Beloved Clydesdale passes on, legacy remains

Owners, riders, and friends remember the popular horse and his personality.

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If you’ve been to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair in the past decade, you may have seen him — Jackson the Clydesdale.

At 2,100 pounds, 18.1 hands (over six feet), hooves the size of dinner plates, and one black-colored hoof, the gigantic gelding was the star of many Ag Fair shows. After several years of winning awards and wowing crowds in halter class — riding, and pulling carts and wagons — Jackson was put down, riding on to the great pasture in the sky.

Jackson was somewhat of a surprise purchase for Chilmark residents Bob and Irene Hungerford. In 2008, the Hungerfords took a trip to Connecticut to buy a horse. As they were chatting, a small horse came up next to them, and the connection was instant. The Hungerfords ended up heading home with two horses.

“He chose us,” Bob Hungerford said. “He was a charmer. If you looked in his eyes, he’d steal your heart.”

“He really took care of us. You could put anyone on him … he was a gentle soul,” Irene Hungerford added.

At 11 years old, Jackson was middle-aged, but suffered from equine colic — issues with the horse’s intestines that twist them around. After taking him to a horse veterinarian off-Island last month, the Hungerfords made the tough decision to put him down.

On a sunny, windswept afternoon, the Hungerfords and some of Jackson’s biggest fans, who were more like family, met at Woodbe Farm in West Tisbury to reminisce and share countless stories.

Tracey Olsen was Jackson’s primary equestrian. She trained him to ride, and competed with him in dressage.

“It was so much fun to ride him,” Olsen said. “He knew it was showtime, and he lived for it.”

Aside from his massive stature, it was Jackson’s personality and idiosyncrasies that made him so popular with riders. His lips would quiver when Olsen got stern with him and he would face plant her in the chest to say hello.

Jackson always made her laugh too, especially when he was riding with Duke, the Hungerford’s other Clydesdale, whom they got a year after they bought Jackson.

“Jackson was a leader, but he was a chicken,” Olsen said while laughing. “I loved his temperament. He was my Bernese mountain dog in horse form.”

Tracey Smith was another one of Jackson’s riders. Jackson came into Smith’s life when she was about to lose her own horse, and was going through a lot of emotions.

“If Bob and Irene were the parents, and Tracey was the godmother, I was the sibling,” Smith said. “He chose his people, and made sure you knew he chose you.”

While Jackson may be gone, his memory lives on. Cards and letters of condolences from fans and friends are still coming in to the Hungerfords. For everyone who knew him, he was a one-in-a-million horse.

“I will never forget this horse,” Smith said. “He always, unequivocally, let me know he was happy to see me.”

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