A dear and kind teacher died not too long ago.
His name was Ciao Hughes, and he lived at Doodle Hill Farm in St. Matthews. He is buried in a sun-washed field that slopes gently toward a forest of tall pines and stately oaks.
Those who knew him – and there are many – hope that his passing was easy. Most likely it was a massive heart attack in the middle of the night.
“I was heartbroken when I found him,” said Tissy Grubb, one of Ciao’s many admirers and the first to discover his body.
Heartbroken, for sure, because dear and kind teachers are hard to come by, especially when they are the equine variety.
Yes, Ciao was a horse. But not just any horse. He was a school pony, which is not to suggest that he was particularly small as the description “pony” might imply, but which is to say that he worked patiently, day in and day out, teaching children how to ride.
But, you ask, aren’t riding teachers people? The two-legged types who stand on the ground issuing instructions from the middle of a ring?
Well, yes, but horses are teachers too, and Ciao (pronounced “Chow”) made the school-pony profession proud.
“Everyone who rode him loved him,” said Mary DesPortes, proprietor of Doodle Hill Farm.
DesPortes, a riding teacher – yes, the two-legged type – said Ciao taught students “the things that are hard to verbally teach like timing, rhythm and balance.”
And, she said, Ciao possessed a special kind of confidence that school ponies must have to mold inexperienced students into competent riders.
“School ponies must have some confidence that they know what they are supposed to be doing even when the signals coming in (from the rider) are a little fuzzy.”
In other words, school ponies must be Steady Eddies no matter what. They must be thoughtful enough to know that while a young rider’s legs might be flapping clumsily against the saddle that should not be interpreted as a signal to go faster.
Ciao knew these things and who knows how many calm, quiet circles he made around a ring or pasture while a young student aboard mastered the subtleties of communication between horse and rider.
Sally Hughes, who trained and rode Ciao when he was a much younger horse, said he was a “best friend and teacher. He was always teaching me something about life and friendship.”
Hughes recalled his recent burial in the sun-soaked field.
“Ciao was king of his pasture. When we buried him, he was lying beside his grave and just before he was to be put in, all of the horses from his pasture trotted up to the graveside and lined up where they were all facing him. They then walked to the other side until he was put in. When he was in, they all took off at a victory gallop to the top of the pasture.”
A fitting tribute to a fine teacher who won many a student’s heart.