Little Napoleons

These sunny spring days make me think of ponies frolicking in the grass—and of the tough-spirited little girls who manage to ride them. I have a theory that every pony is the reincarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte. I know that’s a sweeping generalization, but, really, have you ever met a pony who was a sweet-natured pushover? I figure the stubborn pony disposition is a compensatory size thing. Like I said, Napoleon.

From 1971 to 1973, I had Dolly, a bay Welsh pony with ice blue eyes and a penchant for putting her head down suddenly, causing me to lose my balance and slide down her neck. She didn’t like me much, with good reason. I rode her endlessly and thoughtlessly. When I outgrew her, she was sold to a riding stable, where she probably encountered more hard-headed little girls.

Here’s a photo of Dolly and me, circa 1971. It’s hard to tell who is scruffier. As I look at the photo now, I understand why she was always in a bad mood: her saddle didn’t fit in the least. What was I thinking? Oh, that’s right—I wasn’t thinking.

I love this picture of me giving my sister Abigail a ride on Dolly. Abigail looks so worried, poor thing. And her pants! Maybe she was worried about being photographed in those pants, guessing that someday I’d put the photo on the Internet for public consumption.

And here are Dolly and I in our brief moment of glory at the Montgomery County (Indiana) 4-H Horse Show.  (Apparently I was riding saddle seat without knowing it.) Note the big shiny trophy I’m holding; I won it because I was the only person riding in the English equitation class. If that sounds easy, think again: you try being the only contestant in the arena while people watch. That was my last horse show.

If I could meet Dolly today, I would offer her my most profound apologies. I think of her often and send my wishes for a peaceful afterlife, where she can roll in clover in perpetuity and buck off every little girl who tries to climb on her back. Thank you, Dolly, for teaching me to be strong. I hope I gave you something in return.

Do you have pony photos and stories to share? Send them to me at so I can post them on my blog.


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