Emily desperately wanted the pony. It was all she wanted, really, ever since her family moved out in the country to the big house where she had her own room and could see all the way up the lane to where the pony was. The neighbors had a big farm with a bright white fence all around and a big red barn.
Emily first saw the pony standing by the fence in the neighbor’s yard when they were driving up to the new house with the last load of items from their old apartment in the city. There were many horses in the pastures, all colors and shapes, some were running and playing and others were peacefully grazing. Emily noticed that her pony was a beautiful gray color with dark spots and a long mane and tail that were almost black. “He is more beautiful than all the rest” thought Emily, “and he’ll be my very own pony.” Ever since she was really little (she was seven now) and looked at a book filled with pictures of ponies, Emily had wanted a real one all for herself. Since then she had collected toy ponies and stuffed ponies and had lots of pictures of them.
When she got her pony, she would not ever let her two and a half year old brother Walter ever even touch him because he slobbered on everything. She remembered the pastor in church saying that Jesus rode an ass, so maybe Walter could get an ass.
That night at supper she asked her father what an ass was. After he stopped choking, he said “Well, there are different kinds of asses, Em, what kind are we talking about?” “The kind Jesus rode, daddy.” He looked over at his wife with a look of relief and said “That’s a donkey, Em, they called them asses a long time ago. “I think Walter should get an ass.” she said. Her mother smiled and told her that Walter was a little too young to have a donkey. Emily saw her opportunity and said. “I’m not too young to have a pony and I saw my pony at the neighbor’s and I need that pony.” “You have lots of ponies, Emily.” said her mother. “No, a real one, those ones are all stuffed and just
toys and not for real. I need that for real pony. We live in the country now and country people can have ponies.” Her father looked at her and smiled, “Em, we do live in the country now and I understand that you want a pony but you’ll have to make do with your toy ponies, okay?”
Emily stood up and stomped out of the dining room and when she got up to her room, she started crying and throwing her stuffed animals off the bed. “It’s not fair” she said, over and over. Her mother came up and sat on the edge of the bed. “Mommy, can I please have the pony for Christmas? It’s all I want in the whole wide world. No other presents, please?
“Em, we just moved here and you haven’t even unpacked all your things yet. You have your own room now, you don’t have even to share it with Walter. How about that?” As she pondered this fact she brightened a little. “Oh yeah, no Walter making funny noises and slobbering on me. Let’s see, I’ll name the pony Freddie or Lucky, ‘cause I’m sure he’s a lucky pony.” “Come on back downstairs now and have some dessert with us, we’re having chocolate pudding.” said her mother. Em barely tasted the pudding because she was thinking about Lucky Freddie.
Emily liked her new school, she went for half a day and the bus brought her home. She made several new friends and she told them that she was getting a pony for Christmas. Depending on her mood that day and their behavior towards her, she would decide whether or not they would be allowed to ride the pony. Every day she looked for him and saw him a couple of times during the week.
On Saturday, the family got bundled up and went for a walk to meet the neighbors. It was a brisk winter day and the air was crisp and they could see their breath in plumes as they walked. Mrs. Morgan, who owned the farm, had invited the family over when she had dropped by with a fresh apple pie on Thursday while Emily was at school and Walter was napping. As they walked along the fence, a couple of horses came over and the little group stopped and petted them and dad held Walter up so he could pet them too. He almost got bit but dad pulled him back in time. “He must have thought your thumb was a little carrot, there, Walt.” said dad.
Emily was excited and enjoyed petting the horses but they were pretty old and way too big. She wanted to see her pony. As they walked into the yard, a black and white dog came running up wagging his tail and it looked like he was smiling. “That’s Max, and he’s a Border Collie and boss of the farm.” Ruth Morgan walked up and shook hands with Em’s mom and dad and patted Walter on the head as introductions were made. She said. “So this must be Emily,” and shook her hand solemnly.” Your mother told me that you want a pony. Come in out of the cold and we’ll have some coffee and hot chocolate.” said Ruth. Emily said “Where’s the pony I saw the other day, the gray one with the spots?” Ruth said “In the stable, and after we get warmed up a little I’ll show you all around.” Em didn’t want to go in but didn’t want to go to the stable by herself, so she followed everyone into the house.
