Growing up, like most horse-crazy little girls, I wished for a horse every Christmas until that glorious day that my parents agreed that an equine addition or two would complete our family. Although the purchases didn't come at the end of December--it was mid-April, if memory serves--it sure felt like Christmas (time a million) when Taz and Jessie finally arrived.

After I had them, there was no reason to ask for a pony for Christmas; I already had two amazing horses (both of whom are still with us today), why did I need another one? Ironically, it was the following year that I actually did get a horse for Christmas.

Christmas has proven to be a special time of year for Brandy.

Photo: Erica Larson

I'd been caring for Brandy--a rescued Miniature Horse, who'd spent the past several years of her life living in a shed, eating goat food--since September 1999 and had no idea that she'd actually been appropriated for me. Our good friends and neighbors owned a Miniature Horse farm at the time, and I was told that Brandy needed some one-on-one TLC before she could be integrated with the rest of the horses. Since we had an extra stall in our barn at the time, my neighbors asked if I'd be willing to help rehabilitate her (she was morbidly overweight; we assume it was from the different composition of goat food compared to horse food and how much she'd consumed, although we don't know for sure). What little girl says no to another horse to play with? Of course, she moved in after a quarantine period.

It wasn't until early on Christmas morning 1999 (after months of exercise had transformed fat little Brandy into a nice little horse) did I open a package sitting in front of her stall and saw my name printed on her registration papers did I make the connection. I have to say, actually getting a horse for Christmas is an incredible experience and one I wouldn't trade anything for. She was--and always will be--my Christmas pony.

After she was really mine, Brandy and I set out on dozens of new endeavors. I taught her to do obstacles, and learned that she loved to jump (when she was fit, she could clear a 3' high jump--quite the accomplishment for a 32" tall horse!). We showed on the Miniature Horse "A" circuit for several years, and even brought home a championship in our division. We even dabbled in driving.

As she aged, Brandy began foundering once or twice a year. With our veterinarians' help, we nursed her through each short episode until she was back to herself, bossing the full-sized horses around. But her condition began deteriorating in 2011 and she was spending more time lying down than standing up; we were concerned that we'd have to make that very difficult decision that autumn. My parents scheduled a vet visit and we all prepared ourselves for the worst. Here in Kentucky, I was a blubbering mess for days, thinking that I wasn't going to be able to say good bye to my then 22-year-old Christmas pony.

Brandy's veterinarian arrived and, while she agreed that the laminitic episodes were getting more frequent and more severe, she reviewed Brandy's history closely. After some consideration, she suggested that Brandy might have PPID (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or equine Cushing's disease). She recommended that, before making a final decision, we try her on pergolide and isoxsuprine to see if we could improve her condition. My parents agreed and treatment commenced. Of course, her prognosis was still guarded.

After she'd been on her medicine for a while, it was time for a check-up. Both my parents and her veterinarian saw good improvement in Brandy's condition--she was up walking around regularly, and she appeared nearly sound again. They agreed to continue treatment to see if her condition improved anymore, and her next recheck would be Dec. 24.

I was very excited that I'd be back in Michigan for this check-up, as I wanted to see first-hand how Brandy was doing with her treatment. I got home a few days before the check and could already see she was doing far better than the last time I'd seen her. She'd scream from her dry-lot every time she saw a person come out of the house, reminding them that she was down there and wanted some hay. She'd bound around the pasture with the big horses, reminding them who was in charge. And she came galloping in for dinner every night, leaping over tree branches--big or small--in her chosen path of travel. I was confident she'd get a thumbs up from the vet.

When the Christmas eve finally arrived, our veterinarian was incredibly impressed with Brandy's improvement. When she asked to see her jog in a straight line, Brandy took matters into her own hands, jumping, bucking, and cantering down the line. Laughing, I brought her back to the veterinarian, who had a smile plastered on her face. She asked to see Brandy longe; there was lots of galloping, jumping, and bucking involved there as well.

There was no better Christmas present for me last year than seeing Brandy so comfortable and the veterinarian so confident that she would live to see many more Christmases come and go. And since Christmas has proved a very exciting time for Brandy and me in the past, I can't wait to see what those holidays bring in the future.

Do you have any cherished Chirstmas memories that involve your four-legged friends and family? I'd love to hear your stories. Please share them below!