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Thursday, February 24, 2011


Have you heard the expression "Heart Horse?" Well, here's mine:

This is the uncreatively-named Grey, who was, of course, a grey horse*. I honestly don't know what breed he was, but I'm guessing TB. See what you think (sorry about the fabulous "conformation" shot - I took this myself with my Brownie Instamatic):

Someone, perhaps the person holding him, had taken the time to braid Grey for this particular show. He sure looked handsome. But then, I thought he looked perfect on an ordinary day.

I do not remember meeting Grey for the first time. I DO know that I immediately fell madly, blissfully in love with him. Part of the reason was my innate attraction for underdogs, the unloved, and the unwanted (I recall picking up rocks on the way home from school because I felt sorry for them - yes, tenderhearted to a fault.). Most of the other lesson students at Tricorne did not like Grey: they thought he jumped too high over the jumps. They were right, too. He did have a tendency to clear every fence by an extra foot. Maybe part of it was something I just read about on another blog, which I'd never heard before. Apparently TBs are known for giving an extra little "hitch" in the back end over fences. At any rate, you were wise to grab mane when jumping him.

Was it his lovely white eyelashes? His divinely soft and pink nose? His beautiful dapples? Was it the way he seemed to know me, even when I showed up only once a week, and recognize that someone who genuinely cared was with him? I don't know. I just remember that we were somehow bonded, and shared that special connection that occurs when a horse and rider "get it." I'm guessing most of you know exactly what I'm talking about.

That's not to say that my Grey-Baby (the nickname I bestowed upon him) was always well-mannered. We had plenty of wrestling matches when I would try to bridle him and he thought it would be fun to raise his head as high up as possible. I usually resorted to kneeling or even standing on his manger, trying desperately not to fall into his water bucket. Naughty boy!

One of my favorite memories of Grey occurred one summer when I was attending riding camp at Tricorne. He was my assigned mount for the week (woe to the instructor who tried to give me another horse), and one day we had a grooming competition. I curried and brushed and bathed and combed until that guy was GLEAMING. This took some doing because he had a lot of white! I remember leading him over to the judging area and patting him while we were waiting. My hand hit his chest... and in that moment, I found it. The most amazing, softest, velvetiest thing I had ever touched in my whole life. You know that cute little valley between their pectoral muscles? His that day felt just incredible. Still imprinted on my mind.

There is quite a bit of home movie footage of me riding Grey, who came along when I'd been at Tricorne for a few years. In the photo above I can tell by my haircut that I was at least nine (possibly my "Mom-Brady" shag, I'm afraid). Here's the only other photo I can find of him, a little earlier since it's before I cut my hair:
That's Mom in the plaid skirt. We wore/wear a lot of plaid in New Jersey.
With my eagle eyes I observe that in this photo Grey is wearing a Kimberwicke, and in the above two it's a snaffle. I wonder why they switched his bit? Anything to do with the reluctance to be bridled?

I loved Grey with every fiber of my being. I dreamed about him, doodled pictures of him, thought about him constantly and probably drew little hearts with "Grey + Me" in them all over my schoolbooks. Sounds like a typical horse-crazy girl, right? And then some human boy comes along and ruins it all? :-) Well, maybe the critical difference in being a typical horse-crazy girl and graduating to horse-crazy woman is we never lose that feeling. To this day I have the same feeling in my heart about Grey. He has never gone away. My dream horse? Big surprise - a grey TB.

Unfortunately, and it gives me such pain to write this, the real Grey did go away. To exactly where, I know not. It happened like this:

Grey had navicular. I didn't really know what that meant when I was nine, but I knew it had something to do with his hooves. Somewhere along the way, he was "nerved," and I was told about that, too. To me it was some mysterious operation. I didn't know exactly what had been done but I certainly was glad that he was still at Tricorne and able to be ridden comfortably (he must have had time off at some point, I don't remember). The summer before I turned 10, I took time off from riding; we went to the beach a lot and did family activities. When I returned to the barn that fall... no Grey.

You can imagine how I felt, running in to greet him, and finding another horse standing in his stall. A sickening feeling in my stomach. Utter panic. WHERE WAS "MY" HORSE?!?! I was pretty insecure about approaching adults, so I didn't confront the trainer directly. Instead, I asked my mother. She told me, "I'm not telling you where he is, but he's in a good place."

This was too much to deal with. I simply closed my mind to the most hideous fate I could imagine, a trip to the "glue factory," whatever that was (thank God I didn't know a thing about horse slaughter then). I chose to believe that he really was "okay," and imagined him peacefully grazing in a sunny pasture. But I always, always wondered...

