Monday, January 13, 2014

Secret Lives of Horses | 1/13/2014

Peter - A well-traveled Hackney pony

By: Mary Jane Howell, Photography by: Gary Knoll

His registered name is a mouthful - High and Mighty Victory - but he prefers to answer to the more common name of Peter. This 30-year-old Hackney pony spent his early days in Canada, then relocated to Bermuda for several years before making his final move to Aiken in 1996. 

Owned by Sara Odom for most of his life, Peter made a name for himself as a roadster pony in Canada, taking his share of blue ribbons on the show circuit. When he was around 5, Peter was purchased by a Bermudian and brought to the island to continue his show career.

"There were a lot of driving competitions in Bermuda in the 1980s," explains Sara's mother, Susan English, who was born and raised on the island. At the time Susan was married to Norman Terceria, a well-known horseman whose specialty was turning ill-mannered horses and ponies into sought-after individuals.

"Peter had a bad reputation as being a pony that was unsafe to drive," recalls Susan, "After Norman worked with him he became quite manageable and he became a gift for our daughter Sara, who was 7 or 8 at the time."

Bermuda is well known for its pink sand beaches and cerulean blue ocean waters - 20.6 miles of paradise. The island was discovered in 1505 by the Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez and a little more than 200 years later it became a British colony. Horses have long been a part of island life, but with real estate at a premium, they don't have a lot of pastureland.

"It was - and still is - very expensive to own horses on Bermuda," says Susan. "Grain, hay, everything is simply three times more there. I used to take a scythe and cut a long grass that grew along the road - the horses loved it."

For people who wanted to drive their horses, the only places available were the roads, which were congested with cars, scooters and tractor-trailers.

"Sara and I would often drive Peter five miles to one of the beautiful parks and have a picnic, then return home. It was always hair-raising to see those big trucks coming straight towards us, but Peter never flinched."

Peter was not just a driving pony. Sara, whose age was still in single digits, loved to compete him in gymkhanas and the pair did very well for three years.

Peter and Sara had a special bond, and Susan remembers one time when her daughter was 9 that she slipped Peter completely on her own.

"Sara had insisted the Peter needed clipping, and I told her we would get to it soon," says Susan. "We had to go run errands or something and when we returned what did we discover by Peter clipped - all but his head that is! Sara was so proud."

The family left Bermuda in 1996, looking at several different areas before deciding on Aiken. 

"Our first farm was on Talatha Church Road and I used to drive Peter up Whiskey Road towards town. It worried mom but I had absolute confidence in Peter," says Sara.

Norman Terceira eventually returned to Bermuda, but Susan and Sara had fallen in love with Aiken and stayed. Their next move was out to Windsor, with its wide-open spaces perfect for driving.

Sara and peter competed in some Aiken Driving Club events, but the pony had developed both a wind problem and a light tendon issue. It was a no-win situation - conditioning to strengthen one of the problems only led to the difficulties with the other. Peter was retired when he was 20 and all went well for several years. When he was 25, however, the gelding developed such a bad case of diarrhea that he was losing 20 pounds a day and Susan made the difficult decision to put him down and event had his burial hole dug.

"We discovered that there was coffee bean weed in his pasture. When the plant dries the toxins go into the seeds, so poor Peter was poisoning himself by eating those plants," says Susan. Her veterinarian at the time was Dr. Joan Gariboldi, who put Peter on Pepto-Bismol for a week. "She told me that we should see improvement and she begged me to give it a try. If after a week we didn't see any change then she would put him down."

Obviously the treatment worked - Peter is 30 and looks fantastic!

"I've played around with his feed, but what works best for him is a combination of 10 percent protein and six percent fat. He has no teeth so his meals are pretty mushy and it takes him a long time to eat," Susan says. Added to his senior feed is a good splash of Red Cell, a supplement which Susan swears by. He also gets a flake of alfalfa each day, and he somehow manages to nibble every delectable leaf while leaving the tougher stalks behind.

Although Peter has a roomy stall with a great view, most of the time he is free to roam around much of Sara's 54-acre farm.

"He's very mischievous, even though he'd like everyone to think otherwise," both Sara and Susan agree.

The comfortable chairs that are left sitting if front of the tack room at the end of the day are found topsy-turvy the next morning; halters left on hooks within read of an 11.3 hand pony - well they might be found around the corner, or not at all. Peter also starts each day by surveying the property for gates left open by accident, and if he finds one, watch out, he's gone!

Peter has recently been brought out of retirement to be a lead-line pony for Sara's two-year-old son Noah. Susan found a tiny Western saddle for her grandson, who is developing a keen interest in riding.

"Peter's personality changes completely when he is around Noah - he becomes very sweet and is ever so careful," says Sara.

Peter also acts as a babysitter for the occasional foal or horse who needs stall rest.

For a pony who wrested from death a few years ago, Peter is making the most of his days. This little guy might be the smallest equine on the farm, but don't tell him that. He's too busy breaking in the next generation.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.