The kitchen smelled wonderful. Scents of fresh bread, cinnamon, nutmeg and fresh coffee filled the air. There was a big old stove against the wall and a butcher block island with pots and pans hung on a rack over it. There were pictures of roosters all around making it bright and colorful and very cheery. They had coffee and chocolate with marshmallows and then bundled up again to go outside. Max led them to the barn and when Walter lagged behind, Max went around behind him and tried to move him along. Inside the barn were two rows of stalls and the barn smelled like fresh hay and cedar. Cows stuck their heads out from the stalls and two called out, softly mooing as if to welcome them. Em wasn’t tall enough to see inside but she went from stall to stall jumping as high as she could to find her pony, but all she saw were cows and a couple of sheep in the stalls.
A goat was walking around smelling things to see if they were edible and a very old man was cleaning out one of the empty stalls. “Where’s my gray pony?“ Emily asked him. “Well, hello there Missy, I didn’t know you had a pony here. My name is Sebastian and who may you be?” “I’m Emily and he’s not really mine yet, but I so want him to be.” “Which pony is yours, Emily?” he asked. “The gray one with the spots and long mane and tail.” “Hmmmm, that one eh?” Do you know how to take care of a pony?” “Well you feed him, silly and ride him every day.” she said. “Do you know what else you have to do?” Sebastian asked. “No” she admitted. “Well, you need to brush their coat every day and talk to them and listen to them and exercise them and keep their hooves clean and muck out their stall of course.” “What’s muck out their stall?” “I’m doing that very thing right now, Emily, cleaning out the manure and putting in fresh hay and cedar shavings.” “You mean shoveling poop?” she asked. She didn’t consider the poop factor. “Yes”, Sebastian said. “If you don’t clean it out regularly, the animal will surely get sick and things will smell very bad.”
“How do you listen to a pony.” she asked him. “Well, all animals have their own language and if you really listen with your heart, you can understand what they are saying. Take that goat over there, his name is Buttinski because, well, you’ll see.” She looked over at the goat and he shook his head at her and it sounded like he said.”Feeeed Meeee!” Emily was astonished but then realized that the goat sounded like Sebastian. “You said that, not him.” “Well, he tells me what to say and I just say it.” He winked at her.
Just then the rest of the group came over and Sebastian introduced himself. When he saw Walter, he smiled, picked him right up and Walter started giggling, slobbered on his hand and said “Poop.” Sebastian set him down and stuck his hand in his pocket and handed Walter a caramel cube. While his dad checked to see if Walter was sending them a message (he wasn’t) they all walked outside. “Where’s my pony?” Emily asked again. “There is a pony over in the stable, hon.” Ruth said. The stable was a long low building with a door on each end and two rows of stalls.
There was a tack room which smelled like rich old leather and the wall was filled with bridles and bits and halters. Western and English saddles were lined up polished and ready. This time Emily could see through the ironwork on the doors of the stalls. She ran from stall to stall until she found the little grey. “My pony! Here he is, come here” and she stuck out her hand.
The gray pony stood still smelling the air with nostrils dilated. “That’s Promise and she’s our special girl. She was born on Christmas a year ago.” Ruth said as she walked over to the stall. The little girl reached out her hand again but the pony stayed still. “Promise can’t see you, Emily, she’s blind.” Emily stared at Ruth for a moment. “She can’t see me?” “No, I’m afraid not” said Ruth “But she can hear you and smell you and she loves to be petted.” As they were talking, Promise walked slowly over to the door of the stall. Emily shouted “No, no, every thing’s ruined. She’s ruined and can’t even see me.”
She ran outside into the cold. Ruth said “Let me talk with her. Sebastian, please show our guests around some more, okay?” Ruth found Emily sobbing and hugging Max. “Emily, I have something to tell you. All the animals here were rescued. That means nobody wanted them or couldn’t take care of them. Having any animal is a very big responsibility and some people cannot and should not try to own them. When someone brings us a sick or injured or abused animal, we take them in and give them the home they deserve.
This farm is a refuge for the animals and we rely on donations and volunteers to keep helping them.” Emily looked up at her with tears in her eyes. “You mean somebody else didn’t want Promise?” “She is a Welsh pony, Emily.” said Ruth. “They are from a country far away across the sea and they were bred to pull carts loaded with coal or pull carriages when people wanted to go someplace, before there were cars. The people who brought us Promise wanted her to pull a cart and when she was four months old and went blind, they brought her here. They said she was useless to them and they didn’t want her anymore. I made a promise to her to help her and that’s how she got her name. Please come back in and say hello to her.”
