Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The days have passed and the summer is warm. The splendor of the lightning bugs and swooping bats has risen to its peak and every night I stand in the moonlight I feel a sense of rebirth. Ahhh and so begins another annual event, the birthday celebrations. Years have come and gone and each summer my odometer clicks onto a new number forever eclipsing and leaving behind the predecessor. As a mantis sheds its exoskeleton so too do I attempt to shed the layers and traits of my life that have worn out their usefulness.

And as I sit on the perch of the looming “39” I am struck with a sense of wonder and delight as I gaze back to some of the past moments that inevitably make the yearly ‘highlight reel.’ For you tonight I include some of them here. They mean nothing individually, less even. But these are the threads that woven into the quilt of my existence to this point stand out and catch my eye every time I glance backwards long enough to trace the steps that led me to where I stand now. I hope you enjoy them as surely therein will lie something that may spur a memory in your own collections of yarns.

1.) The time when I was 4 or 5 and watched as horses and riders rode by me for the first time. I felt the ground shake a bit and I know that my world changed as those hooves passed before me. Cockeysville, MD

2.) Watching “Wild Bill Hickock” at an O’s game on my 12th bday, up close. Memorial Stadium, 1983

3.) The time when I was fishing off a dock and caught a 4’ long eel, when I was deathly afraid of snakes. Harwich Port, MA 1983

4.) Sitting in a plastic sled, in our backyard stream trying to canoe with a shovel from my beach pail. And dad telling me to never be afraid to keep trying, even if you fail. Cockeysville, MD 1976 (Side note, that sled was buried into the silt of the stream, I wasn’t going anywhere!)

5.) Cantering a horse for the first time and having the mare lose her footing and go down with me onto her side. And jumping back up, hoping on the horse and doing it right. Jacksonville, MD 1982

6.) Watching my grandfather swim off Cape Cod, every day, every summer.

7.) Getting the trademark Nana hug and hearing her make this sound that I have yet to hear any of us be able to mimic exactly since her passing.

8.) Playing miniature golf, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders and baseball with my family when we still were intact.

9.) Trying to return my sister to the house after she fell off her bike….with a wheelbarrow….when she had a spiral fracture of the femur. That didn’t work at all. Towson, 1986

10.) Standing in Grampa’s workshop looking at a block of wood, and then next to it a complete set of models of old ships, sailboats, river boats and the like and knowing that the vessels around me had only a destiny to be a piece of wood until he came along. West Boylston, Ma 1980’s

11.) Seeing and playing with Gramma’s worry bird necklace, nearly everytime I see her from childhood through the present day. That little gold bird and the scent of Channel no. 5 will always take me to Massachusetts.

12.) Worrying over and over for Dad as he flew flight after flight across this amazing world and then finally one day understanding that there’s no use worrying. He is living his passion with planes as I live mine with horses. We both understand the risks, but it’s not enough to deny our truest loves. And so he flies and I ride on.

13.) Watching as Mom shifted from “mom” to Sarah Daignault, the next coming of Napoleon, Joan of Arc and Genghis Khan. (Ie… You know that expression, “Lead, follow or get out of the way” ?? Well just step back, she’s coming through!)

14.) Watching and cheering as Cindy graduated from Friends and Stanford. Both times I was totally proud and amazed to watch the girl that was a little cherub thing I grew up with turn into this rather amazing creature who fears no challenge and always hits the ground running with a plan.

15.) Knowing that I was probably going to need to improve my riding when as I was wheeled into our ‘regular’ ER the head reception nurse looked up and said, “Which horse was it this time Emily?” Towson, 1992

16.) Watching the sun set over the Atlantic, Pacific, and an innumerable number of ponds and lakes and rivers and always pausing long enough to think, “Wow. How gorgeous is this? I wonder what tomorrow will bring.”


Sunday, June 6, 2010

A good day in the cheap seats..

I just had to drop by and post about my first "horsey" day in a long while yesterday.

So I left the job at the farm March 31st and ever since I have done lots of fun and cool stuff but I haven’t sat on a horse since. And what’s more, I haven’t wanted to either! In its own way this is a very interesting moment to be standing around watching how I have interacted with horses and their people for the last two months and what I have felt. Now don’t get me wrong, I have been around horses still just not totally embroiled in them like a steamed lobster.

Here’s some of the things I have done in my time away from my horsey life:

1.) Went to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct

2.) Went to the Kentucky Derby for the first time

3.) Made an entry for the Purina Blog O Spondent contest

4.) Shipped horses to and from a local farm to a horse show (3 x)

5.) Went to help set jumps at one of Jimmy’s clinics up here

6.) Saddled a horse for my old boss at Delaware park

7.) Went to watch a friend have a lesson with Laura Chapot

8.) Went to three Point to points and Steeplechases (actually tailgated)

9.) Went to Devon Grand Prix

10.) I volunteered a full Sunday at Fair Hill HT, timing stadium

So yesterday I got off my duff and gave a friend of mine her first lesson with me in an attempt to prepare her for a couple starter trials this summer. She hadn’t had lessons for a while and God only knows how long since I taught, though I do love it. So off we went and schooled and practiced and in the beginning I ended up hopping on for a second to show Steph that yes “Mikey” did in fact know what bending was. The first time I got on in over 2 months. It felt great, then I was a little ouchy. Made my point and got off. He’s a comfortable ride and over the next 45 mins he and Steph both learned a bunch of useful stuff that will improve their time together.

I ended up washing Mikey while Steph chilled and drank Gatorade and I remembered what loving horses is like for the simplicity of it. Funny I’m not sure I realized how far I’d left that part drift out to sea.

So I loaded Mikey and sent them on their way. Then I went off to the barn where Lad had lived and moved all my jump standards and rails to be close to the barn. I found a buyer for them and I am gladly shirking off one more possession I don’t need. As I ferried the jumps up the hill in my Subaru I couldn’t escape how in all the time I spent at the farm yesterday I didn’t miss Lad. Don’t get me wrong, I do miss Lad, for who he is. But I don’t miss the labor that my own riding had become around the BO there. (I do think it’s about the place and the aura there, and not about Lad and me)

But I looked at the course my jumps were set in, how a pony clubber had decorated them with flags and streamers and such and I know I used to do that too, but all I could think was about the curmudgeonly stuff about young folks not respecting property. And I realized that for each of my 4 min on Mikey, I still have a long way back to go to get to the fun part of riding full on again.

