The horse bug doesn’t discriminate.

Though it certainly seems to favor little girls who still believe in unicorns and fairies.

The point is, you and I—the afflicted bug-carriers—know that once well and truly bitten, no amount of antibiotics, holistic mushroom potions, or iv flushes will affect a cure.

I belong to the crowd of gals who were bitten squarely in the midst of our unicorn and fairy stage. And, like so many others, my sickness was full blown and almost too much to bear since the rest of my family were completely immune.

Were it not for one significant figure in the landscape of my life, I may well have channeled my growing passion into the available pets and grown up to be a full-blown cat lady. Only with dogs…and also birds. But I digress—

There was that significant, amazing, world changing individual.

Perhaps you are thinking of Mother Theresa surrounded by hungry orphans. Or George Washington, a regal silhouette, backlit by the misty waters of the Delaware. No, the hero on the big screen of my mind clops rather grudgingly…Chestnut.

A fat, stubborn little pony.

(The good Mother and Georgie exit stage left, raised eyebrows in tow.)

Though there wasn’t a thing regal, or saint-like about her, Chestnut really did change my world. And I have the boy next door to thank.

Our neighbors were nice people, who had three sons and a massive German Shepherd, Duke. (Occasionally he broke all dog/gangster street rules, and came into our yard to throw down Crypt style with our Siberian Husky, Bojo)

Two of the boys were old enough to belong in my “hero-worship zone,” even though I always forgot their names and would be willing to bet a pet they never even knew mine.

The youngest son, John, was the same age as my older sister. With only two years’ difference between us, he was my sometimes playmate.

I have to say, things back then were certainly different. I can’t imagine being at ease with my children playing with an older boy whose favorite saying was, “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.” But either my mom wasn’t really listening when I relayed that quotable quote or she figured he was on to something.

Anyway, since John was older than my little brother and me, he wasn’t interested in playing with us nearly as often as we wished he would, especially since my sister could almost always be relied upon to be “too busy.” She was probably the only reason he meandered over in the first place. We never knew when he might show up to invigorate a game of freeze-tag or help us build whatever fort we were constructing at the moment. His house had a really long paved driveway that we loved to ride our bikes on since it was much more fun there than on our own sloped driveway of loose gravel.

One day, John showed up out of the blue outside by our porch, sitting in a shiny little red sulky that was hitched to a fuzzy, chubby pony.

I’ll never forget that moment when I glanced out the glass doors.

My brother and I were watching He-Man after school. “Powers of Grey-Skull” forgotten, I flew up from the couch and was outside in a flash.

I couldn’t believe it! This kid never even mentioned liking horses!

Now he had his own pony?! What in the world?!

I climbed into the sulky beside John and he drove Chestnut towards his driveway. Amidst the clip-clopping of her little hooves he told me how some cousin’s, sister’s, uncle’s hairdresser needed to re-home the pony, and so that’s how he ended up with her. Some kids had all the luck!

And so it began.

She was a versatile little Welsh pony, able to drive and ride, as well as evade capture with the stealth of a ninja. Much of the reason John was unwilling to get the pony from the pasture when I requested (with not an ounce of whiny desperate girl-child in my voice) was due to that fact. And also because once I was in the saddle, you could just count me out for any games that the other kids might have in the works.

I learned a ton of “riding- lessons” from Chestnut:

  • Why we don’t forget to check the cinch (accidental trick riding is not a popular discipline)
  • Why we check the saddle blanket for burrs or prickers (accidental trick riding take two…still not popular)
  • Why bits work better when placed OVER the tongue (I didn’t even know you could do that!)
  • …and many more.

As stubborn, lazy and copiously gassy as she could be, Chestnut carried me around while my dreams were unfurling, and all those feelings a horse-person has when riding began to wrap snuggly ‘round my heart.

As an adult, I’ve learned that when I’m not riding enough it’s easy to get mired in the everyday stresses of life and those feelings sometimes fade.

But because of the solid foundation of love built upon my neighbor’s pony, I know that the next time I’m back up on my horse with the wind in my hair, they will come to me again to offer the strength and comfort that dreams fulfilled always do.

Without Chestnut and her boy, John, I might not have ever learned those things. And that’s how she changed my world.

So…here’s to all the ponies and horses who belong to someone else, who make a place in the hearts of those who know them.

To the ones who carry not just little girls and boys on their backs, but fresh new dreams that can last a lifetime.

My hat is off to them all, because without them, some of us may never have learned that while we thought unicorns and fairies were cool, riding a real horse would turn out to be the most magical thing of all.

About the Author

Sara is a writer who enjoys spending time with her family, and many many pets—surviving the chaos through faith and a well-developed sense of humor. She spends as much time as she can riding her horse and making memories with her clan. Visit her blog at