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August 12, 2008 | | Comments 0

Horse Stories: A Pony Named Clyde

Written by: Deborah Messner

I have galloped across the desert at dusk in Death Valley, trekked through the rain forests of Puerto Rico on a Paso Fino, and cantered lazily across the white sands of Los Cabos in Mexico. I have ridden at the World Championships in Fort Worth, the National Championships in Oklahoma City, and just about every prestigious horse show arena in between, but one of my favorite horseback memories is riding a trail pony named Clyde.

Trail RideI explained to the lady at the stable that I didn’t want a traditional hack that just followed the tail of the horse in front of it and stubbornly refused to give me a good time. I told them that I had been riding for as long as I could remember, worked daily with a professional trainer, and broke unruly two-year-olds during the summer for extra cash. I had countless show ring titles that I had worked hard for all my life, and could jump fences and run a barrel pattern with infinite precision. I was there because I wanted something that would give me the ride of my life, with the beach backdrop as an added bonus. I needed a different experience that I had never had before.

When I first saw Clyde, I literally laughed out loud. He looked like a cross between a Halflinger pony and a mule, with the added attributes of a short, stocky body and big, clumsy feet. I could tell from the bored look on his face that he had probably spent hundreds of hours toting tourists down the beach, and had been “over it” years ago. “This horse is definitely what you’re looking for,” she told me with a straight face. I was sure that this pitiful looking creature that stood before me must be the ongoing barn joke for city slicker folks who thought they could handle a horse, but whose health insurance policies wouldn’t cover their injuries if they were ever actually given a fast one. With a deep sigh on both our parts, I mounted all fourteen hands of Clyde’s bony frame, and prepared for a very long two hours.

We were last in line heading into the woods, and Clyde seemed content to just plod along. If he were a bike, he would have fallen over for lack of forward momentum, and no amount of encouragement I used seemed to work. I gave up, kicked my feet free of the stirrups, looped the reins over the saddle horn, and decided to gaze quietly at the scenery from the back of my trustworthy steed. It wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind, but it was a beautiful day, and I didn’t want it ruined by his sour mood.

My boring adventure changed abruptly when Clyde’s oversized ears caught the sound of waves crashing on the shore. As we rounded the final bend to the beach, Clyde abruptly took off at a dead run with a force that resembled a fighter jet leaving a runway. I had no time to adjust my balance or even grab the reins. All I had time to do was hang on for dear life.

Horse Named ClydeClyde and I thundered down the beach at a breakneck speed that literally took my breath away. Sand, water, and seaweed were flung behind us with reckless abandon. Clyde transformed himself from a tired-looking hack horse in North Carolina to a fiery Thoroughbred vying for the Kentucky Derby. For a split second, I caught the mischievous look in his brown eyes, and knew that any attempt on my part to stop him would be futile. I wrapped my legs around his barrel, grabbed a handful of thick, saltwater-soaked mane, and closed my eyes. It was as close to flying as I’ve ever been. At that very moment, nothing else in the world mattered more to me than the sounds of a seemingly tired hack pony racing like a champion down that stretch of deserted beach.

He finally slowed down probably a mile up the beach, foaming, snorting and breathless. His whole body quivered as he danced sideways through the seawater, shaking his head and blowing air through his nostrils. I patted his slick neck and smiled. I had been wrong about my jaded first impressions of this magnificent animal. My need for adventure and the ride of my life was fulfilled not in a world-class show ring or faraway exotic location, but on a North Carolina beach by a hack pony named Clyde.

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