Once upon a time I was a girl who lived to ride. Now I have become a woman who lives a life of responsibilities and tasks and to do lists. There’s a chasm that’s grown between the two sides of my personality, a chasm that comes into many lives. All I have to do now is figure out how to rebuild the bridge that I used to cherish. I don’t know if, when or how it will come back. But the mere minutes I was on Mikey reminded me of so many moments that I cherish, how can it not return at some point.

Thanks for listening.


Monday, May 3, 2010

The view from a Greyhound Bus

The old saying goes that you don’t know a persons life until you walk a mile in their shoes. Since walking isn’t all that popular a method to cover long distances nowadays, we have adapted and use more diverse methods of transport. Chief among them would be automobiles and other highway driving machines. Over the past few days I have traveled 1200 miles on Greyhound buses and in this time I realized a lot about my life and things I had never known nor seen before. I spent a fair bit of my time talking to my fellow passengers and America and its citizens took on new and more diverse meanings than I had ever yet realized. I truly didn’t know what type of people I was going to meet on a bus.

It seemed like an easy idea; take a bus to Kentucky for the Derby, save the car from another 1200+ miles of use and depreciation. I booked the trip online and voila, 14 hours to go down, 18 hours to come back. Ok so I’ll use it as preparation for my ultimate dream of visiting Australia, which is just as long on a plane. And off I went expecting the same kinds of camaraderie and company as I have always experienced on the planes. But once I started off on the first bus I started to realize that an entirely different subculture exists running across this great nation on buses everyday. It genuinely never occurred to me that a recently released prison inmate would be given a bus ticket to go back to their home city or destination of choice. I had failed to notice immediately the lack of metal detectors and hands-on security at the stations I passed through. And the unwritten rules of bus traveling were slow to be communicated because my fellow passengers simply thought that I knew that being in the back of the bus alone, was a very bad idea. You can go in pairs or more, but alone….no way and especially not for a single white woman.

That was another thing. PC didn’t exist on Greyhound during my trips. I was white and the folks I know as African American will correct you and tell you they’re black. I spoke for hours with people. We debated lively about our country, our towns, and our future. And we listened to each other’s opinions. Some may not have agreed with everything said, but none turned and changed seats. My first leg I was seated with a young Mexican man named “Minor” who had a twenty three hour trip to Joplin, MO. ahead of him. Thankfully my Spanish from the barns has emerged to be about the Mexican 2nd grade equivalent and when I struggled with words, he helped me out. He asked me questions he’d wondered about, like how did I pay for school? When did I first get married? How many babies did I have? Where was my husband? Where was my family living? Why did my parents and sibling live so far apart? And it’s odd that when faced with the scrutiny of another culture’s ideals it made me question the answers I had. He couldn’t comprehend a never married 38 year old woman without any children just taking off for five days to go watch some horses run in circles. And when I looked at it through his eyes, I couldn’t explain it very well.

Further down the road I spoke to a very intelligent woman from Detroit. Now I can read a newspaper and watch the news, I know that life up there right now isn’t great, far from it. But talking to Diane made the intellectual detachment of a 5 minute newscast story shrink its distance and the gravity of her life struggles were then in my lap. I couldn’t flip the remote, and I couldn’t just say “Oh, I’m sure you all up there will work it out.” And it didn’t even occur to me that anyone would have to surrender their children to social services and leave to try to make enough money to make a life work. Not just to work for her, but hopefully a successful enough life that she could come back for her kids. Maybe one day. I didn’t even have a Kleenex to offer her as she wept.

On and on the miles clicked away and the stories of the world as it is for riders of the Greyhound buses came to me. And though their lives don’t resemble mine and the privileges I have been afforded, most all of these folks seemed to have a firm grasp on hope. None of the people I spoke to across the four states seemed ready to give in to their fate. The 2 boys, ages 19 and 20, who had just been released from a 2 year stint at a prison in Florida were moving to Cincinnati and were nervous. In jail they had learned to communicate with sign language so that their conversations were just between them. And after two years together, the one Ohio native had convinced the Florida native to return with him to a new life in Cincinnati. I asked the Florida native what he was going do. “Get a job.” When pressed what he’d like to do, he kind of looked at me like I was a little slow. “Get a job. That’s all I want. I don’t care what, I need to do something with my life, put some money away and move forward.” All over the 1200 miles I saw the spirit of determination and a willingness to dream that tomorrow could be the start to a better day, to a better life. And I wondered if fate would be kind and let them win one here or there.

In between these two road trips I spent an amazing two and a half days surrounded by people that have quietly been surrounding me my whole life. A whole universe exists that I know so well where wealthy people enjoy levels of privilege far beyond those who ride the bus. I saw opulence in farms, horses, restaurants and clothing stores. Men walked by me literally carrying thousands of dollars in cash as their gambles on equines paid off in spades. I walked the hallways of Churchill Downs in my finest dress and the loveliest, large Derby hat. I crossed all through the track down to the lowest ticketed seats and back up to the hallowed ground of celebrities and famous folks. I made my little gambles and paid off with a winner ridden by a poor boy from Louisiana. A man who has trouble reading and who never finished his education beyond the 8th grade. A man that broke into the upper echelons of the world of racing aboard a horse named, “Street Sense.” Someone who’s carried his luck and skill forward while remaining true to his roots. He has believed in his dreams for a long time. And somewhere along the way I’m willing to bet that he’s ridden a bus or two.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tales of the Triple Crown

Many people have asked me over the years, how was it that I became so enthralled with horses? Was it family? No. Was it friends? Well, sort of. What really helped you to love horses? That answer is simple; it was ABC and Jim McKay.

