I first started riding at a fancy stable in Connecticut when I was 11-years old. As I walked into the barn to sign up for my first lesson, I had big expectations for the start of my riding career. I’d imagined myself galloping through fields and hopping over logs on a lean, tall horse with a flowing mane and shiny black tail. Then I met a pony named Pillsbury.
Pillsbury looked just as his name implies. He was a short, white pony with a gut that nearly touched the ground. His attitude, however, was unsurprisingly opposite the well-known Doughboy who shared his name.
I sat aboard Pillsbury a few short weeks into my riding career, alternating between pony kicking with my weak legs and begging my trainer to help me. Despite my pleas, after 30 minutes neither my trainer nor Pillsbury had budged.
A few weeks later, Pillsbury took off the long side of the arena at a full gallop and I dove head first into the wall.
Pillsbury left me in the dust on more occasions than I can remember. I returned to my mother’s car with my head low, lesson after lesson complaining about my mount and questioning my trainer. Eventually, my mother delivered a handwritten note asking her to choose a new pony for me. My trainer denied her request.
I spent many more lessons after that hopelessly kicking, hitting the ground, and looking through Pillsbury’s slightly pinned-back ears.
I was frustrated not just with Pillsbury but with myself. I left wondering what I’d done to make Pillsbury so defiant, questioning what made me think I could ride horses in the first place.
In time, my complaints turned to excitement as I convinced Pillsbury to do even the smallest of tasks. Once, I got him to lift his hoof while tacking up and promptly informed my trainer it was the “best day ever.”
I began to squeeze with conviction rather than kick with frustration, to carry my hands, and to sit steady. Each time I got something right, I’d hear my trainer shout as only a trainer can, “Can’t you feel the difference!”
I sure did.
Soon, I outgrew my stubborn mount and moved on to a bigger horse. But as I tacked up a dark bay instead of my usual plump pony, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for blaming Pillsbury for my shortcomings.
Pillsbury taught me much more than I realized at the time. He showed me how to be decisive, confident, and, most importantly, patient. He was the lesson horse I needed, even though I didn’t know it.
Many lesson horses later, I think of Pillsbury like a 101 course in riding, used to get rid of the kids who aren’t really committed and teach the ones who are just how unforgiving, yet rewarding, this sport is.
I’m glad I passed the Pillsbury test, and I came out of frustration knowing the horse was worth it. Now, if only I could go back in time and thank my persistent trainer and that stubborn pony.
About the Author
Karina Pepe is a recent graduate with a double major in Journalism and Spanish. She’s loved horses ever since she could remember, but found her real passion in the eventing world.