The Town of Indian Head

CANADA150LOGO FC RGB400px

To celebrate Canada’s 150th, the Indian Head Community Development Committee is sponsoring the publication of accounts from the Indian Head History Book (1984), celebrating stories of its founding families.

 

The School Pony

Story from the Indian Head History Book (1984)

by Jean Billett

As the days of the "little red schoolhouse" gradually fade into the past, so also will the days of the old school horse. Many a tale can be told of both However, as far as a school horse goes, we feel our "Minnie" stands out as a living memorial of that faithful breed.

She became part of our lives thirteen years ago when we bought her from a neighbour, who recommended her as a dependable school horse. She was a young horse then of 27 years: Today she is 38. She still makes a daily trip to school when the weather is fit for open air driving. Her sleek bay coat, thick black mane and tail and alert arch of her neck belie her age She has a work horse build but has never been used as such. It finally fell to her lot to tote howling, screaming humanity back and forth from the "little red school house" with very calm reserve.

The eight :children of our family and others have taken their turn driving Minnie to school through the years, but I have reason to believe that it was really Minnie who took them. She had her own plodding gait, depending on the direction and the climate. Going off in the morning she seemed as reluctant to get to school as the children were. However, at home time the last foot was hardly off the ground before she was homeward bound. A hot, sultry day called for A more leisurely pace. On One such day Minnie was sighted plodding across a field after school with a seemingly empty buggy. On closer inspection it was discovered that the two young occupants had stretched out on the seat and floor of the buggy for a nap! On another occasion,: having been directed in a different, roundabout route, all the shouting and jerking on the lines were of no use - she still insisted on the usual cross-country trail, and jogged along in what appeared to be a stubborn mood. On hearing this I felt a little disappointed in Minnie, in that she had defied orders. My faith was soon restored when it was realized that the lines were not hooked to the bridle and, hitched in this way, she could feel no direction from the lines. Proving that, when youth fails, Minnie carries on.

Minnie is taking things a little easier now but during her years with us she was really put through her paces, with three boisterous boys demanding much of her. Those were the days of the school horse and buggy races, making the homeward journey a very adventurous one. Away they would go clattering across the stony stubble-and the furrowed fields, her excited driver pushing on the lines and urging her on to her very limit, or rather, as much as she would allow herself to be urged. She always won by a nose which caused her young charges to hold their heads up with pride among their classmates. However, a race was a race, but on other occasions all the yelling and switching would not disturb her out of her own plodding way. Nevertheless her speed was always accommodated to youthful activities. During the winter days if they fell off the toboggan tied behind the cutter they could always catch up and jump on again for another hilarious tumble in -the snow. Snowballing could also be carried on very effectively while on the move. In the balmier days of spring, Minnie would wait obligingly, nibbling a few choice tufts of grass, while her young charges gathered birds' eggs, gopher tails or perhaps baby in which they would tuck securely in their lunch kits! Minnie never as much as raised an eyebrow at these "goings on". She minded her own business and never meddled.

In the later years, Minnie was the only school horse to make the daily trip to our country school and her many admirers awaited her coming. Eager and loving hands helped unhitch her and escort her to the stall in the old school barn. Finding herself dependent on thoughtless youth, she sometimes waited in vain for her noon-day feed. The bale of choice hay would sit forgotten in the back of the buggy. The young driver would discover it at "home time" and fearing it would show proof of negligence, would toss it into an empty stall. Quite a few bales would collect as a silent reminder of Minnie's forgotten dinners. But Minnie held no grudges and performed her task unstintingly. However she did not believe in pampering and pulled no punches. She thought it quite proper to wander off in the direction of home during school hours, if her young attendant forgot to tether her securely on fine summer days when she was allowed in the pasture. Patience was put to the test as a weary, dust-laden boy trudged after her. Despite what he thought of her exasperating behavior she had to be coaxed, in the most appealing manner, before she would allow a hand to be laid on her. There was the day I was surprised to see Minnie in the middle of the afternoon, childless and buggy-less, refreshing herself with a cool drink at the trough in the barnyard. The young driver would have to walk all the way home to get Minnie and then ride her all the way back to get the buggy. This was an effective lesson in competence and Minnie knew how to teach it.

