Back in 1959, when I was ten years old, I spent two weeks of my summer with my sister in a child’s version of heaven on earth. I’m talking about the Pony Farm, or “Children’s Happy Acres” as it was officially called. North of Bellingham Washington, forty boys and girls came together for a week of living on a farm, and having their own Shetland pony to ride everyday and learn how to take care of. The price tag was forty dollars per week, considered high back then, and included three square meals a day of the best fresh farm produce and livestock I’ve ever tasted- and all organic, of course. This was way before chemicals made the fertilizer scene. And way before insurance companies made it impossible for something like this to even exist.
This Shetland pony farm came complete with a very rustic bunkhouse to accommodate us forty boys and girls, a miniature Dodge City, fruit orchards, organic vegetable gardens, dogs, cats, barnyard critters, chariots, a stagecoach and a real covered wagon. This place was major fun! We had Ben-Hur-style chariot races on Wednesday nights in our Circus Maximus arena, with two ponies each on the chariots. We weren’t allowed to drive the chariots, but we were on our knees inside peeking over the tin side, and hanging on for dear life as the dust was flying! The massive hayloft, in the red barn, had a great Tarzan rope swing and a tunnel complex safely built for us little people. The owner’s children, John, Jerry and Teri, knew everything about horses and ponies, and were dearly loved by all of us young, aspiring cowboys. Their parents, Roy and Julia, showed us how to butcher chickens, milk cows manually, care for our ponies and ride like Indians. In my first week there, I started out on old Pee Wee but progressed quickly to Prince, the Indian pinto pony. He’d be my regular pony in future summers, and I always rode him bareback, just like the Indians.
Playing guns here was like out of a movie set- way too good to be true! All of us kids were raised on TV shows like Bonanza, The Rebel, Maverick, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Rifleman, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Cheyenne, Wagon Train, The Real McCoy’s, Gun Smoke, Stagecoach West, Rawhide, Zorro, and The Virginian. No wonder our heroes were always cowboys! Playing out our dreams in a small cowboy town built for children was heavenly. I had a Johnny Yuma/The Rebel sawed-off shotgun hanging from my saddle- the total envy of all the other little cowboys. They were packing Mattel Fanner Fifties, which actually shot spring loaded plastic bullets. Before going home, we had a campout in the woods, with our covered Conestoga wagon and individual ponies, sleeping on the damp ground around a roaring bonfire. You could hear the ponies peeing loudly at night. I remember getting my first taste of live music around these campfires, as Roy and Julia played guitars and sang nostalgic cowboy songs. Little did I know then that the seeds had been planted for my later love affair with country western music? Or that fifty years later, I’d be a singer/songwriter, as well as a published author, with a CD and book testifying to the power of this Pony Farm.
Then sadly, on Sunday morning from the hay loft, we’d see Mom’s red rag-top VW coming to pick us up. This was not good! Our week in heaven was over. Upon arriving home, my sister and I would cry nonstop, like babies, until our parents agreed to send us back for another week. Yes! So that is how we worked our parents in the early 1960s, to get another week back in heaven on earth- heaven for a kid raised in a world so different than today. “My heroes have always been cowboys”, thanks to the Pony Farm and TV heroes back in an age that is now gone with the wind. I’m so glad I grew up then! Om Namaha Shivaya