“My beloved Alice,” is what Margaret Schwartz commented on a photo of the 1977 Devon second year green hunter that someone had posted on the Equestrians From Back In The Day Facebook page. It was an image of Leslie Burr (now Leslie Howard) riding Quiet Touch.
And when asked to tell more, Schwartz wrote: “Quiet Touch was always known as Alice. She was an [off-the-track Thoroughbred that Leslie bought from Hugh Kerrigan for [owner Helen Sisler Szymamski]. She was a typical Thoroughbred, a bit hot but super athletic and one of the best jumpers. I took care of her and absolutely loved her. She was super smart and taught me a lot about the nature and thought process of horses in general and mares in particular,” Schwartz replied.
I had to know more, so I called Schwartz and Szymanski and took them on the trip down memory lane to remember “Alice.”
“She was this great show horse who was that special mare,” Szymanski recalled. “She was athletic, she was super-smart and she was a good mover. She was only like 15.3 hands, maybe a hair more, but she had a big stride and she jumped the moon. She never spooked. We used to take her on trail rides; my mom would ride her and Alice would go through the streams. You could put anybody on her and she could do anything.”
Szymanski remembered when Howard, then a young professional, found Alice at the end of 1975. “We bought her the first time we saw her. Leslie was looking for a green horse for us,” she said. “Alice was 6 and it was in the fall after indoors. We went to Hugh Kerrigan’s. It was cold and a dark indoor, and Alice wasn’t clipped. She looked like a big ball of fur.
“Leslie got on her and started jumping and she had such an incredible jump. If you weren’t tight, she would jump you out of the saddle. Leslie looked over at me and said, ‘I don’t care how much she is, we’re buying her!’ Back then, the vetting was so simple, so she was in our barn in the next day or two.
“She was so comfortable and easy. She was so well balanced. I don’t think she ever cross-cantered in her life; she was one of those horses that was so naturally athletic and balanced. She had a wonderful jump.
“She was beautiful and so easy to be around. She went in a snaffle and you didn’t wear spurs. You just had to keep her relaxed,” Szymanski said.
Alice showed with Howard in the first year and second year divisions and with Szymanski in the amateur-owner hunters. And Schwartz groomed her.
“Leslie showed her and the first year we went to Florida, we didn’t have an indoor ring and she’d never really jumped a full course,” Schwartz said. “Back in the day, we were in Jacksonville, Fla., and Alice won the first three classes. We thought, ‘Wow, we have a superstar on our hands!’ All the grooms had favorites, and she was definitely mine. When she was champion at Devon, I was as proud as could be.”
Schwartz remembered that though Alice excelled at shows, she wasn’t always happy on the showgrounds. “She didn’t like that lifestyle so much, so I would try and get her out of her stall as much as possible. We really formed a bond doing that. I’d take her out and graze; I’d just drop the shank and read the newspaper while she’d graze,” she said.
“Alice was just perfect for Helen. She was a little on the hot side to ride, but she was a wonderful jumper and she could jump from any distance. She’d just pat the ground and jump in perfect form,” Schwartz said. “Helen is one of the world’s nicest, kindest people and I think a lot of people loved Alice because they loved Helen. Everyone rooted for them.”
Alice showed with both Howard and Szymanski and won all over in the green and amateur divisions, finishing as AHSA second year green national horse of the year in 1977. “She went in two divisions all the time and she never had a rail or took a bad step,” Szymanski recalled. By 1980, Szymanski was focusing on other pursuits, such as establishing a career and starting a family. So Alice retired to the life of a broodmare, with Szymanski just riding her now and then for pleasure.
Then, in 1986, Schwartz and her husband moved into a farm in Flemington, N.J., and Szymanski asked if Alice might join them. “My husband is in the Thoroughbred racing business, so I had gotten into race horses,” Schwartz said. She intended to breed Alice, since the mare had good bloodlines with lots of steeplechasers (by Pie D’Or and out of a Rasper mare). But after three foals, Alice retired as a broodmare.
“She ended up as the world’s best babysitter,” Schwartz said. “She helped raise some really good race horses! We really missed her when she died, because you could turn her out with any horse, from a newborn to a yearling, and she was so kind.”
Szymanski would come visit Alice, and even put her toddler daughter up on her back.
“She was little and by today’s standards, nobody would look twice at her,” Schwartz said of Alice. “To me, she was just so classic looking. She was beautiful. I loved her dearly and I think about her often.”
Alice lived to the old age of 30, passing away peacefully in 1999. “She’s buried down by our lower field and I usually walk the perimeter of the farm every morning with my dog, and I walk past her grave every morning and say hello to her,” said Schwartz.