Anne Shaffer and Her Horses

Too much sun made Anne feel dizzy and eating oranges made her sick. So, she wasn’t disappointed when her parents decided to move from Florida to NJ and on to Ulster, PA in 1975. Her parents bought a pony from Bob Cole; a one year old Arab/Shetland filly. She and her sister, Mary, trained Sassy to ride and pull a cart. When the snowflakes began falling, they dragged a downhill sled from the shed, tied a long rope to it, saddled up the pony and took turns giving each other rides through the snow.

Not much time passed before Mary bought Goldie an eight year old, Tennessee Walker/Quarter Horse mix, and the sisters joined a 4-H club run by Sweets Paso Fino Farms in Milltown, PA. One summer day, Mary rode Goldie across a creek headed for the Sweet’s farm. Crossing the creek, Goldie stepped on a dead tree limb and a branch stabbed the horse on the inside, upper leg. The wound never completely healed and oozed puss. The local vet could never find anything wrong with the leg, so Goldie made a trip to Cornell for x-rays. The x-rays showed a 6 inch splinter imbedded in the horse’s leg, which the Cornell vet extracted, put in a formaldehyde filled jar and handed to Mary as a souvenir.

The sisters brought Sassy and Goldie to local parades, mock horse shows, barrel races and other events put on by the Sweets until the 4-H club disbanded in 1981. Anne still rode everywhere; into town, through the woods, along roads. She rode Sassy alone or with other riders. Newspaper photographers saw her and took her picture. Everyone in town knew Anne and her horse.

A couple of years later, Mary packed her bags and left for college. Anne outgrew Sassy and sold the pony. She bought a 6 month old foal; a Mustang/Quarter Horse cross named Brandy. The young colt didn’t stop Anne from riding; other people let her ride their horses. Brandy grew to 14 hands, and Anne trained him to carry a saddle. By then, Anne graduated from high school and it was her turn to head out of town to college.

Mary sold Goldie; however, Anne retained ownership of Brandy. She needed a place to pasture the horse, so Brandy traveled to Bob Cole’s cow pasture in Canton, PA from Joe Conrad’s farm in Litchfield. The day of Brandy’s move, Anne waited for Bob to pick up the horse. She expected to see a horse trailer; instead he arrived in a Ford pick-up used to haul livestock. The truck supported a wire cage strapped over the truck bed.

“Where’s the trailer?” asked Anne.

“This is it,” said Bob.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” said Anne looking at the homemade wire contraption suspended above the truck bed.

“Don’t worry, just climb in,” replied Bob pulling down the tailgate.

Anne crawled onto the truck bed, squatted next to the horse, braced her back against the cab and tightly held Brandy’s lead rope. The horse stood quietly as the truck engine roared. Slowly, the vehicle bumped along the gravel road headed for Cotton Hollow Road. Anne looked through the wire mesh as the open countryside flew by during the scary 2 hour trip from Litchfield to Canton, PA. Upon arrival, Brandy calmly stepped from the truck and joined the cows in a large pasture.

Anne attended Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, PA located 20 miles outside of Philly, and majored in Equine Breeding and Management. In her first year, she learned about English equitation and showmanship at the Phelps Riding Academies in West Chester County, PA. The academy taught riding to troubled boys and hosted lessons for Harcum students in basic English riding and jumping. Anne rode two horses owned by Phelps, Joy and Daddies’ Best, at Hunter Jump Shows. The course included a fieldtrip to the National Horse Show held in Madison Square Garden, NYC where the students saw top show horses perform including William Shatner’s 5 gaited American Saddlebred.

Summer came and Anne landed a job as an assistant horse counselor at Hidden Valley 4-H Camp in Watkins Glen. Her horse, Brandy, became part of the 4-H Horse Program too. On beautiful summer days, the young campers walked from the bunk houses to the Hidden Valley barns, and Anne taught the kids basic horsemanship. The Onondaga County Sheriffs stabled their horses in the 4-H barns too. The sheriffs patroled the crowds during the sports car races in Watkins Glen. At the end of camp, Anne again needed a place to stable Brandy. Kenny, one of the sheriffs volunteered to keep the horse at his place near Darien Lake until Anne finished school.

