Mr. Chips Cracks a Secret of The Universe, and Jane Manages to Stay Out of Prison

Shetland Pony
Image via Wikipedia

I came home from work one day, expecting to find Roz and Mr. Chips in their usual positions, grazing at the lowest end of the pasture, eking out the last possible moments of socializing with the horses next door.  No one’s parents yelled “dinner time!” yet.

Roz was grazing in star-crossed angst, muzzle to muzzle with her favorite gelding. Separated by fencing.  Thank god.  Remove the fence and Roz’ favorite gelding would immediately be beaten to a pulp for looking at her wrong.

Fences.  The difference between dating and marriage.

I drop the grocery bag and run.  If you come home 362 days of the year, and your horses are always in the same spot, on day 363, when one is missing,  you run.

I find Mr. Chips standing in the middle of the pasture, nose nearly to the ground.  He’d been hidden from view by the barn.  He nudges something.  I see a flash of black and white in the sun-burnt grass, and start sniffing for scent.  A dead skunk?

No smell that I can detect.

Oh no.  A live skunk?!

I. Am. Gonna. Kill. Him.  He’s nudging a live skunk?  He’s had his rabies shot.  I haven’t. I’m not going near whatever that is. Please tell me I have Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover in the cupboard.  And mothballs.  And sudsy Ammonia.

I turn to trudge back up the hill for homemade skunk Napalm, and wish again that I had a shotgun. (Yes, that statement came out of the mouth of someone who used to live in Berkeley. World Peace and We Are All One are great…until One of us has Rabies.)

I come back in a heavy yellow rain suit, rubber boots, industrial rubber gloves, a bucket full of old gym socks balled up and soaking in ammonia, and a bag of home-made hand grenades: nylon stockings cut into sections, stuffed with mothballs, and tied off.  I stuck a couple of carrots in my pocket for good measure, to throw in the opposite direction, to separate skunk and annoyingly inquisitive pony before I throw the skunk grenades.

If I can just halter them and get them out of the pasture, I can call animal control (or my neighbor) and dispose of the skunk problem while keeping them safe.

This is how I ended up in the pasture in full winter-weight rain gear, on a 90 degree day in September, smelling like a Special Ops Guerilla Cleaning Service while staring at my Shetland pony nudging…a soccer ball.

Maybe my mother has a point.  Maybe I need to work on the glass is half-full thing.

A soccer ball?  In a locked pasture, far from the road, in the middle of No Where?

Mr. Chips lifts his head, delicately sniffs the air, and sneezes violently.  He locates the source of All Evil Smells (that would be me), and wrinkles his nostrils in displeasure: Ew. Go away.   You stink.

I trudge back up the hill with my odoriferous baggage, not exactly cursing the false alarm, but not exactly thrilled to be trudging up a hill in the hot sun while reeking of mothballs, ammonia and over heated rubber.  I dump everything in front of the house in the driveway, peel off the yellow overalls, jacket, gloves and boots, and…go take a shower.

Now I’m glad I don’t have a rifle.  I’d kill him.

When I go back down to groom and feed, Mr. Chips is still standing with his muzzle inches from the soccer ball.  Staring at it as if it were something to be figured out.   His nose twitches, and he glances up at me, wrinkling his muzzle on principle.  Don’t do that again.  GROSS smells. Gross.

Ignoring him, I toss hay in the racks and grain in the bin.  Roz trots up the hill, completely oblivious to the panicked cries of the love-struck gelding, making a bee-line for her stall.  Love is cruel.

I stand guard at the stall door, ready to use the Shetland pony equivalent of a cattle prod: a really really BIG carrot) to keep him from muscling past me to get her food.  Roz stops short of her stall door, and we both peer over her shoulder.  No pony.  Huh.  We look at each other.  Then Roz steps into the stall and happily buries her head in the feed.  I slide the door shut, and go to investigate.

Mr. Chips has assumed a Buddha-like position in relation to the soccer ball.  He’s going to stare at it until it revels it’s secrets.  He looks up.  I hold out the carrot.  He trots over, takes it, and trots back.  Terrific.  He has popcorn for his movie.  He chews and contemplates The Round Thing.

This pony never ceases to floor me.  Eventually he drifts over to his hay rack, reaches up, flips the quarter flake of hay out of the top of the rack so it falls on the ground, picks it up in his teeth and trots back to The Round Thing.  Movie night.

I sigh.  Go back up to the house to make my dinner.  I’ll have to come back in an hour to let Roz out.  Our routines are all geared around keeping Mr. Chips away from food.

