Sweet Seniors! In October on YourDressage, we are celebrating the special horses in our lives that are ages 20 and up through photo galleries and exclusive stories. Join us all month long as we celebrate the ‘Golden Oldies’ of the dressage community! Here, a Region 1 competitor shares about a spicy pony that is her oldest friend in the world, who has recently added dressage to her ever-growing resume.
By Morgan Burton
Sometimes great things really do come in small packages.
I ended up with my first horse at the age of seven, only two days after my family and I moved out to the rural outskirts of town so we could have some larger animals. Dusty, the first family horse, was an 18-year-old Arabian free lease, with the typical fire and personality of an Arab. We were still quite green as horse owners, but had several mentors helping us out along the way. Dusty turned out to be quite barn sour, and had a tendency to bolt, especially with one of us kids aboard. However, as a thrill-seeking 7-year-old, I felt this was the most exhilarating feeling in the world, and was in turn instantly hooked.
Two short years later, at the age of nine, my family and I went looking for a pony I could call my own. We found a family farm, in Chesapeake, that catered to children’s parties and bred a wide variety of animals from wolves, to llamas, to mystery mixed breed ponies. At the time, the farm had a black colt and a bay filly available, I honestly don’t even remember the colt because as soon as I was introduced to the filly, she wouldn’t leave my side. As a weanling, not yet even properly halter broken, she followed me around everywhere. We took her home that day in September of 2001 for $200, and the rest was history. I named my sweet new pony Ginger.
Ginger was a typical filly pony and had quite a bit of sass as a weanling, but quickly matured to a solid citizen little riding pony. She was the first horse I had ever backed from a weanling, and though I had help from several mentors along the way, as well as my father being around for those first few times sitting on her back, I raised and trained her myself as a child. There’s just nothing like the bond you create with a horse when you are able to raise them from a weanling.
Ginger became my mount for US Pony Club events and really shined in mounted games. We did plenty of trail rides with friends, and a bit of jumping for fun. She was a forward, full of life, spunky little pony that was game for anything. Over the next 10-15 years or so, school and life took up the majority of my time and, unfortunately, competitive riding took a back seat. I still did some trail riding and hacking around the house with Ginger, and knew she’d have a home for life with me, but at the time I thought our showing years were behind us.
In the fall of 2015, I ended up buying my second ever weanling, Gatsby, a lovely Friesian cross. As I raised him and waited for him to grow and mature, I had decided I did want to eventually dabble in the show world again someday. As Gatsby matured and we began taking lessons and showing, I remember seeing this small pony about Ginger’s size at a horse trial we attended. This little pony had so much fire and was just zipping around the show jumping course, it made me long to get Ginger back out, if nothing else but to just enjoy each other again.
We had some obstacles to overcome before we were able to come back into work and try out a new sport, however. Ginger has a history of laminitis and, unfortunately, her last episode in 2019 occurred with a grazing muzzle on. She was, of course, moved to a dry lot for her safety, but she became very depressed with this move, and also developed a bit of stiffness not being in regular work as well as being in a small paddock. She had also developed quite severe trailer anxiety, to the point I felt I would never be able to take her anywhere again. We ended up reaching out to a local trainer that was able to work with her to overcome her trailer anxiety, and we got her started on some Equioxx and later on Adequan®, as steroid injections would be impossible with her history of laminitis. I brought her back into work incredibly slowly, starting by just hand walking for a few weeks. She took it all in stride and her mood improved markedly with having a “job” again.
My goal was just to do a few 18” horse trials, so I aimed for being able to put in a respectable Intro Level dressage test with her. We played around with the baby horse trials in 2021, and ended up winning the 18” division for the entire year at the particular schooling show series we participated in. I was thrilled, but knew that although she was capable of more, I did not want to jump her any higher at her age. I decided to focus on our dressage the following year.
In the spring of 2022, we made our debut at Training Level. We ended up scoring mid to high 60s on several Training Level tests throughout the season, as well as scoring a 65% on our debut at First Level, in September of 2022. These are things I never in a million years thought I’d be doing with my sweet pony. Even as a child involved in Pony Club, I had never dabbled in dressage with her, so this was all completely new to her, and introduced in her senior years at that.
If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t begin Ginger’s dressage career earlier on. I am a petite adult, but riding a 12.2hh pony, so you can imagine the looks I get sometimes. I used to let this get in the way of taking ourselves seriously as competitors, but my little pony has more heart and try than any horse I have ever sat on. She may not have big expressive gaits like my Friesian cross, but she has an amazing work ethic and tries her absolute hardest for me. We have been quite successful this year showing with our local dressage group, and should be in the running for some of their year end awards.
Many people still wonder why I’ve kept her all this time, instead of selling her like most people do as they “grow” out of their ponies. I have considered leasing her, but she is not a child’s pony – she can be spicy and is very forward and sensitive. She is a mare in that you have to earn her heart and trust, but once you do, there is nothing she wouldn’t do for you. I had intended for her to be my child’s pony someday, but as we all know, life doesn’t always go according to plans, and children turned out not to be in my future. She also has to be very strictly maintained, on a dry lot with soaked hay, and I realize not just anyone will go the extra mile to ensure her safety through the remainder of her years. However, mostly, she is my best and, literally, oldest friend in this world. Even after her riding career is over, she will have a home for life with me. She will forever be my little wonder pony.