Secret Lives of Horses: Ridgetop Raven

Celebrating Aiken's Senior Horses: Sponsored by Triple Crown Feed.

by Nancy Johnson

Raven 35, still galloping in her paddock.

Ridgetop Raven, at 35, is still aptly named. The Connemara pony’s coat remains almost completely black. “The only white she has developed is in the center of her forehead, so it looks like she always had a star,” says her owner Laura Hall. As a longtime instructor of young riders, Laura has had many lesson ponies and horses over the 40 plus years she taught in Aiken. Among them all, Raven holds a special place in Laura’s heart and is beloved by the many people who learned to ride on the pony.

Laura purchased Raven as a barely broken 3-year-old from a breeder in Virginia. “I had another Connemara pony that was more of the traditional Irish-type,” Laura says. “Raven is more of an American, slimmed down, version, much prettier than my other one.” 

Raven, who would finish out as a top-of-the-line medium pony, was originally bought for Laura’s young son, Graham. When the pony arrived at their farm, which is now the site of Stable on the Woods, the first order of business was to find someone who was small enough but rode well to get the pony started. That rider was Maxime Griffith.

 “I was 11 years old and had just started riding with Laura when they got her. Raven was always very game and talented,” Maxime recalls. Being adjacent to the Woods made for a perfect training ground and it wasn’t long before Raven was hunting and eventing.

“Soon Graham started riding her. He rode her the most, but she was always a barn favorite, and everybody looked for the chance to ride her,” Maxime recalls.

Although she no longer lives in Aiken, Maxime still rides and currently competes as an adult amateur. “I guess Raven was my first project. She is definitely the reason that, to this day, it’s very hard for a horse to buck me off,” she laughs. “That pony could buck so hard that her hind legs would come up over your head!”

Laura says Raven was the perfect mount for Graham. “He did everything with Raven. He evented, did dressage and hunted with Aiken Hounds,” she says, adding, “She especially loved the children’s drag hunt because she got to be out in front.” In the mid-1990s, Graham rode Raven to the Children’s Championship at the Aiken Horse Show.

A childhood friend, Bennett Tucker, recalls great times riding with Graham and Raven. “Monday was our lesson day, but the rest of the time, we just rode in the Woods,” he says. “Raven was such a solid, forward moving pony and although I did get to ride her a few times, Graham usually hogged her,” he laughs.

By the time Graham outgrew her, Raven was very well broke and moved into the role of lesson pony seamlessly. “She was a great lesson pony because she was willing to go forward and jumped nicely – just an all-arounder,” Laura says. 

Raven’s forte was teaching kids to jump. “I’d just say ‘Grab the mane and point towards the cross rail,’” Laura says. “They didn’t have to do anything but stay on. She was forward, but not in a scary way. It was great because the beginners didn’t have to kick, kick, kick to keep her going. It really helped the kids as they were able to work on finding their position and balance.” 

Raven was also a very sweet pony. “The kids could groom her and climb under her,” Laura says. “She was very tolerant. I remember one year at camp when we painted her to look like a zebra.”

Laura laughs when she recalls one thing Raven didn’t like – lunging. “She thought lunging was boring and she made it clear it wasn’t for her. Fortunately, I had others that lunged well, so she was never forced to do it.”

Although Raven was quiet and reliable with the beginner riders, she would rise to the occasion with a more experienced rider and when fences got bigger.

“I took Raven to Pine Top with a young rider,” remembers Laura. “In reviewing the cross -country course, I told him to pay extra attention to the fourth fence, even though it appeared to be one of the easiest fences. I emphasized that the course went from an open field into a shadow to jump that little fence. The kid came around and just as predicted, I could see Raven slowing down and about to stop. At the last second, he kicked her, and she flew over the fence. I could see the annoyed look on the pony’s face. It was like she was saying, ‘Okay, okay, all you had to do was ask!’”

When Laura retired recently, so did Raven. Today, Raven is enjoying life at Sandy Hills Farm on Aiken’s southside where she hangs out with her longtime best friend, Laura’s horse Bachelor. Although she no longer has the full time job of a lesson pony, Raven is still part-time teaching the second generation – Graham’s children. “The kids love riding her around the farm and you can look at her and see that she likes it as well,” Laura explains.

Laura limits what her grandchildren do with Raven only because the pony has developed cataracts, which impair her vision. While her overall health is excellent, the pony has lost all her teeth. “I soak her grain and feed her three times a day because she can’t eat hay,” Laura says. 

On a recent trip to see Laura, Maxime visited Raven as well. “She still looks great; you’d never guess she was 35,” she says. “I think it’s hysterical that she wears a blanket now because for so long, she just refused to wear one. It would be 20 degrees out and we’d find her happy in the field with her blanket laying in a heap next to her.”

Laura describes Raven as, “An all-around great pony. She was always so good with the kids and I’m so happy she’s still with us to enjoy a nice retirement.”

The Secret Lives of Horses is a regular feature in The Aiken Horse newspaper, telling the story of a retired horse in the Aiken area, 20 years or older. Do you have an older horse that needs his or her story told? Email us!. Secret Lives is sponsored by Triple Crown Nutrition, providing nutrition beyond compare.