Area Pony Clubs Make a Splash (Newtown Bee)

Wilton Pony Club Rocks!

Wilton Pony Club

Check out this wonderful article from the Newtown Bee about Beach Day:

beachday Wilton Pony Club Members at Jennings Beach

Lisa Unleashed: Area Pony Clubs Make a Splash

by Lisa Peterson, Newtown Bee

Scattered sunshine, a very low tide and a panoply of ponies populated Jennings Beach in Fairfield this past weekend. It’s rare to see more than one or two other horses out on the beach during a ride despite Jennings being one of the few beaches that allows horses (and dogs) access from October 1 to April 1 each year.

But upon arrival in the parking lot, we were greeted by several horse trailers, which was unusual. Once on the beach there were ponies and people everywhere! Large ponies, small ponies, and one very small pony with a flaxen mane and tail. Too cute for words! Where did this pony herd come from? A quick glance at one…

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The Fancy Ponies of Sweetbrier Farm


You never know who you are going to meet in the horse world! This week I interviewed a woman for an article I’d been assigned to cover for a horse magazine. As usual the first question is, “Where did you start riding?” And to my amazement she answered, “Sweetbrier Farm in Easton.” Here is where my jaw dropped, smile followed and my reply was, “So did I!” We checked our dates and thought we might have ridden there at the same time.

Then I started rattling off the names of school horses, Missy, Briggy, Worthington and Miller. Then she named some ponies, Bonnie, Sprite. And then I offered up the name of my favorite pony, the one who gave me my first blue ribbon — Marvel-Us.


Marvel-Us and Me: Fall 1971 Sweetbriar Farm Schooling Horse Show, Reserve Champion

“Marvel-Us!” she quipped. She remembered that pony too. In fact, she had ridden her, once. As she recalled it, the pony would respond differently to each rider. Those who were nervous or tense, got the speedy treatment. Those who were calm and confident, got the dream ride.  She told the tale about how she watched as someone tried to ride Marvel-Us, getting the speedy treatment. Then she got to hop on during the lesson, and briefly got to experience the dream ride.

Missy and Marvel-Us

My memories of Marvel-Us, where just that, Marvelous! I first climbed aboard this little white pony mare as a 10-year-old. But I didn’t get to ride the dream pony at first. Fresh back from learning to ride at summer camp, I clearly remember my first lesson at Sweetbrier aboard this bay mare named Missy. I had mastered the walk-trot at camp, even showed in the lead line class at the camp show. But the wise instructor felt I was ready for that first canter. Missy obliged, a new riding thrill emerged and I was on my way.

Along that way, I learned to master the canter on an old horse named Miller, who was a retired racing trotter. There is nothing quite like trying to ask a horse to do something he was clearly trained not to do at any cost. But we persevered. Then we started tackling the cross rail jumps on those tried and true school masters, like Worthington and Briggy. As a child you are not quite aware of things like the horse’s age, but I do know that when I asked how old Briggy was, they told me, “Ancient.”

Fancy Ponies 

But then one day I got to ride Marvel-Us. I remember how effortless things seemed, like picking up the canter on her versus Miller, the king of trotting. Eventually, after another year I was able to join the advanced lesson on Saturday mornings. It was filled with fancy ponies like Dark ‘N Fancy, owned by the Humphrys, the farm’s owners. He was always ridden by a red-haired girl named Emily. This very cute large pony, was black with a speckled white blaze all the way down to his nose. His white stockings on his rear legs were matched up front by a near sock and what looked like a white splash on his remaining far leg just below the knee. His nickname was “Too Big” and I can still hear Emily call out to him as “Toooooooo Big.”


Sweetbriar Farm Riders at the Fairfield County Hounds Thanksgiving Day Hunt at Greenfield Hill, circa 1973. From left: Lisa on Gingersnap, Emily on Dark & Fancy, Gerri on her horse, and Holly on Fleet Nancy

There was also Sprite, a dapple grey pony that loved to jump and occasionally stop! I do recall one of my worst spills coming off that pony, right on top of a very sturdy and hard vertical jump, landing on my back, like a gymnast performing a flip. But the first time I ever rode her, the barn let me tack her up myself. So proud was I as I entered the ring to mount up, before the instructor came over to explain I had put the saddle on backwards. Other ponies that joined us in that lesson were Bonnie, a cute bay pony mare, and BeBell, a rambunctious alibino pony, who was actually Marvel-Us’ daughter! Once I rode in a pairs class at a horse show on Marvel-Us with BeBell ridden by a girl named Diane.

And then Marvel-Us gave me the gift of our first few horse shows. Our first was a  schooling show at Sweetbrier, in the fall or winter, it was cold and the show was indoors. But bless you Marvel-Us as she took my novice seat around one of those egg roll jumping courses. It was my first blue ribbon. Later, next spring, took me to my first away show, a local recognized show, where we also garnered a blue ribbon in the pleasure pony class.