I followed the Triple Crown of horse racing because year in and year out it was the only horse sport on television. And each year I would start trying to follow the televised races sooner. I would absolutely love to say that I remember Secretariat, but I don’t because I wasn’t even 2 yet! Now I do remember Affirmed winning the Triple Crown in 1978. And I recall the fervor that followed him as he progressed from Louisville to Baltimore to Belmont. I suppose it’s appropriate in a way that my memory starts with the last Triple Crown winner.

I can still recall some of the oddly captivating stories behind each Derby, Preakness and Belmont contender over the thirty two seasons of racing that has passed between. I remember the glory of the watching Genuine Risk defeat the boys and how happy my mother and her friends were. I still remember the newscast detailing Swale’s untimely death. I watched, as most did, at the amazing rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. And yet the glory of the connections as each gleaming coated winner swept under the wires has transfixed me for years. Every race, every blanket of flowers adorned, each moment of victory, and yes even some defeats felt like my own. I still can’t watch Real Quiet’s Belmont. I have the tape on VHS and every time I pick it up I want to cry.

Over the years my family usually watched the races in the TV room together. And so of course we’d root for our favorite horses. By the time the gates would pop my family would be rooting for every runner in the race. And more often than not we would have the winner and second place finisher backed by all of us at the end. (Jumping ships mid race was allowed by some in my household) My greatest coup was the 1990 Belmont stakes. A new entrant from Europe was coming in, “Go and Go” an Irish bred trained by Mr. Dermot Weld and ridden by Mick Kinane. Dad thought I was nuts to like him, I kept screaming “But dad he’s Irish, a mile and a half is nothing over there!” Dad didn’t buy it. He stuck with Unbridled, the Derby winner. As they came into the turn Unbridled made the beginning of a huge move up to Go and Go as they sat behind the two front runners. And then he stopped. Go and Go kept on and sailed down the lane to steal the show. Dad tore up the ticket I had made for him and looked at me as mom smiled, “You know she might just have been learning all these years.”

And so now we come to another exciting year and we’re in Derby week! Sadly Mr. McKay has long ago been replaced, and more and more people are covering the sport of kings, and more and more horses are being run for the roses. One of my dad’s favorite songs still is Dan Fogelberg’s “Run for the Roses” and I can’t think of Louisville in May or the Derby without entwining the great melody and my constant handicapping nemesis from the TV room of old. But this year will be different. For the first time ever I get to go to Churchill Downs and stand where millions of horsemen, horse lovers, gamblers, and yes even politicians and royalty have stood. I feel a bit like the little girl version of “Virginia” being given a trip and a tour of the North Pole. (Though I doubt those elves there curse as much if Rudolph can’t beat Dasher in a 5 furlong sprint!)

If it’s not clear from my earlier writings, I believe in a lot of stuff. Hollywood has no trouble getting me misty eyed in almost any film. So already I am imagining the walk through Churchill, seeing the track before me for the first time and feeling a bit like Costner in Field of Dreams, Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, Tom Burlinson in Phar Lap, and so many other great people who conveyed with alacrity the awe that befalls people when you actually stand in a place or a moment you’ve only dreamed of.

Now to get to this, I have some buses to ride, some fancy clothes to throw on, and yes a grand hat to perch on my head. But to really glance back and see how I got here, well I see all the people I initially denied credit for this: My father, my mother, my sister and all my friends who have understood over the past 32 years that for three Saturdays my butt would be parked in front of a television, daring to dream that anyone can win.

I wish all the horsemen, horses and fans a lot of great luck and grand racing. Look for me in the big pink and green hat with the million dollar smile!


Friday, April 16, 2010

I haven’t blogged in days and I am starting to get a taste of regret!! So I am back now to toss one onto the net before I head to Maryland for a weekend of drunken debauchery in the form of my high school reunion. I figured that it would be best to write before the weekend, since after the weekend my brain could quite possibly be a bit fuzzy.

The piece of life I am going to share today is about my last day of high school, because it was, in and of itself, a memorable day. Right now my family and classmates are snickering because they of course know what I am referring to. But before we get to the end, a little background would help you along the way.

I have attended many private schools while growing up in Baltimore, MD. I never seemed to fit right into any of the schools I attended. For one reason or another I kept being that lone student with something missing. I was always defined as “different.” During my stint at Garrison Forrest for 7th and 8th grade, my parents and I could see that GFS wasn’t a perfect fit. The academic program is exceptional and challenging. And the expectations put on the students are high. This is all well and good but I was coming to GFS straight out of 3 years spent at a school for dyslexic children as I learned how to learn with the various learning disabilities I had. So because of the challenging academia present at Garrison, I was again having a difficult time succeeding in my studies. Mom and Dad were patient but it was clear to most that a change would have to be made. The search began and I toured schools, sat in for classes and walked many miles of pristine campuses. And finally I found my home at Oldfields School.

Oldfields has a very good program for their students in their “two-track” system. There are classes offered at both the “A and B” track level. The classes were the same, but how the information was covered differed based on the success level of the student. The “B” track classes covered things a bit slower, while the “A” track was typical of most schools. By having this system, if a student started to fall behind in an “A” track course, the advisor would be consulted and the student could be shifted, permanently or temporarily to a “B” track class to catch back up. Or if a “B” track student could excel, they could be moved up to an “A” track class. It was brilliant and my parents and I agreed it was the place for me.

I attended as a boarding student, even though the campus was a mere fifteen minutes from home. But they had a barn, a variety of dorms and 24 hour candy machines!!! Why on Earth would I stay at home???!!! Over the course of my four years I went through all the normal highs and lows that every person experiences in high school. I had first loves from school mixers with boy’s boarding schools. I learned to use a calling card like a pro. (The boy’s schools were all out of state) I rode every semester of every year and only acquired 2 concussions, a broken wrist and a toe. Pretty good for any four year time frame in my life! I succeeded in classes, I struggled in classes and I acted in school plays and sang in the music groups. I experienced all the diversity you could ask for.

