Monday, January 30, 2017

Briarfair's Jumping Jack Flash

7 July 2005 - 14 January 2017

For several years in my early teens, around 1979-onwards, I went on riding holidays on Dartmoor in Devon. There I had the pleasure of riding "Snowlander Fury" a little grey welsh pony who matched his name - he was so fun to ride.

Fast forward to mid-2000s when I met a lady at Point Reyes riding a tiny welsh pony. Up until then, I was sad about my lost youth - how I'd never be able to repeat the fun I had on welsh ponies. This lady proved it wasn't true - that welsh ponies were quite capable of carrying adults - and still keeping up with the big horses. She gave me the names of some local breeders and some pointers on what to look for, and I found a small-scale breeder not 30 minutes away in Shingle Springs - Briarfair Farm. Irene had a colt for sale from Bristol lines - old style breeding - i.e. a useful pone with substance, instead of a weakling fancy show pony. Bristol Farm believed that Section Bs "...were bred to enable the shepherd to work the hill with his dogs. Can anyone, quite frankly, see most of the B's today working the hill? Most of them today could not take my maiden aunt down the high street without going lame, and certainly not without its rug on.[Welsh Pony and Cob Society Journal, 1975, Wales]. 

In September 2005 I went to look at Briarfair's Jumping Jack Flash - and, when I told her wanted him, Irene asked me: "You are going to keep him for ever and ever?". I promised I would.

At the time, I thought we'd have him until he was 40.

On October 1st Jackit came home with us. Up until then, he had never been in a trailer that moved. Getting him in didn't require too much encouragement - stepping up into it was hard, and he did a weird flailing of feet the first time - almost like spanish walk. Apart from producing a copious amount of poop for such a tiny pone, and one whinny coming up Marshall Grade, he got off the trailer at the other end with a great deal of nonchalance - amazing, given that he was only 15 months old.

Walking the fence in his new home, October 2005

Fenceline completed, time to let him explore on his own, October 2005

The stupid grin that accompanied most of everything to do with Jackit, October 2005

New roommate, Roo (himself newly-arrived a couple of months before), October 2005

From the first, he made me giggle. Almost every photo I have of me and him, shows me grinning like an idiot.

For the first five years or so, he just hung out in the paddock, tormenting the big horses. He'd bite them on the bum, then canter a circle around behind them so they couldn't get him. He had absolutely no respect for any "authority" and I reasoned that if the other horses couldn't get the upper hand with him, I stood no chance. Although he was so funny, I was anxious about how exactly I was going to put any proper training on him.

Out for a walk, January 2010

First saddling, April 2010
In the summer of 2010 I sent him back to Irene for saddle training. At that point we'd put a saddle on him, but that was about it. Irene did some excellent work with him - basically dealing with my benign neglect. She had to break him down to "no, you are not the center of the universe" and then build him back up again. The pony she returned to us was polite and a pleasure to be around.

Hooching over his back prior to first mounting, August 2010

First ever ride, August 2010

From then on, we just went out and had fun. He was pretty fearless (unless it came to crossing small bodies of water, which he totally overreacted to) - wooden bridges, clambering over rocks, trailering, ...he took it all in his stride.

Second ever trail ride - Meadowbrook, October 2010.
Wherever Fergus went, he would cheerfully follow

Overreacting to a tiny creek, Cool, November 2010

Gerle Loop, Magnolia, November 2010

Settling in at Cool

By the following year, we were starting to gel. By then he'd happily go out alone, in the dark, and basically go wherever you pointed him. We met a bear one evening out at Cool and he reacted more to the scary water trough at the trailhead than the "alarming wildlife".

July 5, 2011 (two days shy of his sixth birthday):
"As soon as we hit Cuz's Trail on the way back, though, he knew where he was and took off after Fergus like a real horse - trotting at speed and even cantering a few strides (<gulp>) shortly before this photo was taken (hence the large grin). It's the first time I've ridden him like a real horse - just letting him rip. Big Fun."

That summer we went horse camping at Faith Valley. At that point, he was pretty much over the greenie stage - we could more or less go anywhere (not necessarily with any finesse, but we'd get there) with confidence. And I discovered how much fun he was on difficult footing. He was like a mountain goat.