After I’ve finished my gourmet bowl of Lucky Charms and do house-things, (which includes ignoring the mess of smells in the driveway) I return to let Roz out for the night. She ambles out into the beautiful evening light.

Mr. Chips, fortified by food, is no closer to solving the puzzle.  It’s clear he expects The Round Thing to do something.

For some inexplicable reason, this makes me cranky.  “It’s not going to tap dance and sing 42nd Street”, I say.  His return look says: human.  You know nothing of the mysteries of the world.  I will ponder this baffling equation that is clearly above your comprehension.

That’s it.  It’s hot, I tried to save his butt, I looked totally stupid, and it’s not one of the great mysteries of the world: it’s a soccer ball.

I march over, and kick it lightly with the toe of my boot.  It rolls and bumps away from him.  Instantly, I feel ashamed, as if I exposed Santa as a complete fraud to a five-year old. I blush.  What is wrong with me?!?

Mr. Chips looks up at me with wonder bordering on awe: Human!  You unlocked the secret! He trots excitedly after the ball, then glances back: aren’t you coming?!

Fine.  Fine.  I’m coming.  I follow Mr. Chips as he follows the bumping ball.  It stops in a rut. He nudges it.  Nada.  He thinks for a moment, pulls back his chin, and shoves the ball hard with his nose…like the toe of my boot did.  It bounces out of the rut and careens down the hill. Mr. Chips looks at me with  happiness, then takes off galloping after the ball.

At midnight, I’m in the pasture with a flashlight, trying to find the source of why each outraged squeal and thundering gallop is louder than the next, inciting dogs all over the valley to bark furiously.  For hours.  Oy.

I’m cranky, Roz is cranky, and Mr. Chips is in sheer pony heaven.  A flash of white streaks by, followed by a thundering midget horse, trumpeting like a stallion.  Oh God.  He’s learned to KICK the ball.

I finally take possession around 2 am, my first and only goal of the night.

It’s a big pasture.

When I come home from work the next day, an animal control truck is parked in my driveway.  An officer in uniform is squatting  next to the mothball-filled nylon stockings, and ammonia-soaked gym socks.  He’s knocked over the bucket to let it drain. The yellow overalls and jacket are hanging on my fence.

I try to smile my best Hi!  This is normal, why are you here? smile.  It falls a little short. He pulls out a metal clipboard box.

“We’ve had some complaints…” he pauses, looking at me to judge my potential guilt.  “Seems like your neighbors heard what they believe was an animal being beaten, around 1 am?”

Nope. That’s later, I think.

“Mind if I take a look around?” he says, scanning the area for hidden threats.

“Please”, I say, unlocking the gate and motioning him through, “feel free.”

By the time I’ve explained the soccer ball I mistook for a skunk, my obsessive pony, and held up the battered ball with little hoof prints on it, he’s looking…doubtful.

I sigh.  Ask  him to follow me.  I unchain the Fort Knox pasture, explaining that cute little pony can open all the gates, and drop the soccer ball in front of Mr. Chips.

Mr. Chips looks at the ball with puzzlement.  He pretends he’s never seen it before.

Oh.  I’m being punished.  For taking it away at 2 am.  Great.

Genius strikes.  I kick the ball.  Mr. Chips can’t resist.  IT’S MOVING.  He gallops off after it with a war cry that sounds like two maddened pigs attacking each other.  He stops the ball with his nose, flips around, looks back over his shoulder to focus on the ball, lifts a hind leg and kicks hard, sending the ball soaring across the pasture.  He trumpets again, squealing and bucking, and pounds after the ball, ears pinned, head close to the ground.

I look back at the Animal Control Guy.  He’s vibrating, with a huge grin on his face.

I say, “It just…showed up…in the pasture yesterday.  I couldn’t get it away from him until 2 am.”  I pause, knowing he’s trying not to burst out laughing.  “But if you want to impound it and charge me with soccer ball abuse, I understand.”

All the while, Mr. Chips is zooming around us like a demented Futbol player on crack, squealing and screaming. Roz is ignoring him.

“You need to call your neighbors” Animal Control Guy says “And I’d impose a curfew on ball playing if I were you.”


“Can I take a picture?  They’re never going to believe this at the office.”

That’s how Mr. Chips ended up on the wall of the Humane Society, next to photos of the 10 Most Wanted.

