The Legend of the Goblin Horseman
Jacque L’Esperance was a French habitant (farmer) who owned a ribbon farm (one of the long narrow lots running back from the Ste. Claire River). He was also a famous breeder of the local ponies that were found only in this part of New France.. Now Jacque had a very fast pony called L’Eclair (meaning a flash of lightning) and he had won many races with L’Eclair pulling his sleigh over the winter ice. It was 1749 and Jacque was a lucky man.
Jacque’s happiness awoke the hatred of a creature that was living in the forest. This frightening goblin or Le Lutin – as the French called it – hated anyone who was luckier and happier than it was. Le Lutin had his evil fun stealing the ponies of the habitants. He would steal the ponies in the dark of night and ride them until they were exhausted. He would return them to their stalls just as day was breaking. No one had ever seen him. Many of the ponies never recovered from this treatment and some of them died. Le Lutin felt no remorse for this, only glee in his heart to have hurt so many.
Le Lutin’s desire fell on L’Eclair and one dark night he stole this wonderful pony. For the next several nights, le Lutin would ride the pony almost to death and then return L’Eclair to his stall. Each morning Jacque would find his pony covered with foam, with a mane all tangled with burrs and worn almost to death. Yet there was no sign of open doors or broken locks! “How could this be happening?” Jacque wondered. Seeing his neighbor Pierre Trombley, he asked him what was happening to L’Eclair. It was only then that he learned the tales of what Le Lutin had already done to many other ponies. Jacque would not believe these tales. It was, after all, 1749 and no modern man would think this old legend true.
That was, until the night that he stayed awake at his second floor bedroom window, and saw the stable doors suddenly fling wide with no hands touching them and his poor pony come racing out of the barn. On her back was a fearful apparition. Jacque was not a coward, but he felt his courage oozing out at his knees, cold chills chasing each other down his back and great beads of perspiration standing on his forehead. The monster riding her resembled a short man, with small horns on its head and green skin. It had bristling black hair, brilliant eyes and a devilish leer on its face. It clutched L’Eclair’s mane with one hand and with the other belabored her with a stick of a thorn bush. It was truly Le Lutin, a frightening legend come to life.
Realizing his musket was powerless against such a foe, Jacque suddenly remembered the old ways used to exorcise a demon. Quickly grabbing the small bowl of holy water by his bed stand; he leaped from his window and flung it at Le Lutin. The holy water from this bowl drenched the apparition’s head. A demoniacal shriek rent the air; l’Eclair reared and plunged into the chilly waters of the river. Le Lutin screamed again and fell to the ground as the holy water began to burn his face. Rushing into a patch of pumpkins he thrust his head into the largest one to ease the pain of his burning face. While Jacque hurried to the river to help l’Éclair climb from the water, le Lutin vanished into the forests. From that time on Le Lutin was always seen wearing this pumpkin to cover his disfigured face.
Gathering his neighbors together, Jacque told them what had happened. His disheveled appearance, the wet horse with the rolling eyes, the fragments of the broken holy water bowl, and the thorn brush stick dropped by the goblin gave proof to his tale. When Fr. Bonaventure, their priest came to hear the story, he told all of the habitants to begin marking their ponies with their own initials and a cross. Le Lutin and his frightening pumpkin head would continue to be seen lurking near the farms at night, looking for unmarked ponies to steal and ride. From that time on, when French habitants went to their stables in the early mornings and found an unmarked pony reeking with sweat and foam, with a mane all tangled as if by the claws of a beast, they shook their heads and said that it is Le Lutin come again. Then they would put new marks on the ponies and trust in the good lord to protect them.
Note: The English who came to live here after the French would still believe in the Goblin Horseman. To keep what they thought of as an old hag away, they would “hang in a string a flint with a hole in it, by their pony’s manger; but best of all they said was to hang the flint about the pony’s neck..” They also placed large shears and hooks about their barns. All of this was to prevent the nightmare, that is, the hag, from riding a horse that will sometimes be seen to sweat all night. They even had a short poem about this:
Driving Away the Nightmare Hag
“Hang up hooks and shears to scare
Hence the hag that rides the mare
Till they be all over wet
With the mire and the sweat
This observed, the manes shall be
Of your horses, all knot free.”