Oldfields is a school with many traditions to it, and chief among them has to be the graduation ceremony. The first difference from many high schools is that all of the enrolled students are a part of the graduation day ceremony. We all are to be dressed in ankle length white dresses and carry the appropriate bouquet of flowers; mixed flora for underclassmen, a dozen roses for seniors. Then once all are congregated we are lined up, shortest to tallest underclassmen in pairs, with our bouquets being carried to the outside, then all the seniors one by one, shortest to tallest. Ok great, so now the music from a live orchestral band begins. (5 members I think) We must begin the walk down graduation hill. Oh but did I mention that we’re all barefoot??!! This will play in later. This ceremony is so elaborate that the week prior to graduation we have anywhere from four to seven rehearsals. It seemed to depend on the enrollment’s retention levels as to how many times we needed to practice. The walk down the hill leads to the flat level of grass below where we will initially see the underclassmen make a “V” shape. Then the seniors will file in down the center and make an arch behind the underclassmen. Then the may court will come down and stand or sit on their platform. Then the underclassmen come up to the may court, one pair at a time, now going tallest to shortest, and lay their bouquets before the may court. This takes some time as the underclassmen are about 70 pairs strong. Once the last bouquet is laid, the big ‘shift’ occurs. The underclassmen walk behind as the may court comes off their perch and leads the seniors front and center into a large horseshoe shape. The underclassmen now are in 3 ‘eyebrow’ shaped lines behind the seniors. Oh and there are no chairs for this shindig, you’re on your feet all the time. Except if you’re May queen, and boy did we all envy Wanda!!!

Now comes the easy part, the handing out of the diplomas. Mr. Rogers, our headmaster, calls your name, you walk up, and the plan is “Shake, take, tuck, hug, give.” Shake his hand, take your diploma, tuck it under your arm and hug Mr. R, and then give him the class gift. Our year we did a puzzle of a class picture, and each girl gave the puzzle piece with her image. By now I think you understand why 180 girls had to practice this multiple times. It was easy, but the myriad of things to do required solid knowledge before the big day.

So on my graduation Saturday I had slept terribly, been through about 2 boxes of Kleenex and was less than thrilled to see that 2 of my classmates had bought the same dress as me. I guess it was to be expected, since Laura Ashley was a hugely popular store for my schoolmates, and they only make so many wedding gowns. Oh well. My friend Scott had showed up on business…as a gorilla delivering balloons. I didn’t recognize him and he has never let me live it down. The time to go approached and I sat on the porch in front of old house and waited. I am tall, so I was one of the last to walk down the hill. I negotiated the descent fine, though I wished I’d had sunglasses, it was bright that day. I made it through everything without a blip, until it was time to go get my diploma.

Surely by now, most of you reading this have realized that I am a little ‘different.’ Square peg round hole, and that sort of thing. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I had to do something comical and different. I walked up to Mr. Rogers asking aloud, “Is it signed?” He smiled and nodded. The crowd giggled. I did the whole “Shake, take, tuck, hug, give” and then started to head back to line. But I didn’t walk…I power walked, in a hoop skirt and wedding dress. Then I ran, then I hit the small patch of dew and bare dirt soaked with dew, then I wiped out! *Sigh*

Yep down went the girl dressed, as Andie MacDowell called it in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” like a ‘meringue.’ The crowd laughed, the next girl had to have her name called a few times and the laughter carried through as I hopped up and literally bounced as I stood in line. I did a hell of a “Tigger” impression, which is odd in that I always preferred Pooh bear.

There have been many parallels drawn how the fall was a foreboding of life to come. How we always must rise and face the crowd after a momentary stumble. How fitting it was for it to be me to fall, since I usually was coming off the backs of various equines over the years. (I actually was the president of the Dusty Bottoms club at Oldfields) And so on, and so forth. It was embarrassing, but never as bad as I thought it’d have been. It’s been brought up a lot in the 20 years since I left. I am still the only person to have fallen down on the flat. Others have bitten dust on the hill, but never on the flat. But then, I never was like everyone else.

And so today I get to go back once again, past the spot of my fame, and I’ll frolic with memories, friends, and a place that was the home that took me from being an outsider to being one of us. There’s a quote from the (second) version of the movie “Sabrina” that I couldn’t find on the internet, go figure. Sabrina talks about how Paris is more her home because she found herself there. I feel the same way about two places on this Earth, and Oldfields is one of them. So I’m off to go home.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Scanning over Life's Moments

I have to ask for a little help today from Mr. Simon and Mr. Garfunkel,

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was. A time of innocence, a time of confidences

Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you”

So I have mentioned, I think, that I have my twentieth high school reunion coming up next weekend. In a short seven days I will be reunited from many members of my class from Oldfields School. Since we’re highly educated smart women, we have a facebook group with a whopping 21 of our original forty some odd class members. And as such we have some new pictures being posted daily. This will be our fifth big reunion year returning to Oldfields and I am interested in seeing how much we have evolved over the time.

As part of this event, my classmates and I have gotten to spend some quality time with our scanners. I sat down yesterday with my laptop and big boxes of pictures from my life and started scanning away the physical reminders of my memories that I have. Some pictures I pulled out easily made the cut, “Oh my God…yeah I gotta scan this.” Others, “Well no I still like this person and I believe they’ll kick my butt if I post this.” This went on and on until it was one o’clock in the morning and the dogs reminded me to go to bed. In point of fact they got up, looked at me and left. As Crow licked my hand and walked up the stairs I knew I was being told, “Go to bed mom.”

So today has been a wild and sometimes wooly trip through my past. Not all of the pictures I scanned were from the Oldfields years. It was very satisfying to sort through the diverse images, 10, 15, 20 years old and see faces in them who are people in my Facebook friends. And as such I of course decided that they too should be scanned and given a quick blast from the past. I’m generous like that, especially if 70’s and 80’s fashion was involved!! In the past 24 hours alone I have received 85 various notifications, comments, new friends and such all relating back to the posting of 50 new photos.

