My black pony Midget.
My brother Max and I usually rode bicycles, the five kilometres to our primary school. But at least once Max rode my black pony, Midget, probably because his bike had a punctured tyre. I rode my bike as usual. When we arrived at school, Max took off Midget’s saddle and bridle, and put them in the empty oil drum, where the riding gear was stored out of any possible rain. Then he closed the gate, leaving Midget in the horse yard, with the other ponies ridden by our schoolmates. But we both forgot her dislike of being away from home, and her abilities at opening gates.
When we left the school at 3.30 in the afternoon, the gate of the horse paddock was open, and several ponies were grazing on the roadside nearby.
‘Where’s Midget?’ Max asked anxiously. But no-one could find her. Fortunately, the other ponies were waiting for their riders to take them home, and were easy to catch, even outside their paddock. But where was Midget, and how would we both get home?
‘I’ll bet she’s gone home!’’ said Max.’ Come on, we can both ride your bike. I’ll bring her bridle, so we can catch her when we find her beside the road.’
Max rode my little bike, standing on the pedals, while I sat on the bike seat, and held onto his waist, with my little legs stuck out each side. We set off, but we did not overtake her, and there was no sign of her on the roadside. When we finally got home, we found Dad to tell our story. Dad snorted.
‘I know where she will be’, he said. ‘Come on, hop in the utility. And bring the bridle with you.’
We drove through the paddocks, to a gate on the side road. There was Midget, her black head with its white blaze leaning over the gate, gazing longingly down towards the house. She had probably beaten us home by hours.
She must have followed the main road as far as the turn-off. That was where we, on the bike, left it. But then she had continued on beside the main road for another couple of kilometres, before turning onto the dirt road that ran past the side fence of the farm. At least another kilometre along that fence, she came to the gate that was nearest to our house. It was just bad luck for her, that it was one of the few gates she could not open.
When Dad stopped the tilly, Max opened the gate, then slipped the bridle over Midget’s head. He rode her back to the house, without a saddle. When she was feeling co-operative, it was easy to do that. And I guess this afternoon, she was so glad to be home, that she went along with whatever Max wanted to do.
After that, whenever I rode Midget to school, I carried a leather strap with a buckle. I passed it around the wooden gate, and the gatepost as well, and fastened the buckle. That was another thing my smart pony did not learn to open.
How did Midget know that she would reach home by doing what she did? I don’t think she had ever been along those extra kilometres of main road. Was it just homing instinct? I will never know.
She had other adventures. Once someone must have left open the gate to Mum’s vegetable garden. Mum found her enjoying the lettuce patch. She had walked along the row, neatly removing the heart of each plant as she passed. No wonder Mum was cross. Another time, I bent down to open the gate beside her head. My broad-brimmed straw hat must have been too great a temptation, as she took a big bite out of the brim. At least she didn’t bite my bottom!
When I went to boarding school, Midget was one of the things I missed most. The first day of each holiday, I would beg a bread crust from Mum, and walk down to the water troughs, where she spent her days lazily grazing. She would walk to met me, and I enjoyed a cuddle while she enjoyed her bread. We had been best friends for more than 10 years.
Eventually Dad was approached by a man whose young son was battling a form of paralysis, and Midget went to him to provide physical exercise and emotional support. I’m sure she looked after that little boy as well as she had looked after me.