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Heart Of A Champion | Fall 2006 Out Here Magazine

Choteau, a Pony of the Americas, has made his mark — as an inductee in the POA Hall of Fame and in Susie Denny’s heart.

Child-sized equine can do everything the larger horses can — and more

By Hannah Wolfson

Photography by Larry W. Smith

Not every pony gets a big party on his birthday, complete with carrot cake and cookies. But then, not many ponies have achieved as much as Choteau has in his 41 years.

Choteau, the reigning show champion of the Pony of the Americas world, has twice retired the POA trophy and recently was inducted into the POA Hall of Fame in Indianapolis.

"He did what no other has ever done in the history of POA, so we're pretty proud of him," says Susie Denny, who has owned Choteau for 40 years and calls him by his nickname, Gray.

Choteau is an exceptional horse, Denny says, but at the same time, he's the perfect example of a breed that deserves to be known better.

"They're smaller than the bigger horses but they have a bigger heart than anything you've ever seen," says Denny, who works for Tractor Supply Co., in the Hutchinson, KS, store.

Denny's family bought Choteau as a yearling because Denny, then 8, had outgrown the Shetland pony she had always ridden. It was a perfect match; indeed, the POA was first bred in 1954 by a Shetland pony breeder from Mason City, Iowa, who wanted a gentle, smaller horse for children to ride and show.

Today, there exist more than 40,000 registered POAs, all between 46 and 54 inches high who look like what Denny calls a mix of Quarter Horse and Appaloosa.

What distinguishes the breed, Denny says, is not their looks, but their sweet disposition and overall ability.

"They're very versatile," she says. "You can ride the same horse in Western pleasure and in barrel. Whatever you want them to do, they're willing to try. I first learned to rope off Gray."

POAs excel in trail riding, driving, jumping, dressage, and gymkhana events, and official POA club competitions range from Western pleasure to open jumping to goat tying, with everything in between. When Denny rode Choteau in all of her events, his all-around talent amazed the judges, who were accustomed to riders switching ponies throughout the day.

That probably explains his champion record. In the decade Denny showed him, he twice won the overall traveling trophy for champion gelding. When she had to quit — POA shows allow only children under 18 — she passed the reins to her younger sister, who also won twice. Years later, her nephew Brandon also won twice on Choteau.

POA rules say that three wins mean a chance to retire the trophy. So Choteau retired it twice, guaranteeing him a position in POA history.

More importantly, he earned a spot in Denny's heart. All from a horse who, when he first arrived, was so gawky no one thought he'd amount to much.

"He was the ugliest little thing you have ever seen," Denny recalls. "He was absolutely nothing like you'd expect in a champion."

Now, Choteau, who has gone way beyond a horse's life expectancy, gets to relax in the pasture, occasionally munching on his favorite treats — Oreo Double Stuf® and Snickers®candy bars.

"We've had a lot of horses and I do believe there is one 'Special One' in everyone's life and this is it," she says. "There's just a connection there. It's hard to explain."

Hannah Wolfson lives in Birmingham, AL.