"Old gray mare gets a second chance.. "reprinted from The Equine Times, Oct, 2003 by Cecil Darnell.
Bess, a Percheron from an Amish farm, was given a new home by Lynn Henschell. Here, Bess is pulling the specially-designed carriage Lynn got for the farm. Cecil Darnell photo.

By Cecil Darnell

     This story is from the Little Celebration, which is a walking horse show, but this isn't a walking horse story.  This story is about Bess, a Percheron horse and Lynn Henschell, her current owner.  Lynn's husband said the story should begin.....

     "Once upon a time I became mentally ill....." and Lynn Henschell continues with her story which she started a while back, and most recently played it out at the Ingham County Fairgrounds in Mason, MI. at the 2003 Little Celebration.  Like many of us, Bess grew up on the family farm, and in her case, it was an Amish family.

     Bess was knocking around the killer pen at the Topeka Horse Sale when she and Lynn first met. Folks with big hearts are always saving the lives of horses and dogs that have outlived their usefulness in a particular role.  Lynn discovered that Bess had already paid 19 years of on-farm duties, passing to the current owner from his father.

     Some folks think that assignments for a draft horse on an Amish farm isn't exactly a "show horse" honeymoon.  Anyway, Lynn and Bess quickly came to an understanding, which turned into an agreement.  Bess went home to Sidney, MI. with Lynn. Lynn isolated Bess for a time, watching for any signs of lameness or health issues.

    When all systems appeared in good order, Lynn had her feet trimmed, gave her shots, floated her teeth and found a teacher to help her learn to drive a big horse.

     Lynn found a neighbor who drives draft horses and participated in plow days and other draft horse activities. He helped her get the hang of things.

     Lynn and Bess began learning together.  Lynn didn't know how to drive or harness a draft horse, Bess didn't know about electric fences, hadn't been ridden, and her ride home to Sidney was her first trailer ride. After Topeka, a new experience began for Lynn and Bess together. Did Lynn's husband really say, "Once upon a time I became mentally ill...?"

     Lynn went to one of the draft horse websites to find a carriage maker who would produce what she wanted. She knew what she was looking for and it didn't fit the normal descriptions associated with usual horse drawn vehicles.  Her inquiry brought a response from a carriage builder in Iowa who told her he would build her a specially-designed people mover in his shop.

     Six weeks later, they went to Iowa to get the people mover. Bess, the Percheron, with her new people mover went to the Tennessee Walking Horse Show to move people who didn't want to walk. And they did move folks around the fairgrounds. One thing led to another. After the folks were shooed out to the people mover, Bess was unhooked, unharnessed, and retrained.

     Since Bess had done such a fine job of moving people, she had earned her reward. She could be a saddle horse. After 10 minutes of intense training, Bess was entered in one of the show classes.

     Claire Mathieson, a walking horse exhibitor, was pressed into service. She mounted Bess, rode her through the warm-up area, and into the arena for intense competition. The competition was fierce. When all the dust had settled, there were Bess and Claire, proudly claiming the 2nd place ribbon, second only to John Prigg's gaited mule, Katie.

     There are a lot of stories within this story, even beyond the introduction of "Once upon a time I became mentally ill..." While Bess and Lynn are continuing their adventure, and eventually Lynn will get another big horse to work with Bess, likely from the same place. People need to be aware of the dangers of acquiring a horse in this way.

     Unless one knows the dangers of obtaining animals any way beyond private treaty,  inexperienced horse people will do well to use the "normal" methods for acquiring their animals.  With experience, other avenues can be explored.

     And a salute to a nice group of people having a great time at the Little Celebration. The participants are all walking horse people. Lynn has Bess assigned to act as a surrogate mother to the walking horse weanlings that they raise; Clare Mathieson had been showing walking horses since she was tiny, and John Prigg has become a tradition with his gaited mules in the walking horse arena.



Claire and Bess in the warm-up area...Cecil Darnell in the foreground.
2nd place ribbon, Country Pleasure Class. 2003 Michigan Little Celebration Horse Show.

Bess took good care of 9 little kids and 3 big kids at a fall birthday party.




Some of these kids had never had the opportunity to see a big horse like this and Bess enjoyed the attention.

Our beloved Bess was humanely euthanized in January of 2010. She served us well during her semi-retirement and she is deeply missed.