MINT BLACK JACK

The Best Years of My Life: by Karen Swanberg
Written for the "We Love Lippitt Morgans" FB page tribute to Jack

Kid 2.jpg

INTRODUCTION

Jack--known to most as Mint Black Jack--was a well-known Lippitt Morgan Champion Stallion around the world and a dear friend to the Cherry Ledge Farm family. With a temperament unfound amongst stallions, Jack greeted every person he met with soft eyes, a welcoming heart, and a trusting demeanor, especially kids. Karen fell in love with this horse when he was in a hard time and they healed and supported each other throughout Jack's life. Though no longer physically with Cherry Ledge, Jack's memories live on through Karen's story of love and friendship. Please enjoy this tribute to Mint Black Jack...

jack%252520winner_edited_edited_edited.jpg

PART 1

It was June 2001 when I laid eyes on Jack from across the local Woodstock show grounds near my farm. I saw this incredible black horse and definitely knew he was a Morgan, as he was being lunged outside of the practice ring. I knew the trainer handling him and walked over to ask about Jack. Mike laughed and wondered how long it would take before I saw him. He told me his name was "Mint Black Jack", and he was a six-year-old stallion that Mike was hired to train. Mike was an Arabian trainer and later switched over to Quarter Horses, so I was surprised to see him with a Morgan. Jack took my breath away. I went back to my students and horses that I had at the show, and I just kept an eye out for Jack to be shown. He never made it to the show ring under saddle that day. Just a few weeks later I received a call from Janet and Donald [Jack's owners] asking if I would be interested in training Jack, that I was highly recommended by Mike as the perfect Morgan person to work with him. The day Jack came to Cherry Ledge Farm was just a usual day of working horses and teaching lessons. Jack arrived during a gap in my schedule, and when he stepped off the trailer, he let out a huge whinny and was on his hind feet to announce his arrival. For a split second, I wondered what I was thinking to agree to take in another stallion. Jack walked around the truck and trailer, and we just locked eyes. When I was handed the lead rope, Jack walked up and but his forehead into the middle of my chest, let out a huge sigh and it was an instant connection. Years later I would joke that if I felt that way about my first husband, I would still be married.
My mom couldn't wait for me to ride Jack for the first time and came down to sit on the bleachers and watch. He had a nice, slow jog but was way behind the bit as soon as I asked for a lope. He had a heck of a buck. The second I asked for a lope in either direction, he would bury his chin between his front legs and buck. So I put a French link snaffle bit on him and rode two-handed to encourage him to pick his head up. Then I would tell him to enjoy the view of the world around him. It didn't take long, and with his head up and enjoying the sights, the buck stopped. It was only about three weeks from his arrival until the Lippitt Country Show, and I asked his owners if I could take him there to show. Jack and I were already closely attached to each other. They came to pick him up the night before we were leaving so they could haul him up in their own trailer with Imperial Joy (their granddaughter Angela's Lippitt mare). I arrived quite a while before they did. By then I had gotten Jack's stall ready and had (1/2 Lippitt) Ashworth Nick Moro in his stall. I could hear a loud amount of banging in a trailer up on the road above the fairgrounds and realized it was them. Joy would have liked to kill Jack, and I met the trailer quickly. I got Jack off and walked him away to get him to settle down and stop shaking and sweating. We walked the track for quite a while. I had tears of emotion because of Jack's state of mind and mine being back at the LCS for the first time since I went in 1994. At that time, I had Ledgelans Cymbal, my 3/4 Lippitt, who was my heart horse for twenty years; I lost him when