Fast forward to many years later (1990 or so). My family was enjoying a retrospective of some of the zillions of slides my father had taken over the years. Along came another horse show from my childhood, with a bunch of pictures of me riding Grey. Of course I started to cry, and something prompted me - maybe the fact that I was in my late twenties, i.e. considerably older - to ask my mother, "Whatever did happen to Grey, anyway? You'd never tell me." She looked slightly taken aback and then said, "He was put to sleep and buried in the back pasture."



All of those years I'd worried and wondered what really happened to him and he was simply buried in the back pasture??? Why had I not been told this right away? My mom said she thought I'd be too upset. Instead, upon learning this information at such a late date, I went into total hysterics. An hour later I was still sobbing. Poor Mom. I can't blame her, really. I'm sure some day my own kids will tell me things I did/didn't do that upset them.

Here's the thing, though: I'm not sure I believe her. And I am *NOT* bringing up the subject again. Mom, if you're reading this, and you really do know anything more about Grey's demise, do not tell me. It's okay. If you said that to put me off, well, I'm going to stay put off. He will reside happily in my memory forever no matter what.

* The oddest thing happened when I cropped the first image here (I'll have the full one up soon). I realized for the very first time that the person visible in the lower left corner is most likely my dad. I know it's small and blurry but I just have a feeling... right size person, right haircut, right arm swing, right outfit - I think it's him. This means that two of the most loved, now-deceased beings in my life are both in this photo. I feel like I have been visited by a ghost! Give him a pat for me, Daddy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Not Too Easy On The Eyes

There actually were not that many ponies in the Tricorne school horse string: most of the mounts were full-size horses. In some cases, extremely full-size:

Here I am galumphing along on Budweiser. This faithful steed was a Belgian cross of some sort, and I'm guessing he was around 17 hh. Even though I'm a bit older here than in the other photos I've shared so far, you will note that my feet still barely reach below the saddle flap (and the oversized felt pad). Didn't faze me a bit! He was a good boy and I don't remember having any trouble with him. No idea what I thought when I cantered and jumped him, though... I'm sure it felt just a wee bit different than riding Little John.

You can see the exterior of our indoor riding arena behind us on the hill. As I mentioned earlier, this building was made of concrete block and very sturdy. Yes, there were windows, but the light that managed to filter through years of accumulated dust, dirt and cobwebs was pretty weak. Gloom definitely prevailed light-wise but I generally didn't care, since I was having fun.

I like the outfit I'm wearing here, especially the rust breeches. I've read that some people are trying to revive that look in today's hunter ring and I think it would be GREAT. Raise your hand if you're sick of every hunter rider looking exactly like the next one in their dark conservative coats, Charles Owen helmets, and greige Tailored Sportsman breeches - occasionally someone will turn a wild hair and wear a - gasp! - different-colored riding shirt than what is currently considered "in," but that's about it. Seriously, I have wild fits of jealousy over saddle seat riders in their beautiful custom suits and cunning little derby hats. Why can't "we" have a little more variety? Now, I don't know about the Western ladies with their mega-bling and eyeball-searing colors, but for pete's sake, how about a little change-up, people. Too bad I'm not a 16-year-old Big Eq rider or I'd... well... I'd probably get some of those spurs with the eensy rhinestones on the sides, AND wear rust breeches, and have a couple of judges keel over in apoplectic fits.

Having said that, I don't think this look is gonna catch on any time soon:

You can't really tell from this poor quality photo, but that jacket was TANGERINE. Bright orange. And guess who made it for me with her own two hands? Right - Mom. So there was no question that I would wear it. I remember not being entirely thrilled with this choice (I think she had the material left over from some other project), but what are you going to do. Plus, it was the sartorially splendid Seventies, so I imagine I probably fit right in. ;-) Now the choker, on the other hand, I absolutely adored. This was also handmade by my clever mother and neatly embroidered with my initials. Yes, I still have it. A lovely souvenir of early riding days. (And if you're beginning to think I keep everything, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.)

A note on my boots: these were rubber tall boots. I had outgrown the jodphur look (Or had I? Stay tuned.) and needed something to ride in, so I went through a couple pairs of these. Leather boots were out of our price range and these squeaky, floppity-flop things were the best solution. At least they were waterproof! The main thing I didn't like was they were always miles too big in the calf. There's a reason some unkind people have called me "chicken legs"... I'm afraid I inherited my stick-like calves from my mother. Since I also got an extra-large helping of "horse fever" I'm not going to complain.

