Sammy the Wonder Pony seen here with owner, Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns into the main arena at the Fairweather Equestrian Center on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. Sammy died on Christmas Day at the age of 44, which is about 20 years older than ponies generally live. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Sammy the Wonder Pony seen here with owner, Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns into the main arena at the Fairweather Equestrian Center on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. Sammy died on Christmas Day at the age of 44, which is about 20 years older than ponies generally live. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Wonder pony heads to greener pastures

• Long-lived equine passed away on Christmas at age 44 • Sammy was smart, stubborn and loved

The stubborn escape artist will be missed.

Sammy the Wonder Pony, known for being headstrong and surprisingly elusive, passed away at the age of 44 on Christmas day, said his owner of the past 25 years Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns.

“What a great life,” Hunter-Joerns said. “He knew how to live it to the fullest.”

Sammy lived an exceptionally long life for a pony.

While there have been reported instances of ponies living for more than 50 years, they typically live to their mid 20s, Hunter-Joerns said.

Sammy the Wonder Pony was purchased to give Hunter-Joerns’ former husband, Michael, an equine to keep alongside Hunter-Joerns’ white Arabian horse. At that time, Sammy had already had multiple owners and at age 19 was nearing what are typically a pony’s autumn years.

“He had been sold and given to half of Juneau,” Hunter-Joerns said.

[Hoofs, chutes and neurology for Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns]

Sammy the Wonder Pony would spend the next quarter century with the Juneau neurologist.

Sammy’s longevity was extra-surprising because he suffered from Cushing’s disease for more than half of his life. Cushing’s disease is a dysfunction of the pituitary gland that causes horses to gain weight and grow long curly hair and generally shortens an animal’s life expectancy.

Hunter-Joerns’ profession gives her access to Parkinson’s disease medicine samples, which she said helped keep the disease at bay for multiple decades.

Sammy’s passing didn’t come as a shock to Hunter-Joerns. There were warning signs.

Since summer, there had been four separate instances in which the pony choked on food and then refused to eat.

In December, he had a choking episode, and Sammy’s subsequent refusal to eat — he even turned down one of his favorite snacks, arugula — was fatal.

“He just gradually stopped eating and drinking,” Hunter-Joerns said.

Sammy the Wonder Pony was equal parts smart and obstinate throughout his life.

“He wasn’t ill-tempered, he just had his own ideas,” Hunter-Joerns said.

Sometimes, those ideas included taking advantage of his studded shoes to move faster than horses after biting their bellies or stopping in the middle of a ride to roll around.

Sammy loved to roll in soft patches of ground and sand, Hunter-Joerns said. This became evident when Hunter-Joerns’ former husband was first riding Sammy in the wetlands.

“I heard, ‘I think I killed my pony,’ and I looked back, and there was Michael straddling the pony, who was laying down,” Hunter-Joerns said. “He would be trotting or cantering, and if he came across some sand, he’d lay down and roll.”

Another foible was Sammy’s refusal to be contained.

“He’d make grand escapes,” Hunter-Joerns said.

At different points, Sammy the Wonder Pony had removed a screw driver from an eye bolt and jumped over a line of rolled-up fencing that was 15 feet in length to make his getaway.

Even electric fences couldn’t keep Sammy the Wonder Pony corralled.

Horses and ponies can smell the ozone created by electric fences, and using his senses and repeated experimentation, Sammy discovered he could roll on the rubber matting under the fence to avoid a shock.

“He was the smartest pony I ever met,” Hunter-Joerns said. “That’s something most people didn’t figure out.”

“He was always food-driven, and he’d always go back to places he’d been before,” she added. “He was just driven to escape to greener pastures.”


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns take Sammy the Wonder Pony on a walk at the Fairweather Equestrian Center on Friday, March 18, 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns take Sammy the Wonder Pony on a walk at the Fairweather Equestrian Center on Friday, March 18, 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Sammy the Wonder Pony takes advantage of fresh grass while on a walk with his owner, Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns, at the Fairweather Equestrian Center on Friday, March 18, 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Sammy the Wonder Pony takes advantage of fresh grass while on a walk with his owner, Dr. Susan Hunter-Joerns, at the Fairweather Equestrian Center on Friday, March 18, 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

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