It was Marvel-Us who set me on the path of lifetime riding and a love of horse shows. Just like many, many other little girls who passed through the Sweetbrier gates in search of that dream ride. In fact, during my recent interview with the barn owner for that article, she admitted that seeing all those fancy ponies at Sweetbriar fueled her imagination to grow up and bred fancy ponies herself. Thanks Marvel-Us!

Hollywood Pony Dreams ~ Admiral

Two blockbuster movies hit the silver screen in 1939, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. We all remember Dorothy’s iconic little dog in “Oz” a Carin Terrier named Toto. In “Gone” there were more than 1,100 horses used that in that production. Animals always add humanity our storytelling. Their actions can change a plot or slow down the pace of a well told tale. What many don’t know, is that in addition to both movies sharing director Victory Fleming, they also shared an animal actor, a little black pony named Admiral.

In Oz, his appearance was a brief role in Munchkinland. He was one of two small black ponies pulling a carriage, that Dorothy stepped into with her ruby slippers, in celebration of killing the Wicked Witch of the East. As Admiral and his handsome mate pulled the carriage around the circular beginnings to the yellow brick road, Munchkins broke into song with “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!”  So cute was Admiral with his gold-painted hooves and gleaming white harness,  an ostrich feather atop his headstall. He did a great job of sending Dorothy off on her journey to the Emerald city.

Admiral pulling a carriage in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz

Admiral pulling a carriage in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz

Later in 1939, Admiral made a larger supporting role in Gone with the Wind. He played a spirited pony, a gift from Rhett Butler to his young daughter Bonnie.  We see young Bonnie mounted on Admiral sporting a beautiful blue velvet riding habit, complete with red leather gloves to match the red ostrich feather atop her matching blue velvet hat. Which, by the way, matched Admiral’s noseband and browband on his tanned leather bridle.

Bonnie rides Admiral side saddle in Gone with the Wind

Bonnie Butler rides Admiral side saddle in Gone with the Wind 

Bonnie, as spirited as Admiral, was telling her parents that she was going to show them how she could jump, a bigger jump than before. Scarlett, alarmed, pleaded with Rhett to make her stop, not to jump.  He reminded Bonnie that she had just learned side saddle and perhaps wasn’t quite ready to attempt such a great feat. In defiance of her parents, off Bonnie canters fast towards the raised bar jump. And then we see Admiral’s crash, Bonnie’s fall and Scarlett’s scream.

Not a bad performance for a young Hollywood stunt pony. Admiral, who did his own stunts, was owned by Hollywood stunt man and animal trainer Dick Ryan. In a single year, his brief appearances in two of the most beloved movies of all time cemented his celebrity. And as has happened with other famous equines before and after him, his retirement years were bound to be filled with public appearances to his devoted fans.

Admiral Admiration 

It was a sunny California morning as my Mom and I went shopping at the Del Monte Shopping Center in Monterey. We were there to visit my grandparents. My grandfather, editor of the Monterey Peninsula Herald newspaper, had arranged a trail ride for us at the famed Pebble Beach Golf Club. Back in the early 1970s, they had horses on the property and you could take them along the trails that meandered between the links and the Pacific Ocean. After that ride I was high on all things horsey, and a few days later we found ourselves in the Del Monte Center parking lot.

I spotted a little white horse trailer and dragged my Mom over to see what was in it. A tall man wearing a cowboy hat was backing a little black pony out of the trailer. I watched as the pony turned around and walked very gingerly on what seemed to me to be very long hooves. Almost with pointy toes, like Munchkin shoes.

“Why does he walk like that?” this inquiring pony crazy girl wanted to know.

“Founder,” cowboy hat man said.

“This is a very famous pony. He was in The Wizard of Oz and Gone with The Wind,” cowboy hat man beamed. “Would you like to pet him?”

As I walked toward equine Hollywood royalty, wide-eyed, arm outstretched, my palm landing on his soft neck. As I stroked him I asked cowboy hat man how old he was. “He’s 52!” Did I hear that right? I knew ponies could live long, but wow! He did look very old, especially the way he walked, but still. We stayed for a while, Mom grabbed my hand and we were off.

Paul rides Admiral in a parking lot in the early 1970s

Paul Miles Schneider actually got to ride Admiral in a parking lot in the early 1970s – Dick Ryan walks beside him. 

Recently, I came across Paul Miles Schneider’s blog that aged Admiral at 6 months old in 1939. This made a bit more sense to me, sort of. That would have made him 32 years old that day I met him in a parking lot. He was the same age as my Mom that day – she was born in 1939. And my pony Gingersnap had also lived to be 32, so I guess 32 makes more sense than 52. Funny, how we have childhood memories that really stick into our minds. But, I find it hard to believe that a 6-month-old pony could be trained to jump, crash into jumps, canter, be side-saddle broken, and trained to drive a carriage at such a young age. Sounds more like what a seasoned stunt pony of say maybe 20 years old might be capable of. Only Admiral knows for sure. But I tend to believe the cowboy hat man, Dick Ryan, the pony’s long time owner.