It’s no secret that Little House on the Prairie is my favorite TV show. And it’s no secret that there are some really excellent horse-themed episodes throughout the series. Let’s take a look at some of the more memorable equine characters that populated Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
Pet and Patty
Everybody remembers Bunny, but maybe for different reasons. Bunny is the foal born during the pilot episode of Little House when the Ingalls are striving to live life on the Kansas prairie. Later, when the government turns the Ingalls out of their little house on the (Kansas) prairie, they pack up the covered wagon and baby Bunny follows behind, tied to the wagon, all the way to Minnesota.
Then—in the heart-wrenching Season 1 Christmas episode—Laura trades Bunny to the local storekeeper for an expensive stove that Ma needs. Bunny is then absent from the series until Season 3, when Laura gets Bunny back after Nellie Oleson mistreats the pony. (That episode, aptly titled “Bunny”, also features the fan favorite scene of Laura pushing Nellie down a hill in a wheelchair.) Later, Laura and Bunny emerge victorious in a 2-mile horse race against Nellie and her pedigreed Thoroughbred, Sparks. Sadly, Bunny meets a terrible demise in a later episode, so I never watch that episode and therefore, in my world, Bunny lives on.
Sam and David
Early in Season 1, Pa determines that Pet and Patty aren’t strong enough for Minnesota farm work, so he trades them for a team of oxen. Suffice to say that things don’t go so swell with the oxen; Pa uses the oxen as collateral for a loan and winds up losing them to the shady feed-and-seed owner, but then he gets the oxen back in a heartwarming plot twist.
Anyway, after all that back-and-forth with the oxen, Pa decides he’s done with cattle (until Season 5, but I digress) and he brings home a bold and beautiful team of chestnut horses known as Sam and David. Now, Pet and Patty were fine, but Sam and David looked like the kind of horses that a guy like Pa Ingalls should have. Throughout their 8-season sojourn as Pa’s main team, Sam and David chased trains, hauled explosives, pulled a freight wagon, took the family to Gold Country (and then home again), to Dakota Territory (and then home again), and lived through a 6-week blizzard during which the Ingalls were stranded in an abandoned cabin. Sam and David were tough.
In Season 6, we’re introduced to Almanzo Wilder and his horse, Barnum. Laura promptly falls in love with Almanzo, but it takes many episodes before Almanzo notices Laura. Thankfully, we have Barnum, one of the key elements in the progression of the couple’s TV romance. Barnum was a “runaway” and obtained “real cheap” by Almanzo Wilder. But it’s Barnum’s leg injury that really works toward bringing the couple together. After all, what’s more romantic than that?
Are there any other Little House fans out there? Who’s your favorite TV horse? Let us know in the comments.
Samantha Johnson is a freelance writer and the author of several books, including The Field Guide to Horses, (Voyageur Press, 2009). She raises Welsh Mountain Ponies in northern Wisconsin, is a certified horse show judge, and has watched more than her fair share of Little House on the Prairie episodes. Follow her on Twitter: @miraclewelsh.