The best trick pony: Horse-on-a-stick


I remember as a child being obsessed with horses and the cowboy life. It consumed our play, it invaded our dreams. It was a wish bigger than we were.
For one of my birthdays, I wished for a real horse and an Annie Oakley gun. I received a horse head on a stick and a pair of cap pistols, complete with a plastic holster to strap around my waist. I thought I had died and gone to heaven
Reflections. Just the other day, an acquaintance and I began discussing our horse heads on a stick. A younger girl who was listening to our conversation looked as us as though we were a bit touched in the head.
She told us she had wished for a horse and had received several real ones, complete with the best saddles, bridles, show clothes and a horse trailer to tout it all around in.
While we discussed our little plastic reins that we used to tie our fake stick-horse to an imaginary post while we scurried about in our imaginary cowboy play, this young woman said, “Oh, my gosh! How did you stand it?”
Learning. I think we learned a whole lot of things. We learned how to accept the fact that we didn’t get everything we begged for, and we learned that an imagination can carry you just about anywhere you want to go.
When we did finally get a real pony and her colt on our farm, it sure wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be.
“Beauty” was a mean-spirited beast, and her colt, who we named “Trigger”, certainly had no desire to hang out with humans. You could practically feel the disdain bouncing off of Trigger when we came near.
Beauty made it very clear that she was not about to be the trick pony for which we all had hoped for such an endless time. She was determined to convey to us, in all sorts of not-so-subtle ways, that she did not like dogs, she did not like cattle, and she most certainly did not like children.
She only liked her bratty little colt who had never left her side, and some days it appeared she didn’t even like him much.
Trick pony. But my horse on a stick, on the other hand, was the most accomplished trick pony you’d ever want to meet.
He could canter to the tempo of Happy Trails To You, while allowing his rider to shoot a cap gun at all sorts of imaginary targets. There was no spooking that horse.
He was a serene stallion who answered our every beck and call. My little dog could even ride right next to us with no fear of angry horse hoof prints on her head.
That horse on a stick could trot, gallop, canter, glide, clear fences with incredible ease, take us through barrel races and amazing obstacle courses.
He was quite willing to be worked to death one day and then virtually ignored for days on end, all without complaint.
Imaginations. Dad said his favorite thing about my birthday horse was that he was not a hay burner. I just smiled and nodded my head, pretending to be in total agreement, acknowledging that this was indeed one fine horse.
It was not always a smooth ride, though. I remember tripping over that stick about a thousand times while trying to show off some new maneuver with my cap guns.
Riding with just one hand on those plastic reins, pretending to rear back on the stallion sometimes just ended up with the rider biting the dust. That darn imaginary saddle just didn’t hold so great.
But, there was safety in green pastures on which to fall. And that sweet horse on a stick never kicked or trampled us in any way, but just waited patiently for us to climb back in the saddle.
With just the slightest flick of those reins, we were again dashing off in to the sunset, smooth as silk, happy as cowboys dining by a perfect little campfire at the end of an amazing day on the range.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.