Ruth put her hand out and Emily took it and they walked back into the stable. The goat, Buttinski, was also inside and was staring at Walter, as they were at the same eye level. Walter stuck his caramel covered hand out and the goat licked it clean. Dad went over to pick up Walter and as he bent over, the goat walked around behind him and gave him a shot in the shorts with his horns and nearly knocked him down. “That’s Buttinski” said Sebastian, and they all laughed, even Emily. She explained to everyone about the rescued animals that nobody wanted. Promise stuck her head out of the stall and whinnied and Emily walked to her and let the gray pony smell her hand. The pony’s head was small and delicate with fine features. “Does anybody ride her?” asked Em. “She’s halter trained and has had a saddle on, but no one has tried to ride her.” said Sebastian. “We could do some more training and see if she would accept a rider, I guess. What do you think, Ruth?” “That might just be very good for her” she said. “We would need a volunteer that doesn’t weigh too much though and would be very patient.” “Me! Me!” Emily cried. “I am a patient and I don’t weigh very much and I’m not fat like Walter.” “Well, if it’s okay with your parents, we could give it a try.” said Ruth.
They agreed that Em could come over after school and could work with the pony. The next day they went to their new church and met the pastor. He was young and had a nice wife and family and Em’s family were all welcomed heartily into the small congregation. This pastor spoke gently and calmly when he gave the sermon and didn’t yell and scare her like the other one. He talked about some kids that were coming from the city to visit the next week.
On Monday after school, Emily and her mother went to the Morgan farm and Sebastian took Emily to the stable to get Promise. “You must always use a soothing voice when talking with this pony, Emily. She needs to know where you are and that you are calm and in control.” He had Promise saddled already. Emily led the pony around in the training ring and talked to her constantly, telling her about her stuffed toys and her friends at school. The gray pony was calm and she seemed to enjoy the sound of Emily’s voice.
Sebastian had her bring Promise over to the fence and he placed Emily on the top rail and sat up there with her. “You’re doing very well with her, child.” he said. “Why did the people who didn’t want Promise give her away, Sebastian? Because she is blind?” He looked down at her and said “They said she was useless and just walked away. Every creature is here on this earth for a purpose Emily, and God will show us Promise’s purpose if we ask Him to. Some people are either afraid to ask or else just don’t listen.
“For many years, I didn’t listen either. I was a horse trainer in Andalusia which is in Spain but I was not responsible and I drank too much wine. A fine horse was injured badly because of my neglect. I prayed to God to help me and he brought me here to help these horses. That is my purpose.” He had a fifty pound bag of grain on the ground and climbed down and placed it gently on the saddle. The pony turned aside but did not flinch or jump at the weight. Sebastian stroked her nose and talked to her and she was calm.
They led her around the ring again and then he had Emily put her foot in the stirrup and lay across the gray’s back to get her used to her weight and by the end of the afternoon, Emily was in the saddle and gently chatting away at the pony as Sebastian led them along. “She must always be led when you ride her, child. Always. Don’t make any loud noises or she will spook and never try to ride her alone. Keep her calm and she will be fine” said Sebastian.
Ruth Morgan and Emily’s mother came outside and were amazed at the progress that had been made and Sebastian filled them in. Emily didn’t want to go home and would have slept in the stall with the pony but her mother walked her home. As they were leaving, Promise whinnied as if to say goodbye.
Every day that week Emily rode the pony and on Friday she made a mistake. Sebastian was in the tack room and Emily wanted to show him that she could ride on her own so she led Promise to the fence and climbed on. Promise stood very still because there was no guiding hand and no one beside her. Emily shook the reins and yelled ‘giddy up’ The pony jumped and started running and Emily fell off. She got up and watched in horror as the little gray pony crashed into the fence and stood shaking. Sebastian ran outside at the noise and was over the fence in a flash and at the pony’s side. Her head was scraped a little bit and she was shivering but calmed a bit at his voice and touch. He called to Emily to see if she was okay. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I wanted to show that I could ride her by myself!” she cried. Sebastian checked out the pony’s legs and chest and she was not injured there. The scrape on her head was bleeding a little. Emily walked over and put her hand on the pony’s shoulder and was upset when she flinched. “This could be a big problem, my child, for she will have to learn to trust you again.” said Sebastian. “Did I not tell you to never ride her alone? This is the reason why. This pony depends on us to be her eyes. That is a big responsibility and now she is scared and hurt because of what you did.” Emily was heartbroken because she knew that what she had done had caused the pony such pain. It was a hard lesson.
