Editor’s note: this story was published in May of 2000 after Ace and Johnny Maher, the West Glover man who owned him, returned from a walk across the country. Ace died 21 years ago. Mr. Maher died last week. His obituary is on the obituary pages of this paper.
Originally Published May 24, 2000
The stallion who walked across the country dies at 26
by Peggy Day and Dennis Gibson
WEST GLOVER — We lost an old friend last Friday morning. He was a notorious character in these parts. In the old days he could be seen hanging around outside the Barton Steakhouse for hours at a time, but he never had a drink. He went to a thousand parties and always did the driving on the way home. He fathered over 100 offspring, and never supported one of them. His name was Ace, and he was one hell of a stud.
He was a legendary horse who lived an exceptional life for these times. He was a close friend and companion to Johnny Maher, and together they walked across America.
Ace and Johnny left on August 28, 1989, to head across the country. They hit the Oregon beach four years later. They walked and worked through New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and especially Idaho, accompanied by Spike the dog for two-thirds of the way.
Ace was born in 1974, off of one of the old urine farms just across the border in Quebec. Johnny bought him through Royce Conley in 1977. From the beginning Ace and Johnny worked together and were friends. He was a compact, well-built draft horse, with bay coloring and good solid feet. They called him a Canadian chunk. Johnny left him a stallion, against some people’s advice, a quality that got him into both trouble and pleasure during his lifetime. He was the gentlest, most responsive stallion we ever knew. But he was definitely a stallion.
Ace was 15 years old when he left on his trip across the country and 19 when he returned. He was a good woods horse. He always knew where the landing was, and he knew a rookie from a pro. He pulled logs both before and after his trip. But mostly he pulled Johnny’s cart.
Ace and Johnny were a familiar sight on the roads around West Glover and East Albany. Ace didn’t care where they were going. He just liked pulling the cart.
He’d spent more than a few evenings hitched outside the old Barton Steakhouse, or whatever its current name was, waiting for Johnny. He’d been known to navigate just about the whole way home, turning the corners, and ending up with his nose stopped a few inches in front of the gate to the pasture, with Johnny asleep in the cart.
Heading across the country probably seemed to Ace just like an extended walk down the road. They followed back roads wherever they could, on the advice of friendly people they met along the way. They were directed to camping spots with good grass and water.
A lot of horse people stopped to admire Ace, and brought him grain and hay. Some offered pasture for him, but when they found out he was a stud most backed off. Ace did get the opportunity to breed some mares along the way — some planned and some not. Hopefully he passed on his best traits — his gentle disposition, good feet, and his tremendous heart.
Their route took them through the farm country of the Midwest. When they ran out of money, or the weather was hot and the paved highway had no shoulder to walk on, Ace and John and Spike would stop at a farm and work for a while. Johnny did farm work, built chimneys and stonewalls, and cut wood. Ace for the most part ate well and rested.
They spent the first winter at a Virginia dairy farm and the second one at a Nebraska dairy farm. They crossed the Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado, then headed north through Wyoming. They traveled through national forests and saw elk and antelope. They were in ranch country, and Ace was able to join in the work, skidding logs and building fences. Since Nebraska, Johnny had taken to riding Ace like a cowboy sometimes.
Living and working with Ace high in the mountains in Wyoming, Johnny wrote in his journal, “Ace packed in the fencing tools I needed. He carried them uphill — all loose rocks, a real narrow trail, and I rode. It took two trips. Ace is showing what he’s made of on this job. He’s probably the best all-around horse anywhere; plus he can breed. Put that all together and you would have to look awful hard to find something that can do as many things as he can. Bet money you couldn’t find one.”
Further north in Wyoming, Ace skidded logs out of the woods, and people who had worked with horses all their lives rounding up cattle were amazed at the work he could do. In that country Johnny had to keep a close eye on him so he didn’t run off with the herds of wild horses nearby.
The third winter they found a home in Idaho, working at a dude ranch. They made a lot of good friends in Idaho, but by the fourth winter had left to pursue their goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean. On March 31, 1993, they walked right into it. Johnny sent a postcard home, “In the pouring rain me and Ace arrived. It was a great day for us. Florence, Oregon.”
Their friends came and brought Johnny, with Ace in a horse trailer, back to the ranch in Idaho. After spending the summer there, friends from Vermont came and picked them up to bring them home. Ace rode in an open trailer back across the country. It began raining as they left, and rained the whole way back to Vermont. To protect Ace from the elements they wrapped him in blankets and burlap bags tied with baling twine. A large burlap bag was tied over his head like a babushka. Johnny commented, “He looks like the Dalai Lama’s horse.”
After four years on the road they made it home in three and a half days.
Ace spent his later days living in the same pastures he’d grown up in, in East Albany and West Glover. Those who met Ace late in life and heard his story always commented, “That’s quite a horse.” We always thought so, and we always will. We’ll miss the old boy.