Least Favorite Game

By Sandy Ward

December 28, 2006

A cartoon in the newspaper on December 24, 2006, triggered memories from my childhood. The cartoon showed Santa on top of a very full sleigh looking panicked as his reindeer headed down under a bridge with low clearance. Cartoon caption: “#3 on Santa's List of Least Favorite Reindeer Games.” [See cartoon.]

I recognized the game immediately! That image brought to mind a low-hung chain across the doorway of a barn, and my own panic as the pony I was riding decided to head into the barn. Her name was Mitzi and she was a fat, stubborn Shetland pony. I was young and not as much in control of her as my mother wished. My mother was a real horse-woman. She taught us how to ride and instructed us to show the ponies that we were in charge. But Mitzi knew better. She knew that a quick run into the barn would scrape off this inexperienced rider. Mitzi lowered her head, ducked under the chain, and kept moving forward. Ooofff! That chain hit me in the stomach and pushed me right off onto the hard ground behind her. My mother disciplined Mitzi by bringing her out of the barn, climbing onto her back, and riding her around the barnyard. My mother's legs nearly dragged on the ground; Mommy was much too big to ride such a small pony. Mitzi behaved perfectly, of course, with such a rider in control. Poor Mitzi even looked sorry for her bad deed. But some days later, with me again on her back, she headed again for that chain. I never did become a real horse-woman.

My sister Jean, two years younger, had more success with ponies and grew up to love riding. She and my mother eventually acquired horses of their own and would ride together. By then, I was mostly away at school or college and had little to do with horses. One day back at home, however, I foolishly accepted an offer from my sister for a short ride on her new horse. Banner was a rather spirited horse Jean had bought to give herself more of a challenge as a rider. I should have had enough sense to stay off that horse. But the proposed ride was short, just up an old dirt road we called the “Back Avenue” towards the barn at the top of the hill. I expected a leisurely ride up the tree-lined avenue. But Banner broke into a full run. Never had I moved so fast on a horse! Never had I felt a horse's neck stretched straight out in front on me, nor had such wind in my ears. It was exhilarating! And scary. I was riding bareback, not sure how I could stay on. I expected Banner to run into the barnyard and stop, but he detoured suddenly toward a tree with a low-hanging branch. Oh, no! Not that game again! In one swift movement I was scraped onto the ground and Banner was free. That horse was in control, as Mitzi had been years before.

I extend my sympathies to Santa Claus, who has eight reindeer to play games on him.