[Christine] A rogue pony, a busy Irish motorway, and a shady-looking bakery van give two horsewomen a vacation story for the ages. We’ll hear their wild tale in this episode of Barn Stories.
[Laurie] Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I’m Laurie Prinz, editor EQUUS magazine.
[Christine] And I’m managing editor, Christine Barakat.
[Laurie] This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.
[Christine] We’ve searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you’re new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share.
[Christine] A horsey Irish vacation is something many of us dream of taking. Those dreams usually feature galloping a Connemara along a wind-whipped coastline or soaring over stone walls on a solid, steady Irish draught. What they don’t usually include is chasing an escaped pony you don’t even know along a busy motorway. But that’s exactly the situation the two friends featured in this episode found themselves in.
[Laurie] As its name suggests, The Runaway Pony is an exciting story, and it has more than its share of colorful characters and plot twists. That alone makes it worth a listen. But what I like best about this story is that it illustrates how horse people are willing to drop everything—even their vacations plans—to pitch in and help when they see a horse in trouble. And that’s something worth sharing.
[Christine] Another reason to like this story is how well our narrator nails the Irish accent. So let’s listen to The Runaway Pony written by Sarah Hughes and read by Taylor Autumn.
[Taylor Autumn, story reader] In Ireland, there are two types of people: those who have horses, and those who see them every day. Horses are as common in Ireland as germs in preschool—fields of them line every motorway and country road. Whether you’re a horseperson or not, chances are, if you visit Ireland you will have some encounters with horses.
Ours was far different from anything we might have expected.
The weather was gray and drizzly as my friend Glynis and I made our way from County Kildare back to Dublin. We were scheduled to fly out early the next morning, so we’d booked a room at an airport hotel just outside the city. Our window overlooked the round-
about at the intersection of two busy motorways as well as a field of horses. We were thankful that our room was on the 7th floor and provided both distance from the relentless hum of the traffic and an excellent view of the “ponies.”
Glynis and I had just finished our lunch at the hotel and were heading back up to our room when it happened. Glancing out as we passed the window at the end of the corridor, we caught an alarming sight: A raggedy-looking brown pony was outside of the fence and heading toward the busy roundabout at a fairly determined pace, with a boy on a pedal bike halfheartedly giving chase some yards behind him. We watched for a few moments, then decided we had to get involved. We headed downstairs and out the doors to offer our horse-savvy experience.
By the time we reached the road, the pony was headed straight at us, trotting proudly up the street, a rope knotted loosely around his neck. Tethering horses along a roadside is an all-too-common practice—and it’s something animal-rights groups are determined to outlaw, for this exact reason: Instances of horses breaking free are shockingly high, and they endanger themselves as well as people in the frequent road accidents they cause.
But the moment the pony saw us he changed course, beelining across the three-lane roundabout and down the side of a four-lane motorway, brakes screeching in his wake. Committed now to our ridiculous quest, we started after him.
We hadn’t gotten far when the boy on the bicycle caught up to us and called out, “OY! Is that you’s pony?”
“Pardon?” We both turned to look at him, momentarily confused by his thick Irish brogue.
“Is that YOU’S pony?” He asked again, gesturing toward the runaway.
“Oh God, NO!” We replied in unison.“We just saw him from our hotel, running down the road, and thought we might be able to help!” I said.
“We have horses back home,” I added, completely out of breath.
“Oh, Americans, are ye?” He asked, and biked off nodding his head, before we could tell him we’re actually Canadians.
The pony continued his frenzied pace up the motorway, and Glynis and I quickly fell pathetically behind, each step he took pulling him farther away from us and closer to (we feared) certain death.
“Everyone thinks he’s ours,” Glynis turned to me mid-stride.
“Huh?” I gasped. “Who thinks he’s ours?”
“All the people on this motorway,” she replied. “They think we are the jerks who tied a rope around our pony’s neck and tethered him beside a road. I bet they’re all rooting for him.” She had a point. Traffic had slowed, and every commuter passing us seemed to be looking at us with judgment and condemnation.
“Should we turn back?” I asked.
“No!” replied Glynis.
By now the pony had put some serious distance between us, and just as all hope of catching him seemed futile, a nondescript white van pulled over. Two men leaned over and yelled, “Hey! Do you need a ride?”
We leaped instantly into the back of the van, our normal sense of self-preservation perhaps skewed by excitement as well as the lack of oxygen from overexertion. The back of the van was filled with buns and entirely devoid of windows, a fact that fully dawned on us only after one of the “helpful” men reached around and slammed the door behind us. It did not open from the inside.
Glynis and I looked at each other with the same simultaneous thought: Leaping into the back of a van with a couple of strange men and no way out was definitely not the brightest thing we’d ever done. I mentally calculated how long it would take for anyone to realize we were missing—I figured about seven days, since we were bound for a week in Sardinia by ourselves the next day. It was possible that our blind love for any and all horses had just caused us to do something really, really stupid.
Fortunately, the two men were not, in fact, serial killers, but just a couple of nice bun-delivery men who tried to help a couple of girls catch a dodgy runaway pony. They stopped a bit farther down the motorway, and we leapt out with renewed determination. A Good Samaritan had stopped his car and was blocking the pony’s path. But our quarry was not about to be caught.
Glynis and I positioned ourselves to help keep him off the road and pulled out our best techniques for calming and approaching excited horses, but the pony was much more wily than we’d given him credit for. He, too, seemed perfectly calm, but he ducked and dodged away the moment anyone got near. Then suddenly he spun toward the Samaritan, slipped on the macadam and crashed to the ground.
“Grab the rope!” Glynis and I both yelled. But the man wasn’t able to reach the lead before the pony was up and away. He celebrated his victory by getting around us all and flying once again down the side of the motorway.
We were offered another ride—from a fellow horse owner this time, in a normal car equipped with windows and interior door handles. This time, when we caught up to the pony, all the cars were stopped in both directions. For several agonizing moments, the renegade pony continued to dodge everyone in his growing crowd of pursuers.
Finally he saw his chance and charged past everyone, but this time instead of heading back up the roadway, he bolted through a seemingly impossible gap in a metal fence. Glynis and I peered through the opening—and watched him settling down to graze, safely enclosed in a grassy field full of horses.
With nothing else left to do, we patched the gap in the fence with sticks and began trudging back toward the hotel, by now a tiny speck in the distance. We’d never even touched the pony, but we like to think that, just maybe, we’d prevented what might have been a horrific crash and perhaps we’d even saved some lives. Either way, it was an Irish horsy experience neither of us is likely to forget.
[Christine] Thanks for listening to Barn Stories. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a favorite article or essay from the EQUUS archives that you’d like us to feature in a future podcast, let us know. You can reach us at [email protected]
Did you enjoy this episode of Barn Stories? Head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate and leave us a review. Thanks for listening.
The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of The Equine Network.