Photos courtesy of Marilynn Stewart
Last Friday, we asked all of our Equine Chronicle “peeps,” to let us know what kinds of fun Easter activities and traditions you had planned for the upcoming holiday weekend. One of the favorite stories we received came from Marilynn Stewart of Bear River City, Utah, who has put a decidedly equine twist on her family’s annual Easter egg hunt.
“I love to come up with unusual activities to do with my family,” Stewart says. “Easter is one of my favorite holidays and horses are my favorite animal, so it just seemed natural to put them together.”
For Stewart, her family’s horseback Easter egg hunt has become a tradition that they have celebrated for the past seven years.
A lifetime horse lover, Stewart began riding at a very young age, and grew up competing at local AQHA shows in her home state. She also competed on the rodeo team in high school and college, and participated in various 4-H equine programs. In turn, she has passed that love of American Quarter Horses on to her children and grandchildren, who all love to ride on the family’s farm in Utah.
“Our home sits on five acres of pasture with an outdoor arena and a seven stall barn,” she says. “The house isn’t large, but the horses think they have moved to heaven in Utah and we do too. The only horses we train are our own- we have six on our property. My daughter, Megan, and daughter-in-law, Janie, have ridden horses for people and done some training, but it’s about all we can do to keep our own horses ridden.”
What started as a small family affair, just seven years ago, has quickly grown into an Easter equine event that draws in neighbors from around the community.
“We always seem to adopt a few extra members at hunt time,” she says. “Usually, we have neighbors who think it looks fun and want to participate. We say the more the merrier!”
In order to make sure that the Easter egg hunt is fair for many different levels of riders, Marilynn and her accomplices hide the eggs according to color based on a rider’s experience level. For the younger participants, eggs are hidden in easy to reach places, like on the top of fence posts, but the more experienced riders may have to negotiate ditches, wood piles and water hazards to collect their eggs.
“To make things more fair for the inexperienced and younger riders, Uncle Steven and I hide the eggs according to color,” she says. “Each rider has a different color or style of egg. For instance, this year we have basketball eggs for Kory, purple eggs for Megan, football eggs for Ryan, chicken shaped eggs for Brynna, pink eggs for Janie, and so forth. We’ve been collecting eggs for years, and since we ask everyone to leave their eggs and just take the candy home, we have quite a collection. Assigning each rider their own color makes it possible for us to hide the eggs according to the rider’s ability.”
“My son, daughter and daughter-in-law are experienced riders and we love hiding their eggs in difficult locations- over ditches, in trees, through gates and around obstacles such as wood piles and water hazards. For our lower level riders, we have a rule that you have to be touching some part of your horse when you pick up an egg. This makes it possible for riders with less experience to get off their horse to get an egg.”
After the riders find their designated colored eggs, they are allowed to hunt for the prized golden eggs, which hold items like movie tickets, gift certificates and money.
“This is the most exciting part of the hunt, as riders become a little more daring and often find themselves racing for the same golden egg as another rider,” she says. “I recently read an article about how to hold a “safe” Easter egg hunt, and although I don’t think our horseback hunt would qualify as “safe,” I’m happy to report that we have never had an accident.”
“This year we had more little ones, so we did a hunt for them before the adult riding hunt began. We have to work the hunt around the weather, so it is usually at about 11:00. Following the hunt, we usually play with the horses, eat barbecue and potato salad and play badminton.”
One of Stewart’s favorite family memories actually happened at one of these horseback Easter egg hunts, when her son Kory, proposed to his current wife, Janie.
“Our most unusual hunt was the year that my son Kory, used the hunt as a means of proposing to his future wife, Janie,” she says. “We hid her diamond ring in one of the eggs, and everyone held their breath as Janie hunted for her eggs. When Janie found the egg the ring was in, I was so afraid the egg would come open, that I finally had to ask her if she wanted me to hold her eggs while she continued searching for more eggs. Of course, Janie said yes when Kory popped the question, and they and their two children live ‘happily ever after’ about two blocks down the road from us.”
So you might be wondering if the hard-working horses receive any of the fruits of their labor on Easter Sunday. Stewart says that although they try to keep the chocolate and candy away from the horses, they do receive their own prizes in the form of carrots, apples and other treats.
“I really wish you could ask our horses about this Easter tradition of ours,” she says. “I’m sure they would just roll their eyes and sigh patiently.”