JUNEAU (AP) — On a recent sunny morning at Fairweather Equestrian Center, Sammy the Wonder Pony follows his owner, neurologist Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns, right to the stable door. He shoves his nose between bars, searching for more treats like the several granola bars he had just guzzled from her hand. She chuckles at his antics, telling the Empire that he usually shadows her right to the door to see if he can give her the slip before she can shut him in. As she gathers his lead line from a nearby shelf, she said it’s possible that he might just open the door himself since he has lived long enough to figure out how.
Sammy turned 42 in February, which is anywhere between 120-160 years in human years, Hunter-Joerns said. She was basing the number on the guess that every pony year is equal to 3-4 human years.
The length of his life is unusual. The average lifespan of a horse is 25-30 years.
She credits his long life to “the will to live,” vitamins and “sheer orneriness.”
Hunter-Joerns takes a lead line and attaches it to Sammy’s halter to lead him to the grass bordering the Center so Sammy might better enjoy the start of his favorite season, spring, and all the greenery it brings.
She makes it clear Sammy has a mind of his own, a highly intelligent one at that, and tends to do whatever he wants. Once he undid the latch on his door and cleaned out all the snacks lining the walkway. When he was 30, he just decided to leap over his stable door and then go about his business. She said that wasn’t the first time he did something like that, once performing a standing jump over a roll of barb wired fence so he wouldn’t be made to go back to his stall after one of his escape attempts. Only a week and half ago Sammy decided to go on another one of his adventures around the neighborhood, Hunter-Joerns said, confirming he went on escapades often by simply managing to undo a latch or tie.
“He sees everything, knows everything and gets away with everything,” she said.
Hunter-Joerns waves at the road leading away from the Center as Sammy contentedly mows down the grass in his path. She says more than once someone has injured his or her arm trying to get Sammy to go in one direction while he wanted to go in another. He just jerks the line and decides to take his human for a walk rather than the other way around, she said. As all this is discussed, Sammy flicks his ears as he listens to his life story but keeps his head bent into the greenery, the picture of innocence.
Sammy the Wonder Pony wasn’t always his name, Hunter-Joerns said, but he earned it. Foaled at Swampy Acres, he was first named Samson, which over time became Sammy. He had multiple owners over the years, but eventually found his forever home 22 years ago with Hunter-Joerns and her former husband, who accurately dubbed him Sammy the Wonder Pony.
Over the years, he has taught many children how to ride, or as Hunter-Joerns put it, teaching children that ponies are sneaky and very smart. She recalled how sometimes when he has gotten loose he’d walk around the outside of the barn, then suddenly double back to trick people.
He’s “smarter than dogs, smarter than people,” she said, recalling times when dogs got too close or when ravens tried to steal the favorite bits of his feed and Sammy would run them off, once giving a dog a swift kick for invading his space.
One of his previous owners had the misfortune to become involved in one of his games, this one being to see if he could consistently land a kick on her every time she went to take him for a ride. He wasn’t always like that, and many kids learned to ride on him, she said, with both fond and exasperated memories. She said sometimes when people come by the Center, they exclaim over how he is still alive.
“He contributes to the weirdness of Juneau,” Hunter-Joernes said, mentioning the fittingness of Sammy the Wonder Pony being stabled on Crazy Horse Drive.
“He’s an Alaskan pony,” she said. “Wild, woolly, free, sneaky, a survivor and big fun.”
Not long after the couple first got Sammy, he made a jail break, and instead of doing his usual exploring of the surrounding area of the Center, he decided to go visit his old home Swampy Acres, even crossing Glacier Highway to get there. Usually he doesn’t go quite so far, Hunter-Joerns said, but he does stay out for a while and makes her and others sweat trying to round him up; sometimes he sees how far he can push, and when it looks like everyone is about to give up, he either lets himself get caught or comes home himself. Most of the time, he just likes to enjoy his retirement, she said.
By this point in his life, Sammy has developed some health issues. He has Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, also known as Cushing’s Disease, which is a common condition for older horses and ponies. The body produces too much cortisol, which can cause multiple problems, such as making them prone to founder issues and develop the problem laminitis, which is an inflammation in the horse’s hoof. As a neurologist, Hunter-Joerns has been treating Sammy herself, using medication that has also been used to treat Parkinson’s disease, something she said she hasn’t heard being used to treat horses before. So far she says it looks like it has been effective.
She said she doesn’t see why Sammy shouldn’t have more years ahead of him. She said as far as she knows, he might be the oldest pony in Alaska.
He does still have a ways to go to snag the title of oldest horse or pony. There have been a few different horses and ponies that have held the title of oldest horse in the world. Hunter-Joerns referred to Old Billy who was said to live until 62. He was born in Woolston, Lancashire in 1760 and died on Nov. 27, 1822. His head can be seen at Manchester Museum.
When the Empire searched for records of the oldest living horse, there didn’t seem to be an official record place to record horses’ ages, but there were multiple different stories of horses living to ripe old ages, such as the thoroughbred Arabian mix mare Orchid that lived to be 50. Guinness World Records have an entry for Badger, a Welsh/Arab mix who lived to be 51.
No one knows how long Sammy the Wonder Pony will live, but Hunter-Joerns said as she petted his thick coat “everyone should live with as much enthusiasm.”
“Isn’t that how we all want to go out?” she asked as Sammy made steady progress on a patch of grass, reveling in the rare Juneau sunshine. “At the end of your life, go ‘Wow, what a ride.’”