“If you let yourself be drawn into your life by the strange pull of that which you are passionate about, you will not be led astray”. —Jean Abernethy creator of Fergus the Horse
In my experience, staying true to one’s passion has been the thread that keeps life meaningful, and fun. No doubt, in writing this philosophy to equestrian readers, I’m preaching to the choir. After all, we are equestrians, first and foremost because of a major passion….horses.
In forging a career which combined horses and art, I can now recount with delight the number places I’ve been, because of my passion for horses. I never considered travel to be one of my passions, but here I am, many years, and thousands of miles later.
Learning to drive as well as ride horses, opened doors for me. As an artist, drawing various harnesses, from draft harness to race harness, made my knowledge valuable to the standardbred industry. I also got a job in Georgia driving carriage horses in some beautiful historic places. Because of my studies as an artist, I already knew the harness, what the parts were called, how it all worked. My boss just needed to show me the tricks of putting it on. I’ll never forget driving in Barnsley Gardens in North Georgia. It was the site of an old pre-Civil War cotton plantation-turned-resort. Some of the trees, rosebushes and shrubs in the gardens around the mansion are well over 150 years old. The mansion itself lost its roof to a tornado in the 1950s. Driving for Yellow Rose Carriages, is an experience I’ll always treasure.
Near my home in Marrietta GA, Kennesaw National Battlefield Park was a place of solace for many miles and years in the saddle. Civil war tranches are carefully preserved there.
Visiting Monty & Pat Roberts’ Flag Is Up Farms in the San Yanez valley of California, to take a seminar with then, stable manager Crawford Hall changed my horsemanship for the better, and opened innumerable doors for me as an illustrator. Fergus himself, was born shortly thereafter.
Driving to a Friesian breeding farm near Raleigh, North Carolina, for a client who wanted Friesian horse cartoons, led to the creation of my character “Kase” now a member of Fergus’s herd of friends. To my delight, my passion for horses, and my artistic career, had taken me coast to coast in the USA.
Just a few years later, I flew to England to visit an equestrian friend I met in California. Our combined passion for horses had us gazing into the church-like rafters of the last pre-1900 riding arena (school) left in England that was still in equestrian use…the racing stable of the legendary Eclipse…and Epsom Downs. (where I later took Fergus for a gallop on this photo I took during my visit. (I rarely put Fergus into a photo that I have not taken myself.)
Membership with American Horse Publications has taken me to several US cities, too, and I’ve been treated to, not just tourism, but tourism that interests equestrians: Saratoga, Keenland, Williamsburg…and in SanAntonio Texas I made this sketch inside the Alamo. Cameras were not permitted inside the building.
My passion for horses has drawn me to visit, repeatedly, a saddle manufacturing shop and a saddle tree manufacturing shop, tucked away in the Tennessee hills. Each is as colourful in character and culture as its proprietor. These special places have now also become part of my story. Here are four saddles that I have built and ridden.
The experience of riding 25 miles a day for two weeks, gives one a new perspective on travel, and history. With friends and family members, my little mare Willow and I accompanied this special group of horses and people from Lindsay to Cornwall, ON. How I treasure my journal kept daily along that adventure! Here we are in the middle of the pack, on the road near Douro, ON.
After the publication of my first book, Fergus has taken me to New York City where I had a ride in Central Park and toured the stables where the carriage horses live.
Since moving back home to Canada from the US, I’ve been privileged to work for South Algonquin Trails, a trail guiding company near Harcourt, ON. There I learned more of the history of Ontario’s legacy of logging and forestry.
A side note, my grandfather, I was told, drove a “Snatch Team” while working in the bush in winter. This required exceptional horsemanship. On iced logging roads the sleighs, heavily laden, would slide along nicely, pulled by one pair of horses. Two teams, however, were often needed to get the sleigh started. Imagine the caution and expertise needed to hook a team of 4 onto a sleigh, enormously laden with logs. Two drivers would send all 4 horses into their collars at once to start the sleigh (hob-nailed boots on ice, and sharp-shod horses!) Once the sleigh was moving, the driver of the front pair, or “Snatch Team” would unhook on the move, and get out of the way, leaving the remaining team to take the load out. One misstep could be tragic.
Being a part of the crew at South Algonquin Trails has brought me closer to my own history, and has also connected me with whole new rounds of friends; friends who have introduced me to playing Mounted Games, and my very first Competitive Trail Tide. The friendships, lessons and experiences working for and with my SAT friends, are too numerous to account for in a single blog…and 2017 is already filling up with scheduled travel and adventure…
A passion is a pathway to an enriching life. Never brush it aside. Dive in heart first. When life gets tough, your passion, your deepest love, will be the thing that holds it all together for you. Saddle up and keep going…
Jean Abernethy creator of Fergus the Horse