In her second year at Harcum, Anne attended a practicum at Wonderland Farms in West Chester PA; a breeding farm for Trakehner horses. She enrolled in the winter session with 7 other students and lived at the farm. The student’s responsibilities included feeding, turn out, cleaning stalls, attending classes, riding lessons, and late night check on the horses. During the course, Anne came down with pneumonia and returned home. A few weeks later, Anne returned to Wonderland Farms and continued the course until June. Most of the mares had already dropped their foals, but she witnessed a couple births. Show season began in May, and the students groomed the show horses, learned showmanship, and watched the Wonderland Farm’s stallion compete.

Anne’s college experience came to an end and she returned to the Valley. Brandy arrived back from Kenny’s place and found a home at Rosh’s Stables. Donna Horton stabled her two horses, Ember and Lady, there too; however, the two women did not know each other well and never rode together. In 1996, the hard cold facts of finance raised its ugly head, and Anne sold Brandy to buy a car.

Years passed, Anne married and had children, but always wanted to return to horseback riding. In 2002, she opened the morning paper to the classified section and under the livestock heading read an ad describing an Arabian stallion in Gillette, PA for $800. Anne dialed the number, the phone rang a few times and a man answered.

“I read your ad for the Arab stallion. Is he still for sale?” asked Anne.

“No, he’s sold but I have a lot of other horses if you’d want to come down and have a look,” replied James Cain.

Anne and her young son John traveled the long winding road to Gillette where she met Mr. Cain and his horses. They walked into the pasture and looked over several horses and ponies. One young black horse caught her eye.

“What can you tell me about that horse,” asked Anne pointing to a thin, black horse standing at a distance from the herd.

“He’s a 2 year old Thoroughbred gelding without papers, but I have his Coggins test from the vet. He stands about 14.3 hands high,” replied Mr. Cain hesitating for a moment, giving Anne a chance to think about the horse. “If you don’t see a horse you like, don’t worry. I go to the Unadilla Livestock auction once a month. I’ll take this batch back in a few days and get new ones.”

Anne bought the young Thoroughbred, built a stall and put the horse in the pasture behind their house on Talmadge Hill Road a few miles north of Waverly. The calm young horse allowed her children to sit on him. She named him Shadow, after all, he was black except for a small white mark just above his left front leg. Anne called the auction house where Mr. Cain purchased Shadow trying to find out his parentage but came to dead-end. The Unadilla auction house’s strict policy of not divulging names of sellers prevented her from finding the horse’s former owner.

Anne’s vet, Robin, came over to look at the animal a few months later. By then, one of his testicles had dropped and he didn’t look like any gelding Anne had ever seen.

“Well, I can tell you he’s younger than 2, probably more like a yearling and he is definitely not a gelding,” said the vet running her hand over Shadow’s shoulder and down his leg. “The white mark on his shoulder and the scar between his knee and fetlock look like he was injured from sliding on his side.”

The vet gelded Shadow in May 2003, but the horse continued to grow and grow until he finally reached 16 hands. His color changed too; from black to brown, and then his face and tail turned grey until he became a beautiful grey with a heart shaped dapple on his rump.

One morning the sun flooded the hills with sunbeams as Anne’s three children ate breakfast, gathered their books and left for school. Anne stood at the kitchen window overlooking the pasture watching Shadow. She spotted a coyote running nervously back and forth the length of the fence not far from her horse.

Anne ran outside and shouted, “Get out of here!” She picked up a rock and threw it the coyote, but the coyote didn’t move, it just looked at her without fear. She ran into the pasture, towards the wild animal. The coyote ran a few paces away, stopped, looked back at her and calmly walked away. Anne saw the coyote three or four mornings after that.

“It’s not afraid of humans,” Anne told her husband John.

“Come on Anne. It’s not a coyote – just a stray dog,” replied John.

“I’m sure its stalking Shadow,” said Anne.

“You’re imagining things,” replied John.

A few days later, John came home from work to retrieve a tool he had forgotten and there sat the coyote in the pasture. Again the coyote didn’t run away. The wild animal simply stared at Anne and John as they watched the sly creature.

“I know someone at work with a shot gun. I’ll ask him to stop by tomorrow,” said John climbing into his pick-up truck and returning to work.

John’s friend came with the gun. The two men walked out to the field looking for the coyote but couldn’t find the animal. They circled through the woods and walked back along the fence line, but the coyote was gone and never returned.

