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Friday, 06 November 2009

Sharing My Birthday Pony

By Ann Berger

As a child on a Minnesota farm in the 1920s, with eight sisters and one brother, I was happy to get to pick the flavor of homemade ice cream for my birthday - never mind getting a pony. Instead, at age 65, my very own 17-year-old “birthday pony” showed up as a 15-hand high, registered purebred Arabian mare wrapped in a sleek coat of flea-bitten grey.

This all started on Mother’s Day when daughter Jane visited me on Point Dume in Malibu, California. We sipped tea on the patio feasting our souls on a flock of pelican that had come for lunch, dive bombing schools of fish. Focusing on the graceful pelicans and the ripples caused by the fish, we fell into reminiscing when, suddenly, Jane asked me to tell again the stories of Lady, our mare, of my girlhood. With an air of mischief, but keeping her eyes on the pelicans, she said, “How about if we’d take horseback riding lessons?”

Riding lessons? Well, why not?

The next Saturday, she drove out from her home in Santa Monica to join me for the first of our weekly sessions with 88-year-old Mabel Cook, Malibu’s premier riding teacher, who furnished the perfect school horses for these two novice riders.

During my usual morning walks with Malibu neighbors, John and Marie, I rhapsodized about our riding lessons. Marie waited for me to take a breath and jumped in to take my breath away with, “How would you like to have Kaffeyn?“

”Who’s Kaffeyn?”

“She’s the mother of our foal and gelding.” Marie hurried on, “ We’re prepared to give her to you along with her registration papers.”

“Why in the world would you give her away?” I blundered.

“Kaffeyn doesn’t get enough exercise.” Seeing me in shock Marie continued. “All you have to do is ride her, pay for her feed and farrier bill. She can stay at our corral with her son and daughter. ”

John jumped in with, “You’d be doing us a favor. This 17-year-old mare needs more exercise. She no longer competes in endurance races.”

Her name, Kaffeyn, was a combination of the names of her Dam and Grand National Champion Sire of the Polish line. She had been trained under both English and Western saddle. Jane and Ichose English style lessons.

Oh, happy day at the thrill of dropping the reins and feel Kaffeyn's smooth maneuvers at the touch of my legs. She responded to voice commands when I lunged her during warm-up and cooling down sessions. With bridle and saddle removed, she relished the well-earned rolls on the ground, followed by vigorous shaking dust into the treetops.

She was too good to keep to myself so I suggested sharing her with Nora, the manager of SERT (Special Equestrian Riding Therapy), where I had been volunteering with handicapped children and grownups. She hesitated to use a high-spirited Arabian with her group of students. I offered to stay out of sight while Nora came over to meet and tack up Kaffeyn for a get-acquainted ride. An hour alone with Kaffeyn, Nora asked for a chance to put her on trial at SERT.

After three days of Kaffeyn running in the pasture with the other volunteering horses, Nora asked me to bring her to the mounting stand. Time for Kaffeyn’s first class.

Nora directed me to take the lead rope and stay at Kaffeyn’s head while she and two assistants got in position to lift a 19-year-old college student who had been in an automobile accident leaving him paralyzed. Kaffeyn turned her head to watch the mounting. She cast an eye at me.

The rider could not hold up his head and his arms and legs were spastic. Dread spread over me. What if his involuntary leg movements spooked Kaffeyn?

I searched Kaffeyn’s face. I wept. Her eyes had softened into marshmallows. She followed my lead at a regal, deliberate pace delighting her precious rider and letting me share my come-lately birthday pony. Within days, the students affectionately renamed her “Decaf.”

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a sweet story. It touched me in so many places.

Horses have an intuition and know when the rider is experienced, a novice, or handicapped. A good horse will adjust his/her gait accordingly. I think it's wonderful that you loaned Decaf to SERT.

Tears and coffee what a beautiful way to start the weekend! Thank you for sharing your horse and your story!

Thanks so much for sharing this experience & your resulting joy. It's making me think about riding, something I've shoved to the back of my mind a few times.

Thank you for sharing this lovely story! Animals do have a sensitivity that shows up in the most surprising ways. Such an uplifting story. Thanks again for sharing....

Beautiful story...Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for directing me to this wonderful site. Your writing skills are marvelous - truly well done! More endearing is the resulting 'feel good' all day long smile on my face today.
Best regards to a lovely lady,

What a wonderful and inspiring story! The author's compassion and zest for life shines through.

You are a "horse whisper" for the human heart. Happiness is measured by the width of the smile. Mine, and many others, is immeasurably.


Darlene, Mary, Flo Annud, Linda, Claire Jean, Cathy Dougherty, Carolyn Penland, and Dr. K have spread joy with your beautiful reactions to "Sharing my Birthday Pony". May life be rewarding and fun for each of you.

Ann: The story was heartwarming and truly inspirational. You have a way with words that speaks volumes about your character, as evidenced by the many positive comments posted by readers. I now have an even more appreciation of you and your talents.

P.S. Be sure and let me know when you submit your next story. Pete

I loved this story, too.

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