“Horses have been a wonderful source of comfort in my life. But the first pony I brought home, a little Shetland my neighbor had rescued from the local auction, well, I wouldn’t have called him “comforting”.
Basil was a little brat, to put it nicely. As a two-year-old stud, he didn’t let his short stature of 39 inches stop him from putting up a fight any time my 12-year-old self wanted to train him. Even after gelding, he’d bite and strike at you if you turned your back. I have a distinct memory of walking away from him one day and watching his shadow quickly approach mine out of the corner of my eye. As I turned, he reared and bit me on the shoulder. I had a bruise in the shape of his teeth for weeks.
Being a stubborn, not to mention unbearably shy sort of kid, I had a hard time asking for help. My parents had very little horse experience, which made the whole thing a bit comical, I’m sure. Picture me, at 13, trying to teach this pony to longe. I’d had plenty of lessons, longed many horses. But without a trainer to help me, I didn’t really know how to teach a horse to longe. So, brat of a pony that Basil was, he’d turn around and attack the longe whip! Suffice it to say, Basil made little progress in training for a few years.
As a sophomore in high school, the possibility of training my pony as a school project came into my mind. Being 15, I definitely wouldn’t be able to ride him, but I could drive him in a carriage! I bravely approached family friends to help me find a driving trainer.
When I met him, I didn’t quite understand how my newly found trainer was able to wrangle large draft horses, as he was a gentleman who looked to me to be quite ancient. But I respected him terribly because he seemed to speak Basil’s language.
I’ll admit that by this time, Basil had… “settled down” to some extent. He wasn’t nearly as rude and didn’t bite as often. It seems some of my training had paid off at least a little. But with my trainer’s assistance, we made leaps and bounds of progress.
First, longeing had to be fully sorted out. Then the bit and bridle. Next, the harness. Then came long-lining, ground driving, and finally, hitching! I was shocked when we finally hitched Basil to the carriage, and he didn’t seem bothered by it at all. He actually looked…what is that look?…contentment?
It was right in the middle of all of this success with Basil that my father died. He’d been suffering for years with ALS, but the death came as a shock to myself and my whole circle. We’d imagined he would continue to live for some time. Maybe hooked up to a computer, like Stephen Hawking, but alive nonetheless. The grief caused by his loss was incredibly hard to escape. Basil granted me that escape.
That little pony was stepping up beautifully in his training, and although the grief was always in the back of my mind, I had to put it aside. I had to, so that I could train my pony. Basil seemed to understand that, too. There were bad days, when my training might not be as clear. And he’d still understand what I wanted, and we’d continue. He certainly would test me. But not on the days when I really needed to get away from the sadness that continued to bubble inside.
It wasn’t long at all before we were competing at our local combined driving events. I think back to how simply fun it was to do something that both Basil and I enjoyed. His ears perked, eyes alert, ready to take on the dressage test or cones course! Just me and him, in our own little world, away from grief and loss. Totally focused on the next few moments.
As a 25-year-old now, I still have my little pony. We haven’t been doing as much. The sport of eventing has enthralled me, and I now have two full-sized horses that I compete with. I still have all the harnesses and carriages for Basil. I think about leasing him out, or maybe even selling him. He’s only 15, so he has a long life ahead where he could be doing things.
But I’m holding on to him for now. I’ve found that in all my desperation to escape the grief, Basil became a symbol of hope. Not of escaping grief forever. After all, these feeling have to be processed and never quite go away. Basil gave me strong hope of positive change. He didn’t just help me learn to train horses, he taught me how to deal with stubbornness (mine and those of others), how important it is to seek knowledge from those wiser than myself, and that we must continue living, continue moving forward, continue growing. We are all capable of great change and we cannot give up on that.” —Beatrice R.