“Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of Solitaire. It is a grand passion”. Ralph Waldo Emerson
I don’t know why I never noticed Friesians on Mackinac Island the seven years Ted and I vacationed here, before buying our condo. Maybe they just weren’t “out and about” downtown while we were visiting, or maybe I just wasn’t lucky enough to spot one when we were out exploring.
Once we moved to the island for our summers though, I began to see them everywhere. At first I had no idea what breed they were – I had to ask. Our second year as summer residents was the initial year of the Festival of the Horse, and I will never forget the first time I saw Maryanke Alexander and Michelle Stuck riding their Friesians in the festival. Maryanke was dressed in a medieval gown, and her horse could have stepped right out of the movie Braveheart.
The Friesian was developed in the Netherlands in the province of Friesland. In medieval times, Friesians were used to carry knights into battle
Michelle and her horse were impeccably groomed for dressage - the perfect polished pair.
To say I was awestruck is a huge understatement. I was speechless. I was blown away. I was in love.
About that same time, Mary Stadnik – who I did not know at the time – was having the same experience with Friesians I was. Mary, who works at the Grand Hotel, watched these beautiful East and West Bluff horses (several Mackinac Island summer residents own Friesians) ride by the Grand or down Cadotte on a regular basis. Like me, she would have to just stop what she was doing and stare whenever one rode by.
Last summer Mary started asking questions about the breed, and she also learned a lot about them by working at the Festival of the Horse last year. By that time, Mary and I had met and become friends, and one of our favorite topics when we saw each other was Friesian horses.
By the end of last season, Mary was very tentatively talking about purchasing a Friesian, and I was enthusiastically encouraging her. Knowing I could never own a horse myself, here was my golden opportunity – a friend with a Friesian! Maybe, if I was really nice, she would let me sit on he/she/it.
Mary prepared by taking horseback riding lessons on the Island and all winter at her home downstate. When she returned to the Island this spring, she was seriously searching for her perfect horse, with the help of Friesian owners here on the Island.
Around the middle of July, one of those owners led her to Teddie, a 13-year old gelding, Teddie was looking for a new home, and after having him examined for any health issues and for temperament (he checked out “awesome” on both), Mary became the proud owner of a totally magnificent Friesian, and I have officially named myself his Godmother.
Teddie is being stabled at Hiawatha Hawk Ranch in Mackinaw City until the end of the season, when he and Mary will go downstate. They will have the entire winter to get to know each other on a daily basis, and next spring he will come back to the Island with her and be staying in the new Community Stable.
Until then, Mary goes over to see Teddie at least three times a week, leaving after work and spending time feeding, grooming, walking, and generally spoiling him. This past Thursday we finally worked our schedules so everyone who wanted to go see Teddie that day could go, and Jill, Frankie and I all arrived with Mary at Hiawatha Hawk Ranch.
Mary, who has known for at least a year that one of my dreams was to sit on a Friesian was hoping someone would be around who would saddle Teddie up and let me sit on him for a few minutes. Mary doesn’t have a saddle yet and is waiting until she gets her horse home this winter to get all the tack she needs. Always the optimist, I worn jeans and the old boots I wear in the winter in Georgia – on the one day a year it gets below 32 degrees. I was ready!
First off, Teddie is just a gorgeous horse. He's very tall (17 hands), a dark brown/black (Friesians lighten in summer and turn black black in winter) and so gentle I think a two-year-old would be safe on him. And it was very evident, right from the start, that he already knows who his new "mom" is.
It's also crystal clear that Mary is totally smitten with Teddie!
We all know the way to any horse/dog/cat's heart is through its stomach, and Teddie knew that Mary had pieces of juicy apply in her hand.
These two were just meant for each other.
We all stepped up to be introduced. Frankie has a real way with horses, and she and Teddie hit it off right away.
Jill held out a treat for Teddie in her hand and said, "He better not slobber on me!" Of course, he did.
Then it was my turn. I went into the corral to meet Teddie. If there was a chance I might get on this gentle giant, I wanted him to like me a lot.
Teddie is so loveable I think he'd like anyone who is kind to him. But just to play my best hand, my pocket was full of horse treats. . . .
. . . and as soon as he figured that out, I became his best buddy (until Mary came back into the corral).
I'd walk off, and he'd follow me like a puppy . . .
I'd hold them in my hand, and he would pose beautifully.
Needless to say, if Teddie had any “people treats”, I would have willingly eaten them right out of his hand . . oops, hoof. I was totally bewitched.
All this love was great, but when Mary walked off to try and find the Ostmans, who own the ranch, Teddie followed her as far as he could, then stood watching her every move until she returned. As I said, he already knows his mom.
Soon Mary was back with Abigail Ostman and her mom. Abigail is 13 years old and has been riding since she was two (you may remember Abigail from the story I wrote on the Festival of the Horse. She showed both Shortcake, the miniature horse, and Nokona, a registered Appaloosa, in the Breed Show). Mary told them of my wish to get on Teddie, and they were very willing to make that dream come true.
As I watched Abby and Mary saddle Teddie, I began to second guess myself on this whole idea. That was one BIG horse, and the last time I was on a horse I was six years old. But with all the trouble Mary and the Ostman's were going to, there was no way I was going to back out - even though my heart was about to pound right out of my chest.
Well, of course I had to use mounting steps. These old legs will only lift so high, and that stirrup might as well have been hanging out of a tree it was so far up!
Ok - this is Abby demonstrating how easy it is to mount when you are young and know what you are doing.
. . . and this is me imitating her.
Oh good Lord, look at that face! Not only is Teddie TALL, he is WIDE. Here I was thinking, "Just close your eyes and keep stretching that leg!"
Then - oh my gosh - I was riding! I mean - technically - Mary and Abby were leading him, but I was in the saddle, and we were moving. To me, that's riding!
Absolutely an all-time dream come true!
I could have stayed up there and let them lead Teddie around in circles all afternoon, but I knew (hopefully) there would be other afternoons . . .
Just before I dismounted, everyone backed away about two inches so Jill could get a photo of Teddie and me all alone. If that horse had so much as twitched an ear wrong, I would have fallen into a dead faint.
It only took three people to get me OFF Teddie, but that's because they told me it would be easier without using the mounting stairs. I asked if I could have a parachute, but they made me do it without one.
When I finally gave her horse back, Mary mounted and rode around the corral a few times. She plans to go back this weekend for a trail ride on Teddie.
These two are going to have years and years together to enjoy each other. I'm so so happy for my friend . . .
Thanks, Mary, for helping me make what I thought was an impossible dream come true . . .
. . . and thanks, Teddie - you are one handsome horse! See you in the spring!