The experience has been quite thrilling, humbling and amusing beyond my initial comprehension. I simply looked at the boxes of photos as being possessions that remind me of things, people, places, horses, and experiences I have had. I don’t think I ever comprehended that each one of the pictures in and of itself could hold a deeper meaning for the people with me when I shot it, in the picture as the subject or simply from a place that means more to other people. Take for example this picture:

It’s from 1996 the Fair Hill International CCI*** Three day event. The woman riding is my friend, Michele Trufant on her horse “Desi.” I barely knew Michele then. She trained with the same coach as me, and as such when she was coming around to where I was I snapped off a few pictures. Now here’s the kicker, when it comes to photography I am a hit and miss person. On this particular day, I missed with 98 pictures out of 108. Believe me I went through the three film folders from 36 exposure rolls. They’re mostly all crap. I had the wrong speed film, low light and worst of all, low camera knowledge for technical elements. But in this pile of lackluster stuff was this image. This image alone has gotten a lot of Michele’s friends talking. Her huge smile I think sums it up. She loved that horse so much, I grew to know this as Michele and I ended up working together for a while there after. Her comments when she finally found the picture online, I guess some friends called her, made me smile:

“It took me awhile to figure out what picture you all had seen and it made me cry when i finally found it....i loved that pony and love you all for sending comments!... emily, thank you again. i just figured out how to print it out. you are so sweet to have sent it.”

It never even occured to me that she'd like the image. But I was glad, and to have brought a little smile and memories of a great run into her day, pleased me. I have tried to include images from all different parts of my life, and sadly most of the Oldfields stuff is at my fathers house and I will be journeying there tomorrow to see Dad, and pick up my additional photos, so the scanner will be working overtime again soon. I really am glad that I have been interested enough in photography to want to have a camera ever present in my life. I have such silly, but fun images to look at through the years. I am amazed by my variety of shots, and think its time to show off a couple:

(These are of course for the most part tongue-in-cheek)




As I keep thumbing through the stacks and stacks of "Kodak Moments" I just keep wondering if I would remember my journey as fondly and as vividly if I didn't have all these pictures here to remind me? Would I be any different if I didn't have 300 pictures of Toto, and all my personal horses? The answer is going to have to sit, unknown with many other irrevelant queries. This week I have already taken pictures of my spring flowers blooming, and shots of the puppy. This weekend I hope to catch a few of the timber racing, and some more of my dad. My poor cell phone is bogged down with 600+ pictures and 30 videos. And I guess my point is simple, life is a journey that I document often with a camera.  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little stroll through my life with Kodak, Nikon, Minolta, Yashica, and many others. Remember what Paul and Art said,

“Preserve your memories, they're all that’s left you.”


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ode to a grand dame of horsemen.

(Mrs. Hannum on Our Ivory Tower)
Ode to a Grand Dame

When I first started competing in eventing seriously, I had a thoroughbred gelding named, “Patty.” He was a lovely horse but he wasn’t going to hold up to the stresses and strains of the upper levels. So we sold him onto a great pony clubber and once again were on the horse buying search. Now let me explain, buying a horse capable of taking a 21 yr old amateur who is just starting to put the right tools in her toolkit is not an easy undertaking. You need a horse that will be part saint, to overlook the many missteps to come, and part eagle, which will fly and soar and jump whatever, comes up in front of them. These searches can take awhile. In my case I was blessed to find the right horse in the wrong package right away. We were looking for an 8-10 year old 16.1+ hand gelding with a lot of preliminary level experience. We bought a 5 year old 15 hand chestnut mare with three prelims under her belt. This is called doing right, while looking wrong. The mare came with an impressive pedigree (to me) and was bred by one hell of a horsewoman.

I bought “Genie” from Bruce Davidson, and his then mother in law, Mrs. Nancy Hannum, had bred her. Even living in Maryland in1992, I had heard of the Hannums. Their name brought legendary tales of hunting over four foot high fence lines, timber racing victories and the like to the tips of the tongues of the experienced horsemen who surrounded me. My mare’s grandmother was in fact a champion timber racer. At the time, circa 1974, this was somewhat unusual for a mare, or so I was told. The grand-dam was “Our Ivory Tower.” I looked up her record and saw that she had won the My Lady’s Manor and the Grand National, in back to back weekends. Indeed her record on paper told of a very classy chestnut runner who was herself, not very large. When we bought “Genie” I was told of a day out hunting with Cheshire @1992, when Bruce D had led the field. The hounds took a record run that day. Something like 2-3 hours of straight running, and when the hounds finally put the fox to ground, all the horses and riders were so tired that they all went to the nearest member’s farm. The horses were turned out in a field together and the riders went to get their respective trucks and trailers to bring the horses back to their individual farms, after a few swigs of old brown of course! There was only one horse that was ridden home that day, my mare. And so the legends of Ivory Tower and her progeny were well implanted in my mind.

Two years ago, I moved to Unionville, Pa. and was extremely fortunate to take a job where I was able to hunt with Cheshire. More fortunate was I, that I was spectating at the Plantation Fields event soon after and I saw Mrs. Hannum.

(Now mind you, this is the first time I have had the pleasure to meet this woman. It’s been sixteen years since I purchased my mare who I will forever remember as the one who was taken too soon. She was killed by lightning at age10. My first phone call after getting the news that day was to Chesterland. The Davidson’s and Hannums shared my grief on the day)

This was two years ago and I approached and was introduced to her by Mary Hazzard. My immediate conversation starter? “Hello Mrs. Hannum, I want to thank you for making the best horse I have ever owned.”

("Genie" aka "Summa Cum Laude" 1996)

I explained who I was and which horse I was referring to and she remembered everything. She even recalled that Genie and I had finished in the ribbons at our first three day at Radnor. That was in 1993. To say this woman lived up to every expectation, daydream and such I had ever had about her, falls about 2 hours of running hounds short of an accurate statement! She surpassed it, trounced it and ran it to covert and then dug it out and ran it some more.