The horse in this photo is yet another one of Tricorne's taller equines. "Easy Does It" was an OTTB and also around 17 hh. In addition, the dear boy had a neck the length of a school bus and roared loadly with every (oversized) step. Heaven knows they must have had a special pair of custom reins made, since I can actually see some bight in them. I remember this day and this horse show. Not only was I red-faced about the tangerine jacket, but I was made to ride poor Easy, who I normally avoided. His strides were gigantic so you were thrown a mile out of the saddle on every post, the roaring from his broken wind was audible at 20', and steering felt like turning the QE II in a duck pond. Not good! However, he was a very sweet horse, and I managed to overcome these perceived handicaps and place second in whatever class we'd been in.

I'm afraid I must end on a sad note. I was riding one day towards the end of my Tricorne years (about 1974) in the outside lower ring. A truck pulling a small horse trailer went up the driveway, and a short while later started back down. From within the trailer I could hear loud, plaintive neighing. "Who's that?" asked someone in my lesson. Our trainer answered, "Umm... it's Easy." Silence. We all knew he wouldn't be coming back from wherever he was going. He was old, had always seemed rickety, and then there was that awful roaring... It was my second brush with equine mortality, as you will see, and I still don't know what they did to dispose of horses in NJ at that time. I hoped then and still hope now that Easy met a peaceful end. He deserved it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Little Legs On Big Horses

One of my most vivid memories of early riding days at Tricorne Farm is spending a whole lot of time wrapping stirrup leathers. When your legs are too short to reach the irons on even the last hole, the simple thing to do is wrap the leathers around the top of the stirrups. If your legs are REALLY short because you're only 5 or 6 years old, you might have to wrap them two or three times. This is true especially if you've been assigned a horse instead of a pony for your weekly lesson... Who would do that, you say? Aren't small children supposed to ride small horses?

Yes, unless that small child, who thought she bounced quite well, had absolutely no compunction about such an assignment. "If I can't have Little John, I'll ride Stormy or Mister Mac or Budweiser, sure!" Never mind the painful rubbing on the legs from a wad of leather chafing there, or else the embarrassment of someone having to run for the hole punch yet again. That horse may have been large, but I was IN CHARGE:

This is me aboard a horse I'm fairly certain is Stormy, a nondescript bay grade gelding with a heart of gold. In this case there were new holes punched, since you can see the miles of extra leather hanging down. George would NOT approve!
In fact, I'm astonished at my aplomb when I look at that photo, and the home movies we have.* Was that REALLY me? How could I have been so utterly fearless? I don't remember feeling a moment's hesitation when I was really little about hopping on board any horse in the barn, no matter how tall. The fear issues I wrestle(d) with showed up later, unfortunately, but weren't and aren't related to horse size, as you'll see.

I also find it interesting that my feet scarcely reached below the saddle flap. How did those horses even feel my legs or heels? All the school horses had their own saddle, and I don't recall any thought being given to size. You took X horse/pony with his saddle, and that's what you got whether it fit you or not. Obviously, my itty-bitty rear was floating around on a sea of slick leather. It makes my hair curl just thinking about it! No wonder my grandma refused to watch when my mom dragged her to shows. If it was my kid now I'd be petrified. I bet you, though, that those too-big slippery saddles contributed quite a bit to my independence of seat and hands. :-)

Here's a photo of someone else riding Mister Mac, an Appy cross. He was a pretty tall horse with a nice white blanket:

Mr. Mac is in the foreground. Please note the wool felt saddle pad, which is what all the schoolies wore. Don't remember anyone ever getting saddle sores, either. Also, you can see the Tricorne Farm sign in the background. Wish I had a picture of just that!
I don't think I was put on this fellow very much myself, but he does figure largely in an event I well remember. I must have been about 8 or 9 at the time. When our lessons ended, sometimes we were allowed to cool out our horses by walking them around the back pasture at the stable. This was probably a couple acres in size, and had a dirt track around the circumference. One fine day a group of us were sedately ambling along (don't know who I was riding), when a terrifying event occurred: Mister Mac's saddle pad slipped. Now, most people would not think this was a terrifying event, but Mr. Mac certainly did. He took off like he had a rocket up his rear. His small rider was instantly unseated and there was widespread panic in the rest of the field. ALL of our horses ran away with us, straight towards the barn. I acted, of course, in textbook "what not to do when your horse takes off" fashion - that is to say, I screamed and flapped my arms. YAY, ME! I barely clung to the saddle as we thundered down the long side, but as soon as we careened around a corner, off I came.... luckily, landing right on the manure pile.

