Gina Szafraniec: The pony story
On my 16th birthday, I woke up that morning filled with anticipation. I wasn’t a little kid any more, but birthdays were still big deals, and the 16th is special indeed. I had my first kiss the summer before, so I wasn’t going to be embarrassed by being “Sweet 16 and never been kissed.” But I wasn’t really dating anyone and had no party plans after school.
That morning, my mom and dad were in the kitchen and as usual, I was running late for school. I wasn’t a big breakfast sort of person, so I was going to head straight to the car and head to school. My dad intercepted me and said, “Happy Birthday! What do you want for your birthday? You can have whatever you want!”
Like the average teenager, I grumbled a “Thanks” and “I dunno.” He followed me as I went out the door, and said, “It’s your birthday! It’s a big day. I’ll get you whatever you want!” My dad was an outgoing, boisterous guy, and he was clearly feeling magnanimous.
I again said, “I dunno.” Looking down, not meeting his eye.
But in my heart of hearts, I did know what I wanted. I had grown up around horses, and worked with them consistently. When I was a little kid, I had a Shetland/welsh pony, and the offspring from that mare—two fillies and a colt. Dusty was born a pinto, then turned a dusty white with appaloosa type spots on her rear. She and I spent hours together, and at one point I saw a show on TV on how the wranglers trained the horses on TV to fall down in the western chase scenes. Hours and days later, Dusty would, by turning her head, lie down on the ground and stay there until I let her up. My dad got me a little buggy that she pulled around—she was a great little girl, and I had lots of fun training her.
But now I was ready to move on. I wanted a real saddle horse—maybe a yearling to begin to train as I had done with the Shetlands. I dreamed about getting a horse, one that could be a little frisky as only young horses are, and so different from our seasoned saddle horses, aging and sedate. It was all I could think about night and day.
That morning, when the opportunity presented itself, I could have asked for a horse, and my dad would have gotten it. He would have not only gotten me a horse, but it probably would have been a papered registered quarter horse.
I just couldn’t do it. For as much as I lusted for a little horse that I could shape and train, I felt like it was such a big ask, so extravagant, so over the top. I was the baby of the family: the only one to get a bicycle, the only one to go to Japan with the folks. I had a room to myself. I got a Wonder Horse at 5 years old after I threw a hissy fit when I had to leave Tina Power’s house and she had a Wonder Horse. I wanted that Wonder Horse and I got one for my birthday, even when I had a real horse outside in the pasture.
So I went to school, and thought about that horse all day. I really believed that there might be a horse there when I got home, that my dad would just KNOW that I wanted one, I wanted it so badly.
But there was no horse when I got home. Neither was my dad; he was out with some of his cronies. I don’t remember what I got from my mom and dad that year. My sister got me an eight-pound shot putt.
This life story has plagued me throughout my life. I realize now that there were many times in my career that I didn’t ask for what I wanted—the next promotion, the job with a title, more responsibility—I always figured it was obvious what I wanted. I thought everyone wanted the next big job, the bigger budget, the shiny office in the corner.
It amazed me when I realized that not everyone wants a pony.