So I felt blessed, a second time, to be out in the waning weeks of the ’07-’08 season when Cheshire had a meet at Brooklawn, Mrs. Hannum’s home, for the first time in many years. As I would expect nothing less, she came along with the hunt over her property, in an older but sturdy Subaru Outback. (Being the owner of my second Subaru Outback, I must insist there is something about us Outback owners that separates us from the rest!!) As we were checked in the back field of Brooklawn I watched as the Subaru glided up a hill to our right. That alone had me grinning. But then not 3-4 minutes later the horn was honking. No excuse me, the horn was HONKING HONKING HONKING. Mrs. Hannum had a full view, Tally Ho and I think if she could have, she would have kicked that car into the base of the coop and expected it to jump as well as good old Ivory Tower.

This past fall the hunt met again at Brooklawn and collectively celebrated Mrs. Hannum’s 90th birthday. She was there, in another Subaru, smiling and taking greetings from the warmth of the front passenger seat. The hunt was late setting off as each person wanted to dismount and give their personal birthday wishes. A cake was brought out and we all sang with full voice, even one of the hounds joined in.

Sadly last Tuesday she took flight and is now hunting around a little higher elevation. I’m sure I don’t know enough of her to do justice to even guess what, who, where or even what horse she hopes to rejoin up there. But at her memorial service today I was afforded the rare gift of appreciating someone else’s journey on this crazy floating marble. Hers was a life done right, even if it held a few wrongs. (I have heard stories, but I don’t know personally) Her service had three hymns. My mother observed that all of them are no longer in the current Hymnals, and that’s a shame. Roughly 300+ people sang in great voice over the fields of Brooklawn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Amazing Grace” and “Onward Christian Soldier.” The who’s who of the horse world showed up to honor her for 90 years of amazing shared gifts and experiences.

I will refrain from going into the great volumes of things that this amazing woman has done for the world. Let someone else who knew her better give golden voice to this truest of horsemen. I can only say that for me the woman was always a legend, and she always will be still.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Part two of the Wood and Easter Sunday hops in

Part two of the Wood Memorial story, a trip to Aqueduct Racetrack, Jamaica, New York.

When last I left of, I had included all the night before thoughts as we readied Scrappy T for the 2005 Wood Memorial. Now if you go to Youtube, the two minutes of the race are immortalized there. However the highlights of the day still bounce around my mind as clear as the sun is shining this Easter Sunday. And I have to wonder if the timing of all these thoughts isn’t somehow appropriate. Easter is of course about, CHOCOLATE!!! Whoops no sorry, I haven’t eaten yet today and mom’s old habit of hiding a load of candy in the house hasn’t been forgotten with the passing of the years. No anyway, Easter is about resurrection and surely my trip to the races yesterday was filled with moments of this.

In 2005 Scrappy, and everyone else, were soundly defeated by Kinsman Stables’ “Bellamy Road.” And when I say defeated, I’m talking totally trounced by 17 and a half lengths. That’s a heck of a lot of distance back to the next horse. We finished 3rd by a half length to the Phipps horse, “Survivalist.” The saddle on Scrappy had slipped up his neck leaving poor Rafael Bejarano with very little room to encourage him on. Why? Well physics on racehorses is a funny thing. You need a solid base so that the 120 lb jockey can rock and pivot their body and use their stick with accuracy. When that ‘base’ becomes a tilt a whirl, well, it’s a lot harder to get any kind of dynamic moves without yourself becoming a falling impediment to the horses around you. So Raffy couldn’t hit Scrappy with a full range of motion, he couldn’t shove his hands against the neck as the saddle was swinging forwards and back with a 16” range of slide. Not a great feeling. As a result of the 3rd place finish left us short on the graded earnings list and we all sat at home watching the derby.

Yesterday was the first time that I had ventured back to Aqueduct on Wood Memorial day to watch the races. I brought with me, my ‘good’ digital SLR camera to capture some of the moments from the day. I planned to meet up with a bunch of longtime friends who were my constant NY companions when I lived up at Belmont. Among them was my best friend from New York, Jeanne Wood. Jeanne has my dream job, well honestly any little horse crazy girl’s dram job. Jeanne is the on air handicapper for the Capital OTB network based in Albany. She gets to watch horse races for a living and tell people over and over who is the likely horse to win and why. Amazing, they pay people to do that??? How the heck do I get in??  We all had a lovely time in the Man O War room at Aqueduct. (By the way, the best food at the track is in this room. They have freshly sliced hot turkey subs that are heavenly, but expensive. But if you don’t mind trying to help save a dying track by ingesting a little L-Tryptophan, than Yurda and Jimmy will gladly set you up! Just tell them that “Emily” sent you.)

I had many people to stop and say hello to and many horses that I wanted to see up close as they make their way down the Triple Crown Trail. Chief among them of course was Eskendereya. Now I was awfully privileged to be in the paddock many times throughout the afternoon, mostly catching up with friends, and I kept hearing some of the guys talking about what this horse looked like, and how calm he was back in the detention barn. My curiosity was definitely peaked by the time the great chestnut strode into the paddock himself.

He is an awesome looking animal. My pictures do not do justice to him at all. Please go look up Barbara Livingston’s pics, or Tod Marks, or Deborah Tracy-Kral’s those fine photographers all know how to make the pictures that capture his brilliance. And he is indeed a brilliant animal. Now whether brilliant on a cold Saturday in April will translate to brilliant on a warmer (hopefully) first Saturday in May, is anyone’s guess. As Jeanne and I stood in the paddock and watched the Wood entries parade past my eye kept being drawn to Eskendereya. Oddly, and this was mentioned among many knowledgeable folks, there are an unusually high number of dark chestnuts in this year’s three year old crop, and believe me, Awesome Act is gorgeous as was Carnivore. But the sheer bulk and presence carried forth by Eskendereya, it simply took my breath away. Gone with my breath were any thoughts of a horse from Scrappy’s time that was as daunting as this colt. My apologies to Mr. Steinbrenner, but Bellamy Road has nothing on this guy.

The horses were joined with their jockeys and I will forever recall the big grin that Johnny Velazquez is emanating in the only picture I took of them in the paddock. Surely he had that grin later as well, but I didn’t get to capture it. Jeanne and I went up and watched from right behind the finish line. Since it’s a race longer than a mile the gate was there as well. We watched as the six entrants stepped forward to the gate, some more readily than others, and the chills rushed up my spine once more as the gates popped and out came some serious racehorses.

