Last year, we embarked on a journey to find a pony that would be a suitable therapy partner for my nine-year-old autistic daughter. I came across an ad for a cute trail pony – 11 years old and great with kids. After extensive conversations with the owners, it was decided that this pony was likely the one for Emma. So, with my mother and daughter in tow, we made the long trek to visit the enchanting creature.

My first thought when I saw the pony was something akin to horror. In no way did she resemble the pictures I had seen. What was tied to the interior wall of an open barn (which I later learned was her stall) was a mangy coat and skeleton of a pony. She stood fetlock-deep in her own feces and urine, which had made the dirt floor soggy and muddy – there was no bedding. Picking up her feet resulted in a rancid odour of rot and her dropping to her knees. Her face, flecked with gray, was the backdrop to sunken terror-filled eyes. When I attempted to look at her teeth, my fingers were smeared with blood.

I wanted to run. This pony clearly was not what I had been led to believe. Aside from the obvious neglect, she was a flight risk, attempting to bolt at the earliest opportunity. In my mind, she was not suitable for my daughter, but, as I was about to reiterate this, my mother quite clearly asked if they’d ship her to our farm. Pardon? Did I hear that correctly? I stared, open-mouthed, at my mother and wondered if she’d lost her marbles. Perhaps the rotting smell had eliminated her good sense. Or perhaps her eye sight had failed so much on the drive here that she was unable to see the pony as I did. No, this was not the case. Instead, she looked at me and said, “That pony has kind eyes. You’d be a fool not to take her.” I obviously was living in a different dimension, but, if there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s that it is next to impossible to argue successfully with your mother. After much discussion, pleading and “Are you out of your mind?” statements, I handed over the meager sum and made arrangements for the poor pathetic creature to be delivered.

Her arrival brought additional regret. The wild fear in her eyes was still there, but her body shaking as though she was having an epileptic seizure was new. My daughter, on the other hand, was in heaven. She made a lovely little sign on white paper with the pony’s new name “Lacey” – in case we forgot it – then promptly thrust it into my hands and took off so that she could show Lacey how well she could canter on foot.

I was pretty sure I was having an out of body experience as I watched Emma running full speed, at a gallop, in large circles around us. But Lacey wasn’t afraid, rather there was an intent expression in her eyes as she watched Emma, much like that of a mare watching her foal. When Emma disappeared over the hill in the field, Lacey tried to follow, and when she couldn’t, she called to her to bring her back. That call brought me back to earth. I was stunned and tried to pass it off, but, when Emma came back, Lacey gently nuzzled her neck then calmly started to graze.

A quick visit from the vet revealed jagged teeth that had torn the inside of her mouth and an age closer to 18. After her dentistry appointment and pedicure, we began to notice her calming down. No longer did she walk the fields incessantly. Slowly, but surely, she began to gain weight. The terrible rough coat eventually fell out and in came a sleek new one.

Emma’s first ride on the lunge line filled me with apprehension and curiosity – gone was my fear. Lacey didn’t disappointment me. She carefully trotted around with her girl, stopping if she felt her losing her balance. When Emma became strong enough to ride in the ring by herself, Lacey remained calm. Any spooks resulted in Lacey trotting back to the barn as quickly as her little legs would carry her.

Our confidence and trust in Lacey soon grew, and we would go for long walking hacks on the trails in the local conservation area. I would walk my two-year-old horse on foot and Emma would follow behind riding Lacey. It was on one of these rides that she said, “Mommy, I feel like Mantracker.” And it was here that I cried. It was the first time Emma had associated herself with someone else.

Other changes came about too. Emma began to learn empathy with Lacey, careful not to hurt her. But, most of all, she developed self-confidence. She could ride her pony all by herself and this confidence transferred to other areas of her life!

Now, Emma and Lacey walk trot and canter around. Lacey still makes sure that Emma is safe and Emma is devoted to her very best friend Lacey.

And yes, I have answered my question. I do know who rescued who.