Summer Pony

Summer Pony book
The author’s well-loved copy of the book Summer Pony. Photo by Elizabeth Moyer

Like most horse crazy kids deprived of actual horse ownership, I read voraciously to fill the time in between riding lessons and summer horse camp sessions—every horse book the library had, I read several times over.

Summer Pony by Jean Slaughter Doty was a classic favorite. Like me, Ginny dreamed of having a pony of her own. Unlike me, her parents agree to lease a pony for the summer to come and live in the backyard, converting the garage to a stable.

After being out of print for years, the 1973 title was reissued for a new generation of readers with updated illustrations. I still have my tattered vintage copy that I treasure for the original Sam Savitt drawings. I now realize how many timeless and simple truths of horse ownership the story contained.

Here’s what I learned from Summer Pony:

  • Make the most of what you’ve got: Ginny imagined having a sleek, beautiful pony for the summer. What she got was a half-starved, shabby mare with a spotted coat, one blue eye and one brown, from a rundown pony farm. Yet by the end of the summer filled with fun, hard work and learning, Ginny wouldn’t have traded Mokey for a more elegant model.
  • Horse friends are the best friends: None of Ginny’s friends at school can relate to her obsession with horses. Her neighbor Pam Jennings is horsey, yet they had never met. The two become great friends and support each other through the highs and lows of life with horses over that summer. The significant socioeconomic gap between them is bridged by their common interest.
  • Never be afraid to ask an expert: The Jennings’ knowledgeable stable manager Michael becomes a valuable mentor to Ginny, explaining the basics of horse care including first aid, deworming, regular hoof care, guiding her to a more suitable bit choice from the severe curb that came with the pony, and three important rules of jumping: “Give your horse a chance, never jump without a hard hat*, and never jump alone.”*Back in the day, this would have referred to a hunt cap, which we know to be useless today in light of new improved ASTM-SEI approved safety helmets.
  • If a horse can get hurt, he will: Mokey gets tangled and panics when tied out to graze in a too-long leadrope. She suffers severe rope burns and is pretty sore for a few days, but otherwise is OK. The incident prompts Ginny’s father to build a proper paddock with safe fencing.
  • Colic happens: Although the friendly clerk at the feed store cautions Ginny about overfeeding grain, Mokey manages to escape her paddock and gorge on apples from the neighbor’s orchard. The result? Colic. After a late night emergency vet call and nerve-wracking vigil, Mokey pulls through.
  • That third place ribbon rocks! In fiction there’s always a happy ending, right? Riding off into the sunset, living happily ever after, underdog wins the race, et cetera. In real life, we may go home ribbonless, but there’s still something to be gained.Ginny and Mokey enter their first show. Despite feeling outclassed by the competition, Ginny focuses on doing her best, enjoying the experience of showing and cheering for her friend Pam. At the end of the day, Mokey’s third place ribbon is a triumph she can be proud of.
  • “Just this once will be OK…”: Ginny jumps alone, without a helmet, and in the twilight Mokey never has a chance to see the log in their path properly. Guess what happens? A knock to the noggin and a concussion, which fortunately proves to be mild, but keeps Ginny out of the saddle while she recovers.

In the end, Summer Pony has a happy ending: Ginny’s parents decide to purchase Mokey for her. (You can even read the sequel, Winter Pony!) As for me, I had to wait many more years than Ginny until I was able to purchase my own horse, but I never gave up on the dream.

This summer, I plan to fully appreciate having a “summer pony” of my own year-round, and enjoy every ride like a horse-crazy kid. It’s easy to get wrapped up in riding and training goals, or the lack thereof and feeling guilty about not doing or accomplishing more with my horse. But I know for certain the simple pleasure of having a horse to call my own and just riding through the fields or watching him graze is not to be taken for granted. This is the most important truth I’m reminded of from Summer Pony.

Here’s to a happy, horsey summer.

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  1. thanks for writing this excellent, interesting blog. i don’t own “Summer Pony” but i have read it and it is truly a good book. i love it how she transformed Mokey from a shaggy pony to a good jumper and riding companion.


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