66 thoughts on “Mr. Chips Cracks a Secret of The Universe, and Jane Manages to Stay Out of Prison

  1. I am sharing Mr. Chips encounter with the Universe…again…after re-reading and picking myself up off the floor….again 🙂 I can’t remember when I first stumbled upon your blog, but totally fell in love with Mr. Chips…a real character that reminds me of my childhood Shetland, Prince. Have you written that children’s story of Mr. Chips yet? PLEASE DO 🙂

  2. Loved the story. I did not read all the replys, but thought you might want my skunk odor eliminator recipe and boy does it work!~

    I have had the chance to use this three times since my black and white cat thinks he is a dog, and inevitably gets tangled with a skunk once a year! AND he is oblivious to the stench!

    Anyway, 1 Quart of Hydrogen Peroxide to 1/4 cup of Baking soda and a few drops of Dawn Dish washing Detergent! Rinse said cat in water, and then pour solution all over and rub in. Rinse again! WAHLAH! NO MORE SKUNK SMELL! It is magical!

  3. THANK YOU! What a great story I was laughing so hard that my husband and kids thought I had finally, completely lost what ever sanity I have been clinging too! I will be back to read more Mr. Chips storys.

  4. I love your Mr Chips stories. I am a pony nut and have a cute little foundered Sheatland mare named Haylo. I just had to write you because i found the cutiest picture of a Shetland pony holding a soccer ball and I thought you and your readers would love to see it. It is at Sunkissed acers horse rescue in Summerville GA. if you look at thier happy ending page there it is! Keep the stories coming. if you wrtoe a pony book I would buy it! You are a wonderful writer.

  5. Too funny, for anyone who has ever dealt with horses or had an animal that wasn’t exactly obedient it’s funnier still……

  6. Funniest story I’ve heard in years!
    My mother had 2 mini horses that played with a big medicine ball. This story reminds me so much of them.

  7. Great story! I absolutely love your turn of phrase.
    I’ll have to try that with my colt. He just had cryptorchid surgery and I need to get him to exercise to get the surgical site to drain. I’ll wait a few days (walking him like the vet recommends) and then see if he wants to play with the ball.

    Apollo loves to take the halter from me and toss it up and down. I bet he will like a ball.

    I’m glad you had so many fulfilling years with Mr. Chip.

  8. Thanks for the laugh – I’ve been needing a good one. After reading the other comments, I realized that this happened 20 years ago. Is Mr. Chips still around? What a joy this must have been to watch. I had a golden retriever that we lost this past year who had a big red “indestructable ball” that she was obsessed with and would push all over the yard/pasture. She would have absolutely collapsed if we didn’t take it away from her after a while.
    What a gift you have for telling a story!

    1. Glad you liked it, I love sharing him with people. Mr. Chips is finally allowed in the house: there is no way he is going to leave me alone, even in spirit. (He’s no longer with us physically. )

      Either the vet was wrong when he estimated his age, or Mr. Chips lived to be 43 years old, and was quite imperial and happy to the end. One of the most important events in my life was Shaun getting to meet him while he was alive. (He approved, she could be bossed around.)

      Your dog was lucky to have you, knowing when to take the ball away, as well as provide it! I’m sorry you lost her.

      The soccer ball ended up being a completely brilliant exercise plan for a Shetland. I could feed him! I didn’t leave it in the pasture all the time, I was afraid he’d get bored. He got it after work and all day on the weekends and holidays. 😉

      1. I had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Duece whose favorite toy was a bowling ball. He would take his front paws and shove it back between his back legs. He would do it so hard when it hit our garage foundation it cracked the ball. We also had to take away from him because he would lick the holes until they were filled with spit. Really gross. His other favorite toy was a paving brick. He would shove it all over the yard and bark at it!

  9. I know that skunk! It sat in my mare’s stall (every night) under her feed bin waiting for drops corn or oats,. They had a pact-she didn’t get drug out of her stall and tacked up as long as he was sitting there, waving his black and white tail. So, she shared her dinner with him…..for too long! (hello, pesky critters?)

  10. This is a cute story. I have a Flemish Giant rabbit who plays with a whiffle ball and the antics are similar but on a much smaller scale. Mr. Chips is beautiful.

  11. This is a great story. I have a Flemish Giant rabbit who loves to play with a whiffle ball and his antics are similar but on a much smaller scale. Your horse is beautiful.

  12. I just found this on the facebook link from COTH…wonderful, wonderful story! I am at work and drew a crowd for laughing so hard. Thank you for the much needed laugh 🙂

  13. Just so you know — you’re famous now 😉 I just saw this link on Facebook via Chronicle of the Horse w/ the header
    “This is one of the funniest blog posts I’ve ever read”
    I would say it’s one of the funniest stories I have ever read, period. Very well done.
    Definitely should be a children’s book. Now, to share it with others.

  14. Ah, the joys and exasperations of ponies. In all kindness, may I suggest you POST THE PICTURE!! Pete’s sake! I can’t believe you mention a picture but don’t show me, ya big meanie!

