88-year-old P.E.I. woman gets back on the horse after three-quarters of a century

She grew up riding horses off Drummond Road in Freetown, P.E.I.

“When I was a young kid, just eight or 10 years old, I was on horseback half my time,” said Hazel Stetson.

Hazel had two horses: a black one who loved to canter and a little grey mare. But after a tragic incident, she hung up her reins for three-quarters of a century.

“The barn burnt [down] and I lost both my horses that night,” she said.

Bucket list

Sitting at her son’s dinner table in early November, the now 88-year-old Hazel mentioned an idea she had on her bucket list.

“I would like to ride a horse again,” she said.

“Garland, my son, spoke right up. He said, ‘There’s nothing to … that, we just go up to Allison Smith’s farm and you get on a horse up there.'”

I don’t think I want to get a horse that’s only good for a two-year-old. I’d like to get on something with a little more spirit than that.— Hazel Stetson

Garland Stetson immediately reached out to his long-time friend, asking if he had a horse his mother could ride.

It turns out, he did.

“I told her what we’re going to do,” said Garland.

“I said, ‘Allison’s got a horse up there that is good for two-year-olds,’ and I said, ‘That’ll be good for you.'”

“‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘I don’t think I want to get a horse that’s only good for a two-year-old. I’d like to get on something with a little more spirit than that.'”

So on Nov. 11, the family headed up to Northbrook Ranch.

‘I was amazed’

“I was nervous that morning getting ready to go, wondering if I was foolish to do this,” Hazel said.

‘The saddle was something beautiful to ride on,’ says Hazel Stetson of riding a horse using a saddle for the first time. (Carlene Ricketts)

Up at Northbrook Ranch, a horse named Quick was waiting. And despite his swift-sounding name, Smith was reassuring. 

“This guy just doesn’t make a wrong move. He doesn’t run on you, or spook.”

“It was a very quiet horse — much quieter than I was used to — but nevertheless, I enjoyed it,” said Hazel.

“The saddle was something beautiful to ride on.”

Growing up, Hazel said she always rode bareback, making this her first time in the saddle.

She got on the horse like she was 20 years old instead of 88.— Allison Smith

“I was amazed at the very start,” said Smith, who’s known Hazel nearly all his life. “She walked up the steps and put her foot in the stirrups and swung her leg over.

“She got on the horse like she was 20 years old instead of 88.”

‘I’ll try it once more’

In the beginning, Smith said, he led the horse around. But by the end, Hazel was doing it all on her own.

Hazel Stetson’s great-granddaughter Addison McAdam also took a ride on Quick the horse. (Carlene Rickettes)

“She got along like she was on a horse a week ago,” he said.

“If Hazel ever wants to come back again, her balance is good enough … I wouldn’t think twice about letting her go with someone else on a trail ride.”

That invite is something Hazel said she plans to take Smith up on — when the weather gets warmer, of course.

“I believe I will. I’ll try it once more. It was a lovely afternoon.”

‘A real horse gal’

To her son Garland, Hazel’s passion comes as no surprise.

Four generations of the Stetson family headed out to watch 88-year-old Hazel ride a horse again. (Allison Smith)

“She’s always been a real horse gal all her life,” he said. “There’s not a thing that she wouldn’t tackle.”

And moving forward, Garland said he doubts his 88-year-old mom is ready to call it quits on the adventures quite yet.

“She’ll keep doing the things that probably she shouldn’t be doing,” he said. “She’s just amazing.”

More from CBC P.E.I.

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