Big Mama was extraordinary – smart, athletic, dutiful, and spirited. She was quite an unexpected find. Richard went with me and we made our way to a property in the Lancaster-Lebannon area of Pennsylvania. The man who was selling a horse brought out a very furry, little bay mare. She must have been about 15.1 hands at best, wide and sturdy, with an abundance of black mane and black tail. She had four black stockings and sturdy, healthy hooves. I stared into her soft brown eyes and was instantly hooked.
After watching her jog to make sure she was sound, we loaded her into the small horse van. Her sides bulged and touched the dividers of the stall sections as we backed her in. “She is a big mama!” Richard remarked. And the name stuck. We called her Big Mama.
Mama’s best friend in the pasture was a flashy pony named Farnley Chimes. Chimey had been green pony hunter champion in Virginia, but along the way he decided he didn’t like riders telling him what to do, so he started planting his feet at the base of a jump and refusing. That’s how we ended up with him as a lesson pony. He tolerated the short stirrup riders, kids he felt he had to take care of – and he did. But he had a mind of his own as did Big Mama, and they became fast friends. Whenever you looked out into the field, the pair of them could be seen sharing a pile of hay nose to nose or drinking from the trough (a bathtub) together.
Mama continued to amaze me. She would carry a beginner around the ring with a slow, steady trot. When it came time to learn how to canter, I could attach her bridle to a lunge line and say the words, “Canter, Mama.” Then she would immediately break into her rhythmical lope in a small circle around me. Students felt confident and at ease, learning how to keep their balance and move with the horse.
It was jumping a course where Mama actually was at her best. This little mare loved to jump, jerking her knees tightly while arching her neck and rounding her back slightly. Mama’s ears were always pricked forward, eager for the next obstacle. She could jump a 3’ 6’’ course, but we didn’t often test her at that height. If she had been prettier, she would have made a great show horse, but her head had little refinement and her small size was against her. To me, she was the most beautiful horse in the world!
One day I was teaching a lesson. Mama was carrying a beginner. Some of the riders in the group were ready to practice jumping, so I had set a small course of three jumps about two feet high on one side of the ring – a single to an in-and-out. The riders who were not jumping were told to ride to the inside of that line of jumps. Mama dutifully trotted by two times. On the third try, she could not stand it anymore, and pulled the rider to the jumps. The young woman, a girlfriend of one of my adult riders, screamed. I told her to grab some mane and lean forward. I knew Mama was like a missile on target, both ears pricked forward, her stride lengthening. The girl made it through the course, but I decided to keep Mama in the center of the ring with me until everyone had finished jumping.
Honestly, Mama looked very proud of herself. Dave’s girlfriend finished the lesson, but that was the last time I saw her! That horse just loved to jump the fences in the ring or cross country. She was good at it, and she knew it!