You can't ask for a much better friend than my childhood pony Dixie, who came to live with us on our farm in North Carolina when I was around 2, and died this past weekend on the farm. No one's exactly sure of her age, but we surmise she was pushing 40 - quite impressive for a pony.
I learned to ride on Dixie, and we were a team in many horse shows when I was a little kid. But my strongest memories of her are from around the farm, like when we used to hitch her up to the little pony wagon and go riding through the paths connecting our farm to the other houses in the woods. One Halloween, we dyed her mane and tail neon pink, a punk-rock pony. Another time, she took a sharp turn and dumped us kids right out of the wagon onto the path. More than once, she got a little feisty while I was on her back, and bolted out of pure energy for a long stretch down whatever path we were following, until I could dig in my heels and regain control. In my memories, she flew like lightening through the forest when she bolted. In reality, she probably reached a brisk canter at best, bouncing me like a spring in the Western saddle.
Below is Dixie in the Caldwell Fourth of July Parade. Though my face is hidden by my lantern (construction paper on a flashlight), you can see I was the Statue of Liberty.
Her registered show name was "Dixie the Fat Pony." She was pretty round, but incredibly spry and spunky. She won us a whole mess of blue ribbons, too... sometimes I think just for cuteness. For years they lined the perimiter of my sister's bedroom.
This is me, winning a new feed bucket as first prize.
She put up with a lot and was considerably patient. Here she looks like she's about to buck me off... see the layed-back ears? Not a good sign. The good thing about falling off Dixie though (and I did, many times), is that you never had far to go.
Dixie was a best friend to a lot of little people... my sister stuck with her til the end, even after she moved on to "real" horses and competitive, serious riding. They shared the same gusto, the same fearlessness and disregard of bumps, bruises, and falls.
She still taught lessons on Dixie to littler kids, like Ruby, who fell hard for Dixie and wrote her forlorn love letters after she moved away.
Ponies are such a sweet constant in childhood if you're as lucky as my sister and I were. They know you by sight and sound and smell.
But I'm telling you, it's not every lifetime you come across a pony is as special, as loyal, as legendary as Dixie was.
'Bye, Dix... we'll all miss you dearly. You were a really great pony.