By Darren Lum
Jean Abernethy’s love of horses and trail guide experiences in the Highlands is the foundation for her cartoon character, Fergus.
Fergus is the title horse character in a series of humourous books written and illustrated by Abernethy, who has spent the last eight horse riding seasons helping instruct riders at Tammy Donaldson’s South Algonquin Trails based in Harcourt.
She said the Fergus comics started as a response to the demand of fans after 10 years of drawing generic horse characters.
“Folks who enjoyed my cartoons seemed to want a singular character. So I invented Fergus. Then he needed support characters for dialogue. The story-telling is just fun! The accumulation of comics led to the books,” she wrote in email.
The Ontario College of Art and Design art graduate grew up on a small family farm located near Lindsay, Ontario where she saw the world from the saddle of her horse.
She has more than 30 years of experience producing comical horse cartoons for equine print publications, and counts more than 300,000 Facebook fans for Fergus, who has up to this point appeared in four published books.
Her work comes from a passion for art and how horses have become entwined with her life.
“I love both the challenge and satisfaction of making a beautiful image, or in the case of the cartoons,
an effective image. What I love about horses is … well … everything. Horses have given me a lifestyle and a career. Throughout my life, horses have always been my rudder,” she wrote in an email.
Abernethy, who pursued a college education in equestrian studies at Humber College, has diverse experiences related to horses, whether it was saddle making, working as a barn hand, carriage driver, or as a trail guide.
“Fergus is based upon every horse I’ve ever known. His white face and markings are based loosely on a fine bay gelding whom I had during my high school years,” she said.
Her experience at the Harcourt horse riding operation as a teacher has provided important learning lessons.
“This is my eighth season working at South Algonquin Trails. The past seven seasons have shown me such a wide variety of colourful equine characters. As equestrians, we’re taught from the get-go, to judge horses. When I first came here I judged the horses for what/who they were not. Throughout the seasons, I have learned to appreciate the horses for who they are. I am grateful for the lessons,” she said.
As far as what’s next, Abernethy isn’t sure, leaving it to Fergus.
“Just hold that thought. I’ve asked him where he wants to go next … at some point I’ll get an answer,” she wrote.
Purchase the book online or locally at Haliburton’s Master’s Bookstore, which can order the book upon request. The store is open to the public with extended summer hours, Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.