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Hobby horses.

"Now that I have retired," Lois injected into my reverie on the sofa, "instead of letting our ten acres go to weeds and our barn to mice, I think we should let them go to miniature ponies and give me a hobby."

In response to my blank stare, she said: "Look at all the hobbies you have--hoeing the garden, sawing down trees, chopping wood, mowing lawns, pulling stumps, digging up the drain. . . ."

"You know I hate horses," I interrupted, for perhaps the second time in our marriage. (I have learned that if I let her keep talking, she will eventually wind down and forget her original theme.) "Remember the farmer I told you about who had fed his horse for 20 years? While he put oats in the manager one morning the horse showed its appreciation by bitting off his ear, lobe and all. And did I ever tell you about Minnie, a girl I went with before you got lucky and nailed me?"

"Not over 40 times," she replied.

"To refresh your memory," I said, "I reached under her tresses to daily with her ear, only to find I had chosen the horse, in a playful mood, had beaten me to it."

"And the poor girl had to carry her earring in her hand. I've heard that 40 times too. But you won't have to worry about losing an ear to these ponies," Lois assured me. "They only come up to your waist."

The next day, I came home to find dinner still unthawed and Lois taking a crash course in raising miniature ponies, courtesy of five books checked out of the Spencer library. The day after that--or maybe it was the same day (you know how time flies when the blade of the guillotine is on the way down)--three living, breathing ponies were wrestled out of a van and manhandled through a gate leading to our back ten acres. (From my vantage point atop the woodpile I could see that the man handling them was wearing a stocking cap pulled well over his ears.) The two females couldn't be your prudish, strait-laced ponies with impeccable morals, of course. Oh, no. These two were right off the streets, both ready to "drop" their colts, as Lois phrased it, within the month.

The male's problem, as it turned out, was not a temporary bladder condition, as the dealer had explained. The little feller walked with his hind legs crossed because of a permanent case of stringhalt. This meant we would be supporting an oat burner incapable of performing his procreative duties. For mixed emotions the situation had to rate right up there with watching your mother-in-law drive over the cliff in your new Rolls-Royce.

To her credit, Lois flung herself into her hobby with a fervor she hadn't shown since she was named block chairperson for Girl Scout cookies. And she maintained that fervor for--oh, it must have been upward of three weeks. I could ehck it by calling the Spencer Evening World and asking for the date when the temperature dropped to 20 below zero. It coincided with the date of her decision to come out of retirement and to resume her nursing duties. Also coinciding with this was that our hilltop haven had suddenly been coverted into a 13-acre snow cone.

"How can you work all day and take care of the ponies too?" I asked in my husbandly innocence.

"They only need to be fed hay and grain morning and night, and the barn has to be cleaned out," she replied. "And don't forget to take along a teakettle of hot water to thaw out their drinking tub."

She failed to mention that should the kettle of hot water by some miracle survive the slips, slides and plunges through the snow piled between house and barn, it would be used to thaw the barn door so it would open. This means the one who hasn't returned to nursing duty is required to slip, slide and plunge back up the hill for a second kettle of hot water to thaw the water in the tub.

The thrill of getting the barn door open on your average winter day was all any man could ask, but it doesn't hold a candle to opening the barn door to a scene better left undescribed.

Slipping, etc., back up the hill, I let my fingers race through the Yellow Pages to the first vet they came to. "One of our ponies is having a baby]" I yelled into the phone.

After waiting just short of an eternity with no response, I thought perhaps the wild banging of my heart in my throat had garbled the message. So I yelled again.

"And you want to bring her to the Veterans Hospital?" a cool voice inquired. Back to the Yellow Pages.

"Is the mare having trouble?" asked the veterinarian I reached.

Do goldfish have headaches? How was I supposed to know if the mare was having trouble? It wasn't my hobby. "It didn't exactly look like a picnic," I told him.

So the vet drove out, told me everything was fine and that mares usually handle these matters without interference. The advice cost $35.

Four days later I shot another $35 for his reassurance that the other mare had handled the matter satisfactorily.

