Tuesday, 17 August 2010 08:46

Pearl Riemer – Gem of the Keystone State

Written by  Text by Dale K. Stoltzfus Photos by John McTighe
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When was the last time you heard of a single mother of three adult children making a serious commitment in 

time, money and effort to promote a breed of draft horses (or any other type of horse for that matter)? Sounds unlikely, right? How about if you consider the fact that this commitment was made at 81 years of age?!

Western Pennsylvania has produced its share of important draft horse breeders. The Orndorff Belgian establishment comes quickly to mind, in addition to the farm of Glen Montgomery, birthplace of the Belgian stallion Jay-Lou-Supreme. Others include names like Ryburn, Biedl, Braiden, Sheerbaum, McTighe, Patterson, Lemley, Voll, Schwab, Cowden ... and the list goes on. In the crowd, however, one sticks out as having spilled over the edges of the mold to form her own pattern ... Pearl Riemer of Sarver, Pennsylvania.

In 1976, a Bicentennial wagon train was organized, starting in western Pennsylvania and ending at historic Valley Forge, on the eastern border of the state. When Pearl caught wind of the plans, her interest was piqued. She called her friend, Glen Montgomery, also of Sarver, and quizzed him about it. In the end, they, along with Glen's wife, Vivian, put a team to wagon and joined the procession as it came through the area. Impressed by both the size and temperament of the horses, Pearl was hooked.


Many times throughout her adult life, Pearl has been asked, "Why did you never marry?" Her unhesitating response: She never found a man who measured up to the two men in her life by whom all others are gauged–her father, Herman, and her uncle, Philip. As a young girl, her father (with his three years of schooling) worked for Peoples Gas Company, which operated out of nearby Pittsburgh. He was busy drilling new gas wells in this part of the country which was abundant in reserves of natural gas. During an evaluation of some of the wells in the neighborhood, the Company concluded that the volume of production was too low to justify keeping them open. Herman knew their output and made the company an offer to buy them. While the company considered them substandard, Herman thought he and his family could live well off of them. Thus, the Riemer Gas Company was born, which Pearl has managed since her father and uncle passed away. Riemer Gas has provided Pearl and her family with a good living and enough extra to enjoy a full and fruitful life.


Pearl is a lover of people, especially children. In her younger years she was given the opportunity to provide a home for four sibling children for several months. Afterwards, the children were split up and placed into several families. The experience enabled Pearl to establish a relationship with the children and youth services in her community. Some time after, she was fortunate to adopt two sons, Jim and Jeffrey. Today, Jeffrey works with her in the gas business and Jim works in a local chemical plant. It's the story of her daughter, Janice, however, that fits into this account best since hers is one of great equine accomplishments.

In March, 1961, Pearl got a call from the local hospital. Apparently, a nurse had completed her shift, gone to her car in the parking lot of the hospital and found a package on the seat of the car. After checking to make sure she had the right car, she examined the package. In it she discovered a nine-day-old baby girl! Pearl had told the adoption agency that someday she'd like to adopt a baby, and so it was that Janice became a member of the Riemer Family. Janice was only three years old when her exuberance for horses became apparent. She started begging for a pony. Her mother already had a healthy interest in horses, so it didn't take much for this wish to be fulfilled. From age three to sixteen, she and Pearl participated in countless shows and game events in their part of the country. Most of the time, they ended up winning.

Pearl remembers these years of intense competition with particular fondness, shaking her head when she thinks of the lengths to which she was willing to go to help her daughter compete. There was the time that Janice was scheduled to compete in a game event in Erie, a few hours drive from home. The show was on a Saturday and the class was open to all ages. One of Janice's frequent competitors was a young lady about her same age. Janice was accustomed to beating her. On this day, however, the young lady's father rode the horse and won the class. The next day, Janice was entered in the Butler Fair horse show. The loss of the day before bothered her. "Mom," she said, "I know if I try that class again tomorrow, I can beat that horse." The class was to be repeated in Erie the next morning, but the Butler Fair class was to go around noon–a distance of over 100 miles. Could it be done?

They went to Erie, won the class, drove back down to Butler, Pearl threw the saddle on the horse while Janice went to get her number, ran back, jumped on her horse, went into the class and won the blue! Not only did the horse industry provide Janice with opportunities to compete, she was also very active in school sports including swimming and diving. It was during the diving competitions and practices that Janice started to complain of headaches. She was taken to a hospital in Pittsburgh where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Fortunately, the tumor was removed and her health restored, though never to the extent that the competitions could resume as before.


After the competitions with her daughter ended, Pearl was no longer involved in the horse show scene. Her introduction to the Belgian breed in 1976 did, however, lead to traveling with her friends and neighbors to various draft horse shows and sales around the country. Here, she saw more of these animals she had come to love and admire. If only she could find a way to compete in this part of the equine industry.

Neighbor B.J. McTighe and his family have long been acquainted with the Riemers. Haflingers and draft horses have played a large role in the McTighe family for many years. For a time, son John was heavily involved in training and driving Haflingers to show. After his full-time work with the Haflingers ended, he worked as an electrician, but the horses and competition run hot in his blood. B.J., kept telling him to go see Pearl. Eventually he did, the two hit it off and so was born the Belgian show program of the Riemer Gas Company, an alliance of two competitive spirits working hard together to get to the top!

In the draft horse show industry, qualifying and winning an All-American is the pinnacle of success. The show record of the Riemer Belgians is pretty impressive, given the fact that the program is only three years old. It was begun in 2003 and the circuit that year included local fairs only. In 2004, the farm branched into some of the larger shows including several that are part of the All-American program. That year Orndorff's Tara Lynn, a three-year-old mare they showed, qualified for the contest. This mare is a daughter of Orndorff's Supreme Lynzee and was bred by the Orndorffs, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. In 2005, two more horses were nominated to the program. One is the aged mare, Mountainside Belinda, bred by Jacob Kanagy of Shreve, Ohio. Belinda is a daughter of Kanagy's stallion, Dublin Valley Supreme.

The other is Jardine's Alex, a son of Monette's Master Mike bred by Todd Jardine and Leroy Ebersol of Ontario, Canada. Plans for the 2006 show season include the local Butler Fair and Crawford County Fair. Then it's on to the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, the New York State Fair in Syracuse, the Michigan Great Lakes International in East Lansing, the Keystone International in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Kentucky State Fair in Lexington, the Southern Ohio Draft Horse Show in Hillsboro, and the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.


Though Pearl's birthday cake will bear 84 candles this year, her competitive flame burns even brighter. You can bet that she will be riding along to the shows, cheering from the sidelines. These days her hip is slowing her down some, but she still manages to get around quite well. If you happen to see her at the shows, be sure to say hello. The opportunity to sit with her and visit will likely yield a long and interesting conversation because that's Pearl, gem of the Pennsylvania Belgian breeders.

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