Faith Valley, September and October 2011 - hanging out with his buddies.
He liked having the spring tie facing backwards so that he could see Fergus and try to steal his hay. 

Any time we got to anywhere a bit tricky, I'd take off his reins and turn him loose to figure it out on his own. 

Coming home after one of the most fun rides ever on the PCT near Blue Lakes

Demonstrating that Cougar Rock wasn't out of the question

His arch-nemesis - a large boulder on the trail in Charity Valley.
Here I'm asking him to at least touch it with his nose.
I absolutely adored riding him in tricky terrain - the more difficult it was, the cleverer he was. I reasoned that if I could stay with him (not always easy - he had a tiny "sweet spot" to balance on which took me a really long time to get used to), then he would likely stay upright underneath me.

I have a vivid memory of riding him at Cool in slippery footing and him acting like a cartoon horse - legs going everywhere, but I sat tight and he stayed upright - not something I think a bigger horse would have done in the situation.

The only time I came off him was a misunderstanding which went a bit like a Mexican standoff, with us each independently trying to decide which way we were going to go around a particular tree. The fall must have been all of 30".

Playing stud muffin on the high-tie when Fergus and pft went for a solo ride.
I never stopped loving watching him - he was so beautiful.

Autumn 2011 at Cool - still grinning

At Christmas time we went on our annual desert camping trip to Joshua Tree and he was outstanding. Again, perfect type of trail for him and I was so proud of how he took it all in his stride. We had a most memorable solo ride together one of the days - he was absolutely perfect and we had a lovely time.

Video: Letting off steam on the way down to Joshua Tree, Christmas 2011

Letting off steam at Bridgeport on the way down
(you need to do this when they've been standing in mud)

Enjoying the sunshine at Joshua Tree

Exploring Deer Trail at Joshua Tree. Once it became clear we'd lost the trail, we took a gully down to the main wash. And again, turning him loose was the best option, so he could pick his way down by himself. 

Joshua Tree. So. Much. Fun.

In May 2012, I deemed us ready for his first limited distance ride. By now, rechristened Small Thing—at least on paper—we went to Washoe Valley. Patrick and Fergus were to chaperone us. Worried about difficulties booting him the morning of the ride, and worried about losing boots, I bought him a brand new set of gloves and powerstraps and we put them on the night before. It was near freezing that night and the boots showed no sign of going on, so we heated them up in front of the heater to soften them and whacked them on firmly with a mallet. Small Thing was perfect the following morning, even walked calmly around camp on his own while pft was finishing getting ready. We crossed the start line and about 100 ft later started to trot - and he was dead lame. I suspect having boots heat-shrunk to your feet is an immediate recipe for this.

Washoe Valley fail, early May 2012

Later that month, we went the furthest we'd gone thus far - 22 miles on the California Loop for the Tevis Fun Ride. This was the first time I'd (successfully) taken him to an organized event and ridden him in unknown mixed company. The ride went flawlessly, with the exception of two exciting moments:

  • while I was off and leading him, he got startled and he shot off up the trail, squeezing passing Fergus and I thought he was going to go over the side (I figured he'd end up in the bottom of the creek, unscathed, but with no way for us to get him out), but he gumbied his way out of the situation
  • on the narrowest, most exposed part of the trail (about 12" wide), he decided to stop  turn sideways to snack.

I thought by the time we reached the river road on the CA Loop, he'd be pooped out and dragging.
The reality that I was pooped out and dragging (starting to suffer from heat-stroke) and
he ran off with me along the road to catch Fergus (who Renee was borrowing that weekend)

Laying on the picnic bench at Francisco's, trying to de-crick my back and recover from overheating. 

Small Thing very concerned that I wasn't moving

In October, he and I went up to Donner Summit and rode the Castle Peak solo. This was the longest ride we'd done on our own - and it's a tough one. He was demoralized in places, but ultimately did an excellent job:

The following Christmas, we again went to Joshua Tree. I took pft up on the Cliff Trail and set ST trotting on the twisty trail among the cholla. At that point, ST was much handier than Fergus on those types of trails, judging by pft's squawking. A few days later the weather deteriorated and we rode in the snow.

