Cherokee and Choctaw Horses at Summer Duck Wood

Written by S.E. Morris

Mary Carter McConnell established her herd of Cherokee and Choctaw horses at her farm, Sumer Duck Wood, in Rapidan, Va., in 2007. The 1,500 acres of property encompass 500 open acres for paddocks, miles of trails, and 35 jumps for a hunter pace practice course.

“We currently have fifty-six horses on the property, said McConnell. “The first horses for my herd arrived from Oklahoma in 2007; the first foals were born in 2009.”

Also referred to as Spanish mustangs, the Cherokee and Choctaw horse breeds are descendants of horses brought this country by Spanish Conquistadors and were developed by Native Americans.

“This breed is not well known,” explained McConnell. “People think of the Plains Indians for horses; however, these horses are genetically Spanish and were carefully bred by the Five Civilized Tribes [Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes] and revered in their culture.”

McConnell described how the horses went with the Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, journeying from Mississippi to Oklahoma, where new breeding families were created.

“We know the families that bred these different lines of the horses. The horses are bred with specific traits, including their kindness and the sweetness that is inherent in them,” said McConnell.

“My horses were selected for their ability to interact with people; they want to do something with you—they want to work with you to the best of their ability,” she added.

Banjo, one of the horses owned by Summer Duck Wood that Rose Sandler trained on for her quest to win the Mongol Derby

Banjo, one of the horses owned by Summer Duck Wood that Rose Sandler trained on for her quest to win the Mongol Derby

“The horses are bred for their gentleness, endurance, and also their smooth gaits. They have a great sense of smell and an intuitive nature,” said McConnell.

Rebecca Pizmoht, McConnell’s horse trainer for the past year, agrees, stating, “The horses love to work; they want a job to do.”

Pizmoht demonstrated the agility of the breed by hacking Quest, a 6-year-old gelding at Summer Duck, in the farm’s spacious outdoor ring.

Quest quietly walked, trotted, and cantered bending lines and poles, confident with his footing and his rider. “Quest has done eventing—he can jump anything!” enthused Pizmoht.

She “adores” the horses, revealed by her calm and caring nature with her grooming and training routines.

“One of the things the horses have to know how to do, as part of their ‘life training,’ is to stand quietly when I open and close the gate to the ring while mounted,” she explained and then demonstrated.

“Seeing everything these horses can do is amazing!” added Pizmoht. “We must preserve and protect this valuable breed.”

McConnell works closely with Bryant Rickman, chairman of the Southwest Spanish Mustang Association (founded in 1977 by Gilbert Jones, one of the creators of the Spanish Mustang Registry and breeder of Spanish Mustangs), located in Blackjack Mountain, OK. According to Rickman, the Choctaw breed line “is the most endangered and in need of conservation.” The line is “comprised of bloodlines that originate from Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Huasteca horses,” from which McConnell’s horses claim lineage.

“Bryant Rickman has the biggest herd, and I have the second biggest herd outside of Oklahoma; this way, if something happened to either of the herds, the other one would provide viability,” said McConnell. One of her stallions, Tabac Gold, a 3-year-old out of Summer Duck resident stallion Tabac, returned to Oklahoma to secure the bloodline with Rickman’s horses.

McConnell also cites an association with Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, the technical advisor for the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which divided the Blackjack Mountain horses into two main breeding populations. Dr. Sponenberg, in collaboration with Rickman, focuses on “coat color genetics for and conservation of rare livestock breeds, including horses,” ensuring rare bloodlines are preserved within the breeding program.

McConnell is Choctaw on her father’s side and feels a strong connection to the horses and their legacy.

“I have the horse gene: The desire to feel the wind in your hair as you gallop your horse,” she said with a smile.

The oldest horse at Summer Duck Farm is 29-year-old Chickasaw Penny, from the Oklahoma Choctaw line; she will foal in the spring. Peanut, a 6-year-old Paint mare, is a “huge favorite with children; she’s truly is a peanut, she’s so small!” said McConnell. At 12 hands, Peanut is the smallest fully grown horse on the farm, but she has competed and won at the Warrenton Pony Show.

“My stallion is the sweetest horse in the universe!” stated McConnell about Tabac, an 8-year-old Cherokee and Choctaw bay gaited stallion who lives with four mares in huge paddock.

“Tabac’s Cherokee pedigree is from the Corntassell family genetic line in Oklahoma,” she added.

McConnell said with a smile, “He is the best horse in the world; he’s so charismatic—the mares just love him!” She has had five foals out of him and expects four more in the spring.

Moment Light Begins (aka Bravo), McConnell’s other stallion at Summer Duck, is pure Choctaw and grullo in color; “a brightened version of black”

Moment Light Begins (aka Bravo), McConnell’s other
stallion at Summer Duck, is pure Choctaw and grullo in color; “a brightened version of black”

Moment Light Begins (aka Bravo), McConnell’s other stallion at Summer Duck, is pure Choctaw and grullo in color; “a brightened version of black,” McConnell explained.

Bravo is 9 years old and lives in a paddock with his mare Wounded Knee, an 8-year-old Paint, who is part Cherokee and a full sister to Peanut.

“Wounded Knee literally has an old injury on right front leg, so the name seemed appropriate,” added McConnell. Wounded Knee has foaled eight and expects another in the spring.

“I have three girls who ride my horses, along with other students who ride casually. I also have students who show the horses for me,” said McConnell.

“I love the energy from the barn full of girls! The horses love it too—they love the attention and being pampered.”

The horses excel in several equestrian divisions, including combined driving, endurance, eventing, foxhunting, field trials, and hunter/jumper.

Summer Duck was the training ground for 2014 Mongol Derby contestant Rose Sandler from Culpepper, Va.

“Rose has wild enthusiasm,” said McConnell. “She came with the Bull Run Hunt in the spring with [Bull Run Hunt master] Rosie Campbell, and she rode out with us to look at the land.”

“I pointed out my horse Banjo to her,” McConnell continued, “And she started riding seven to eight miles every day on him! He so looks forward to seeing her; they’re a nice team and good friends.”

McConnell stated, “Rose fits in so well with us; I love having her ride with us. She’s just so sweet with the kids that ride here and so helpful on trail rides—she’s a great naturalist.”

McConnell was excited about Sandler riding in the Derby, and joked, “For me, right now the priority is staying on my horse, let alone riding the Mongol Derby!”

“It’s a test of [Rose’s] fortitude; but it’s fun to see this adventure come together for her,” she added.

“My horses really excel at endurance, and there’s so many disciplines in which they can succeed,” said McConnell.

“We have a four-in-hand team that is currently in training; our goal is to attend the World Equestrian Games!” McConnell laughed.

“But my main goal,” continued McConnell, “Is to show how useful these horses are, in so many different ways—such as endurance, cattle work, eventing, and hunter and jumper courses. They have good minds and great engines; they are diverse and wonderful horses.”

For more information about Summer Duck Wood and Mary Mc-Connell’s Cherokee and Choctaw horses, visit or email