I heard the news today and the wind was sucked from my body. My mind raced through years of memories, and my heart broke into two. The world’s best/worst pony had finally left us; Chocolate had passed away.
This heathen of a pony was the original love of my life. I had inherited him as so many others do – through my trainers daughters who had outgrown him. He was a spry 6 years old, a whopping 11.2hh, and full of piss and vinegar. Rose had found him at an auction and secured his life-long future for $200. But like a true Napoleon, no one could convince him otherwise of his own badassery. Like a true pony, if anyone near him questioned even an iota of his Rico Suave stature, he would pile them into the ground faster than you could say “little.”
But Chocolate and I grew up together, and I loved him. I was only 5 years old when I began riding him. We travelled around county fairs and dusty show grounds, searching for any blue (or green) ribbon that we could find. My aunt and uncle would journey with us when my parents couldn’t, and it became a family affair for all of us: The Fedorka’s, the Parker’s, and even more important, the family that became known as Edgewood Stables.
I was only 5 years old, and I yet I can still remember standing on the side of the arena, absolutely perplexed as to why I had to go around the barrels in such a specific way, or why they were demanding I trot the pattern instead of gallop. My trainer Rose Watt was a saint, and although she was slightly perplexed by training a toddler who could barely dress herself, she took me into her world with open arms.
Years went by, and my aspirations became more intense. It wasn’t good enough for me to just run around a barrel – I wanted more. So we shifted gears and made 4-H our lives. We began cleaning up in western pleasure, equitation, showmanship, western riding, and trail. His tiny stature never limited him, and as an aspiring Olympian at the age of 8, I committed my entire life to being the best rider that I could be. With my relationship with Chocolate evolving, so did my barn rat status, and Edgewood Stables because my home away from home – and at many times, my escape, my therapy, my life.
And yet even that wasn’t enough for my yearning heart, as I wanted more. I wanted greater. I wanted to be Beezie Madden, Mary King, and Monty Roberts all rolled into one. So I entered in Pony Club, and did eventing. We tried to climb up the ratings, and dominate at the rallies…as long as I could stay on.
Because when Chocolate wasn’t cleaning up the horse shows, he was piling me into the dirt. If I had been older than the age of 8, I would have sounded like a drunken sailer on a daily basis.
His antic’s seemed to correlate with the biggest of the shows, and one of our last endeavors together ended up with me in tears, my Stetson buried in the dirt at Harrisburg, and a judge lunging out of the way of flying hooves. I can still hear the roar of laughter from the audience as the tears rolled down my face, humiliated by this brown mutt of a pony. But I stuck it out; there for the entire ride.
For if Chocolate taught me anything, it was that life is full of bumps, bucks, and turns, but the only way out is through.
I finally outgrew Chocolate at the age of 12, after 7 glorious years of blue ribbons and broken bones. And like any truly good pony, he was passed onto the next aspiring athlete. For years I watched as he taught a plethora of small children to sit tall, smile big, and hang on for dear life. I caught him as he barreled through gates at the end of arenas. I whispered death threats as he prepared for classes. I swung a leg over his back after he dumped yet another child. And I patted him on the neck as he wracked up more and more high point awards.
But I eventually grew up. I was the ostracized teenager in a town that just didn’t understand horses. Where riding wasn’t a sport and being a barn rat wasn’t acceptable. So as I left for college, determined to never come back to the town that never truly accepted me, I said good bye to the little guy. I knew that he was getting up there in years, now almost 20, and that he was towards the end of his athletic career, his usable life.
But Chocolate had other ideas. Other ways to find himself useful. Because for the last 10 years of his life, he went from winning ribbons to winning hearts. He stopped burying children into the ground and instead lifted their hearts, their spirits, their lives. He became the companion to a small boy who needed him more than any of us ever did. And Chocolate took these responsibilities to heart. From Champion Pony to Therapeutic Mount, he switched gears and took each step of responsibility with patience and kindness.
So now we have lost one of the greatest ponies that has ever walked this earth. From barrel racing to bucking sprees, western pleasure to whiplash, jumping cross country to jostling small children, and driving a cart to driving mothers insane, he encompassed it all. He taught so many so much, but most importantly he taught us all how to ride. He taught us that there is no such thing as just sitting there, and no such thing as a packer. He taught me how to stick a buck, how to gallop free. He earned me my nickname of Ramrod, something that I took with pride all of the way to the grave of the man that awarded me that name. And then, I continued through life sitting Ramrod straight.
But more importantly, he took one of the most ragtag group of people and brought them together. If you were a part of Edgewood, you were a part of Chocolate. And if you were a part of Chocolate, you were a part of a group that no matter how far apart will always be family.
We will miss you bud, may you find numerous small children to dump into the ground in heaven.