Again, the race can be seen on Youtube, so I won’t bother with the play by plays. At the end, as it was the last time I stood on the same spot, a gigantic superstar rose to the occasion and came home with open daylight back to the closest competitor. I have experienced that thrill, and I know that the grin won’t leave your face for days. The smile lines I have that are fast turning to powerful wrinkles were well earned and are still very much appreciated. I don’t care how old I look; the age is going to be defied by the amazing memories that brought the smile of a champion moment to life. Todd Pletcher’s grooms, assistants, and the rest of the gang are gonna age like me too! Their smiles were broad, their pride evident and that all important glow of hope of the possibilities to come was all encompassing.

And so with some reluctance I once again left the Empire state and returned home to the quiet Pennsylvania countryside. Today Easter has come, but sadly not mom’s amazing stash of candy. I am headed out soon to attend the Brandywine Point to Point. More timber races, less televisions, but the same spirits of hope, glory and brilliance might still be captured here. I’ll have my camera on one arm, and a horse on the other. How better to spend an Easter Sunday than to resurrect my smile lines.


Friday, April 2, 2010

A flash back to 2005, the night before the Wood Memorial

It's been five years, this fact alone just staggers me. Five years ago tonight I wrote the following and posted it to the Chronicle of the Horse forums. You all may or may not know that during Scrappy's run to the 2005 Triple Crown, I was posting stories of life on the track and more specifically the behind the scenes moments with my part in the Scrappy T story. For months I did this on the bulletin board. I don't think I'd have thought to call it blogging, but in a way it was.

So anyway, now we have come a full five years down the road from the night that the following was written. I'll try to write the "part 2" of it all tomorrow. It should be more than a bit fitting because tomorrow I am returning to Aqueduct to watch this year's running of the Wood Memorial. I'm excited to again be where the action is, even if it's only for a single day. My attention will be fixed solely on all the glorious 3 year olds who are going to be under the media spotlight as time is running out to make the all important graded stakes earnings to qualify for a spot in the derby starting gate.

But tomorrow is tomorrow. So I'll leave the story here as the night before, in this version, it's 2005. The horse looking to be the only sure thing was Bellamy Road. And he was on Wood day, but he wasn't at Churchill.

So on with the story:

There are just some stories that should be told. Maybe not for a good cause, hopefully not to flaunt, but rather to allow outsiders in to a moment so special that you would feel absolutely remiss if you didn’t allow others who can appreciate it in. And so lies the reasons for this post.

It’s the night before the Wood Memorial. I am sitting in a hotel room. I have just had dinner with my grandparents, in town to root our horse on. I am relaxed and calm considering the day and the events that lie before me tomorrow.

The horse I love, the 3 yr old who I have been riding off and on since last August has developed into an accomplished enough mount that he is running in tomorrow’s premier east coast Triple Crown prep. Even typing that makes my mouth dry. And yet the things I said last year still hold true. No matter what he will remain a winner in my book. Yet in 24 hours much of America’s racing fans will also be allowed to judge for themselves just how good he is.

Now he doesn’t have an easy task. Top horses from California, Florida, New York trained by Hall of Fame trainers are out there ready to prove that he’s not as ready for the race as they are. Every one of his 7 opponents could defeat him. But then this has been the case in every race he’s ever run. And his worst finish ever has been a 3rd in his last stakes. Not bad, no matter what level you run in.

His name is Scrappy T. His sire is Fit to Fight. His mother is Perpetual Light. And he is a big ol goofball. :-) He loves peppermints, enjoys nibbling on my jacket and will occasionally try to step on my toe as I lead him to see if I am paying attention.

He’s as ready as he can be. All the details are done. My outfit for the walk to the paddock has been altered and is clean. I spoke briefly to the NBC reporters today, and tomorrow from 4-6pm we’ll be there. Where I usually sit and watch nestled in my sofa with my dogs, instead I’m going to be a very small part of one moment of racing history.

I feel so mixed up and jumbled. I am proud, worried, scared, thrilled and most of all, happy to see him accomplish the goals the owner and trainer have excellently prepared him for. Robbie is a great trainer and an amazing person. He’s just the most normal laid back guy. To see him accomplish this has also been thrilling. He deserves this success and all the highs that come with it.

The people who work behind the scenes on him, from his groom Benny who adores him more than he lets on to Benny’s wife, Minerva who is our hotwalker and who plays with him in her spare time. To Julie and Ricky who are working hard down in Maryland now, but those two were the brave first ones to ride him at Colonial last year. (And believe me the word brave is an understatement) So many people hold this horse in their hearts. We all believe in him and know that no matter where he finishes, in our hearts he’ll forever be a star.

I know we all ‘know’ there’s a lot more support crew to every horse we see on tv and in the races. I hope that this brief moment of reflection gave you a little insight into what one cog in the wheel thinks right before a big day.

I am going to go to bed knowing that while it may seem big, tomorrow is just another day. Our horses need to be ridden, fed, wrapped and groomed. The stalls will need cleaning everyday and the glories and failures are merely moments caught in time. The continuity of caring for and riding these guys and gals is far more exciting than the momentary high we’re all caught in now. Here’s to a great race, and all the horses coming back safe.

As I say to the jocks everytime,

“Have fun, be safe, come home”


(Pics courtesy of Charles Mann ©2005-2010,

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who said tomorrow never comes?

Its evening time now and I am trying to wrap my mind around what the next twenty four hours will hold for me. In plain English here’s what I am talking about. Tomorrow is my last day at the job I have had for two years and three months. It’s a job that at times I have considered myself the luckiest woman in the world to have. At other moments however, the grasp the job has had on me has been as strong and demonic as Charon’s hand. Yet somewhere between the two sensations has existed a mostly happy medium. And through my time there I have been inordinately blessed to experience the lives and progress of many of our 18 equines.

