do my homework or snap me out of one of my more stubborn moments.
Our times in the woods are some of the best memories of my life. Often, I would pretend I was a Comanche warrior and search the ground below for wildlife tracks. I even made a bow and arrows to sling on my back to complete the look. Like a good warrior’s pony, Squaw would even swim with me. I would glide along in the water hanging on to her mane, then drift onto her back just before she launched out of the river or pond.
My friends still tease me about how I could spring off a hay bail, fly across the back of Squaw, land just at her withers, and then go charging off with just a halter and a lead rope. Sometimes, during the charge I would fall off. Squaw would patiently wait for me to get back up and if she determined that I was okay, and if she was done with our games, she would prance off to the barn. Other times she would let me catch her and we would continue on.
On one occasion, I decided it would be fun to show her off to our neighbors. I rang the doorbell, waited for the door to open, then rode my pony straight into the their house. Thankfully our neighbors had a wonderful sense of humor and simply led us back out to the yard. They still enjoy telling that story when we meet from time to time.
Squaw was masterful in the show ring, but it was our time together in nature that meant the most to me. From age 6 to 17 she was my companion for exploration. When I was with her I had nothing to fear and our only boundaries were the limits of my imagination. She taught me what it was to care for another living being. And I came to understand what it meant to have a silent conversation through simply observing animal behavior and patterns.
My senior year of high school I finally out grew her and decided to sell her to our veterinarian who wanted to use her as a lesson pony. About a year later he sent me a letter to let me know he was retiring her early because she simply would not let anyone else ride her. I had to laugh. The man that sold her to my parents told them, “I’ll make you a really good deal. Jennifer is the only one that can ride that little demon.” She lived to be 30 years old and even in her twilight years she dominated the hayrack from the bigger horses.
I’m lucky to still have horses in my life today. I went through a long period with a giant hole in my heart that could only be filled with a connection with a horse. I finally found good matches in a feisty mustang and a laid back Arabian cross. I share my love of horses and nature today by trying to encourage others to ride. When possible I take my niece out on my big grey mare to walk in the fields and forests.
I know that soon the area I ride in will be developed just like the hills of my childhood. I might not be able to do a flying leap onto my horses now, but I am able to explore the woods and quietly observe nature from the unique vantage point of a horse’s back.