Al McNutt may no longer be flying over fences in the show ring, but horses are still a big part of his life.
“I’ve always loved horses,” he said. “I had some great times with my first pony and went on to some thrilling times in the jumper ring.”
McNutt grew up on Young Street during a period when horses and ponies could be kept within town limits.
“I wanted a horse but, being from a family of eight, it was a little difficult for one person in the family to have one. My parents bought a pony, called Chubby Checker; we had to share.”
He remembers neighbours who shared their knowledge, including Albert Borden, a horse trader, and Merle Harper, a blacksmith who taught him a lot about horses’ feet.
The first pony McNutt considers truly his own was Peggy Sue, who took him into the show ring.
His family got more horses and moved to a farm in Murray Siding. They took in equine boarders and eventually had 30 horses on the property. Although the horses are gone, it still serves as homestead for his 96-year-old mother.
He was teaching others to ride by the time he was about 15 and as an adult he became coach and manager of the equine program at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College.
At that time, there was a barn filled with horses for the program, and Peggy Sue was a lesson pony.
“One day, she decided it was time to retire,” said McNutt. “She walked away from the group she was with and went back to the barn. After that, she became the black and white pony people could pet and brush.”
Peggy Sue enjoyed the lifestyle and lived to be 32.
It was a thoroughbred-standardbred gelding McNutt bought as a colt, that took him to the high points of showing.
“He was the horse of my career,” he said. “He did things that surprised everyone.
“He was only 15.2 hands high, but he would jump anything, even a wagon in a field.”
McNutt and Daniel Boone started showing in hunter classes, and then moved into jumper.
They were competing at a time when horses, no matter their size, were required to carry 165 pounds of weight for some competition. Because McNutt weighed 130 pounds, lead weights were added to a pad on the horse’s back, but that didn’t deter Daniel Boone. During the 1970s they competed in a puissance class, which includes high jumps, at the Atlantic Winter Fair and tied with Jen Marsden Hamilton on a 16.2hh thoroughbred. Marsden Hamilton is currently a world-renowned coach.
For a while, teams consisting of two horses and riders would represent an area at some events in the Maritimes. The Truro team consisted of McNutt and Daniel Boone, along with Gilbert Bartlett and Trumpeter.
“There was a great atmosphere at shows,” McNutt said. “We would sleep over the stalls and socialize. People would play their guitars. There was a real magic.”
As a child Suzanne Perry, who owns Opportunity Farm, attended some of the camps McNutt ran.
“It was great fun to watch him and Daniel,” she said. “They were a real team.
“What I really took from it was the realization that there could be such a strong connection between horse and rider.”
McNutt served as regional chair for the Canadian Pony Club, an organization he considers extremely valuable.
After contracting HIV, he moved to Toronto for a few years, and that was the only period when horses didn’t play a large part in his life. When he returned to Truro he was soon spending time with them again.
He now meets people who say, “You taught my grandmother to ride.”
McNutt, at 68, helps his daughter by going to the barn to feed her horses and muck out stalls in the morning. He spends much of his weekdays at the Northern Healthy Connections Society office, where he is supervisor, and then goes back to the barn to help with evening chores.
“I love it,” he said. “I like being around horses, and I enjoy passing on knowledge and seeing the love of horses in others.”