Monday, January 23, 2012

Snow Day

We finally had snow this weekend! Not a lot, perhaps 6 inches, but it was enough to enjoy and not be a huge nuisance. The first winter we moved here, we'd have regular snowstorms, but most were 6 inches to a foot - and made for a lovely winter. Then last winter, we got pummeled - and this winter...well, zip. Until now.

Of course, it's raining again so it looks like the snow may not last. I headed out to take pictures and goof off with the ponies, who were as thrilled with the snow as I was.
Topaz and Siggy, two peas in a pod waiting for their lunch hay

One of my most favorite things about winter:
The fuzzy ears!

Snoopy couldn't be bothered except to make the occasional horsey snow angel....he was having too much fun trolling for grass under the snow.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

War Horse...and Upside Down Spurs

We're here! Complete touristy move. But I couldn't help myself. Shameful since I lived in NYC for nearly a decade.

You may have read that Matt's gift to me this Christmas was a chance to see War Horse at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. I was excited, yet apprehensive; I knew it was an emotional tale of World War I through a horse's eyes, but would I be able to handle the good, and not so good, things that happened to these animals?

The harsh reality is, millions of horses died in this war - new inventions called machine guns and the recently discovered barbed wire mostly to blame, among the suspected exhaustion, dehydration and infections, which plagued many of the soldiers as well.

What is also evident is the connection that many of the cavalry officers had with their mounts, who carried them fearlessly into the unknown. This wasn't just displayed in the play, but it was also discovered in letters and photos of the war.
Members of the British Cavalry, on a good day. Note the horse to the right has decided it would be fun to start playing bridle tag - even in war time, they still had playfulness in them!

So Joey, who happens to be a Thoroughbred/ Draft cross, is raised and trained by a young man called Albert. Sadly, Joey gets sent off to war, and fights for the British, and then ends up in German hands, and on French land. Throughout his journey, Joey is lucky enough to end up with soldiers who care for him and in turn for his bravery and intelligence, he's treated with kindness.
The making of Joey - in the lobby at Lincoln Center.

He also befriends another horse named Topthorn, a majestic black creature who reminds me a lot of Zeus - rather full of himself but ultimately a good boy.
Topthorn the puppet's head. Their eyes were marvelous and there was even room in there for a mullen mouth bit.

The acting was excellent, but what blew me away was the puppetry of these horses. Each horse had three actors piloting it - one for the front legs, one for the back, and an actor at the head and neck. The actors dissolved into the horse puppet, making you forget they were there.

The nuances - a flick of the ear, a swish of the tail - made these wooden and steel creatures as lifelike as possible. Even the rise and fall of the ribcage to emulate breathing was captivating.

I didn't find myself bawling at the expected scenes....instead, I found myself choking up when Joey came out for the first time as a full-grown horse - he just engulfed the audience. Then, early in the war he and Topthorn had to jump some perilous barbed wire. As the semicircular stage rotated, the horses began their leap of faith over the barbed wire, looking as though they were going to fly into the audience. It was such a reminder to me that horses, if they trust you, will risk their lives for you.

At the end of the evening, we made the 90 minute trek home and began night check on our own war horses. They each got extra carrots and pats.

If you have a few minutes, I urge you to read this photo below. It's a letter written from a father to a soldier about to embark on his Cavalry journey. It warms the heart to know that even in tragic times, men cared for their horses to the best of their ability.
"Never sit in the saddle when you are not wanted there, always dismount. And if you come to a very stiff climb always get off and lead your horse if you can...You will be surprised what these little considerations do for a horse."


PS - Someone needs to tell the British Cavalry at Lincoln Center that their spurs were all upside down. Oopsy!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Area I...The Year in Review, The Year Ahead

Sunday was a day that never rose out of freezing temperatures, with gale force winds that would knock the breath out of your body. Luckily, I got to spend much of it indoors at the Area I Annual Meeting, held in Springfield, MA!

It's been a long time since I've been to an Annual Meeting, and I can tell you, it will be a long time before I miss another one. Regardless of the awards (which, of course, is always a great goal), the education, camaraderie and friendships that grow and flourish by seeing each other in the dead of winter just gives me a sense of community and support, whether I was speaking with a Young Rider, Adult Amateur or professional - all of whom gather to share ideas, hear about progress and tasks that need to be done for the 2012 season, and, the best part - educate ourselves. While eating cake. That never hurts.

One of the major highlights of the day was catching up with young rider gal pal Katie Murphy, who I hadn't seen in years. Literally - years! College, careers, distance and injuries led us down different paths for more than a decade, and catching up with her was the icing on the cake for an otherwise fantastic day. Since we both have young horses, we're hoping to meet up more often at events, clinics, and schoolings! (I also asked her if it was appropriate to register for an air vest for my baby shower....she thought it was a good idea. I tend to agree with her!)

I had the opportunity to sit in on the Organizer's Meeting, which was enlightening and fun to be a part of - rubbing elbows with people I respect, volunteer for, and wave hello to on my way to the dressage arena. What fascinated me the most was the orchestration of the 2013 Area I calendar - the coordination, communication and planning that makes for a streamlined and fair season for all events, and competitors, around the region.
The working 2013 calendar - before the hard work began!

Another very exciting announcement was from Louise Meryman, a very well-respected upper level eventer and coach in our area. In conjunction with NYRA, all New York events in Area I will be a part of a prize program for off-the-track Thoroughbreds! Imagine my excitement when I chatted with Louise about it, and her excitement was apparent as we chattered about getting the movement to spread to other states and other regions. The racing industry is really beginning to realize that Eventing is the ideal sport for so many of the Thoroughbreds that leave the track for a new career.
Outgoing Area I Chair Katherine Cooper speaking, with incoming Chair Heidi Beaumont in the foreground

The General Meeting was a year in review, announcements such as the location of the Area I Championships (awarded to the incomparable Fitch's Corner for the second year), and the Adult Team Challenge at Town Hill (my personal goal, with a new member of the family cheering us on).

What resonated most to me, was what guest speaker Peter Gray said to a young lady who asked how to get to the top of our sport:
"Love your horse."
How simple.
Peter Gray, Olympian and former Canadian Olympic Coach

His point was to take your time with your horse, and not to rush through the levels. Be mindful of footing, training techniques, and taking the easy way out, because it will be a detriment to you and your horse in the long run. In his quiet, unassuming way, he had us roaring with laughter with understated comments on XC riding technique, both positive and negative.

At the end of the day, it was the kick in the pants I needed to continue furthering my education - even if I can't do all of it this year in the saddle. Well, I could, but my doctors probably wouldn't like it very much. I can read books, I can audit clinics, I can volunteer at events - all of it benefits me, my horses, and my students. Win/ win/ win.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fuzzy Hats Make Good Riders

1. Who the heck *are* these people?
2. How long did it take them to train these horses?
3. Where did they get those awesome fuzzy hats? If I had one while I was learning to vault in Pony Club (which I'll admit, was an abysmal failure), maybe I wouldn't have done so many faceplants.

Horses - and the people who train and ride them - never cease to amaze me. Enjoy!