he was twenty-five. That year I also broke my hip in the warm up ring and ended up in the hospital. It was a very emotional weekend, and I had no idea of Jack's history of being at the LCS as a younger horse. As I stood outside of the show ring waiting for his stallion age group class to be called in, he was standing behind me with his head over my right shoulder. I was hugging my arm around the bridge of his nose. We became surrounded by a fair amount of people. Everyone was asking me who this horse was, and all I said was , "Jack." We went in our class, and he showed perfectly for me and won. I was so proud of him; all I could hear was, "No way is that Mint Black Jack." I even heard a few comments like, "He must be drugged." People really didn't know me at the time in the local Vermont Lippitt world, and their comments couldn't be further from the truth. I have never in my life ever drugged a horse. I build a connection with horses, and we do our best for each other. I still had no idea of Jack's past "bad boy" history at LCS, and it took a few years for Ray Potts, Dave Carr, Gail Robertson, and others to fill me in. Gail gave me a video a few years later of Jack's great escape at the end of a Lippitt Stallion class.
Jack won all of his stallion classes, as well as the coveted "Justin Morgan Standard". I showed him in his first successful under saddle class, and we won the western pleasure class. I was over the moon, and Jack was perfect. It came to our Championship class and Angela walked Joy up to the show ring and allowed her to put her head over the fence. As we came up the rail, Jack panicked and spun away from her in fear. We were awarded Reserve Champion Western Pleasure. I took Jack back home in my big trailer for no charge because I didn't want him to ever feel that fear again. He trailered perfectly with Nicky, and the weekend ended well.
I showed Jack at our local Woodstock Fair Open Horse Show, which was the largest open show in all of New England, with an average of over 550 entries of all breeds, disciplines, and levels. We did great, and everyone would come to see him up close. It was the beginning of seventeen years of hearing, "Now THAT is a Morgan!" Just two weeks later was the very first "Celebrating Agriculture Day", and Jack and Nicky attended for my farm to represent the Morgan Horse to all of the attendees. Jack was so incredible, with children coming up to meet him. We attended each year, except one, up through 2017. He was visited every year by families coming to take their annual pictures with Jack, and he won over everyone he met. He loved the people walking around in cow, corn, and chicken costumes, he dragged me over to snuggle with a taxidermy black bear, which drew quite a crowd, and he spent incredible time with an elderly woman in a wheelchair. He politely but firmly pulled me over to her after the parade around the event grounds and placed his head so gently in her lap, and she just wrapped her arms all around his head and neck and had her face against his. He was the most incredible ambassador for the Morgan Horse and stallions of any breed. Hearts were broken in 2018 when I said he wasn't able to attend anymore, and little did I realize I would lose him just three months later.
2001 was the first year that Jack went to Equine Affaire. I had attended the previous years with my other Morgans, and we were welcomed with open arms by my friends in the New England Morgan Row. We were in the Morgan demos and the Lippitt Morgan demos over many years. He was a favorite in the Morgan Breed booth in the breed pavilion, as he wanted to kiss every child and person in a wheelchair. We were even featured on the front of the Springfield newspaper one year from the Morgan demo. Jack developed quite a following at EA, and it was how I met Denny Emerson. He followed us back to the barn and stopped us after a Lippitt demo. I had no idea who he was. A friend who was with me acted like I was talking to a rock star. I was honored to hear all of Denny's wonderful, positive comments about Jack.

