The Woman Behind the Spencer Morgan Ranch (as told by her niece, Pam McDermott)

August 20, 2019

To speak at any length about Sid, it is always necessary to speak of the ranch she lived on. They were like one entity. The ranch in question was her home since 1937 when her parents bought it and settled their family there. Sid was 23 at the time.

Her father, Ronald Forsyth, had inherited part of a family fortune dating back to the 11th century. Breaking with family tradition in England, he came to CA to learn the ways of the West. At 16, he had moved to Carpenteria, later becoming a U.S. Forest Ranger and marrying the transplanted Bostonian, Helen Sawyer. They lived in a series of U.S. Forestry cabins in the mountains back of Santa Barbara, raising 6 children. The children grew up knowing how to hunt, pack and ride, but also educated to the social standards of their well-educated parents.

By the time Sid turned 21, she had started over 100 colts and hunted deer for the family table with her brothers and sisters. Sid packed for crews back into the mountains in the summer when there were forest fires to be fought.; that started when she was a teen-ager. She was hardy and skilled and she loved it.

Sid’s father retired from the U.S. Forestry in 1937 and made his family’s home on “the Ranch”; 2000 acres of hayfields and rough California hills. His children were all growing up and choosing careers. On the new family ranch, though, purebred Hereford cattle were bought and of course, beautiful Morgan horses. Ronald could appreciate a good horse, having had to depend on them with his life many times. He had known and worked with
noted horsemen.

He started out with a beautiful stallion, Harvestfield (Sonfield x Blazie Q) and a band of typey mares that were to take many honors at the local county fair. Sid was to follow in her father’s footsteps as she soon cut her own trail.

Sid and her father went to the big Hearst Ranch Dispersal sale. Ronald bought his daughter her choice of stallion, the flaxen-trimmed Morgan colt, Antman. He was a mighty little horse, as he was often described in the years to come. By Mountcrest Sellman and out of Pontez, an Antez daughter, he was a quarter Arabian. Not just any Arabian though, but a desert stallion known world-wide as a valuable sire named Antez. 

Antman was loved dearly by Sid. She was an experienced horsewoman and knew what she had. She won a very heated working stockhorse class with Antman when he was yet a young horse, being awarded a silver spade bit. She rode him on the ranch, gathering cattle from places ‘only a mountain goat could scale’. Those are her words. Antman sired get that were likewise talented athletes with willing dispositions. He was a true Morgan in these wonderful attributes.

During Sid’s years with Antman, she was married. Her husband, Dr. HF Spencer, was a retired veterinarian with the U.S. Calvary. He lent wisdom to Sid’s natural skills and they raised Morgans together until his death in the early 1950’s. During the time they were raising Morgans on the Forsyth Ranch, Sid’s father was also. He finally retired such a strenuous lifestyle though as his health was failing. Sid’s Morgans were a separate project from his so his were finally sold. He passed in 1952.

I was born in 1953 and since an early age visited the ranch with my mother and brother in the summers. Sid ran the ranch then. My grandmother was elderly and kept busy raising dogs, caring for her gardens and chickens, and painting. I remember Sid working cattle, raising hay, starting colts, going to shows once or twice a year. She loved her life; her freedom and her work. All of the local ranchers had tremendous respect for her. In the summers, by the time we would arrive at the ranch, Sid would have gotten her hay crop baled and stacked for the year. She used a team of horses for years but later had a
little blue John Deere tractor. She would have 3-4 foals for us to brush and gentle. There would be cattle to drive up the canyon to water every day.

My brother and I rode offspring of old Antman. At first we were led off of Morgans ridden by Sid and our mom. We fished in the creeks and followed along on hunting expeditions. What a life! My brother and I saw the fun part but in reality Sid worked very very hard. She never complained. She was a one-woman crew.

Of course, she had friends who came to help on cattle gathers, branding days, haying season, but the day-to-day chores fell to her. It was the life she chose and she put her all into it. She mentored young women who showed a natural ability with horses through the years. One was Sheila Varian, of Varian Arabians. Another was the artist, Linda Artz. She had a 4-H group of blossoming horse enthusiasts also.

But back to the Morgans. After the death of Antman at a ripe old age, Sid purchased Eco Beeson. She kept him and raised good, typey foals from him until he was well along in years. She also discovered an old stallion, Rusty, living and working daily in the hills of Cayucos on a big cattle ranch. She bought him and kept most of her future broodmares that were sired by him. They had a no-nonsense working ability and willing nature that Sid esteemed so greatly. One was the mare, Tacinca, who produced a mare WoodRose Katrina , integral to the OGO Morgan horse breeding program. They were the mares and foals I spent most of my growing-up years with. Sid loved Rusty, second only to Antman. His offspring didn’t have illustrious show careers but were loved by
their owners. Many owners were hard-working cattlemen who appreciated a dependable athlete under saddle.

After Rusty’s death at 29, there was a long dry period at the ranch in a permanent stallion replacement. Sid bred to some popular outside stallions, Bay State Ideal, Triton Red Fox, Valiant Turk. She bought Higuera Bandido at a Red Fox yearly sale and he became her trusted mount for several years. His get were friendly and naturally gentle. One fun story is that a filly by him, Lucia Holly Hawk, was sent to a trainer at age 4. The trainer was a close friend and was so busy that the filly just stayed at her place for several months before being sent home unstarted. Sid gave her to me and we both assumed she had been started. I saddled her one day, walked her around, and got on. She didn’t seem to know how to respond to the bit but tried. She was unperplexed.. Off we went. Months later, the trainer was surprised to see me gathering cattle on her and told me her story. A typical Higuera Bandido daughter.

Finally, in the early 1980’s, Sid purchased Willowglen Panfire. His gentle nature endeared him to Sid and in her elder years he was like a pet to her. She raised a few foals by him but was already an unknowing victim of Alzheimers. As merciless and nightmarish as this disease is to family and caregivers, Sid had accumulated so many habits and routines that she was able to compensate for her increasing deficiencies. She was riding until the last, keeping her mare, another Higuera Bandido daughter, close by and ready. The mare, Lucia Lolita, was ever patient and kind through it all; a true Morgan. Sid lived the life she loved, with her Morgans and on the ranch.