Denise Spencer: A Father’s Day remembrance

A Father’s Day Remembrance
Patience With Ponies . . . And Little Girls
by Denise Spencer

Her name was Missy. She was fat, black, and as stubborn as ever a pony could be. “She’s not broke to ride,” the man said, one eyebrow raised in warning. But Missy followed us all over that field like an overgrown puppy. Clearly, she wanted to belong to us. Daddy said he thought he could handle her. We knew he could handle her. After all, he was our Daddy.

It was a team effort, to be sure. My sister and I stood with Mom and watched in awe. First Daddy, then Grandpa Ben, then even Memaw tried to break that pony. “Horse whisperers” they were not. Missy’s greatest triumph was the day Memaw took a turn. That was when our faith began to waver. Missy ignored her every command (though Memaw bravely brandished a little switch and yelled “Whoa!”) and proceeded to unseat Memaw in the middle of a big forsythia bush. It looked like Missy might win, after all.

But finally they tamed the glossy, black pony—in a manner of speaking. “Get on up!” Daddy proclaimed. “Go for a ride!” My sister and I weren’t so sure. We had seen the fire in Missy’s eyes the day she plunged into the bush. We knew it was still in there, smoldering.

And so it began. Sunday afternoons spent at Memaw and Ben’s farm. My sister and I taking turns riding Missy—as Daddy led her up and down the dusty country road. Oh, how he must have longed for us to cry “Giddyup!” and ride, wild and free, across the open field. But we sat placidly, like children on a pony ride at the county fair. And Daddy led that pony.

I never remember hearing him complain, though I remember the beads of perspiration on his brow from the August sun. Perhaps it still counted as “quality time” with the kids. I think I knew even then that on those languid afternoons my Daddy was patience personified. If I didn’t know it then, I know it now.

When at last we tired of Missy, we sold her to nice people. My sister later became quite the equestrian, owning a spirited gelding that was 1/4 Arabian. Mom, Dad, and I proudly watched her ride in shows. Meanwhile, I took riding lessons at the stable. The only mount suitable for my skills was a gentle, ancient mare who plodded around the ring, head down most of the time. (She was probably named “Lightning,” but now I can’t recall.)

My experience with Missy was the foundation for my lifelong equine philosophy: Horses are beautiful animals. Let’s just leave it at that.

It’s why I fear horses to this day.

And it’s why if ever I find myself on a long stretch of country road on a summer Sunday afternoon, I think of Daddy.

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