Megan Harris’s Connemara stallion has hunted like a pony with an old soul his entire life.
Some horses just get it. Many foxhunters can think of a special mare or gelding who took to the hunt field like they were born to do it. But what about a stallion? You might call that kind of magical mount a unicorn. Whatever you call it, *TBS Declan Pondi (“Declan” for short) is one of those.
The grey Connemara stallion’s owner, Megan Harris, picked him out of a field in Ireland as a breeding prospect when he was two months old and had him in the U.S. three months later.
Declan was a sensitive youngster. Watching him grow up, Harris worried he’d be too shy and tricky to start in the wilds of Luthersville, Georgia, where she lives on her Fade To Grey Farm with her husband, Lee. So, she started him under saddle early, just before his third birthday.
“I was so wrong!” Harris now admits. “He was incredibly willing and wanted to please.”
Harris, a construction and interior design professional by trade, is a lifelong horsewoman and started riding at five years old. She hunted and evented throughout childhood and, as an adult, made a decent side hustle out of training young horses and teaching. She became an active member of Bear Creek Hounds (Moreland, GA) in 2007, and also hunts with Midland Fox Hounds in Midland, GA. She has no ring on her farm, but she lives within Bear Creek’s territory so has access to thousands of acres of trails. It was on those trails, under Harris’ cautious eye, that Declan proved himself as that rare unicorn of a stallion.
“Imagine a newly started three-year-old leaving the barn by himself, crossing three creeks, woods, wide open fields, and finding his way to a noisy kennel all alone,” Harris says. “He was doing that within a few months of being under saddle.”
That’s just how he was. It wasn’t long before she tried him in the hunt field. Harris hunted Declan after he turned four. She whipped in, which helped him dip his toes into the experience, so to speak. Evidently, he hardly needed such a subtle entry. That fall, with less than three months experience, he hunted at Bear Creek’s opening meet like it was a walk in the woods.
“We put on a big production,” Harris says. With more than three hundred people on the ground, they bless the hounds, drive in ten to fifteen “tally-ho wagons” full of guests (flatbeds pulled by trucks and tractors), and run a drag hunt so those guests can see the hounds in full cry.
“We also jump all the coops that are viewable in the country. It’s a circus,” Harris says. “Declan was an absolute rock star. He’s done every opening hunt meet since, and people always come up to ask about him and take a photo because he’s the ‘prettiest.’ He absolutely is a performer and knows that he’s on display.”
That’s usually the first time people realize he’s still intact; when they’re close enough to see his equipment. But even though he doesn’t act like what one might expect of a typical stallion out in the field with dozens of other horses, Harris still shifts her focus accordingly.
“You have to be aware of everything all the time,” she says. “I’m not worried about Declan, necessarily. I’m worried about other people not paying attention. The riding is secondary, being focused on my pony and surroundings come first.” And if she comes off in the field? “Forget me,” she says without hesitation. “Catch the stallion.”
At age 5, Declan created one of Harris’ most treasured memories during his first trek to Virginia. They hunted with Blue Ridge Hunt (Boyce, VA) over Thanksgiving. Declan had never seen so many jumps in the field. Neither coops, rails, nor walls phased him. He just got it.
“We were hunting a fox in heavy cover along a road and we got stuck behind a fence that we couldn’t go over or around,” she remembers. “The huntsman, Graham Buston, went straight up a steep, overgrown deer trail towards the road. None of us in the field knew that there was a large 3’6” ish stone wall we’d have to jump over onto the road. I literally didn’t see it until the horse in front of me started to jump. Declan hadn’t been jumping at that height but he didn’t even hesitate. He just pinged right over it.”
Performances like that in Virginia’s hunt country earned him a fan club there. Now, many Declan foals live in Virginia. Throughout the country, “he has 28 foals on the ground at this time and already 17 due for 2021,” Harris says. “Many of them are being bred for foxhunters.”
As if his hunting accolades aren’t enough, he also has quite an impressive eventing record. In one year, he won six Novice horse trials on his dressage score. He also won top honors at the U.S. Eventing Association’s Area III Championships last year and was also Area III’s and GDCTA’s Novice Horse of the Year. And to top it all off, he was USEF’s Year-End Reserve Champion Purebred Connemara in Eventing and Harris was the third-placed Adult Amateur Novice Rider for the year. “He was the number-eight Novice Horse in the country out of over 11,000 starters,” adds Harris.
Now, about that little sensitive streak of his. “The only thing that he’s still getting used to is the hunt whip,” Harris says. “He doesn’t love me swinging it or cracking it off him. He’ll get used to it. But that’s just the sensitive side to him I guess.”