He was the most famous pony in the world.
A most handsome fellow, he captivated the hearts of all who saw him. His foaling at Ted Welch’s X-Line Pony Farm in Exline, Iowa, on June 9, 1950 did not presage such renown. As the only black colt foaled that season in an era when silver dapple and sorrel ponies were the rage, he might have been hard to sell, regardless of quality.
But Welch had a standing agreement to place his black ponies with the Curtiss Candy Company of Chicago, maker of the “Baby Ruth” candy bars, who used teams of black hitch ponies in parades. In the fall of 1951 this black beauty arrived at Dickfield Farm in Gurnee, Ill., which Curtiss leased from the A.B. Dick estate. There, young hitch pony hopefuls were stabled and trained. Following two years of apprenticeship, the pony became an experienced team member. But there was one problem. In selecting their final teams, the drivers rejected the young stallion, now named Curtiss-Frisco Pete, because he did not “match up” with the other ponies. He was too animated and showy to be a hitch pony. So the summer of 1953 was spent at Curtiss Farms in Cary, where a new career was mapped out for him.
Often referred to as “the little black wonder”, Pete made his show ring debut at Springfield on Thursday, August 19, 1954. An eyewitness account was as follows: “Most electrifying moment of the many came with the crowning of the grand champion stallion, Curtiss-Frisco Pete, a four-year-old owned and shown by Curtiss Candy Company of Cary, Ill. The halter classes, shown in the coliseum during the day, attracted a capacity audience, and Frisco Pete captured the crowd’s imagination, and even the veterans said they had never seen anything like him. His every trip was greeted with applause and every eye was on him.”
Ten days later, his triumph preceding him, Frisco Pete went on to the National Congress in Des Moines, Iowa, where competition was fierce, with over 50 stallions entered in the halter division. Awaiting his turn in the ring, he enjoyed a stream of admiring visitors to his stall, including one lady who wanted a lock of his hair!
The Curtiss team was not disappointed. Frisco Pete was first named Senior Champion in his age class, and then won the Grand Championship, an achievement he would repeat for the next five years, dominating the Shetland pony circuit. During his six-year career, he was shown 154 times, winning 150 First-Prize Championship ribbons.
After Curtiss Candy Company founder Otto Schnering died, Frisco Pete was to find a home at A.C. Buehler’s Fernwood Farm in Barrington (now known as Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Horizon Farm). Buehler already owned an outstanding stable of Shetlands, and Frisco Pete brought even greater renown to Fernwood. He won numerous breeding championships, and sired many other prizewinning Shetlands, seven of them achieving Shetland Hall of Fame honors.
The beloved Frisco Pete died at Fernwood Farm on April 25, 1971, a day that was noted as marking the conclusion of a dynasty that would come to be termed one of the most significant and influential reigns in modern Shetland history. But all winning ribbons aside, the thousands of people who came in contact with him would never forget the personality and spirit of “the little black wonder”.
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Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.