Most of you know my daughter’s pony Sutter died unexpectedly on Friday afternoon. I am devastated. That pony meant the world to me. It wasn’t just any pony… This was my daughter’s best friend. Maybe telling his story will relieve some of the grief. So here it is….
Sutter- The World’s Best Pony (totally true-go ahead Google it)
When Kelsey was 10 years old, I decided to get her a horse. I wanted it to be an all-around horse-something she could try multiple disciplines on and see what she liked.
I wasn’t having very good luck. I had just returned a pony that failed vet check when I found Sutter’s ad on Craigslist. I really was in no mood to look at another horse that weekend, but something in the ad gave me hope. It certainly wasn’t the picture -mouth cranked closed, inverted frame, spurs. It wasn’t the price either because this pony was not in my price range. But, I went to see him anyway.
The pony was cute enough, but when I saw the trainer ride him, I knew he wasn’t for me. A whip AND spurs were needed to get him moving. It took at least 4 tries to pick up the right lead, and he held it for a whopping three strides. Great. This was a big waste of time.
When it was my turn to ride him, I could add gate sour to the list of issues along with a complete lack of any fundamental training. I asked him to back. He started to rear. How long do you actually have to test ride a horse before you can hop off and say, “No thanks?”
Everything gets a little blurry after this. Somehow I went from “this is definitely not going to work” to “I should bring my daughter to meet him.” Sometimes things just don’t make sense.
So I brought Kelsey out the next day. When she saw him, she announced, “He’s gorgeous!” She rode him and jogged him around the arena, his mouth gaping open. He kept getting “sticky” at the gate too. It wasn’t a very pretty picture.
But when she walked him back to the pasture during feeding time, I noticed he seemed not to care about the food. He was really happy to be just walking with Kelsey. Hmmm. maybe there is more to this pony.
The owner took him from Kelsey and released him into the pasture. All the horses were huddled around the feeders devouring dinner. But this little pony didn’t go straight to his hay. Instead, he came straight to Kelsey! He stretched his nose through the fence and breathed deeply, taking in her scent. Kelsey got a quick kiss on his nose and then he took off bucking and galloping around the pasture like he was the happiest little horse in the world. It was so sweet. I was sold.
Thankfully his price was negotiable. His owner had been praying that a 10 year old girl would buy him, and they could grow up together. She just knew he needed to be with kids. It also turns out we had friends in common that could give us a “good horse owner” reference. So that helps.
Kelsey named her new pony Sutter after Sutter’s Mill-where gold was first found in California. He was, after all, a golden palomino.
Sutter turned out to be everything we expected- a solid citizen with almost no training. He wouldn’t pick up his feet, couldn’t lunge, couldn’t canter, could barely steer and had absolutely no idea about trailers. Yep, he was perfect for a ten year old. What the heck was I thinking???
Time passed. I spent a day or two a week sneaking in training rides. Kelsey handled the bulk of his work. I made mistakes. Never training a horse for a kid, I put a big stop on this little guy (no parent wants to see their kid on a runaway horse right?). Well evidently big stops, little kids, and english saddles are not a great combo. Did you know kids can fly right over a pony’s shoulder when he stops big? Oops. That may have been the reason Kelsey unexpectedly decided to switch to western for awhile. My mistake.
It wasn’t long before Kelsey and Sutter were ready for their first show. I had no clue how he would respond. I had never trailered him out. At the show grounds, I snuck him into the show arena before the show started. I had the kids make noise, jump on the bleachers, and of course, feed him carrots for positive association. I needed to know how this pony would respond! When the show manager finally kicked me out of the arena, I handed Sutter to Kelsey and let her warm up. I stood back and chewed my fingernails down to the nubs. They called her class. I could barely watch. The ring was filled with 14 kids on various types of uncontrollable horses. You just can’t train for this stuff.
Sutter was a saint. When they called the ribbons for their very first class, at their very first show together, they pulled a first! At that moment I realized the true value of this pony. He was rock solid. It is exactly what every parent wants for their kid. You just can’t put a price tag on that.
Sutter graduated to bigger shows. He showed western and hunter under saddle. He amassed a sizable collection of mostly blue and red ribbons. Kelsey and Sutter won the year end championship for 12 and under. They even tried their hand at the trail class. They came in second to a horse that had a world top ten ranking in that class- missing the win by only a few points. The judge was amazed and couldn’t believe they had never done trail. That was Sutter though. Give him a challenge and he was right on it, but don’t bore him with endless circles.
Speaking of endless circles, Sutter tried his hand at dressage. I can’t say he loved it, but he was successful. He attended 2 dressage shows. He pulled firsts in both classes his first time out, receiving the highest score of the day out of any class with that judge. His second show, he pulled a first and a second- he was only beat by a warmblood that specialized in dressage. Not bad for a quarter pony.
Kelsey went on to jump Sutter. His first hunter class he pulled a 5th out of 19 – and it was an OPEN class-Kelsey was up against much older teens, adults, even trainers were allowed.
Sutter’s next hunter show, he pulled Show Champion. Sutter seemed unstoppable.
Sutter didn’t just show, he was game for anything. He went on an annual trip to the beach. He loved to play in the water! He loved trail riding too! He especially loved to play in the creek, digging little holes in the rocky edge with his lip and watching them fill with water. He was like a little kid. So much fun.
Nothing was off limits for Sutter. I even brought him home to have lunch in our kitchen. He also strolled the neighborhood like a big yellow lab puppy. He was a blast.
Last summer, Kelsey took Sutter camping. He was a true gentlemen (except for his 5am whinny for a wake up call… Thanks a lot Sutter….and yes, breakfast is on its way).
Recently, Kelsey and Sutter were practicing to try their first cross country event. They had schooled coffins, banks, water, logs, triple in and outs. They scheduled their first cross country clinic for next weekend. If all went well, they were going to enter their first real event. Exciting times.
Friday afternoon was going to be a turnout followed by a light ride. Everything started out perfectly. Kelsey and her brother got Sutter out of his stall, fed him his favorite peppermint and took him to the turnout. I was turning my horse out in the adjacent arena. Both horses were hot. It was the first time in weeks that the footing was dry enough for turnouts. The horses were having a fine time kicking up their heels, feeding off one another like horse do.
Then it happened. Sutter was galloping down the long stretch when it hit him mid-stride. He went down. He couldn’t get up. His legs twitched in the air-completely useless. He started screaming. A panic whinny. He needed Kelsey! By the time I reached him, I knew he was dying. I had Kelsey come to say her goodbyes. He calmed when she arrived. He died in her arms.
From the time it hit him to the time he was gone took less that two minutes. Aortic aneurysm. The only way you know they have one is when they drop dead. There are no symptoms. No tests. Sutter never took a sick day or a lame step the entire time we had him (except a bad reaction to a tetanus shot…but those things can really hurt!). He was only 8. Life totally stinks sometimes.
Sutter was in our lives for only 4 years, but he gave us enough memories to last a lifetime. I really loved that little guy, and probably cried the hardest when he died. I know I need to suck it up and move on, help find my daughter another horse. But how do you top “The World’s Best Pony?” I have no clue where to start…