Emily put her arms around the gray’s neck and whispered “I’m sorry”. Promise stopped shivering and lowered her head to the child. Emily led her back to the stall and helped Sebastian take the saddle off and he went to make a poultice for the wound. Her mother came out to get her and asked what had happened when she saw the injury and Emily told her, leaving nothing out. Her mother took Emily in her arms and gave her a big hug and kiss on the cheek. “You learned from this, didn’t you?” said her mother. “I didn’t listen and the pony got hurt because of me.” Emily said. “I will never do that again, I cross my heart” she said solemnly.
Saturday morning she walked to the farm beside her dad and told him what had happened and he knew that she had taken a big step so he just gave her a hug as well. He watched as Emily led the pony around the ring and they all were surprised when Promise allowed her up in the saddle again and Sebastian walked beside them guiding the pony and talked gently to her.
On Sunday in church, Emily asked God and Promise to forgive her and for the pony to trust her again. She also asked God to tell her Promise’s purpose. The pastor introduced the congregation to six children from the city who had very special needs and were being sponsored by the church. They had never visited the country before and most were the same age or a little older than Emily. One little girl was in a wheelchair and one boy had braces on his legs. During Sunday school she found out that one other little boy was blind, like Promise. Later as the family discussed the upcoming Christmas plans, Emily had her idea.
On Monday afternoon as she and her mother and Walter walked up the lane to the farm, she explained her plan to her mother to seek her approval. “Dear, that’s a very good plan and we’ll try to make it happen. I’ll call your father and talk with him about it too.” After she arrived at the farm with her mother, she asked Ruth Morgan what her plans were for Christmas, which was two weeks away. “Well, Sebastian and I were going to have a nice dinner and go to Mass at midnight, and we have no other plans.” Emily explained her idea and Ruth was very impressed. She called Sebastian and asked his opinion. “That’s a wonderful idea, child, I’m very proud of you for coming up with this.” he said. Ruth said “Check with the pastor and have him contact us to make the arrangements”
Promise had a bit of a bump on her head but the poultice had worked wonders on the wound. When Emily walked into the stable, she whinnied and the other horses called out too. Emily and Sebastian led her out of the stall and got her saddled up. Sebastian helped Emily up on the pony’s back and she was calm and serene, licking Sebastian’s hand. As he led them around the ring, Emily talked about the children she had met and how things were so different for them. Max walked around with them, smiling. Emily’s mother and Ruth came outside with Walter and Emily climbed down and asked if Walter could ride Promise. This was the big test.
Sebastian picked up Walter and carried him to the pony. He held the boy up and Promise sniffed him from head to toe while Walter giggled. Sebastian placed him in the saddle and told him to hang on to the horn. “Like this” he said as he placed his hand over Walter’s. It came away sticky. As they led the little gray pony around the ring Walter started laughing and jumping up and down in the saddle but he hung on and Promise stayed calm and walked with her ears forward and alert. That’s what Sebastian needed to see. As long as she had someone to guide her, she would be fine.
On Wednesday, Emily and her parents met with the pastor and Em told him of her idea. She told him that it would be good to have the children come and spend time on the farm. The animals could help the children get better and the children could also help the animals who felt bad get better too. Other churches could send their children. “Emily, thank you for bringing this to us. It’s a wonderful idea and I’ll contact Mrs. Morgan and work out the details. This program can be a benefit for so many people. We can help each other and that is what God’s love is about. After sitting down with Mrs. Morgan and Sebastian, the pastor discussed the plans with the congregation and they were very excited and pledged to support the new program.
On Christmas day that year, six children, the first of very many to follow who had never ever been to a farm, got to spend the whole day with Ruth and Sebastian, Emily and her family, Buttinski the goat and Max the dog, and all the children got to go for a ride on Promise, the Christmas pony.
Steve Dickson is a working U.S. Merchant Mariner and was born and raised in the west. He has traveled extensively and has had the good fortune to meet people from all walks of life. His interests include cooking and enjoying the outdoors with his wife, Sandee. He currently resides in Huntington Beach, California.
This article was included in the November 2012 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Steve Dickson