Peanut Butter the pony
I was ten years old, and he was the love of my life: Peanut Butter, a palomino pony who was exactly 14.2 hands, technically a pony rather than a horse. This meant I could ride in large pony classes in horse shows rather than the regular adult classes. This was supposed to give me a better chance to win, but Peanuts was no show horse!
My father knew I wanted to have my pony located in a place where I could really have space to ride. So he found a place to board my original pinto, pony Topsy. I was growing too big for Topsy and so it was fun to ride all the ponies. The Rivercomb’s riding stable in 1951 was not a large spread, but to me, it was heaven after being limited to my yard, which was only two and a half acres. There were many different fields. One had jumps and could be used to practice an outside course, such as would be found in a horse show. One was just for grazing horses and had lots of open space and good grass. There was a circular riding ring where we rode enclosed, and for more experienced riders, it was possible to ride along the outside of the ring as long as we could control our ponies. I fell off in every one of these places! It was all a process of learning to ride well. I rode all the ponies available, and at first, I was just thrilled to be riding. I met other children who were horse crazy like me. It was such fun to be riding with space to canter and even to have a gallop from time to time. At first, I had a crush on a pony named Lone Wolf. He was a buckskin and looked like a cowboy’s horse. But Mr. Rivercomb did not really want to sell him. Then one day, when I was dropped off by my mother, I saw a new pony in the small field next to the barn. He raised his head and looked at me. Looking into that pony’s eyes was like falling into a well. And I fell deeply, deeply in love with him the first time I saw him. A palomino! How beautiful, how unusual in Virginia. I begged my father to buy him. It took some negotiating, but after a while, he was mine! Oh! The ecstasy of having Peanut Butter as my very own!
So many books featured palominos. For children, they were especially popular because they were so colorful. Even young adult horse stories often featured them. The famous cowboy, Roy Rogers, rode a palomino named Trigger. He was paler and less “showy” than Peanut Butter and didn’t impress me. In Virginia Hunt country, there was a serious prejudice against “bright-colored” horses. This also included buckskins, Appaloosas, and pintos. They were considered too dramatic. In horse shows, the color immediately downgraded the animal. I did not care. I loved the color. It was golden. Dark tan, the deep shade of peanut butter, his coat shimmered in the sun. Horse hair is short, but many colors make up the whole. And sometimes, looking at the smooth hide of my pony in the sunlight, the beautiful glitter and shine of his coat took my breath away. His pale mane seemed iridescent as it shone in the sunlight. The memory is tattooed into my brain, and it makes me happy to recollect.
Mother took most of the photos used in this blog at the stable, located where there is now a “clover leaf” at Rt # 123 and the GW Parkway in McLean, VA. I drive by it when I go to Washington, DC. And it always makes me nostalgic! The world has changed so much.
“I remember when Tyson’s Corner was a gas station and some sort of general store. 7 Corners was the new, wonderful shopping area in the 1950s,” said a friend when I told her where I used to board my pony. Because I rode in some horse shows, all the little flyers were sent to me advertising local horse shows. I learned the names of these tiny towns and crossroads. Each one had its own small horse shows in those days. These are now huge mega-towns, like Centerville, Haymarket, Gainsville, Manassas, or Leesburg, even tiny “corners” which now sport hotels, motels, restaurants, and stores. The area’s population has exploded.
We rode out to an estate called Ballantray and to Potomac School, which was just new to McLean after moving out from it’s home in Washington, DC. We wandered on horseback all over the area where the CIA complex is now. There was nothing there but an empty, dilapidated house all overgrown. It sat abandoned and scary looking on land no longer groomed or cared for. Then they began building all sorts of roads. These were wide and seemed like highways of red clay. We had such fun racing on the flat hard, packed clay roadbeds.
Ponies are great life teachers. From my pony and my love for him, I learned about nurturing a large animal who could not speak but needed my help. I fed him and groomed him, and picked out his feet. Baths were fun in summer when the cold water from the hose relieved our own heat, as well as washing the pony. We suds up tails and mane, which were nearly white and showed the dirt. Because of some earlier cruelty, Peanut Butter could not be cross-tied. He would rear up and break his halter if anyone tried that. Our halters were all made of leather or rope. I had never seen such a thing as a halter made of artificial fabric. Grooming him was a little harder due to this fear of his, but I managed. The center aisle of the barn looked out towards the field and the riding ring. Watching the sunbeams illuminate the dust motes floating in the hot air fascinated me. Brushing and brushing and brushing my pony until he gleamed satisfied something deep within me. The scents of horse, manure, cut grass, hay, and dust were intoxicating. Sitting with him in his stall, my heart was full of love. He was sweet and gentle when in his stall. Making sure the tack was clean and in good working order was part of the lesson. When we were cleaning tack together, there was a lot of bonding between me and my friend Marcia McCardle. She had finally convinced Mr. Rivercomb to sell Lone Wolf to her. So we rode together every day. And we took cleaning tack seriously. Even the hard work was fun when done with a friend. Taking care of a pony makes a young person aware of the responsibilities and rigors of ownership.
One of my greatest pleasures was sitting bareback on Peanuts as he grazed, no tack, wearing only a halter. I trusted him. Sometimes I would lie on his back, breathing in his scent with my arms around his neck as far as I could reach. On weekends my mother or father would drive me to the stable and leave me there all day. That allowed me time just to enjoy him in his “downtime.” We would ride out for hours and come back and play or just watch him being a pony. So many happy memories accrued during those years when I was able to ride every day after school and all day on weekends. The freedom and the lack of adult supervision worked magic. We learned to be resourceful, we learned to be brave, and we learned to navigate our way around strange country. Sometimes we were lost, and the horses figured out how to get us back home. Traffic was not a problem. Even crossing what is now Rt # 123 was easy. It was just a two-lane road, and rush hour had not become “a thing” yet. We would ride for hours on a Saturday, and no one knew where we were going or exactly when we would return. We had no cell phones and wore no protective hard hats. Nobody died.
Sadly I had to leave my pony to go live in Luxembourg with my family when my father was appointed Ambassador there. I longed for Peanut Butter every day while I was living in Europe. Luckily I was able to keep him even though I was living outside of the country. I was thrilled to be able to ride him when we visited the USA from time to time during that Ambassadorship. My father bought me another horse to ride in Luxembourg, but I never loved him with the passion instilled in me by that palomino gelding. His memory still holds a special place in my heart.
Copyright©. 2023 Bonnie B. Matheson