    1. I know, it’s too painful! I am a big meanie. But not intentionally. There’s a reason I went to other sources looking for a palomino shetland. We have a photo problem. My house burned down, taking all known pictures of Roz, Mr. Chips, my other horse Connie, and several younger versions of myself and family members. 😦 I did contact the humane society, but they had no idea what I was talking about. (Mr. Chips was on their wall 20 years ago.)

      1. I know this is a long shot, but I’d contact the Humane Society again. Ask to speak to the agent who has been there the longest, and then ask *that* agent who would have been on staff 20 years ago who might have taken a photo of your pony. You might get lucky and find that the agent retired but is still active, still has the photo, and get a copy from him.

        You could also try craigslist. Ask if anyone knows the Humane Society Agent who took a photo of a pony who played with a soccer ball. I’m sure the agent told friends and family about meeting you and Mr. Chips.

        1. Smart! I did finally find a surviving photo, but not with soccer ball. It’s the kind of pic you wouldn’t consider putting in an album, so luckily, I didn’t. You can see him here. But it would be fun to have a copy of the one taken then. I’ll try next week, and see what happens.

  15. We had horses when I was a teenager. One horse found a glass apple cider jug. I don’t know if it still smelled like apples, but the horse would carry the jug around in its mouth for hours. At first we thought it might have its tongue stuck inside the narrow neck, but no. It just liked that jug!

  16. Oh I’ve cracked a rib. That was spectacular. Loved every word. You are a great writer of the absurd things our 4 legged kids do. I love the imagery of you and, “homemade skunk Napalm.” My husband has invented napalm for chihuahua pee in the house. Thank you so much for the laugh!!!!!!!!!!! I’m sending this to all my friends.

  17. A friend sent me a link to this blog and I laughed so hard that I almost peed in my pants! If you don’t mind, I’d love to put a link to it on my farm blog page. My readers would adore this little adventure! May I?


  18. OMG – SOOOOOO funny. I read Mr. Chips soccerball story out loud to my 18 hand “Shetland” (Shire with Shetland tendancies). HE LAUGHED … he had a scary experience with a BIG RED ball (his claim to fame is scaring horses far and wide with his dragon-worthy snorts! He isn’t SCARED, but feels BRAVE when he snorts – but it makes other horses quake, thinking if HE is so scared, they should definately be too). I am convinced he KNOWS what he is doing to the other horses….and loves the havoc he wreaks.
    You have GOT to write a book…or 10….

  19. We are calling Mr. Chips out. We have a mini donkey, Chester, who will challenge him, as he is our undefeated champion here at Infinity Farm. As an added benefit, the llamas keep imaginary skunks away, and our neighbors are used to all night donkey concerts, so no embarrassing photos at animal control. What do you say?

    1. Mr. Chips would totally love to hang with Chester, and they can challenge and egg each other on to their hearts content. We love all hooved quadrupeds here, but have special places in our hearts for ponies (especially Shetlands), donkeys, mules, minis, and drafts. Huh. That sort of covered everything, didn’t it. 😉

  20. Trotted over here from Kate’s blog. Oh. My. Goodness! You just made my night! No! My week! lol!

    You are a fantastic writer and this story needs to be in a magazine so more folks can enjoy it. Ilove Mr. Chips. What a wonderfully entertaining pony!
    I wonder if my mare would even look at a soccer ball? Probably not. Playing with balls is probably beneath her, like Roz. lol!
    Thanks for sharing this story.


  21. I love it! You’ve perfectly captured the unfathomable intellectual interplay between a horse and their human. I laughed so hard I had tears!! And a little anthropomorphizing every now and then is a good thing. Wonderful story!

  22. Just found you via Kate at “A Year with Horses” and this was this was the first story I read.

    I need to recover now. 🙂

    Also having grown up in Berkeley, I was particularly fond of that side-note. (We are blessed with really aggressive cat-food stealing raccoons here.)

    Those Berkeley folks really don’t get horses most of the time.

    Your writing is fabulous, thank you!

  23. This is hilarious – thank you so much for writing these stories down.

    Have you seen the books Mr. Putter and Tabby books? I can totally see a similar series for Mr. Chips. You would appeal to not only the children, but their MOMS! 🙂

    (and if big publishing NYC doesn’t bite, November Hill Press will!)

  24. OMG – HI-LA-RI-OUS!!! Yes – – u must write a book!!! I am on the verge of “lifting” your block to take in to read to my son’s 1st grade class!!

    Would be a very interesting time!! Me reading the story and then having the KIDS make their own illustrations of the story!!