The youth, just newly grown up would look down on Minnie's mode of conveyance and talk of speedways and sports cars but nevertheless, as they reminisce of the days she carted them to and fro, it is quite evident, that they have happy memories forever embedded in their hearts. She was their first real responsibility. Standing on a box to adjust her harness, must have been like harnessing a mountain, to a fifth grader. Minnie would stand patiently while young hands fiddled and fumbled in their task. She did her best to back between the shafts of the buggy even though she was being gee-ed and haw-ed in the wrong direction, then she would seem to glance behind to see if all were ready. As first Minnie then the buggy, with its precious cargo, rounded the corner out of sight, in my heart I was saying, "Take care of them Minnie." Many a happy and care-free time was spent with Minnie but there were also tears. In the few upsetting incidents that did occur she was found blameless and always kept her head when all about her were losing theirs. A rein pulled too short when going out the gate would mean a tangle of barbed wire, buggy and post and many tears. Then the oldest one, no matter how young, took command of the situation and Minnie would calmly nibble grass till tears were dried and all was sorted out and in order again. Tears never meant injury but rather surprise and fright, which gave a good springboard to a very spectacular story for the retelling. She gave our youngest three the surprise of their lives the day she dropped in her tracks, within a short distance of the school. Down she went headfirst, biting the dust, breaking the buggy shaft and twisting her neck in a very grotesque manner. The young occupants scrambled out in shocked horror. The youngest, a first-grader, broke into tears. The second youngest, trembling from head to foot, tried to console him. The oldest, a sixth-grader, made a beeline for the school telephone. His tense, high-pitched voice shrieked out the terrible happenings that Minnie was either dead or at best she had broken her neck. Meanwhile back at the scene of the accident Minnie unscrambled herself and with a few brisk shakes quickly regained her composure. By the time we arrived to appraise the situation, all was serene. The frightened young had been gathered into the security of their classes. Down at the barn Minnie was quietly chewing on hay. The only evidence of the incident was the broken buggy shaft and Minnie's skinned nose. She tossed her head as we peered in at her, as much as to say, "Oh, skip-it". I must confess, thru' loyalty to Minnie, I was tempted not to record this incident. The cause of her stumble is a mystery. However it did not detract from the trust we had in her.

Back and forth she went through the years--never a day absent when she was needed. Like modern teachers who work to nearly the last day Minnie was not to be outdone. She kept her secret well--after all who would have thought at her age (31) that three days after school duties were done and she was turned loose to pasture she would give birth to a filly colt! The adults were surprised and the children delighted. In six- weeks' time she was ready to step back into harness and the usual school-day routine again with her young colt Penny frolicking along at her side-incidentally not far from the generous supply of nourishment. Minnie took this dual role in her stride keeping everybody happy, by always putting first things first.

To the first-grader Minnie is viewed with love and respect. It was her presence that gave a little fellow courage to venture out on the strange road "the other side of the windbreak" that led to school. He never felt far from home with Minnie nearby. It was always a comfort to balance on the edge of the manger beside her in the school barn. Then that queer feeling in the stomach that came from being away from home and mother would just fade away to nothing. The heart of the eleven-year-old harboured no such sentiment. In a young boy's life there is a time when he does not love Minnie the school horse--those are the years when he feels the urge for independence. Her plodding ways irritate his restless spirit. Minnie's image becomes a big black blob that casts a shadow over his colorful imagining. She cannot be fitted in with cowboys, Indians and bucking broncos by any stretch of the imagination. She becomes a task that is irksome, making him rise an hour earlier Monday morning, to catch her after her week-end of freedom in the pasture. Minnie was not hard to catch when found but the search always ended in the furthest corner. She would be standing, quietly watching, as the boy drew near with reluctant steps, bridle dangling along in the dust. She was no more eager to give up her freedom than the boy was to catch her. However, in later years these tiresome tasks became pleasant memories of school days.

Yes, Minnie has been many things to many people. Regardless of color or creed, she has carted them all to "the little red school house". In our hearts she will live forever.