Home  Intro   Bio  Historical Perspectives  Ripley the Man  Ripley's Works  Gallery Credits

S.C. Ripley: Lover of Horses
by Jackie Callin

Stuart Cummings Ripley came by his love of horses through his mother. An avowed outdoorswoman and accomplished equestrienne, Susannah Abigail Cummings instilled a love of horses and equestrian sports in her son. He learned to ride almost before he could learn to walk and his favorite mount became the horse his mother gifted to him on his seventh birthday -- against his father's wishes. While Horace John Ripley appreciated the animals, he felt riding was too dangerous, a feeling perhaps instilled when his own elder brother, died after a fall from horseback; but Susannah would not be deterred and young Stuart became the proud owner of a bay Morgan-bred mare named Angel's Wings.

Young Ripley and Angel's Wings. click to enlarge

The memory of this animal would stay with Ripley for the majority of his life, and not just because the mare was his first horse, and given to him by his mother. Angel's Wings would actually save his life. During a ride back home from a neighbor's farm, where he'd gone to visit a friend, his mare refused to cross a stream that had swollen due to rain. No matter how much he tried to urge her forward, she would not cross -- and he soon discovered why, when the bridge suddenly cracked under force of the raging water and was washed away. While he would have a number of other horses, not a single one stayed with him the way his mother's gift did.

Collapsed bridge, Cummings, Ohio, 1903. click to enlarge

His riding abilities, honed on Angel's Wings and other horses, served him well throughout his life. He followed General Pershing on horseback and rode on the backs of the desert horses of Arabia with T.E. Lawrence. It's been said that he might not have escaped the Battle of Carrizal if he hadn't been on horseback, despite reportedly having shot two Mexicans to do so.

Ripley and horse, Arabia, 1917

Ripley's passion for horses and riding, however, were not the only things bequeathed to him by his mother. She also, it seems, encouraged his love of hunting dogs. Foxhounds were a favored breed, but the dog he loved most was a French Mastiff, a Dogue de Bordeaux, that he discovered during his time in France. How, exactly, he found this animal remains unknown, and its name has been lost to history; but some believe he rescued the animal during the German siege of Paris. It's said that he left France only after the dog died. No other dog, even those he kept toward the end of his life, came close to that one Dogue de Bordeaux.

Ripley's Dogue de Bordeaux, 1925

Unlike dogs and horses, other animals did not seem to play a role in Ripley's life, until he met Jill Castenberry. A noted animal lover, the young actress not only kept a pair of Siamese cats, but a Scottish terrier, two budgerigars, and a canary. The cats adopted Ripley immediately from the outset of his relationship with Castenberry. One in particular, tended to accompany him wherever he went on their Uhlerstown, Pennsylvania farm. Named Pixie, the small female liked to spend most of her time with him perched on his shoulders -- or, if he happened to be writing or cooking, she would curl up on one of three royal blue cushions that she and her more domineering sister, Cleopatra, had stolen from the long-suffering terrier.

Pixie and Cleopatra, Uhlerstown, PA, 1960. click to enlarge

Pixie was unlike most Siamese, in the fact that she tended to be quiet; but she still knew how to make her desires known and Ripley, despite asserting to both Castenberry and his neighbors that he wasn't being ruled by a 'mere animal,' catered to her until her death in 1962.


Home     Intro      Bio     Historical Perspectives     Ripley the Man     Ripley's Works     Gallery    Credits