As I checked out the line of ponies tethered to the rail in the long, low barn at the Kitchener Horse Auction, a little blue roan gelding with a black face and matching legs caught my eye. He was well built and about the size I needed for my riding school in Toronto.

I went in for a closer look, ran my hands over him and checked his mouth. He must have come from a good home because, unlike the other ponies, he was well-groomed and had a red ribbon braided in his mane.

The old saying is, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” so I had learned to be very careful. I untied the pony, took him out of the barn and hopped on his back, expecting the worst. To my surprise he was a real little gentleman and went through his paces without a hitch. He even neck-reined, responding easily to the touch of the halter rope. I made up my mind that I had to have him.

The auctioneer, sensing my interest, showed no mercy and I ended up paying the premium price of thirty dollars for him (ponies were normally a dime a dozen back in the 1970s). When I got him home I put him right to work. The riding instructors fitted him out with a little English saddle and for several days he earned his keep while the kids in the junior classes posted around on his back.

It was about two weeks later when I noticed something peculiar about him. I’d agreed to rent him out to some parents who wanted a pony to lead around. We used different tack for that job: fancy little western saddles with a horn for the kids to hang onto. I was in the barn and Dick, my stableman, had the new pony out in the paddock getting him ready when I heard a group of kids burst out laughing. I went out to investigate. Dick was trying to tack up the pony and wasn’t having much luck. When he placed the saddle blanket on the animal’s back and then turned to reach for the saddle, the pony would swing his head back, grasp the blanket in his teeth, snap it off his back and toss it to the ground. This had happened several times and the kids were getting quite a kick out of the pony’s performance.

I went out and held the pony’s head while Dick finished getting him ready and once he was tacked up the little imp didn’t give anybody any further trouble. The pony’s antics were unusual but seemed harmless, so I didn’t think much more about him until a week later. Dick had given me a list of the horses and ponies that needed their feet trimmed and the new roan pony was first in line. It was a nice day so I decided to work outside. While I strapped on my leather apron and gathered up my tools, Dick led the pony into the paddock and held him. I approached the pony and leaned over to pick up his near forefoot and as I did, my hand touched his elbow. The pony immediately bent one knee and dropped into a perfect bow.

At first I thought he was trying to avoid having his feet trimmed, but when he bent his head down with his forehead touching the ground, I figured there must be something more going on. He stayed in that position for quite a while, glancing up at me out of the corner of his eye as if trying to tell me something. I finally clued in, trying to find the signal to get him back on his feet. I said, ”Up!” and he did just that, leaping to his feet and shaking the sand off his nose.

Dick and I were both intrigued by what the pony had done, so we put off the hoof trimming while we investigated further. I led the animal to the centre of the riding ring where there was lots of soft sand to see if I could get him to repeat his performance. No problem. I touched the same elbow and the pony bowed again. We repeated it several times to make sure it wasn’t a fluke and then I decided to try something else. Reaching over his back, I touched the far elbow at the same time as the one closest to me and, “voila!” he went down on both knees.

We did that a few times and then I decided to up the ante. While he was down on both knees I tried to get him to bend his hind legs and go all the way, belly down to the ground. I was a while exploring his body, pressing, squeezing and imploring, but finally I found the magic spot on his rump and he obligingly plopped down. From that position it was easy to get him to roll over or to lie upside down with all four feet in the air.

After we got to know each other better, he would let me sit astride his upturned belly and pump his legs up and down. Dick and I realized that we had a trick pony on our hands and over the next few weeks we both learned more and more about his capabilities.

He was a real hit with my clients and one day when I had him in the ring performing, I unknowingly gave him a signal that initiated his best previously undisclosed trick. I was standing directly in front of him and for some reason I raised both of my arms at the same time, sort of ‘Moses parting the waters’ style. Tricksy, as we now called him, reared up on his hind legs and shuffled stiff-legged towards me. I was a little shocked and took a couple of steps backwards but when I did, he followed, still walking on his hind legs.

He seemed to expect me to stay still, so that’s what I did. He moved in on me until my nose was touching his breastbone and his legs were draped over my shoulders. One of the kids shouted, “He looks like he wants to dance!” and as it turned out, that’s exactly what he had in mind. As he hung almost weightless over my shoulders, he let me spin him around in a weird waltz.

Over the following months I learned more and more about the little blue pony’s marvellous abilities. I could get him to answer ‘yes’ by nodding or ‘no’ by shaking his head to and fro to questions I put to him. Sometimes I would get him to tell the kids his age by pawing the ground with his hoof. I arranged it so that he would stop at two or three years so that I could then say, “C’mon, Tricksy, be honest,” and then he would give me a peeved look and start scratching madly away at the ground until I told him to stop. Of course there were lots of secret signals necessary to get him to perform these tricks but circus lore prohibits me from divulging them!

I would have taken Tricksy with me when we moved to the Maritimes, but the people buying my business made leaving him a condition of the sale. All of that was a long time ago, but when I go through my old photo albums and see a picture of the little blue pony, I start thinking afresh about Tricksy’s mysterious life before we met.

I was never able trace his previous owner. It could have been a young girl heading off to college, but more probably an old horse trainer like myself who had taken the pony on as a swan song project before he made his last trip to the stables.