Happy Birthday, Tonka!

Tonka was born in Dripping Springs, Texas on February 11, 2006. His sire was a black and white paint stud, named Last Chance Investment, who was known locally as quite a good roping horse. Tonka’s dam was also a black and white paint. Her name was Moon King Bea. As far as I know, for his first four years he was pretty much left alone by people. He lived in a large group of horses, likely with his aunties and cousins. He learned how to read horse body language from the mamas who kept him in line. He was outside 24/7, able to graze all day and during the night, too (horses wander and graze at all hours.) That made him strong and kept him sane – horses are designed to forage, not stand in one place and eat only a few times a day. Tonka and the other youngsters played games, which is essential if you want a horse to know how to relate to others. Animal ethologists and behaviorists have recently learned that play isn’t about asserting dominance or even, among predators, all about learning to hunt. Rather, it’s about cementing social relationships, and it’s important for brain development. For horses, who are amenable herd animals, and who must get along with others in order to survive, play is not frivolous time. It’s necessary.

Tonka was lucky to grow up in a herd. Socializing with other youngsters and aunties is more essential than constantly being handled by people. In fact, foals that are kept stalled and separated from the group often have behavioral issues. When Tonka was four, he was purchased by a kind rider, who taught him gently about saddles and life with people. She brought him up to Maine, and although she loved him, could no longer own him. When I first met Tonka, it was clear to me that this was a horse with a sound mind. It’s why I bought him. The fact that he is handsome is icing on the cake.

Back there in Texas, in his herd, Tonka learned how to gallop, to watch his footing, and to take care of himself. And so, when I ride him out on the trails, I respect what he has to say. Some people teach their horses to be compliant – to always and only do exactly what is asked of them. You see this with horses trained in “natural horsemanship” in which they are chased around until they give up and either do as told, or do nothing. I don’t want that relationship with Tonka. I want a cooperative horse. I want a dialog. Here’s an example. Last summer I was riding Tonka on a trail in the woods. We were walking along when he stopped dead in his tracks. If I had a compliant horse, I would have told him to go on, and he would have. But, I have a cooperative horse, one who trusts that if there is an issue, that I’ll weigh it with him. I looked to see what he was alerting me to. A yellow jacket (a very nasty wasp) zipped past. It’s uncommon to see them in the trees. Tonka took a moment to cautiously look for a ground nest. There wasn’t one in our way. We continued on. I was grateful not only for his caution, but also that we were able to communicate about what we both knew about the trail. This is not to say that I let him do what he wants. I do assert my right to be in charge of the decisions. He’s learned that if we disagree about something that worries him, (for example, he has a fear of wild rabbits) that if I insist that we go on, that nothing bad will happen. Trust is built, not forced.

Tonka's face


Today Tonka turns nine. A horse reaches his prime in his teens. With luck and good care a horse can be ridden into their late twenties. Here’s to a lot of good years, Tonka!

on Tonka

(That’s his I just had a peppermint candy face.)


  1. Happy Birthday Tonka! You are a lucky horse, with a good childhood and now a loving understanding ne owner!!
    Lookin Good!! :)

  2. What a great read……I loved learning about Tonka`s family history! Isn`t it wonderful to know that he has had such a terrific life and will continue to live and learn thanks to his good fortune in having a capable and empathetic owner that loves him to bits!

  3. Happy Birthday, Tonka!

    Lucky Tonka! Back in the 70’s where you were at, did the farms go through the ‘take the foal away at four months’ crap? They wanted a horse that was more securely bonded to people. *shakes head* Having a father raised on a farm, this never made sense to me. And, of course, the mares that grew up like that were incapable of being proper mothers. Short cutting never works.

  4. my horse is turning 26 years old this year. I’ve owned him since he was a 6 year old. When I retired him at age 17 I quit riding. Your post, and horse, makes me want to ride again. BTW, my horse was always getting injured when he lived in a 12′ X 24′ stall. Now, in a 2 acre pasture with 3 mares, zero vet bills, zero lameness and he looks like a youngster.

      • PS Lucky horse that you’ve kept him through retirement. I’ve seen some very sad situations where people are dumping old and lame horses.

        • Seriously? People get rid of their old lame horses? That’s really sad, to keep a horse for 20+ years (or less) and then get rid of it because it’s an inconvenience (I’m guessing that’s why they do it). Thank goodness Tonka won’t have to go through that!!!

          • Horses are very expensive to keep. Some people can honestly no longer afford it. Some people lose interest in riding and no longer want to spend the thousands a year that it takes to maintain a horse. There are many difficult stories. Not all are black and white. Unfortunately, there are also those people who try to unload their old horses (who deserve a comfortable retirement) to situations that are not good. I’ve seen elderly, lame horses being sold as beginner mounts. Quite sad and upsetting.

  5. Happy Birthday Tonka!! All your stories make me homesick for the farm and my horses. I started riding very early in life and rode until we moved to town and had to re-home our beloved horses. Haven’t had a horse to ride in close to 40 years and I can still close my eyes and smell them and feel their movement under me. God bless you for giving your Tonka such a wonderful forever home! Hope you have many, many more wonderful years with him.

  6. What a blessing for Tonka and for you to have each other. I am so glad for you that you discovered you could ride again. Enjoy each other.

  7. Thanks for such a warm and educational story. I so enjoy all of your animal knowledge! You and Tonka are very lucky to have each other!

    Thanks again!!

  8. I love the matching smiles on you both on the last photo. Says it all!

  9. Happy birthday, Tonka! May you and Terry have a lifetime of gentle conversations, walks in the woods, and lots peppermint candies.

  10. Happy Happy Birthday, Tonka!!! Peppermint candy!!! Who knew? I once had a cat that adored Butter Rum Lifesavers!

  11. Happy Birthday, Dear Tonka. You bring a lot of joy to your Lovely Lady and us followers of your antics. That mint must have made you smile!!

  12. What a charmer he is! I miss my days as a ” stable rat”. you two inspire me to literally get back in the saddle again!

  13. Happy Birthday Tonka….I always find it very sad when people don’t commit to their horses their entire life. They serve us all their life – they deserve a retirement with us also. Sadly too many people dump them at that stage.