The Irish Blessing: Memories of a Special Pony

Prac's managing editor reminisces about her childhood Connemara pony who won over the hearts of everyone who knew him.

The young dun Connemara blossomed into one of the most willing and brave partners I ever had, shown here competing in our first U.S. Pony Club championships when I was in high school.

When I first met Cormac in the mid ‘90s, he was a somewhat shy but curious youngster, inching forward to greet me, his upper lip with its endearing white snip wiggling in anticipation of a carrot. He was an awkward fellow, just two years old or so, and with his sun-bleached dun coat, giant ears and explosion of mane, he looked out of place amongst the sleek, trim Thoroughbreds at my grandparents’ farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. As he gently nibbled the treat from my outstretched fingers, bronze eyes peering from beneath his shaggy forelock, I wondered what this young pony would be like when he grew up. Little did I know how much of an impact he’d have on our family and friends over the next 20+ years.

We’d bought Cormac at a herd dispersal from a Connemara breeder down in Georgia, and he was actually very well-bred, with robust, athletic conformation and a jolly persona, something most Connemaras are known for. He turned out to be incredibly easy to train, and soon enough he was living with us up in Virginia, well on his way to becoming my next Pony Club pony, after my previous partner had since retired.

Cormac and I competing at a local event in the early 2000s.

Cormac was a willing companion for several years while I was a young teen, always game for whatever adventure we had in store. Together, we tackled just about every type of activity… hunter/jumper shows, Pony Club rallies, hunter paces, Novice-level eventing and Connemara breed shows. Probably one of my highlights from our time together was galloping around the cross-country course at the U.S. Pony Club Championships…he was still a young pony then, only about five or six, but he flew around the course with his usual gusto. I used to dress him up for the costume classes at the annual Connemara show each summer, and he stoically strode around the ring in whatever God-awful costume I’d cobbled together at the last minute. Bless his little heart.

Anyone who ever met Cormac over the years knew of his fondness for anything remotely edible. Snacks, of any sort, were his most favorite thing in the world. It didn’t matter if it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Fritos or a granola bar, anything was fair game. One of my Pony Clubs friends reminisced about it saying, “I’ll never forget it, or him, and his funny, greedy snatchings at the weirdest people foods! He ate anything!”

As our other ponies came up the ranks in their careers, and with my time already being limited with school and athletic endeavors, we made the decision to sell Cormac to our good friend Ellen and her daughter Meagan. For years, Cormac lived a cushy life, showing in dressage with Meagan and enjoying trail riding with her mother. After Meagan went off to college, we were lucky to once again have Cormac back at our farm for our young students. Because he was such a steady schoolmaster, he was a favorite of everyone who wanted to learn the finer points of dressage or safely jump courses. Whether his rider was a young child just learning how to steer or a mother who’s just getting back into the saddle after years off, he was there for each of them.

Cormac partnered with one of our young students, Skylar, last year for her first Pony Club rally.

There’s an old Irish proverb that says, “the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune,” and that was especially true in Cormac’s case. Like a fine wine, the pony seemed to grow better with age. As a wise old teacher, he’d patiently and quietly share his knowledge with whoever his pupil was at the time, toddling around the ring or field, wherever the lesson was that day. His students’ incessant, but well-meaning, questions perhaps adding a few more grey hairs to his muzzle, but you could almost see him roll his eyes and chuckle to himself good-naturedly. 

See also: The Look of Eagles

A proud moment: young Sophie (right) achieved her Pony Club rating with Cormac.

After a few summers of being a part of our program, he was leased out to a wonderful Pony Club family whose daughter, Sophie, trained with Jenn Fessler and Kit Sydnor, local friends of ours at their beautiful farm just down the road. Cormac was Sophie’s first real partner, and needless to say, they formed a special bond, as one does with that first pony. Even at 24+ years old, Cormac looked to be in the prime in his life, with his coat shiny and dappled from her daily grooming and his pony physique trim and fit from regular exercise. With Sophie, Cormac got to relive moments from his heyday, as he galloped across open fields in hunter paces, schooled cross country, took a spin in the hunter ring and, most importantly, helped Sophie achieve her Pony Club rating, an important milestone in her horsemanship education.

Sophie and Cormac schooling cross country at our farm during a Pony Club clinic last month–one of their last outings together.

But all good things must one day come to an end, and sadly Cormac’s reign came to a close last week as he lost a devastatingly quick fight with colic. It seems fitting that we lost him on Memorial Day, because for such a somber day of remembrance, we can also reflect on some happy memories, too.

There’s an Irish blessing that my father, a decades-long Methodist minister, often says at the closing of his services. Now, I don’t consider myself to be a religious person, but I’m fond of this particular benediction because it seems so pure and sweet and the perfect farewell to an Irish pony.

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm up on your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

It’s funny, because in a way Cormac himself was an Irish blessing, of sorts, not just to me but to countless others. And I do think that one day we will meet again. Godspeed, old friend. 

Cormac’s young students leave a memorial outside his stall.
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