Horsing Around Virgina

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Going Green in 2019

Here in horse country about some 45 years ago, my older sister Jessica Dowdy and I showed ponies on the A-Circuit. Actually, she rode her pony Dr. Grabow in the Large Pony Hunter Division at many A-shows and as long as there was no round-top on the course, they typically finished in the top three (round-tops = auto refusal). They won the Large Pony Division at Upperville and I, the little sister, acted as her groom and sometimes, I got to compete in Leadline or other pony divisions. In my very first horse show aboard her lovely pony (whom she schooled herself with the careful guidance of Marlene Allen), I finished second. I received a red ribbon which I treasured—so much so that my father gave me the nickname “Red-ribbon Lolly”. He was proud of me despite the fact it was not a blue ribbon.

Just a few weeks ago, I rode in the Philomont Horse Show–I live very close to the show grounds and went not seeking the coveted blue ribbon by as a member of the local community who is interested in supporting the Philomont Volunteer Fire Department–who would be coming to my rescue should the need arise. My hunt horse Lucy had never been to a show and was puzzled as to why so many people dressed to hunt were going around in circles and why the lady in the hat was taking notes. After about 15 minutes warming up, she got used to the idea. I was clearly the elder statesman in the hack class, my age more than doubled most of my fellow riders. I focused on keeping my plodding horse calm and quiet and out of the way of the seasoned show horses—and lo and behold—we pinned. Never had I been so happy to be sixth!

So much of sport today focuses on who finishes first—but the class and the show would not go without the rest of the entries. I remember being told as a kid that horse showing was something we did for fun—but I do remember striving so hard to be perfect–my appearance, my horse, their gaits, spots before each fence, etc… to live up to some subjective standard and receive a “good” ribbon. Red was a good ribbon, but green is too!

As a rider, I ventured from showing into eventing–I loved cross-country and dressage was a necessary evil to get to the fun jumping (I have matured on this point and now enjoy dressage.) I remember competing at local Horse Trial and checking the score board after dressage and was pleased to find that I was 10th—but there was this guy–David O’Connor who had two horses and was in 2nd and 4th. At the time I had braces and was wearing my helmet—and I remember standing there dumbfounded–thinking–how is this guy so good? How does he have more than one horse going Novice? Anyway–ribbons are not a big motivator for eventers–otherwise they would get one after each phase. David O’Connor went on to being an Olympian and accomplish many great things at the USEF and beyond. But what about the rest of us? We go to college…get jobs, married, families….maybe bring up another generation of riders? Professionals need students. Events, shows need entries to go. We need to cultivate more amateurs. At the heart of Horsing Around Virginia is a desire to make good horsepeople accessible to those who want to learn and pass it on. If the horse industry is to survive in this changing world where we are addicted to our devices—we need to prompt people to move from their devices to their local stable and saddle up.

A year of new beginnings…

Foaling season is upon us and as cold as it is now, new horses are entering the world daily. The breeding decisions are done, the die is cast. As Forrest Gump so eloquently said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get.” That sure is the way it is with horses too. One horse is champion and a full sibling lacks the same ability. Yes all are differently abled and while some succeed at the races others may end up hacking with a local hunt (if they are lucky). Secretariat had a full sibling that ended up as a riding horse. Breeding is not an exact science.

Jumping ahead to March the 30th, Secretariat’s birthday party at the Meadow Event Park my mind turns to Virginia native Penny Chenery who loved to quote her farm manager Howard Gentry who reminded her “The mare done it.” Indeed, she did.

Often belittled by men in the Thoroughbred industry who referred to her as “just a housewife” Penny embraced the tall order of turning the farm around. She would have loved this “me too” movement prevalent in our culture today. Old habits die hard –but die they must. I am sorry for every woman who has endured suffering to be involved with horses—its far to prevalent in our modern world that embraces the timeless rhythms of horse care (or husbandry–even that word is sexist). Penny is my hero and her image gives me strength to preservere.

Penny Chenery lived by three precepts that she passed on to her Kate (who shared them with me in an interview): 1. Forget you are a woman, 2. Always do your best. 3. Never take “No” for an answer.

Well folks, its 2019, here we go. Great stories, horses and people abound–so far I have outlined about 30 episodes of Horsing Around Virginia. Finally, the time has come to press forward on getting Horsing Around Virginia on public television. Won’t take “No” for an answer, will do my best.

Autumn Changes Horsing Around Virginia

October has been an eventful month horsing around Virginia. On the farm the fillies were weaned and the yearlings left for training. The day they are weaned is the most traumatic day in a horse’s life. The first time the fillies were turned out they walked around utterly disillusioned. With relatively calm insistence they walked in circles all around their large field as if to ask—“I remember walking with her over here, surely she will find me….” Then they would look at each other as if to ask, “Your mom is gone too, do you think they are together? What are they doing? Do you think they will come back?” As days went by they walked less and grazed more resolved to the realization that they need to take care of themselves now and mom is not here to protect them anymore. The pecking order changed—the boss mare is not there. The fillies had to work out a new order, but seemed to enjoy the companionship of their shared grief.

Autumn is the season of change. Leaves have peaked. Their demise creates great beauty–as they wither, fade and fall. The fox hunters have been busy cubbing and the local fox has taken on a deep rich hue as his fall coat is coming in. Challenging sport abounds as October has provided cool and blustery days to watch horses give their best at local venues. A soggy day for the Middleburg Fall Races and Field Hunter Championship at Glenwood Park yielded good footing. The Virginia International Gold Cup at Great Meadow was windy but nice for spirited horses. The farm had two run and one came on very strong but did not overtake the winner—but second also pays well. Thrilling to watch. Two more runners started at Charles Town very late one Wednesday evening. The crew from the farm assembled to rally around the two fillies in the fifth and seventh races—they performed brilliantly. We cheered, spirits soared as each filly won her race by a margin of five or seven lengths. Entirely elated, with winning tickets in hand, we headed to the winner’s circle twice that night. Two starters, two winners the same night felt as though something divine and extraordinary had happened. The trainer did a wonderful job preparing and turning out the horses—they behaved well, looked great and ran with all they had. Each filly ran her personal best—their highest speed rating yet.

Last week I met many friends at the Washington International Horse Show and cheered on Virginia native Kama Godek as she cleared the Puissance wall at 6′. The Washington International Horse Show brings together horse people of all sorts. Some dear friends from therapeutic riding, others from pony club, hunters, jumpers and even barrel racers all came together to celebrate the best of equine sports in the nation. Kama’s horse Air Force One is nicknamed “The President” and as we brace ourselves in this season of change for the election of our new president, take comfort that while you may find yourself walking around disillusioned like the fillies just weaned. Change is inevitable, but we can take comfort in our horses—they care nothing for politics, and always give their best.