Adriana Zoder: Walking ponies a lot like raising children

Sep. 21, 2013 @ 11:33 PM

Last year we took our children to the Sevier County Fair, so this year we decided to try the TVA Fair in Knoxville just to see the difference.

The TVA Fair Grounds are next to the Knoxville Zoo so the drive was familiar. We signed up for a free educational program called “Down on the Farm.”

We were part of a big group. As soon as we got seated, they split us into 10 smaller groups, each with a leader holding a number sign. After the opening act, a very funny juggler, we moved from station to station with our smaller group.

Here were the stations: sheep and wool, bugs, corn-soybeans-wheat crops, bee keeping, pizza ingredients, cows, chickens, rabbits, horses. Our children pet the animals and took everything in.

It was hot and dusty, tiring and, at times, boring. But the children had fun and learned a few things.

We now know, for instance, what hundreds of hens and rabbits smell like collectively.

Afterward, we explored the fair on our own. We learned the hard way they close the rides between 3-4 p.m. My fault, I guess, for not checking their website in advance.

A few days later, we went to the Exotic Petting Zoo in Sevierville. Of course, there’s always an incident when children visit a petting zoo.

Two years ago, a camel nibbled on my son’s hand while he was feeding it. This year, my daughter got licked by a huge white horse who stretched over the fence to get to her head. It scared her and she cried, asking to leave right away. Even my son started crying, being afraid for his sister.

I calmed them down by taking them to the zebra and emu area. They continued to have fun and even mustered enough courage to go inside the goat pen. I sent them in with my mom, because — how can I put it? — I am not exactly a goat pen fan. But my mom grew up on a farm and she enjoyed it.

However, when the children got pony rides, guess who had to hold the reins?

My mom was afraid the ponies might kick the children off their backs and she would not know what to do. I was “it” by default. Challenging, but I managed. The little tutorial they give you in the beginning helps. They mentioned the ponies knew what to do. If they stopped, I was to pull gently on the rein.

They gave my son the biggest pony. After two rounds, when it stopped, I pulled on the rein to get it to go. It did not move. I looked at its back and realized what was happening. I explained to my son the pony was relieving itself, and we waited patiently.

The smallest and oldest pony, age 22 ½, was deemed appropriate for my 3-year-old daughter. Well, it wanted to nibble on grass. I yanked the rein and it obeyed me. I got more confident and ended up enjoying the experience.

Which made me think that walking a pony with a child on it is a lot like raising that child: scary, unpredictable, challenging, involving food and its elimination, and sometimes you have to yank the rein gently to keep them on the right track.

In the process, if you can relax, you can have fun, too.

Adriana Zoder, a Gatlinburg resident, is a writer and homeschooling mom. She and her husband have two children. She maintains the blog