A mother, a daughter, and a beloved pony are the main characters in a moving true-life tale that demonstrates the connection so many of us horse owners have with our equine partners.
Journalist Tim Neville follows this heartwarming story for Outside Magazine in his article The Last Ride of Legend, a Pony Who Lived Up to His Name, which tells how Mattie Allen and her daughter Maizie traveled from their native New Mexico to Virginia, carrying Legend’s ashes with them so that he would be returned to the island he once called home. They chose July to coincide with the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim.
Legend had a gorgeous golden dun coat and striking blue eyes, he was auctioned off in 1988 following the Pony Swim made famous in Marguerite Henry’s classic children’s book Misty of Chincoteague. Legend, like Misty, touched the hearts of several owners throughout his life before eventually landing in the home and hearts of Mattie and her daughter Maizie, who was eight at the time the pony came into their lives.
Mattie describes Maizie’s relationship with Legend as extraordinarily close. “She spent hours braiding Legend’s long, black mane and weaving flowers into her handiwork, content just to hear him chew and sigh,” she tells Neville. “He loved her attention and tolerated a few antics, too. One time she dressed him up like a snail, complete with googly eyestalks, and then climbed into the saddle wearing a tulle skirt and wings. She looked like a woodland fairy.”
Throughout their time together, Legend helped Maizie develop confidence as she grew into a teenager. Neville, who travelled with the mother and daughter, noted of Maizie, “She seems much older than her years; her sense of empathy is enormous. Legend obviously played a role in that.”
As Legend grew older and weaker with age, tough decisions had to made. As Neville writes, “There’s that terrible moment where we have to decide to purposefully kill the things that we love to save them from suffering. And that’s just a very hard thing for anyone to deal with.”
Once in Chincoteague, Mattie and Maizie arranged to have Legend “swim” with the herd one last time, and in a symbolic gesture they arranged for a saltwater cowboy named Steve Liscum, carrying some of Legend’s ashes, to make the historic swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island during the annual Pony Swim. “Legend would have done that when he was just a colt in July 1988, where he was then auctioned off.”
After checking with park officials, Mattie and Maizie were told they could not spread the ashes on the island. Instead, in a private ceremony, the pair paddled their kayaks out into the water. Maizie waited for the tide to start to change and then released Legend’s ashes into the water so that they would hopefully wash back up onto the beach.