Monday, October 16, 2023

Mary Lou and Shetland Ponies

To celebrate the birthday of my half-sister's mother (my father's first wife), here is my half-sister Laurie with a guest post!


And here I am again, faced with my mother’s birthday, and yet another request from my Seester to write something for her ancestry blog.  Except THIS time . . . .

On this October 16, Mary Lou Bowen-Sellers-James would have been celebrating her 85th birthday.  Having been a single mother for a good part of her working years, she managed to find jobs or situations where she could work while I was at school or bring me along on her workday.

In 1967 we lived in El Monte, California in a house owned by the family she worked for.  In exchange for rent, we got to care for their horses and train Shetland ponies for the owner’s business.  At any given time, there were three to four horses and 30 to 35 ponies, along with a number of dogs and cats.  This in itself was her dream job, but there was a secondary job that seemed to be a part of every child’s life in the Los Angeles area in the '60's.

Along with a host of others, my mom worked as a roving photographer, taking photos of kids on Shetland ponies.  The crew would show up at the owner's property, prepare the ponies, load them up on the trailer, and then drive to a targeted neighborhood.  From there, each photographer would start walking, pony in tow, carrying a tripod, camera, chaps, vest, cowboy hat, whatever other equipment was necessary, along with her lunch, water and snacks for the pony, and a shovel, for a long day of photographing cowboy poses.

I was thrilled to be able to work alongside my mother as she got the children ready for the shoot and hear her talk about the horses to the kids and parents.

Of course, those were the days of developing film, so once the photos were ready, she’d be back to deliver the sleeves of photos to the parents, but while I was in school.

We took SO MANY photos of kids on Shetland ponies!  I grew up thinking every kid in the world had a picture taken on a Shetland pony!  Later in life I remember being shocked at the number of people with no knowledge of photographers and ponies just showing up in neighborhoods, looking for kids to dress up like cowboys!

It was a cool job and we were happy.  Even at the age of 10, I felt like we had found our place to be.  She loved what she was doing and I thought we were settling in.

Unfortunately, Mom suffered a back injury when she was thrown from one of the horses and we had to give up the house and the job.

That was the bad news.

Our salvation came in what most people would find an unconventional source:  My stepmother invited us to live with her, my father, and their three young children until my mother got back on her feet.

I thought I had hit the family jackpot!  I could actually LIVE with my siblings and, I’m pretty sure, we all had Shetland pony photos!

I’m not sure why, but we trained the ponies to stand in this manner as in the photo above, stretched out for the photo.  This guy’s ears were back, which my mother would never shoot.  She’d click and talk until the pony was looking at the camera, alert and ears forward.  She told me that making the pony look like it was enjoying its situation as much as the kid is what sold photos!

Photo posted by Maia C. and used under a creative commons license.


  1. Wow!! Laurie, I really enjoyed reading about the Shetland pony photo opp business. In my family history photos, I have photos of ancestors on Shetland ponies (or ponies, at any rate) that were brought around neighborhoods in New York City in the 1920s. It was common in other cities across the country, as well. Even my hubby in Cleveland has an old ancestral photo of someone on a pony! TY for a fun post.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed Laurie's reminiscences! I had a feeling it wasn't just a Southern California thing, because I've seen pony photos from other places also.

  2. What a fun post! I don't have any experience with getting my photo with one like this, but I can imagine what fun it was for the kids and parents. Great memory to share of your family.

    1. I'm sorry you didn't have a pony photo! I know there's one of me somewhere, and my sister's post explained the background. I think I had fun . . . .

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm going to try hard to maintain my momentum.


All comments on this blog will be previewed by the author to prevent spammers and unkind visitors to the site. The blog is open to everyone, particularly those interested in family history and genealogy.