    May I????

    PS – at the ripe old age of 10-12 — I actually learned to ride on a mini-shetland named “Sue Cat” — I am 5’8″ and was almost that height even at that age lol — and I must say – – that is the only horse that I ever fallen off of more than once (yes – – I won’t tell how many times I fell off of her lol)!!

    Thanks – – brings back some great memories of my own!!

    Now – – KEEP A VIDEO CAMERA at the barn so that you can def. catch Mr. Chips on video!!!

    Loved it!!!

  25. What a marvelous writer you are. Made my day. I have a 30 1/2″ miniature horse who is the smartest equine in my pasture. I can surely relate to your wonderful stories about Mr. Chips. Please, please write more. Immensely entertaining…

  26. Ow ow ow! I literally LOL’ed so hard I cried and my belly hurts now. My poor husband. I started laughing when you realized it was a soccer ball. When the laughing kept going, he asked me what was so funny. I told him it was a horse thing and it would take too long to explain and he’d get bored. (He would.) This was just what I needed today though — thank you for posting this!

    1. Not many people are talented enough to mistake a soccer ball for a live skunk.
      I have skunk Karma, so I can’t beat myself up too much for immediately assuming black and white on the ground is a skunk. I’ve been privy to a number of interactions with skunks, none of which involved being sprayed. But that’s another post!

  27. Jane – would it be permitted for me to put a sidebar on my blog with links to the Mr. Chips posts? I’ve got a couple of sidebars like this already with links to others’ blogs (identified as such), and people seem to really enjoy them. (it isn’t really for my readers, it’s really for me, so I can get my Mr. Chips fix whenever I feel like it!)

    1. Thanks Kate, I would be honored! (That’s a yes!)
      Mr. Chips would have nosed me aside by now, figured out the computer camera, recorded a brilliant video of His Royal Self in all his megawattage, and broadcast it across the world. Assuming, no, knowing it would bring about World Peace, and we would instantly beg him to become our benevolent tyrant.

  28. Jane, we all loved The Shetland Trajectory and by the responses you’ve got here, it is obvious you have something here worth capitalizing on. You probably never thought that pain-in-the-butt-pony would be worth money, but if you can’t see it, well……..

    ………..and stop teasing us with that picture. I thought for sure you had finally posted a picture of Mr. Chips, only to mouse over it and find it is from some wikipedia page. It reminds me of Penelope’s pony in the “A Leg At Each Corner” book!

    1. I know I know! It drive me NUTS that I can’t find a picture of him. I’m certain a few must have survived the fire, because I have other pics from that era, but I can’t find the box of photos. I keep looking for photos that look Mr. Chips-ish, but obviously he wasn’t a perfectly groomed little show pony, and he was much…bushier than the header photo. I can’t find pictures of Roz, Chips, or Connie (Roz’ daughter). I had all three of them at one point!

      I actually broke down and called the Humane society yesterday to ask if they could possibly still have the photo of a palomino shetland from 20 years ago. They had no idea what I was talking about. Entirely new building. 😦

  29. You may notice an influx of new readers — I’m probably not the only one who posted a link to Mr Chips’ introduction to “futbol” to many horse yahoo groups and sent it to many friends.

    If there were a video, not only would it have already gone viral, but Chips would be a shoo-in to be a finalist on America’s Got Talent 2011 season …

    1. Wow. How wonderful! Thanks for sharing the link, and be sure to pass the box of donuts around, we’ve always got one open here. 😉

      He went through at least a dozen soccer balls. I tried the red playground kick-balls (cheaper) but the neighbors had cows. Which meant barbed wire on the other side of the hot wire I put up. Looked lovely at Christmas time, the red balls hanging on the fence line…but alas, they popped too easily.

  30. You are brilliant, dear woman. Mr. Chips is genius. If ever in Oregon, you must come and visit. And Mr. Chips should visit, too. My ponies have a 42″ soccer ball they would love to share with Mr. Chips. (I think Mr. Chips needs one.) We lack a sound ordinance in these parts, and so Mr. Chips could squeal to his heart’s content. We all could.

  31. I swear ponies come up with the weirdest of things. I do wonder how the soccer ball ended up in your pasture though. 🙂

  32. How is it possible I have never seen your blog before? This was the most hysterical post I’ve read in ages! You are an extremely talented writer….I can’t wait to read more!

  33. Ahh….now that I have had my dose of Mr. Chips, I can stop the withdrawl shaking. And if you ever DO turn Mr. Chips into a childrens book, PLLLUUUUUUEEEEEEEEZZZZZZZZ let me illustrate it!

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