I was lucky to have a great pony when I was young. His name was Cloughan, which means “stepping stone” in Gaelic. Pronounced "claw han". He was a white pony with gray dapples that eventually became all white as he aged. He had a long, gray mane and tail and a round belly. He was a confident pet and lively companion.
I used to spend a great amount of my time with him. I rode him everywhere around my family's farm in Vermont. Sometimes we would take off down the dirt roads near my house exploring together for the better part of a day. I was six or seven and it wasn't very clear who was in charge. My legs barely reached to the end of the saddle.
When the grass was long and green Cloughan could not resist to stop and drop his head and grab a bite. This would sometimes unseat me and I would land in the grass in front of his happily gobbling muzzle. My Dad made me a strap that attached between his ears on the bridle and then ran to the saddle so he could no longer reach the grass.
We were great friends. I trusted him to no end. I would stand on his back. I would ride him without tack in the pasture, letting him gallop around and play with the other horses while I sat on him. I would jump him bareback. I would jump him over things that his whole head and ears would disappear behind. I never felt that he would not make it or not try and he always did.
He taught me as a child that confidence and trust were key when working with animals. I have always thought that if you believe in a horse, the horse will do its best, a sound philosophy, which I try to abide by to this day. In truth, fear and doubt are sensed by most animals, as is confidence. Equines respond well to confidence and trust.
One time I was out riding Cloughan on a snowy road without my parents' knowledge. A dump truck came up behind us. It was flying down the icy road. There were high snow banks and no where to go to be safe from the fast approaching truck. I was scared and did not know what I should do. At the last moment, as the dump truck came roaring up beside, Cloughan levitated himself straight up into a deep snowbank. We were safe thanks to him. Cloughan's four legs were stuck firmly in snow up to his belly. It took a while to wiggle him out of the snowbank. We made it home safely. From that close call, I learned an important lesson about being more responsible for both our wellbeing.
One should never underestimate the wits of an animal's mind. Perhaps Cloughan saved my life that day.