Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Nathaniel Griffith and the Killer Filly
What's that you say? Am I of the Griffith Shipping Company? Yea, I am, but I've left the running of it to my uncle and my brother-in-law. I fear sailing is not for me. Though in truth, I have crossed the ocean a few times in search of good horseflesh.
Take this dapple gray filly. She's three and spirited. She's got fine straight legs, and if ye look at the peak above her eye, ye'll see she's kind too. Though the man who sold her to me thought not.
Me uncle sent word last fall of a man in Wales who'd brought some horses from Egypt. My sense of urgency to see these fine animals overwhelmed my fear of sailing. 'Twas a hard time to convince our Captain Hall to sail across the Atlantic in late November, but after some pressing, he agreed and we left the week after a fierce storm, the likes of which I'd never seen, hit our shores. But I digress.
After a very difficult sail (having been blown off course), we arrived in Newport, Wales late January. I was convinced I'd sailed through hell, but upon my word, the horses Mr. Durham had in his possession were well worth the sail.
After two weeks recovering at my uncle's house, I mounted one of his fine steeds and road to Mr. Durham's farm. No sooner had I arrived than the man proudly presented five young stallions of Arabian breeding. I thought to barter a good price for them, but the filly in the back paddock caught my attention. She held her head and tail high and trotted the fence with an intelligent look in her eyes that superseded that of the stallions.
When I gestured to the filly, the man's countenance streaked with fear. "She's a killer," he said then shook his head.
I asked him what had happened.
He coughed and sputtered and stroked a tear from his cheek. "Me son, he was leading her from the back pasture a fortnight ago. I was at work in the barn and heard him bellow. I stuck my nose out the door and the mare jumped to her side, knocked my son down and trampled him."
I gasped and asked, "What gave her cause?"
"Aye, best we can tell it was a wolf pack on the hill." He twisted his neck, and his Adam's apple bobbed. "I'd known a horse to spook at such, but ne'er there be a time before that I see a horse jump upon a downed boy. I held in my hand a pitchfork and rushed to my boy, determined not to let the filly come at him again. Ye see, I'd not known the wolves were on the hill. Only that the filly stomped upon my lad." He shook his finger at the filly. "If I had my musket, I would have killed her right then." With a heavy sigh he lowered his hand and continued. "'Twas blood coming from my son's mouth and he gasped for air--terror claimed his eyes. He died in his bed later that night, not able to breathe for his broken chest."
I shook my head. "'Tis a hard thing to lose a son."
He walked toward his barn. "I'll give you that filly if you pay a fair price for those stallions." He tossed a halter to me. "She's not been handled since that day."
As you can see. I've brought the filly home. The stallions I've already sold to breeders in Boston and Providence. I'll work with her until she's safe enough for any man to handle. She'd not given us trouble on the ship home, and I expect little trouble from her now. 'Twas an unfortunate incident.
I see Dr. Clarke is waving you down. I'll not keep you as I've much work to do. Godspeed one and all.
Like Mr. Durahm's son, I had a filly (her name was Copper) use me as a launching pad. The electric fence along the pasture snapped. She spooked, knocked me over, and in her attempt to get away, she stepped on my chest. In the moments immediately following I didn't feel the pain so much as the panic of not being able to breathe. My lung had been punctured by one of the many broken ribs. Not until I was in the ambulance did I feel the pain.
When I arrived at the hospital, I begged for relief from the pain, but they would not give me any until after a tube was stuck in my side to drain the punctured lung. I had been married only three weeks at this point and would spend the next two weeks in the hospital and a month after that recovering from the broken ribs. What a welcome my poor hubby had to being married to me. To this day I still feel the occasional pang where the ribs were broken and the tube had been inserted.
Once I was able to ride again, I continued to train the filly. While I could ride other horses without hesitation, handling Copper required a battle with fear I never thought I would ever experience with a horse. With the occasional help from others, I managed to train her well enough to sell her to an instructor who would use Copper in her riding program. So like Nathaniel, I was confident in the kind look in Copper's eye. She didn't mean to hurt me, but accidents do happen.
The first recorded Arabian stallion to have been brought to England was the Markham Arabian. He came to King James I in 1616. However, there is evidence that some Arabian horses were brought back by knights after the Crusades.
The Welsh pony is believed to have been influenced by Arabians as early as the Middle Ages, which agrees with the notion of the knights bringing horses back. While the official year the Welsh Pony was brought into America was 1884, I would venture to say that people coming from Wales would have brought a horse or two over with them, and some of these were quite likely born with the native welsh-type pony blood.
The first official import of Arabian breeding stock to America was in 1725 by Nathan Harrison of Virginia. So to be strictly accurate, Nathaniel Griffith didn't bring true Arabian stallions back with him. I just thought it fit the story. That said, I have no doubt that some horses brought over in the 17th century did have Arabian blood. The horses I have read about tended to be smaller than the stock commonly found in England, which is what the Europeans were doing--crossbreeding their horses with Arabians to make them lighter.
King James I's breeding program would have enhanced the Arabian influenced. This, along with the old knights' horses influence, made it possible for many of the horses brought to America to have had a great deal of Arabian blood in them without any formal recognition.