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Faith, Love and a Doodlebug

by Anke Rogers


While Nealia McCracken and Pat Johnson of Saddlebred Rescue primarily make the trip every Monday to New Holland, Pa., to rescue Saddlebreds, they also keep an eye out for horses of other breeds who need a helping hand. Like the little guy you’re about to meet. 


I’d been looking for an older Hackney with a kind, gentle disposition to be my grandson, Mason’s, first pony.  I’m a strong believer in faith, so I was willing to wait until just the right pony, MY pony, would come along. Having already re-homed four Saddlebreds through Saddlebred Rescue, I knew I could count on Pat and Nealia to find exactly what I was looking for. Because I wanted Mason to understand how to love an animal through all stages of life, not just when they are useful, I told Pat and Nealia that an animal who could no longer do a job would be fine with us. No matter what the outlook or the condition of the animal they are always going to be welcomed at my little place in Hockley, Texas.


And so when they saw an ancient Hackney with the longest coat they’d ever seen go through the sale, they thought of me.  After trying in vain to reach me before the bidding began, they decided to let this one go, since they weren’t certain they could place him. But as fate would have it, when they walked back to their truck and trailer to collect the horses they had purchased that day, Nealia’s eye caught the little fuzzy Hackney tied to a trailer with a bunch of other unfortunates, ready to be shipped to slaughter. She couldn’t pass him by this time and home he came to North Wind Stables.


I finally got word from Pat that they had a Hackney and would I be interested? He was old, she said, and underneath all the hair was a body that was thin but not so emaciated he couldn’t make the trip down to Texas. Mason had a pony!

"Gumby Tex" when first rescued.

We decided it would be best for the little guy, who by that time had picked up the name Gumby Tex, if he could make his journey in parts, so the Saddlebred Rescue Wagon Train was put in motion. Within a week, Gumby Tex was in North Carolina, courtesy of Kathleen Melious and Jansal Saddlebreds for a week’s rest and vet evaluation, shots and whatever else might need to be done.


For that week he became the companion of a 17-hand draft horse that also was rescued from New Holland. Gumby Tex could take shelter, rather comfortably I might add, underneath this big boy. When the vet examined him, she looked up from floating his teeth and announced that there were not that many teeth to float! She estimated his age to be in his late 30s: he truly WAS ancient!


The next week he was taken from North Carolina to South Carolina by Heather Kriegel, who would then take him to Christy Parker of Pinehaven Stables in Brunswick, Ga., (the Southern arm of Saddlebred Rescue) to get ready for his final journey from Georgia to Texas.


When he finally arrived in Texas at 3:30 in the morning, all I could see from the outside were two little ear tips, but a funny squeal let me know he was awake.  After unloading his buddy, he stood there, proud as he could be at the edge of the trailer, surveying his new forever home. In true Hackney fashion, he jumped off the trailer none the worse for wear after such a long trip.


The next week was a little hairy (literary and figuratively speaking) health wise as he was tired from the journey and so hungry that he just gulped down his feed, which caused him to choke. Thankfully, due to the immediate action of my vet and the help of some antibiotics, he soon flourished and the light and pleasure you normally find in a Hackney’s eyes returned.


By this time, Gumby Tex was renamed “Fuzzy” due to all that hair. He was now Mason’s Christmas gift. Their first meeting evoked squeals from both pony and child; it brought tears to my eyes to see the instant bond between the two! This pony was truly more than I could ever have hoped for. And then it was time for his final name change, as Mason looked up and informed me that his name was “Doodlebug” and not Fuzzy anymore!


Mason was delighted with his Christmas present.


The irony of all this was that when Mason was born in June 2003, my first gift to him on his birthday was a first edition mint copy of a book that told the story of an abandoned Hackney pony. I kept reading this book to him as a baby in the hopes of planting the seed of a lifelong love for horses and ponies (a long-time tradition in my family), but never in my wildest imagination could I have foreseen how prophetic that gift would be, that one day he would have a rescued Hackney of our very own. I could never have imagined it, but I did mention that I believe in faith, didn’t I?


One thing quickly became very obvious; this little pony had been loved all of his life. Whenever he heard a human voice, he would call them over to his stall to be petted and start begging for a snack. Most people happily obliged, usually also dropping to their knees to receive the little nuzzles and licks he would dish out!


Health wise, we soon discovered he had no front teeth left, but he still refused to eat anything mushy. Since we were frightened by the previous episode of choke, we started to feed him soft Senior feed and the finest, softest alfalfa hay we could find. It didn’t take long before the pounds just packed on. Another health concern was his tremendously long coat. In some places it was actually longer than his mane! Spring in Texas came early that year, and like a butterfly, finally Doodlebug’s hair cocoon popped and out came a beautiful, fat, shiny black/brown Hackney, with very small tippy ears and delight in his eyes.


Doodlebug and Mason became an instant pair, with the small child leading the pony to get to the juiciest bits of grass. Mason would look at the grass carefully to see if it was just right for consumption for his precious Doodlebug. Mason was made aware of Doodlebug’s dental ‘situation’ as he loves to feed the horses and ponies carrots and we had to make certain he would not give any of that to the pony. So, everything that Doodlebug needed to eat was inspected carefully to see if it would pass Mason’s approval. The leading around eventually led to a need to climb on top, and pretty soon the wish was for a saddle so Mason could ‘ride’ and enjoy his newfound friend fully.


From the first moment Mason was placed on top of Doodlebug, the pony made a remarkable change in attitude. He parked out and waited for us to pick up the lead line and ask for a walk. He walked around with this small child on his back as if he was carrying a load of china and immediately parked out when we stopped.


In no time, Mason was up and riding Doodlebug around the farm.


The Pin Oak Horse Show was coming up pretty soon, and we decided it would be time to expose Mason to the show ring in the lead line class. Well, we could not have asked for a better ride or a better attitude. They were a proud pair, Doodlebug stepping up to the music with a spring in his step, his neck held high and his little ears tipped forward. What a contender he must have been when he was young!


After months of care and preparation,

Mason and Doodlebug were ready for the show ring.

They debuted at Pin Oak with grandma Anke Rogers on the lead.


We could have never imagined an equal to this magnificent little pony. His Hackney pride shines through in everything he does and even though we know his time with us is going to be short due to his age, it will be an episode in our lives that will be cherished forever. Doodlebug’s place in our hearts is permanent as he was the one that led and guided a precious child on his first steps into the horse world!


In looking for your next horse, no matter what your needs, I ask you to consider a horse from Saddlebred Rescue. I guarantee you’ll feel great about saving a life and you never know what treasures you might uncover just by giving a horse a chance. As Doodlebug shows, with faith, anything is possible!        

More information can be found on Saddlebred Rescue Inc, a 501 c-3 nonprofit organization, on their web site or by calling Pat Johnson, executive director, at 908-304-3560.

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