Picture this: growing up galloping your pony on island beaches, practicing your dressage test by the front door of a brewery, jumping over small boats and kayaks as you come across them. Sounds like a dream, right?
For Meghan Perry, it’s been her reality since childhood. She grew up on Nantucket Island, 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. Megan and her horses still spend the summers in Nantucket, where she runs a boarding and lesson facility for permanent and seasonal residents.
Megan admits, “It is quite an odd place to try to event from.”
At any rate, it requires a certain level of creativity to overcome some unique challenges, least of all the total reliance on a ferry between the island the mainland.
“You import everything on the boat and are dependent on the 2.5-hour boat ride to get to America,” Meghan said. “In an emergency, the first call you make is to the vet and the second is to the ferry to see about getting the horse off island.”
Resourcefulness has become a required characteristic for Meghan and other horse owners on the island because there are no vets, farriers or feed stores. “You learn to work with what you have.”
Surviving the Summer on Nantucket
As a child, Meghan and her friend Lucy would ride bareback all over the 47.8 square-mile island with two driving ponies, Sparky and Aldo.
“The only real rules were we had to wear helmets and be home by dark,” Meghan said. Being that the island didn’t have many fallen trees or stone walls to stand on for a boost if they fell off, the girls learned to hold on tight.
Today, Meghan still gallops around the island but with the purpose of conditioning her event horses. Unfortunately, there are no hills on which to build fitness.
“What we do have is miles of beaches that are great for water workouts. If the tide is right, you can walk over the dunes, down to the water, walk or swim in the water or head out to the sandbar for pristine dressage footing.”
Depending on the time of day, the two-legged beach goers provide additional challenges: “Kite boarders, kids on the beach and people snorkeling all challenge the horse’s ability to stay sane under pressure.”
Oh, and there’s also the sharks. Yes, you read that right. Sharks. “…the sand sharks that like to scoot all around the horse’s legs when we are wading in the water.” Most of the horses get used to them, Meghan said. “The sand sharks, while harmless, add a particular amount of excitement.
“If a horse can survive a summer on Nantucket, they can handle anything!”
When she’s not in the water with the sharks, Meghan does most of her riding on dirt roads in the moors. When practicing “ring” riding, or as close as she can get to it, she does flatwork in a 2-acre field in front of the Cisco Brewery.
“There is nothing quite like practicing your dressage test on a sunny Saturday afternoon as people are packing up from the beach and an afternoon at the brewery to cause a distraction,” Meghan said.
Because there are no real cross-country courses on the island, Meghan has to be especially creative when it comes to schooling “natural” obstacles.
“There is no shortage of kayaks, dinghies or small boats to use as jumps. Add a few buoys and old lobster pots and you’ve got yourself a fishing-themed complex,” Meghan said. “And my favorite…the plastic 4x4x4 bins used by the brewery to store grapes double as an awesome skinny square.”
The dirt roads she rides on are maintained by grading, which can create tall banks on either side of the road. “Add a log or bring out some show jumps, and it’s very similar to a sunken road complex.”
Training on the Mainland
Riding horses on a beautiful island like Nantucket sure sounds dreamy, but with the lack of facilities and the added burden of a ferry ride every time you want to compete, remaining on the island year-round just isn’t realistic for an upper-level eventer.
Meghan spends the “shoulder seasons” in Boyds, Maryland. During the late fall and winter, she and the horses relocate to Aiken, South Carolina.
“We come to Aiken a bit earlier than most other riders to get the competition horses ready for the show season. After having July and August off, my horses start back into work in the late fall so that when we arrive in Aiken we can hit the ground running.
“Additionally, I have a number of horses in training that compete locally, and Aiken allows their training to progress by taking advantage of everything Aiken has to offer.”
She is based this year at Bridle Creek Farm – a facility with every amenity an eventer could ask for – and is excited to welcome the legendary Irish eventer Eric Smiley March 10-18 for a 9-day “Feast of Education and Fun.”
“I have tried to format the days so that there is literally something for everyone from private lessons, camp, event coaching and group lessons,” Megan said. “Eric is an untapped resource. He is such a great instructor; he makes it so simple and easy. He has really shaped my riding and my career.”
Meghan’s top horse is Nicos, a 15-year-old Canadian Sport Horse bred by Doug Dean. Her mom found the horse when he was five and bought him after watching him pitch a rider off (and break her leg). With his short neck and “pudgy” body, Meghan thought he might make a nice Preliminary horse at best.
Nicos kept surprising her, however. With coaching from her parents, Eric, and John Williams, Meghan has produced Nicos to the three-star level, with their 2014 season culminating in a second place finish at Bromont.
“Though I am never sure if I am going to go flying off his back before I put my feet in both stirrups, though he sometimes argues about picking up the correct lead before heading to show jumping and then rudely drags me around the course, and though he heads to the cross-country start box squealing like a humpback whale, he loves his job, and I know he will always bring me home safe.”
This year, Megan will try to qualify Nicos, who she lovingly refers to as a Thelwell pony, for Rolex. “Nicos was close last year but our season ended right after Bromont in June so I could get back to the island for work.”
Besides Nicos, Meghan also has Elton, a talented New Zealand Thoroughbred who is described by friends as “a crystal chandelier out in a hurricane” and an opinionated Dutch Warmblood named Amy, who is the first mare Meghan has ever owned.
Meghan is excited for the futures of the two younger horses, and she continues to enjoy Nicos’ progression, as he has already far exceeded her expectations.
“I know I am very lucky. I love what I do! I love the horses in my life and I treasure the people in my life that help make my passion possible for me.”
Learn more about Meghan and her horses on her website and keep an eye out for her and her “Thelwell pony” this spring!
Thousands of people on Nantucket Island were without power and faced damaging winds during the blizzard that hit New England this week. Our thoughts are with all those affected