I pointed out to Lois that the food bill for the barn would exceed the food bill for the house, but she assured me that colts nurse for six months. It's true--they do. Mother's milk, however, soon became only an aperitif that left us with five mouths to feed, not counting our own. And what we kept pouring into these five bottomless hobbies consisted of molasses-treated, 18-karat gold nuggets priced at $4.65 per 50-pound sack, oats at $4.35 per bushel and cracked corn at $3.55 per. Their tossed salad of alfalfa and clover came to $2.00 per bale.

"And what do we get in return for this outlay?" I inquired of the initiator of this pastime. "No milk, no eggs, no cheese, no butter, no yogurt. . . ."

"If I were doing it," she who was no longer doing it said, "instead of griping about having to mow three acres of lawn every other day, I'd let the ponies do the mowing and save the hay."

She, of course, was safely away waking patients to give them a sleeping pill when I turned the ponies out on the lawn. I didn't know--because I had not read the five books from the library--that ponies won't touch plain old grass if they can lay their gourmet lips on such delicacies as beet greens, lettuce, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. By the time I had coaxed, prodded and bribed all five into the confines of the barnyard, everything edible in the garden had been eaten. Everything not edible had been trampled beyond redemption.

The hobbyist's next bit of brilliance was buying halters (custom-made for the colts, of course) and rope so I could stake the ponies in the areas I wanted mowed. Houdini himself couldn't have escaped from those halters any faster. Pint, the stringhalted male, rose above his handicap long enough to pull his stake from the ground and wrap his trailing rope around my dwarf Red Delicious tree, converting it into a dwarf clothesline post.

"If you would do more briding with apples and less persuading with that elm-tree limb, you might have better luck," Lois said with her usual outpouring of sympathy. "Ponies love apples." I hunted up a bushel basket and gave her a dollar to buy apples. She came home that night with six apples and 11[ change.

The one good thing about feeding apples to ponies is that you no longer have to bother trimming your nails. Once your nails have been reduced to the quick and you have no more apples, ponies will chase you around the barnyard and try to sample your arms and legs. On the day Lois came home to find me backed into the barbed-wire fence, she opened her sympathy valve again to explain that nipping is the only way ponies show affection. "They can't very well wrap their arms around you," she said as she unsnagged my pants and patted, in turn, all five of my adoring fans on the muzzle.

Speaking of fences, neighbors on either side of us have verified that ours are not pony proof. Gail Abrell, however, verified at 2 a.m. "Your ponies are in the road," he said, after I had hit my shin on the coffee table and hobbled to the phone, a superstition that's supposed to ward off bad news.

I woke Lois, stuck a flashlight in her hand and in the moonlight led her down the road until we spotted two ponies ready for their version of Trivial Pursuit. An hour later, as we approached our driveway, I sneaked around in front to head them off. They liked this game even better. While I stood in the middle of the road, waved my arms and shouted threats, they shot past in the ditches on either side, kicked up their little heels and snorted in derision at my futile efforts.

They then managed to find the hole in Clinton Abrell's fence and went into the woods. Lois said, "Let 'em go--I've got to get up in a couple of hours." But who could go back to sleep now? It was around 4:30 before they finally grew tired of playing and returned home. Here they were warmly greeted by our ponies, who had come out of the barn to see what all the commotion was. As it turned out, the ponies I had been chasing half the night belonged to Clinton Abrell.

"It's not only that I have wandered half of Indiana by moonlight chasing the wrong ponies," I said at breakfast that morning. "But what, besides barked shins, nipped arms and free fingernail trimmings, do we get for nurturing your hobby?"

"Fertilizer for the garden, for one thing," she replied as she handed me the toast to scrape.

I said, "The whole thing is fertilizer, as far as I'm concerned."

"And what do your hobbies set us back?" she parried as she routed the next batch of toast directly into the wastebasket. "Your crosscut saw was nearly $30, and how much did you pay for that roto-spader--$300? Then figure the snow blower, your wheelbarrow with the pneumatic tire, your aluminum extension ladders, your long-handled pruning shears, the Weed Eater, the riding mower. . . ."

That's one thing about a man's hobbies. He can always find some way to relieve his frustrations--like going outside to dig up an elm-tree stump. At least that's what I did.
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Title Annotation:anecdote
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1985
Words:1793
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