Christmas Day 2012 - this wasn't the only tangle he got into with his hay net

Joshua Tree, January 2013

From 2013 onwards, I got busy with other horses. Fergus and I were embarking on our 100 mile career and I was trying to get Uno up and running again. The pendulum wouldn't swing back in ST's direction again until the summer of 2015 when I tried to use him as "Horse #3" at Faith Valley when we had visitors from England. This ended up being a disaster from his point of view. He was anxious and agitated from the start - flipping up and down on his high-tie and being almost impossible to control when taken out for a hand-walk. When it came to riding, he got left behind, got upset, I got clutchy, he reared... and it ended badly. But I set him up to fail and regret that, and it regressed our relationship somewhat. I got frightened to ride him.

Trying to get things back under control - August 2015

That Christmas, I aimed for a reset. He and I spent some quality time - little and often - under the guidance and chaperone of Kaity. I learned how to avoid the clutchy-negative spiral that I'd get into when he got anxious, and we got back on track.

Day 1 of our reset nearly ended in tears when, in my nervousness, I totally forgot to put on his breast collar.
Thankfully nothing bad happened and we were able to borrow Ani's breast collar to finish the ride. 


July 2016

Sept 2016

ST's new blankie. When we got back from Christmas break and found he'd ripped his old blankie down the back,
I jokingly said that he'd never be allowed to wear this new one. As it turned out, that ended up being true. :(

One of the last proper rides we had - exploring at Donner Summit, October 2016
We had the best day and it was so fun to have him up there, playing on his best type of terrain

Enjoying the sunshine, November 2016

Back to where we should be, I entered the lottery for the Tahoe Rim Ride, reasoning that it was the perfect trail for him - we'd both have fun and he'd get to do a 50 miler. I was thrilled when we got in and excited for the new goal ahead.

* * *

Saturday 14th January I went down to feed and noticed him "lying in the sun". Didn't think much about it until I glanced up and noticed him rolling in a different spot. Took his hay bag into his shelter and he came running up - only to turn tail and go running back down to the bottom of the paddock and flop down again. And I knew we were in trouble.

There followed four nightmarish hours of horror. Of him getting cast in the field, getting stuck under the fence, going down over and over in pain. Patrick walked him in circles while I ran indoors to get dressed and grab my wallet. I drove him to Loomis Basin and didn't even get out the end of my road before he cast himself again in the trailer. Every time I stopped, the whole truck and trailer were shaking from his thrashing.

At Loomis they sedated him, gave him pain medication, gave him IV fluids, but ultimately it became clear that it wasn't going to work out and the decision was made.

The vets were kind enough to do a necropsy on him at the end of the day and discovered he had a small intestine strangulation. He would not have survived colic surgery.

* * *

As I said, I thought I'd have him until he was 40 - that we had years ahead of us. He was the best pony a girl could want and will never be replaced. There are some things you don't ever get back and he was one of them.

I thank him for the laughter and fun he gave me over his 11.5 short years - during 10 of which he was the apple of my eye.

Run free, Jackit, and I hope you get to bite Provo on the bum wherever you two are - because you know how much he hated it.


  1. I'm so sorry that your beautiful Small Thing is gone. I loved reading about your adventures and antics. But this is a beautiful tribute, and hope he continues to make you smile in your memories. Run free.

  2. He sure was a handsome little fellow. It sounds like you had some wonderful times with him. Sorry for your loss.

  3. SO MUCH LOVE.... For you both. Hugs my dear friend.

  4. So sorry to read this. Thinking of you.

  5. Ahhh, Small Thing. You lived a Big Life.

  6. I feel like I have the teensiest bit of understanding of what he meant to you now. Thank you for sharing this. Much love and thoughts in your direction at this time

  7. Such a beautiful story. I always enjoyed your posts about him and was so sorry to hear of what happened. Thank you for sharing him with all of us.

  8. I'm so sad and sorry reading this.Somehow I didn't know that this had happened.FB hasn't posted many of your posts on my timeline.I lost my old friend (Decade Team) partner to colic on the first day of summer this year so I know what you went through losing him.I loved reading your stories and seeing him in your posts..he was a lovely pony and had a good but way too short life with you.Hope I get to see you again on the trails this season.J.Pepper