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Friday, April 1, 2011


I WAS PROBABLY THE ONLY SEVEN YEAR OLD surgeon's daughter who worked. I had a job breaking in ponies. And the amazing thing about this is that I never required my Dad's fracture-mending services. My horse sense told me that my equine job was the greatest ever. My parents never knew about it, so please don't tell them now.

Sam, the owner of the stable where I rode, continually acquired new horses and ponies. He usually bought them at auction. He preferred the wild horses for economic reasons–they were much cheaper than the trained ones. Of course that left him with horses that refused to be saddled or have a bit in their mouths which, of course, precluded bridles and reins. No matter, Sam really loved a bargain.

Breaking in the new horses was not a problem because Sam had several stable hands, all excellent riders. They were more than happy for the opportunity to break in the new arrivals. The ponies did present a problem, though, because the stable hands were too big for the tiny animals. The stable hands' legs were too long and would would drag on the ground while mounted. In addition, their weight was too much for the ponies.

One day when Sam was watching me jump my horse, you could almost see a light bulb go on over his head. Even though I was only seven, I was an experienced equestrian; I had been riding pretty much from the time I could walk. I handled horses well, had a good rapport with them, was light as a feather and had short legs. After a while, the light above Sam's head started flashing * Depingo * good rider * Depingo * light weight * Depingo *short legs* Depingo * break ponies*

I was delighted when Sam asked me to break in his ponies. My pay for this service was to be the right to name each pony I broke in. At age seven I thought this was a great deal. Sam explained that the breaking of a horse or pony is pretty straightforward, uncomplicated work. (He forgot to mention that it was also extremely dangerous.) My job was simply to stay on the pony's back, no matter what happened, until the pony submitted and acknowledged that the rider was the boss.

While breaking in the ponies I had to ride bareback and without reins because the ponies would not let the stable hands get close enough for saddling and bridling. If I were lucky, the pony would still have a loose rope lead around his neck for me to hold. If not, I would just hold onto the pony's thick mane.

I quickly learned that wild ponies will viciously and relentlessly do anything to get a rider off their back. They buck, rear, kick, bite, and jump in an effort to dismount their rider. At their sneakiest, they run close to a stone wall or tree, so that the rider's legs would be crushed or she would be scraped off if she did not jump off first.

Nothing to it. Just stay on the pony. How easy is that? I actually became pretty good at my job. One day, I was breaking in a beautiful chocolate-colored Welsh pony. By this time I was a seasoned pony breaker and quite used to their tricks. After some initial bucking and rearing, most of them ran wildly towards the jumps in hopes that I would slide off their back. This didn't faze me in the least because I was quite proficient at jumping.

This time, however, the brown beauty headed away from the jumps and sailed over the corral fence."No problem, Welshie, I'm still with you,"" I whispered in a soothing voice, trying to calm him. I admit I was a little nervous because I had no way to steer or stop him. Nor did I know where he was taking me. I hoped not into the Central Avenue traffic. Maybe I'm going to have to ride Welshie the whole 41-mile length of the Aqueduct from Croton to New York City before he submits. As it turned out, my pony had a far more treacherous idea than that.

In a variation of the standard leg-crushing trick, (or maybe because he just wanted to go home) my mount galloped fast and furiously toward the pony barn. The door of the barn was small and the jamb was just high enough to clear a pony's head. An adult would have to stoop to enter. And, of course, a rider would get knocked off by a full frontal collision with the barn wall above the door. I think the pony knew this and I certainly knew it. I was terrified for the first time in my pony-breaking career. I had a few seconds in which to decide if I would rather take the hit or jump off a pony galloping at full speed. I decided to jump. Then everything went black.

I came to lying on the sofa in the caretaker's cottage. The caretaker gave me a cup of tea and a plate of cookies. Sam and the stable hands were there with me. They all cheered and applauded when I opened my eyes. After I finished my tea, Sam asked me to get up and walk around. I guess he wanted to make sure I still could. Sam was so nice that although I had failed to break in the feisty Welsh, he told me that I still got to name him. I named him Devil's Food Cake because of his rich chocolate coloring. Sam even gave me a ride home that day so I didn't have to walk. Devil's Food Cake eventually got broken in (not by me), became sweet and well behaved and was a favorite of all the young riders. Everyone called him Devil for short.

My pony breaking career came to an end after my failed attempt with Devil. Sam apparently decided that the work was too dangerous for a seven year old and hired someone else for the job. My successor was a retired professional jockey. I still got to name the new ponies, though, and I returned to ride at the stable every afternoon after school ...

wild horses couldn't keep me away.

Paint on,


  1. A devilishly good read and illustration.

  2. Love it. Great fun!

  3. Bet you look good in jodhpurs!

  4. Yeah, you wanna make something of it?

  5. Well I don't think I was that stupid to break horses at seven, but ... (more in email)

  6. JB, then you won't tell my parents ...

  7. Love the stylization in this drawing.

  8. I can't believe Sam let you break ponies at age 7.

  9. I just saw you gallop by. You have not broken that pony yet???? That is real stamina!

  10. LOVE THIS !!!!! Awesome!

  11. If there were a like button, I would hit it a million times!

  12. You knew I would like this one! Awesome!!!