Tuesday, Jul. 9, 2024

Lost And Found: Social Media Solves Decades Old ‘Heart Horse’ Mystery

PUBLISHED

ADVERTISEMENT

Ann Demellweek thought she’d lost her beloved horse “Kit” forever after she was forced to sell him in 1998. She had owned the Canadian Warmblood-Thoroughbred cross gelding, show name Mahogany North, from the time he was weaned until he was 15. 

A divorce forced Demellweek to sell Kit, and she was heartbroken about it. “I really had no choice. I needed a roof over my head,” she recalled. The day his new owner came to pick him up, Kit refused to get in the trailer despite always being very easy to load. 

“I finally led him in myself,” Demellweek remembered. “Then he stuck his head out the side window and gave me a look that broke my heart. His expression asked, ‘What are you doing? Why are you sending me off with someone else?’ ”

After selling Kit, Demellweek could not stop thinking about him. She had asked the buyer to let her know if she ever decided to sell him, but learned after the fact that he had been sold on several years later to an unidentified young rider.

Over the years, Demellweek posted twice to the Facebook account “Past Owners Looking for Horses, or Current Owners Looking for Past Owners,” a public account with over 11,000 followers. No one replied. In June she tried again, describing Kit, and sharing two photos of him. Demellweek, 75, knew it was unlikely that Kit was still alive, as he would have been over 40 years old by now. “Before I pass away myself,” she said in her post, “I am hoping to find someone who may know what happened to him.” 

This time, an extraordinary response from the worldwide web confirmed the power of a special horse and the deep connectivity among horse lovers. Demellweek’s post went viral, garnering over 12,000 views, 1,200 shares, and almost 900 heartfelt reactions and comments in just a few days. And finally, she got the answers she was looking for.

“Kit” helps himself to Ann Demellweek’s tuna fish sandwich during a trail ride. Photo Courtesy Of Nancy Morrow.

Kit and Demellweek’s story started in 1983 when she visited a farm in Lachute, Quebec, to pick out a foal. “I first saw Kit when he was 2 or 3 months old,” she said. “I had my choice of all the foals in the pasture, and I saw potential in him. He was big-boned, and I wanted a horse with decent bones for jumping and dressage.” 

ADVERTISEMENT

She had grown up riding in Stittsville, Ontario, and “always had the horse bug.” After riding the gamut, from difficult, green horses to a talented partner called Sir Kristopher that she showed very successfully, she decided it was time to try starting her own horse. 

Kit was her first project, and she did all his training herself. “I took him everywhere, to all the shows where I competed with Sir Kristopher. I wanted him to experience everything as a youngster,” she said. 

She and Kit ended up “doing it all together—eventing, dressage, show jumping, hunters,” and won several championships in Canada; in 1989 they placed third in dressage in the prestigious Western Canadian Nationals in Alberta.

It was soon apparent that Kit also had the skills of Houdini. “He could get himself out of a blanket and hood, without tearing or ripping anything, or undoing any of the buckles—even the leg straps,” she recalled with a laugh. At one Spruce Meadows (Alberta) dressage show, Demellweek remembered coming to the show grounds early one morning to find Kit and a buddy walking up and down the barn aisle. “Kit had opened the latches on his own box stall, then he went down the aisle and undid the latches on a buddy’s box stall and let her out.” 

Kit also had unusual tastes. One time, Demellweek and a friend paused for lunch during a trail ride, hitching their horses to a post. “Kit pawed and pawed—very unlike him—until I led him over to the picnic table. He ate my tuna fish sandwich.” He had tricks, too—he’d accept a treat and then stick his tongue out while he sucked on it, making her and others laugh. 

Twenty-two years passed after Demellweek sold Kit, and finally her third Facebook post paid off in June. Almost a thousand people commented on the post, many of them touched by the story and wishing Demellweek luck in her search. Others told their own sad stories of missing the horses they’d sold. 

Most importantly, both the unknown “young rider” and Kit’s final owner heard about the post and contributed their own stories about the last years of the gelding’s life. 

The two years with the second owner remain a mystery, but the “young rider” Meaghan McQuade filled in the specifics on her two years with Kit. McQuade was in high school in Calgary, Alberta, where she still lives today, and had ridden for many years with Pony Club, ultimately settling on dressage as her chosen discipline. Buying Kit in 2000 was a game-changer for her.  

ADVERTISEMENT

“He was definitely a schoolmaster by the time I rode him; he had all the buttons,” she said. “He was full of personality but also a ‘quiet boss’ who would give you what you asked for . . . as long as you asked correctly. I learned so much riding him, and everyone loved him.”

McQuade and Kit had the opportunity to train with renowned German dressage trainer and coach Albrecht Heidemann, “which was phenomenal,” she said. She and Kit competed successfully at the FEI Junior classes, winning the FEI Junior division at the 2002 Alberta Provincial Dressage Championships.

Meaghan McQuade rode Kit to a win in the FEI Junior division at the 2002 Alberta Provincial Dressage Championships. Photo Courtesy Of Berni McQuade.

McQuade sold Kit, who was by then almost 20, when she headed to college at University of Alberta, Edmonton. She and her mother intentionally chose a buyer who would give Kit his forever home.

In 2022, 20 years after her FEI triumph with Kit, McQuade started riding again. A barn friend emailed her, excited to have seen Demellweek’s Facebook post on “Past Horses” and knowing it was “her Kit.” McQuade replied to the post, and not long after, Loreen Larson, of Regina, Saskatchewan, added to the thread, saying that she had been Kit’s final owner. 

“He was on my farm, and I rode him daily and showed him to Levels 3 and 4. He loved to offer up piaffe and stuck his tongue out at people in the barn begging for treats. He was retired in his twenties to a big pasture but came in every night to a heated barn. He was the most fantastic horse!” 

Larson said that he was 30 when he passed away “on a beautiful May day in 2013.”

“It’s been great for all of us to find out about Kit—the beginning, the middle, and the end,” McQuade said.

Demellweek, who lives in Red Deer, Alberta, and continued to ride until she was 73, said she was overwhelmed by the Facebook response and was grateful to have closure. “It hurts a little to be around horses now, because I love them so much, but we all age. Sometimes I pull out my scrapbooks and have a good cry, remembering all those wonderful times.”

One of the numerous Facebook comments on Demellweek’s post perfectly summed up the saga of Kit: “How amazing to see the various owners of this horse tell of their journeys with him—a much-loved horse who touched many lives. Now, forty years after he was born, he’s making us cry as we see his owners connect with each other.” 

Categories:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse