Freehold, NJ --- The first day of school in the McKeon household, in Cheshire, N.H., was, in some way, like everyone else’s first day. Pencils were sharpened, book bags packed, hopes turned up high. But for Chloe and Yani McKeon, it was also a day to fasten buckles, tie in buggy shafts and slip the bit in their horse’s mouth.
|Photo courtesy of Jon McKeon|
|Coleman's Dynasty and the McKeon family, on their way to school.|
The McKeon family’s lone Standardbred, Coleman’s Dynasty, was an essential part of the first and last day of school every year for seven years, until the children, now young adults in their 20s, graduated from the eighth grade at Cheshire Elementary School. He lived with the family for 13 years, until his death at age 25 in early 2013.
The trip to school was a good idea, it seemed, until the last few blocks, says Jon McKeon.
“Our house is on a dirt road and we’re only about three miles from school,” he said. “I didn’t think about the last part of it, crossing a busy street with a stoplight and traffic, until we got there. But Coleman stopped at the light and he actually looked both ways before we crossed. One time a 10 wheeler dump truck pulled up alongside us and I thought, 'Oh, no, here we go,' but Coleman was fine, didn’t bother him at all.
“I think we had half the school around us when we pulled up at the school. Kids, buses, nothing bothered him.”
The horse that made going back to school a treat for the McKeon children was found the way so many matches are made -- on the internet.
“I was looking for a horse to drive,” he said. “We had some other horses, but none of them were broke to drive. My grandfather had Standardbreds and raced at Hinsdale and the fair here.
“I saw him advertised for sale, so I went to northern New Jersey to see him. The woman said that he’d be hard to catch. We went out with a lot of treats and he walked right up to me. Then she said he didn’t like men, but when I turned around to get a saddle, he followed me around in the field. I bought him for $1,800. It seemed like we almost bonded right from the start.”
Coleman’s Dynasty was an old hand, with 144 starts in overnight races and amateur events, as well as an under saddle start to his credit, but McKeon was a rookie at the lines.
“I was just starting to drive then, and he almost taught me how to drive. I used to hitch him up right out in the field with all the other horses around. Not a good idea. All the other horses kept coming around and I wouldn’t have blamed Coleman if he gave one of them a shot. But he never did.
“When I first had a cart, a four wheeled wagon, I hitched Coleman up and I told my wife I would just drive it around in the front yard. She left to go do some errands and of course, I left the yard and went out on the road. Like anyone, I wanted to get up a little speed and pretty soon the wagon was rattling pretty good and the back end was going one way and the front end another. But Coleman slowed right down when I asked him. He always knew what to do, on a hill, anywhere.”
Coleman’s Dynasty was the special guest for many Cub Scout and Brownie outings, too.
“He was the biggest horse we had, maybe 16.2 or 16.3,” said McKeon. “The parents would say, ‘Don’t you have a smaller horse?’ I did, but I trusted Coleman more than any other horse. We even had a cat that would hop off the fence and walk on his back; didn’t bother him a bit.
“You could take him right out of the field and bring him to a horse show. He was so dappled and good looking.”
The McKeon children are young adults now, but Coleman remained a family member even when not ferrying them to school, horse shows or trail rides.
“As he grew older, we really had a hard time keeping weight on him,” said McKeon. “My wife worked with our vet and tried all kinds of feed and mashes. The last two years of his life, it was really a struggle.”
The horse that went to school is now laid to rest on a hilltop at McKeon’s farm.