As I lay there bawling and wondering if I'd broken my leg - it hurt - my mother came running up. She'd witnessed the whole incident, which probably took a couple years off her life. Fortunately, nothing was hurt except my feelings. Thank goodness for a nice thick cushion of shavings and poop! :-)  I was not made to "get right back on the horse," either, but the experience did nothing to dissuade me from my equestrian ambitions. All part of the ride!

* I wish that I was a techno-whiz and knew how to get said movies from the VHS tape onto which they were transferred from Super-8, to the computer and thus onto this blog. Darn. I'm lucky I even have some of these photos, since my totally non-tech mother scanned them from the original slides. Hence the crummy quality!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Saintly Ponies

I apologize for the delay (technical difficulties), but as promised, I'm going to talk about some of the wonderful school ponies at Tricorne Farm. Here I am with Little John, the Chincoteague Pony:

Nice straight line from bit to elbow, I like it! Toes out past the maximum angle.... THAT only got worse.
Nice outfit, too (remember this).
This was taken at a Tricorne schooling show, which they held twice a year, spring and fall. I'm so glad that they did because outside showing was not in our budget. That was competition enough for this Nervous Nellie, anyway! I had a particularly successful day here in 1971, winning a first place that came with a gorgeous trophy - still the nicest one I ever won, and on display to this day - and something else that was good enough to make me Reserve Champion (don't remember the color).
After the show, at home. My dad made me a display board with the ribbons and I took them to school for Show-n-Tell.
GREAT day!
Little John was, to put it simply, the World's Best Pony (A). Oh, I know there have been/are others out there with the same claim, but believe me when I tell you, that pony Was. Just. Amazing. Never nappy, never sour, never evil, never lame, never mean, never nippy, never anything but just an angel in a pinto coat. EVERYONE adored him. Everyone wanted to ride him, too, all the time, so I really have no idea when the poor thing ever got the day off!

I have just one memory of riding Little John, and it could be from this show, but I'm not sure. All I know is it was a Beginner Crossrails class. This consisted of trotting two times around four evenly-spaced very low fences. I distinctly remember that I knew to give LJ a good yank on the left rein just in front of Fence 3 on the circuit, because I'd watched him neatly avoid jumping that one with a couple other riders by ducking right (yes, I know I said he was the World's Best Pony, but hey, nobody's perfect! :-). We made it safely over that fence and all the rest, and I know I placed well purely because of my mad steering skillz.

The other fabulous pony of my young years (let's call him World's Best Pony B), is this very unusually-marked fellow, Captain Hook.

I have never seen another Palomino Pinto in person ...
Known to all as "Hooky," this guy is legendary to a couple generations of Monmouth County, NJ riders. Between him and Little John, they probably taught at least 500 kids the ropes of hunter seat equitation. I'm a bit puzzled as to how I was able to ride him, though; he was privately owned, and not a Tricorne school horse. In fact, he belonged to a gentleman who became the Tricorne trainer a few years later. At the time his own children were small and Hooky was boarded there, as their pony. Maybe they allowed him to be used by lesson students in lieu of some of their board? At any rate, I sure am I glad I got to ride him in that particular show, because you can see the results in my header above: a blue ribbon and a HUGE smile!

I'm so pleased to tell you that I know what became of these two phenomenal ponies. Around 1989, I had occasion to drive by the Tricorne Farm propery. It was no longer a riding stable, and I think some of the buildings were gone, but there was still pasture. And grazing there, instantly recognizable, was none other than... Little John. How I wish I had stopped to try and call him over and say hello! The dear pony had to have been ancient by then. Thanks to the miracle of Facebook, I have a photo of him with another young rider from the mid-80s:

You can see he's definitely older here, with the distinguished white eyebrows. I'm certain he lived to his mid-30s, at least. How Little John put up with so many years of little hands yanking on his mouth and little boots whacking him in the ribs, I'll never know. Maybe he knew that the millions of little kisses bestowed on his sweet nose were worth it. He surely had a piece of my heart, and still does.

In 1992, I went to see a young friend ride at a horse show in NJ. Her trainer at the time was Hooky's owner, my old trainer. I went up to him and asked with some trepidation, "What ever happened to Captain Hook?" He replied, and you could have knocked me down with a feather, "He's standing in that trailer right over there. We don't ride him any more but he still likes to come along to shows." My husband, poor man, had no idea why I had tears pouring down my face when I went around the side of that trailer and sure enough, there was my old friend.  A lot older but still the same bald-faced pony. I'm not sure how much longer he lived after that, but it gives me tremendous comfort to know Hooky was loved and cared for by the same family until the end of his days.

I'll leave you with this photo of me and my buddy. You've all heard the expression "riding off into the sunset" - if I'm doing it again some day on Little John, well, that would be my kind of heaven.