Ellie came as one of a pair. Two almost identical miniature Shetland ponies – sisters or mother and daughter without a doubt. Distinguishable only by the slightly different hue of their palomino coats and the different lengths of their extravagant manes and tails. The darker fur on Ellie’s nose also formed the shape of a heart around her fuzzy nostrils. When the two of them friend came into my care, some six years ago, they were already old and with chronic health issues typical of their advanced maturity. Yet soon with a good diet they were full of life and, it seemed, would go on for a long while to come.
Although similar in appearance, and inseparable in relationship, their personalities were starkly different and, unlike their size, there was nothing diminutive about either of them. Dawn the calm, independent and confident one, with incredible problem solving skills and a tenacity for breaking out through fencing. Ellie was nervous however, and wary of strangers or even people she knew at times.
Ellie was particularly drawn to young children, the smaller the better, towards whom she would magnetise from a distance. She’d walk beside them, as they held her rope in tiny hands, taking care to slow down so they could keep up, and not to push into them when squeezing through the gate. Young arms wrapped around her neck, chubby faces buried in the mattress of her mane, hands tugging at her tail with a brush: she received all with love, tolerance and gentleness of spirit.
Perhaps the most vocal pony I have ever known, Ellie’s way of communicating was like a fanfare. As our relationship developed, she would respond to my own calls with her high pitched whinnying as well as making her views known very clearly to the rest of the herd. She aspired to be the lead mare and vied daily with Ruby, who was four times her size, for this coveted position. Her weaponry: piercing squeals, a whipping with her immense tail and, revoltingly, a willingness to cover herself in warm dung! Although she rarely stood up to the flattened ears and threatened discipline of her rival, she nonetheless succeeded in becoming the almost constant companion of the lead gelding of the herd, Winston, to whom she became devoted. His bulk would tower over her, she like a little baby elephant, trailing in the wake of her mother, as they grazed in tandem around the field. In heavy wind and rain, he would tenderly shelter her under his broad neck and shoulders where she’d hide from the elements. Her life-long bond with Dawn still remained intact and it was for resting and sleeping that they would come together mostly, side by fluffy side, their heads lolling in unison as they dozed.
The impact of this small pony on the children who worked and played with her was something really special. She would touch them with both her hearts: the one on her nose and the one which seemed to radiate understanding and healing from within. She helped a number of traumatised children of all ages to find their voice and their confidence.
For adults her presence could be equally life-changing. Ellie had this way of singling out particular individuals whose attention was invariably directed towards the bigger horses. They would suddenly feel a polite little nudge in the back of their leg and there she would be, inviting contact. From parenting issues to bereavement to career dilemmas she intervened, helping people to soften into self compassion and pave the way for change.
Ellie, who brought me so much joy, and touched the lives of all those she encountered, passed away peacefully of natural causes on a sunny afternoon in February. She chose a moment when I was close by enjoying the sight of her basking in the winter warmth. In the copse beyond, an abundance of snowdrops peeped through the russet carpet of fallen autumn leaves.