jack%20aunt_edited.jpg

PART 2

After Equine Affaire came my biggest heartbreak. Janet and Donald came to pick up Jack and take him home from training. He was only with me for about four and a half months, but it was true love for both of us. I still had many other Morgans, but my world was forever changed. The next June I received a call from Donald, asking if I had room to board and train a certain black stallion, and I realized who was calling. It was a resounding, "Yes!" I didn't care if I had to bring Jack into my house, I would have room for him. I asked Donald if I could work with him on my own and show him, and he said yes. I started to see ads for Jack being for sale and just prayed that no one called Janet. Due to an impending divorce, Jack was for sale. That 
Fall I got a call from Donald. He said he had gotten forty-eight hours for me to come up with the money, as a buyer was coming that weekend with a trailer and cash in hand. I was devastated and inconsolable. I walked the long walk up to my mailbox trying to figure out what I could sell or borrow...through a flood of tears [I love how God works]. I got my mail and a Visa bill and thought, "Oh great, another bill." But thank God, I opened it on the walk home and inside there were three "checks" with 0% interest. The wheels started to turn. I got home and ran upstairs to call the Visa phone number.
"Hi. I just received the checks with zero interest. Do you have to spend them at a store?"
"No M'am."
"Can I buy a horse?"
"Yes M'am."
"Woooo. Hoooo! Thank you! Good-bye and have a wonderful day!"
My credit limit covered half of Jack's price. I called Donald right away and through some tears, I said I had half of the money so far. Donald knew how much Jack and I were connected, and he wanted me to have him, so in his kindness, I paid Janet her half and Donald and I worked out boarding, lessons for his granddaughter, and her attending shows with us. That day our real adventure began. Jack would never leave me again.
Over the years from 2001-2007 under saddle, 2008 was the year of my near fatal accident, and 2009-2017 on the ground, we showed all over New England at the Morgan "A" circuit, local and large open, all-breed shows, parades, Equine Affaire, Celebrating Agriculture Day, the AMHA Celebration of the Morgan National Weekend at an event in New Hampshire, the Lippitt Country Show, my farm open barns, and so much more. A local cable show was filmed about Jack and my farm. We were chosen at the Maine Morgan Show to be interviewed for their local TV news coverage. Jack was featured in many equine publications including The Morgan Horse magazine, Northeast Equine Journal, Lippitt Club newsletter, Massachusetts Horse magazine on many occasions, and local Connecticut newspapers, too. Jack put a positive face to the Lippitt Morgan and all Morgans. A very proud moment was Jack being chosen for the State of Vermont Morgan Horse Brochure. It was full color, and there were 10,000 printed and more on a second round. I actually had to sign a Model Release form for Jack. We showed in hand, western, hunt, saddle seat, driving (just once), trail, versatility (Gymkhana, western pleasure, hunter pleasure, hunter hack, with two jumps). Jack was the crowd favorite, for sure, in a huge class. At the Lippitt Country Show, Jack was six-time Western Pleasure Champion, one Reserve, ten-time winner of the Justin Morgan Standard, later to become the Green Mountain Standard Class winner, and I am not sure of all of his wins, champions, reserves, in the stallion classes. I never cared about the ribbons as much as the fun we were having and people who adored him. We spent time donating performances for fundraiser events for children's and horse organizations. The performances were western dressage before it was even a recognized thing and always to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA". Lee gave me permission to use his song back when I did performances even prior to Jack coming into my life.
In May 2008, Jack was to take on his most important role in my life. I had a near-fatal riding accident on a client's horse (not a Morgan) at their farm. I had to do an emergency dismount from a sidesaddle (first and only time sidesaddle for this horse that I had been working with for six years in carriage and western). No idea what caused her reaction, but I had to get off at a full, bucking gallop. I even had to try to get off the right side. Her last buck sent me straight up, seven or eight feet above the saddle, and I inverted and came down on the back of my neck, breaking my neck and back in six places and sustaining other injuries. The doctors were shocked I was alive and not paralyzed. I broke C5, 6,7 and T4 and 11 in multiple places. I ended up in Providence, Rhode Island, Trauma Center. Jack was beside himself when I wasn't home home for days. My family was caring for a barn full of my horses and training horses. They told me that Jack was not eating or drinking and was very stressed out. We decided that they would call me on the phone and be in the stall with him. I was put on speaker phone. They said he was staring at the phone, and I kept telling him to eat and drink, and I would be home as soon as I could. He walked over after the call and started to do both. He was okay after that but always searching for me. I was five days in the trauma center (doctors said it should have been two weeks) and ten days in the rehab facility (doctors said it should have been thirty days, but the health insurance dictated what they would cover). So home I went after fifteen days in a full neck and back brace that I had to wear 24/7, along with a walker and a hospital bed in my living room. The therapists I had in rehab modified a plan I could do at home with Jack. I told them the level of trust I had in him, and he became my PT partner. I built up strength and some range of motion by touching him and eventually brushing him. He handled the walker and later two canes until I could walk without them. He was amazing, and no one believed that a stallion (with mares on the farm) would be so patient, quiet, and attentive. That was my boy. I sadly developed PTSD with anything to do with trying to ride after that accident, but with Jack's patience and not taking my tears and tremors personally, he let me ride him a few times. I was getting to the point I had researched hypnosis for PTSD and was going to give it a try, so I could ride again, when the biggest heartbreak happened...

