About two years ago I had just moved my mare to a new barn and started with a new trainer. The mare I was riding at the time really needed to go back to the basics and I was doing a lot of groundwork and flatwork on her. As an eventer, I obviously have a love for jumping and was missing my fix of flying. The barn owner was walking through one of the pastures with me and we were talking about our love of eventing and working with horses. She pointed over to a fat chestnut pony that was in one of the paddocks and said, "he needs a job, and none of my school kids can ride him. I think he would be a pretty cool event pony." That was enough to spark my interest.
We walked up to the pony named Popcorn and he seemed very interested in what we were talking about as if he wanted to be included in the conversation. The barn owner started telling me about how she could never sell him because she feels he would end up in a bad place, as he is small and flashy, but has a habit of bucking. She had rescued him as a yearling from a pretty dismal situation. Hoping with his size he would be a good school pony for her students. She pointed to white hairs on his neck that were shaped like chain link fencing. Her speculation was that he had a chain embedded in his skin and it left a scar. Unfortunately, he had figured out along the way that he could buck, and then the student would want off. He didn’t last long in the lesson program but had kept him out of fear that he would end up in a bad place again.
She started telling me stories of how he had stolen workers' hats and trotted off with them. He was always into something and wanted to be included in whatever a person was doing. She had bought a book of tricks to teach him during the COVID lockdown as she had the time and thought he would be the type to like that, but if I wanted to start riding him I could. She really had a soft spot for this pony but didn’t really have anything for him to do.
I started riding the pony and sure enough, he bucked every single time I picked up the canter. I kinda just laughed it off and kicked on. When we started jumping he thought it was great fun to buck after jumps. He didn’t get me off, but I was sure not to release too much. After a couple of weeks of riding him, and we were starting to be a little more presentable in our way of going around, I asked my trainer if I could bring him for a lesson. All I remember from that lesson was hearing “get his head up!” I persisted though.
I signed him up for his first horse trials that summer. Dressage was ok, this pony knew nothing of dressage or the like when I started with him and we made it through. Cross-country was fine and the warmup was quiet. Little did I know, I was about to find out about what really pushed the pony’s buttons: busy warmups.
I walked into the covered arena they were using for warmup and could feel his muscles tense underneath me. I thought to myself, “oh boy, this is going to be interesting.” I managed to hold him together for our flat warmup, but I headed to my first warmup jump at the trot. He landed and just planted his feet and started bucking again. I jumped a couple more jumps with the same result. Everyone was watching– I was that girl. A friend of mine yelled, “I wouldn’t release to that one too much Megan.” I hear another trainer say “Bring that horse back when he's broke.” After a couple more jumps I decided I was just going to go in the arena and be done with it. He was foot-perfect for the whole round. I couldn’t believe it.
For the next six months or so we kinda just rolled along working on dressage, cross-country schooling, and avoiding busy warmup arenas. One of my favorite stories that happened during this time was when we were cross-country schooling with a big group. It was one of those schools where you jump a couple of jumps and then wait while five other people go do the same thing. At least it was a beautiful sunny day. At our first wait time, Popcorn politely waited for his next turn. The next time we had to wait he was a bit impatient, chewing on the bit and dancing around. The third time we had to wait he had apparently decided it wasn’t worth it anymore and it was just too nice of a day not to take a nap in the grass. He was dancing around, and I had gotten a bit impatient with him and was trying to make him stand still. I can just see him saying “well fine, if you want me to stay still I'll rest my legs.” He just laid down. I was of course shocked. Everyone in the group was shocked. And Popcorn just laid down as gentle as could be and glanced around, as if he didn’t understand what everyone was looking at. I jumped off, worried that he didn’t feel well. He didn’t try to roll or show any other symptoms of discomfort. I got him up and schooled the rest of the course. He was fine the rest of the day.
I have been told I should write a novel about the funny and odd stories of Popcorn. However, I suppose I should skip to the happy ending. The pony who knew nothing about giving to pressure or how to use his little body correctly now scores well in dressage and even won his Beginner Novice division at Windridge this past August. He also finished third at FENCE this past fall. He has qualified for AECs in 2020 and 2021 as well as Area Champs for 2021. He has gone to Kentucky Horse Park and Stable View as well, at the big venues he seems to walk around and puff up his chest as if to say that he can hang with the big boys. And believe it or not but he is actually starting to consistently behave when he's away from home and at competitions. The pony isn’t bound for the upper levels, he probably won’t ever go Novice, but I think he will be sticking around.
The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. The USEA's Now on Course series highlights the many unique stories of our membership. Do you and your horse have a tale to tell? Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Submit your story to Meagan DeLisle to be featured.
As USEA members prepare for the USEA Annual Meeting & Convention, the USEA is pleased to share “The Business Toolkit For Eventers” from our educational partner STRIDER. This webinar is part of their popular Professional Development Series for Equestrians, which features experts from across the horse industry speaking on business topics relevant to equestrian sport.
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