It is very hard to say goodbye to a much loved member of the family, regardless of whether they are human or animal. So it was with a very heavy heart that I finally made the decision to put our oldest pony, Badger to sleep recently.
The very cross looking pony arrived as part of a batch for breaking in one Christmas Eve many, many years ago. The three wild eyed Connemaras that exploded from the trailer that afternoon were named, in true Christmas spirit, Carol, Santa and Noel. The latter name wasn’t necessarily festive, he had all of the attitude and temper of a certain member of Oasis. My Christmas morning, that year, was spent beginning the process of educating the ponies to accept that humans were ok. Carol was angelic and went on to become one of the best 13.2 jumping ponies we were ever associated with, before her owner eventually sold her to America. Santa, when he started work under saddle, bolted with me, during which experience I decided letting him run into a gorse hedge would stop him. It didn’t – in full flight he turned at the last moment, I flew into the gorse hedge as he galloped gaily back to the stables. He and the perpetually grumpy Noel, who tolerated a rider on his back, eventually headed back to their owner.
Noel reappeared as an unbroken pony again a year later and was sent this time with another batch of ponies to a man who specialised in training wild ponies. Noel presented him with quite a challenge, tolerating all of the training and early riding until one day exploding and depositing his rider on a grass verge. I’m sure, given his character, Noel laughed all of the way home.
Eventually he was deemed suitable for riding and came back to us and joined the stable of ponies, one of which was called Spider, for the life of me I can’t remember why – but going along the animal theme Noel was renamed Badger.
From the moment he returned, to the day he died, he affected a look of abject horror at anything that was ever done to him, he was bad to catch, difficult to handle and yet he was loved utterly by everyone who had anything to do with him. During those early days he was ridden on a lunge line, in the deepest bog that could be found to stop him bucking his young rider off.
Hunting was impossible, he became completely beside himself, but show jumping was his forte. Flying into the air over the hugest fences, he was never going to skim over fences in speed competitions, he seemed to float in the air as if he wanted to stay up there forever, but tiny as he was he could turn on a sixpence and won dozens of competitions against much bigger ponies.
He learned to beg for treats, lifting a foreleg in exchange for carrots or apples and would nod his head up and down as yes when a bucket of food appeared.
His last day of competing with us was disappointing, in pouring rain, jumping fences that were as high as his ears he stumbled coming into the last line of fences and had a rare stop. It took two more years before Adult child felt able to let him go onto other riders and after a time when other riders fell utterly under his spell he came home to retire, walking, after a six year absence, straight into his old stable.
This year the old spark of naughtiness and life was clearly waning. He was quiet, easy to catch, no running off to hide when it was time to come in, no jumping out of fields because he could. He lost weight, his coat looked horrible and he just wasn’t well. I didn’t want him to slip away, or to become ill and go down in the field or in his stable and so made the decision to put him to sleep. While it was horrific to lose him I was glad that I could make his end easy without suffering.