jack%20wf_edited.jpg

PART 3

Jack was diagnosed with cancer in late 2010. We got multiple opinions for the best treatment. It was at an appointment at the New England Equine Hospital in Dover, New Hampshire, where I met a vet assistant who grew up next to Marshall Winkler's  "Mint" farm in Rockport, Massachusetts, and was there when Jack was born. It was so nice to hear about Jack as a baby. Together Jack and I battled his cancer. He trusted me when we had to heavily sedate him to do chemo, and we only did four rounds instead of the recommended five. It took a toll on him. He wasn't cured, but he was able to bounce back enough that we were still able to go out and have fun without any riding for about four years. I wanted to give Jack the retirement he deserved with the people who adored and respected him. I asked if I could have a retirement ceremony at The Lippitt Country Show in 2017. I was very touched with the stories that people came to share with me about the years of watching Jack and me together. They could clearly see the connection we had. Jack's daughter, Brook Hill Ember Ash, went to the 2017 show, and two of my students showed her in leadline and walk trot. I showed her to Reserve Senior and Overall Mare and to the Ancient Mare Championship. It was a proud moment to have Jack and Ashley together there from my farm for his last time.
When word got around back home that I had retired Jack at the LCS, people were upset that I didn't do it at the Woodstock Fair Horse Show. So, with some quick planning and getting the word out in a local paper, Jack had a second retirement celebration in front of all his local fans. The weather was stormy all day, and it was supposed to be weather dependent if I would do it. Well, everyone was watching The Weather Channel and said the storms were supposed to stop about a half hour before the planned time, so I drove home to get Jack groomed up and ready. As I drove the three miles from home to the fairgrounds, where I first laid eyes on Jack in 2001, the skies cleared up, and the most incredibly beautiful double rainbow was over the show grounds. It was a sign from Heaven above. My niece Becky helped me present Jack, and his history was read over the loud speaker. Everyone stopped to watch Jack. At the end of the ceremony, my mom, sister, Becky, and Jack's vet all came into the ring with us; it was full of tears. We were surrounded by so many people after we left the ring. Stories were shared of people's memories of us at the fair. I will never forget both of Jack's retirements until my last breath on earth.
The cancer never fully went away and would manifest in different ways over the years. Jack battled it, and he never gave up, so neither did I. In March of 2018, I left my nine-year job managing at a large animal veterinary service. I was devastated at the time it happened, but God had a plan. We made it to the 2018 Memorial Day parade. Jack wore his blue silk rose blanket over his saddle one more time. It was bittersweet. He did his very proud patriotic strut along the parade route, in front of the band and dignitaries. He welcomed all of the children to come visit him at the end of the parade, as he did every year, but I could see he was more tired than normal. It was the last event we would do together for the public. The cancer showed up around Labor Day in a different way, and I could see the changes in Jack's body condition. It eventually caused him to lose his vision, which he hid quite well from me. He knew his stalls, paddock, and around the farm. I didn't realize he was nearly blind until I moved an access gate. It threw him off, and he spooked into the side of the barn. My heart was breaking, and there was nothing I could do for him. We spent every moment together, and that was when I realized and appreciated God's plan to give Jack and I his last eight months together. We both needed that time to share. On December 3, 2018, I had to say good-bye to my best friend and partner. Jack passed in my arms. My only consolation was knowing I will see him someday at the Rainbow Bridge in Heaven. We never gave up on each other. I owe so much to Donald Smith for making sure Jack never left me. I have been blessed with some very special heart Morgans in my life, but Jack was my heart, soul, and happiness. My life will never be the same. I miss him every day.
Thank you, Mint Black Jack...I see you in the clouds and rainbows, and I feel you in the wind.

 

MINT BLACK JACK

A Tribute Video
Compiled by Kaitlyn French