A couple of years later, in 2007, the farmer next to Anne’s place mowed paths through his field, leaving the grass high. One morning, after feeding Shadow, Anne stood in the pasture and looked across to her neighbor’s grassy fields. A reddish colored coyote, his nose sniffing the ground as he ran, hunted field mice on the mowed paths. She picked up a rock and threw it at the animal trying to scare it off. The coyote walked to a small hill, sat down and looked at her until finally walking away. Neighbors saw the coyote a few times. The animal hung around an empty trailer for a couple of hours, and then the creature disappeared into the back fields.

A few more years passed, Anne raised her children, worked for local stables, trained unruly horses, and helped people buy horses. At the same time she trained and rode Shadow. Everyone knew Anne; the horsewoman. In 2009, Anne and her husband bought a house in town. Shadow needed a place to stay, and moved to Ballentine’s Horse Heaven.

Connie knew Anne well. She had trained CJ to saddle in 2007 and helped her purchase several horses. When I showed up in the fall of 2009, Connie asked Anne to help me get acquainted with Pepper. Anne and I rode together that fall, up to the park or down dusty gravel roads near the stable until winter came, and then she quit riding for the season.

Finally, the spring sun shone over the park, warming the dormant roots resting deep in the soil. The tree buds burst open filling branches with leaves which waved in a breeze above the trail. Spring turned into summer. Anne and I decided to take a long ride to the State Game Lands – Number 239.

We crisscrossed roads turning onto Reagan Road near Round Top Stables (formally Rosh’s Stables), crossed Wolcott Hollow Road and picked up Chamberlain Road, a gravel lane near the game lands. The horses walked past a lone house where 2 brothers jumped on a big trampoline. A black lab bounded towards the horses and one of the boys stopped playing to grab the dog by the collar. On the hill behind where the children played stood the back of a large barn with cows grazing nearby.

The horses walked down the lane. Chamberlain Road turned at a gully near the cow pasture and led up a steep hill. Anne started up the hill at a fast gallop and I tried to keep up. Shadow, tall and sleek with his long stride pulled several horse lengths ahead. As Anne raced up the hill she saw an animal which she thought was a deer bounding up the wooded rise alongside the road. Anne thought, ‘A deer is going to cross the road just ahead of us.’ The wild animal nimbly scaled the steep slope, and Anne watched it come closer and closer. Suddenly she realized the creature wasn’t a deer but a full grown mountain lion. The mountain lion leapt onto the roadbed a few yards ahead of Anne, sauntered halfway across the dirt road and froze. Anne stopped Shadow, slowly turned around and headed back down the road.

“Can you tell me what that looks like to you?” said Anne stopping in front of Pepper.

“What? Where?” I said riding closer.

“Right there, next to the ditch, near the bush at the bottom of that small ridge,” Anne said pointing at the edge of the road several yards ahead.

I looked where Anne pointed and saw a large animal with a long catlike tail, slightly curled at the tip.

“It looks like a mountain lion,” I said staring at the animal in the road.

“That’s what I thought. What do you want to do? I don’t feel comfortable riding past it,” she said.

“Why don’t we just turn around and go back the way we came,” I replied still watching the motionless animal at the edge of the road.

“I think we better. The last thing I want is for Shadow to get hurt,” replied Anne watching the mountain lion.

Still, we sat on our horses in the road watching the big cat. The horses stood quietly and the mountain lion didn’t move an inch. The roadway had been cut into the hillside leaving a small ridge just over our heads, perfect for the mountain lion to jump down on us. Finally, the mountain lion slinked into the bushes near the road and disappeared. We turned our horses and walked down the road, glancing back to see if the lion followed us.

“I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” said Anne.

“I know. Mountain lions aren’t supposed to be in this area,” I replied.

“You know Connie said she saw one not far from here up on the road,” said Anne.

“That’s right. She said it ran right in front of her car when she was on her way to church. She almost hit it,” I said.

“They say mountain lions can stalk you for miles without you knowing it,” said Anne.

“That’s a little unnerving,” I replied.

“Marilyn said she saw one a couple of years ago, crossing the road up at Round Top Park,” said Anne.

I watched the woods looking for any sign of movement; nothing moved. The horses walked, the sun shone and the birds sang. We reached the stables, unsaddled and turned the horses out to pasture without seeing anymore wildlife other than a few turkeys in a field.

Another year passed filled with riding, life, work and family. Neither one of us ever saw the mountain lion again. A few weeks ago, I visited with Anne. We talked horses, looked through her photo album, and I gathered information for this blog. Shadow and Anne are still at Ballentine’s Horse Heaven and ride the trails in Round Top Park.

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