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Mary Elias has been “horse crazy” for as long as she can remember. Growing up in the North East Philadelphia suburb of Somerton, Pennsylvania, she had to be resourceful in order to indulge her love of horses and she dreamed of having a horse of her own.

Finally, George Hess, who knew Mary’s father through the Lion’s Club and who owned a local riding academy, prevailed on 11-year old Mary’s behalf with her father, declaring “if my daughter wanted a horse as badly as your daughter does, I would sure get her one.”

Another family friend had just purchased “Doc”, a spotted pony recently in residence as a lead pony at the Village Farm, a large Standardbred breeding facility in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Much to Mary’s delight, her father took Mary to try Doc and, according to Mary, “Of course, he was perfect.”

So Doc traveled back to Somerton and made his home in the family’s garage. Mary had no formal riding training, but had wonderful adventures with Doc both bareback and in Western tack, often hacking miles to watch local horse shows or to an old race track nearby to gallop around.

Mary and her first horse, Doc

Several years later, another family friend introduced Mary to George Person of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and soon after, she bought her first show horse, Sport Master, whose lineage boasted Bourbon King as his grandsire.
Mary began showing Sport in the 3-gaited division, noting that in those days, there were only three divisions: 5-gaited, 3-gaited and Fine Harness. Mary speaks fondly of the many 1-day, local shows that ran nearly every weekend at that time, reminiscing, “We had so much fun!”


Sport Master was Mary's first show horse

Mary’s love of horses led her to Purdue University where she was an animal husbandry major from 1949-1953. Doc stayed at home with Sport. Although she didn’t ride much or show during his period, she kept her focus on horses. In the summer before her senior year at Perdue, Mary landed a summer job at the Downingtown, Pennsylvania YMCA Summer Camp, where she was in charge of all horses and related activities. Mary laughs, recalling how she planned and put on a horse show, engaging her father (a boat builder by trade) as the judge and tapping the craft department at the camp to provide trophies.

After graduation, Mary worked at UPenn as a lab technician to finance her equine adventures.

One of her fondest memories involves a trek on what was called The Horseshoe Trail (parts of which are still in existence). According to Mary, she and another “horsey” friend had heard of a trail that led from Valley Forge west to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They had heard about it from some “cowboy types” who were a bit sketchy on the details, but who assured the girls that the route was marked with “yellow blazes” on trees and landmarks.

Near the end of the summer, Mary and her friend attended a horse sale near Feasterville, Pennsylvania and each picked out a horse for the project. Mary recalls, “I picked this sweet thoroughbred mare and I named her ‘Sloe Gin’.” She raises an eyebrow and trails off with a smile.

Sloe Gin trekked the Horseshoe Trail with Mary

“We bought bedrolls and supplies and had the horses shipped to Valley Forge.”

Young and intrepid, the girls stopped for overnights in a variety of places. “One evening we came to a farm and just asked the family if we could put our horses in the pasture and sleep out there, too. Well, the horses ended up in the barn, and we were out in the pasture under the stars. One of the children was having a birthday party and they were so delighted to have us and our horses as impromptu guests.”

Mary remembers that the trip took them the better part of a week, but they accomplished their goal and arrived at the old Quentin Riding Club in time for the Fall Show over Labor Day weekend. Mary even catch-rode a “pretty palomino” in the show for Harry Groff, who along with his friend Dottie Evans, after meeting the girls and hearing their story, had shuttled them to Lebanon for a much-needed night in a hotel at the end of their journey.

Mary’s next show horse was Moonbeam’s Golden Genius. Mary and “Shorty” showed in the 3-gaited division throughout the area, although prior to his 3-gaited career, Shorty had been the Eastern States Fine Harness Champion. His impressive pedigree shows Genius Bourbon King as his sire. Formerly owned by New York restaurateur Marvin van Rapoport, Mary noted that she would travel to the city to dine at the restaurant and that Mr. Rapoport kept pictures of all his show horses on the walls there. “I always made sure I sat under Shorty’s picture.” she adds.

It was during her tenure with Shorty that Mary considered becoming a riding instructor. To that end, she enrolled in Annie Cowgill’s summer camp in Milan, Missouri, where she worked with both Ms. Cowgill and her young assistant, Gayle Lampe.

Mary and Moonbeam's Golden Genius, aka, Shorty

Shorty and Mary were partners until his death in 1969. She was horseless for about a year before buying her third Saddlebred, Mordele’s Big Boy, in 1971. Purchased as a 3-year old, “Honey Boy” and Mary showed in the new “pleasure” division for Saddlebreds. During this time Mary met Sidley Payne, a world-class dressage rider and instructor, who had been working with some neighbor’s Arabians. Mary began working with Sidley, ultimately sending Honey Boy to Sidley’s place in West Chester for training. Even though Miss Payne was not a Saddlebred trainer, Mary credits her with “really putting the two of them together”. Now living with her husband, Jack Elias, in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, Mary kept Honey Boy at Pineway Farm, the former Village Farm, the home of her first pony, Doc. Mary owned and cared for Honey Boy until his death at age 29.

Mary and Honey Boy. To the right Honey Boy and Mary compete in the "new" pleasure classes.

After another brief period of “sanity” as her late husband called the few times in Mary’s life when she did not own a horse, Mary bought Beverly Sills, a Supreme Heir mare who she showed successfully in the Western Pleasure division.

Beverly Sills

Her current mount is Winter’s Rembrandt. “Cisco” is a spotted Saddlebred who excels in both the Western and Hunter divisions. 2008, Cisco’s first full year in training with North Wind, was a banner year, as he was named the 2008 ASHA of New Jersey Horse of the Year as well the Pennsylvania ASHA High Point Horse of the Year and the top honors Versatility Horse . Mary likes to tease that her first horse was a spotted horse, so her last one should be, too. But Mary’s vitality belies this dark humor, as she inspires all of the riders at North Wind Stables with her vivid spirit and riding talent.

And this year Mary fulfilled a life-long dream when she showed not only at the World’s Championship in Louisville, but also at The Royal in Kansas City. Her partner on these occasions was the equally colorful, CH A Magic Surprise.

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