Most people who know me from out hunting know me as the girl/woman who rides the really big grey Irish horse. That would be Bode who was mentioned in a blog entry a few days ago. He has most assuredly been the highlight of the past two years. I don’t know how best to explain the bond between him and I, it’s just very strong. I will be the first to admit that about a year and a half into the job I wanted out, but I couldn’t bear to part from Bode, so I stayed. I’m not wholly sure why I am any more ready to leave him now, but my heart says it’ll be ok. That being said I have cried the last 3 times I have ridden him. I’m a sap, and I need to emphasize this. I can cry at the drop of a hat. But in the past week the tears have been coming more frequently.

It is the time to move on, hopefully to bigger and better things. The job doesn’t need me, nor do the horses, the farm, or my employers. I will undoubtedly miss almost everything about the place. Maybe I won’t miss weeding the ring in the summer, nor cleaning sheaths on 13 geldings and the days of hiking through 3 feet of snow to feed everyone, might be ok to leave behind. You all know this moment though: Can I actually be leaving the only thing I have done for the last two years?

The answer is “yes.” But the moments between conceptualizing it and actually doing it are not always the easiest to make yourself believe in the new reality. The most common metaphor for these situations is to relate it to a toddler taking its first steps, or a child going to their first day of school. We all accept with our grown up knowledge that the end results of these two hallmark moments will be success and more forward progress through life. But when you are that toddler, or the kindergartner you can’t see the forest for the trees. You’re surrounded by fear, the unknowns and just a general uneasiness at cutting that first new path through life’s meadow. You push down each clump of turf feeling the squish beneath your weight, not knowing that years ahead the grass will be no more and a worn dirt base will be your own Moses moment as you part the grass sea.

Each step we take forward on life’s path allows us to go towards what we hope for. Each gaze we steal at the past a totally normal reaction as we once again leave the ‘knowns’ of the comfort zone and go into the new territory. I won’t lie to anyone, I am scared. I know this job, these animals and nearly every inch of the farm like the back of my hand. The only thing that gives me comfort is the fact that I have done the best I could. Sure as the days are long I wish I could have changed some things that happened. But regret and failure do not pollute my mind. No, my mind carries with it the best moments of days spent with hounds, lonely walks through glorious woods, and the quiet times that I simply stood with these lovely animals and thanked them for allowing me into their world.

Tomorrow will come. My size ten boots will again trample some roots and push asunder the innocent blades beneath me so that my life journey can carry forward. And in this moment I will think of a quote from an article title from decades ago…

“Take only memories, leave only hoofprints.”


Sunday, March 28, 2010

A day of karma and simple life lessons

Gosh, don’t you just love the days when karma, the fates and timing works out!!!! I know I do and today was one of those days. But I am probably confusing all of you, so let me back track and explain the details so we’re all on the same virtual page!!

So the first thing I should clarify is what I do for a living. I work on a horse farm as the ‘do it all’ girl. I ride, tack, muck, turn out, bring in, wash, get their food and bedding ordered, help organize whatever needs organizing and feed in the afternoons off the back of an ATV. We have 18 equines on the 150 acre property. Of those, 12 have been in work, being ridden etc, at some point. Currently we are in the last few days of the foxhunting season so only six of our eight established hunters are in work. Yesterday we had some guests in from New England and of those six; I prepped five to go out hunting. I did not ride with the hunt yesterday as we simply didn’t have any ready to go for me as well, but I usually do hunt most of the season. (We had hunted some Thursday as well, and have another hunt Tuesday. So the hunt schedule must be judicious) Yesterday, given all that had to be done, was a very long day. Eleven hours at work. Why? Because besides cleaning 3 white/grey horses who live outside, with quik silver scrubs and getting everyone ready and then taken care of after, we had today to look forward to. What happened today???

Well today was part two of what we do. Occasionally my boss trains some of her own horses to run in steeplechase or timber races. So today was our home fox hunt’s point to point races. Now unlike the Virginia folks, we have point to points with only timber races and flat races. No hurdle races here.

To help with a better understanding of the jump racing world and what I am talking about, have a look at Wikipedia’s description. Go to the United States Sections:

So our newest runner had his first timber race today. He had never done this, only schooled a bit and was by all accounts very enthusiastic, but very green and needed the race to further his education. The day ended yesterday with a lovely cocktail party in celebration for today’s races; replete with real cocktail dresses and strappy shoes!! (Thank you so much Ralph Lauren for liking my body type!!!!) One corona, a little puppy cuddling and I was off to la la land.

Today began with a quick trip to feed 5 horses at a second farm I have helped out with this winter, and then onto work. All morning we prepped the horse we were running and by 12:15 we were on the road to cover the 5 mile distance to the race location. The trip went smoothly, all things were set and very soon it was 1:30 and we had a tacked up first timer walking quietly to the paddock. Fernando, my co-worker and great friend, admired the crowds and we had the ongoing chat about all things we passed, in Spanish. Pretty soon it was time to throw Jody (Petty) onto the horse and pray for a little racing luck. Jody is lighter than those I am used to legging up, so I toss him up easily and smile. “Have fun, good luck, come home.” I say it to every horse and jock I have ever worked with. Only once did they not do the last part.

So here’s the basic deal:

3 miles up and down Pa. hills

18(?) fences

4 total entries in this particular race

Softer ground than desired and a few groundhog holes in the course!! Ugh.

First one to the finish line staying on course, wins.

Our horse was in it to be schooled. I kept Fernando from betting since the goal was an education and I knew Jody was under orders not to push the green horse hard.

So the horse leaves the humans and Fernando and I get a spot to watch the first four fences. Off they go and yippee, he jumps the first, second and third. He actually jumped them so well you’d have thought he were down running over a much bigger course in Maryland :-) Maybe one day!

The race continues and it plays out as expected, ours stays in the back the entire race. The three other more experienced horses move around a bit but a nice one wins. Or does he??? As Jody cantered across the finish line he yelled out something…..something VERY interesting.

Remember that I said the person who crosses the line first who stayed on course wins? Well in this case kids, that would be your last place finisher!!!! That’s right, the other three in the race all went to the incorrect side of a course marking beacon. (You have to keep these on your right. They passed it on their left.) With this error, the other three riders were, according to the rules, all disqualified. You heard me right…that meant that even though we brought up the rear about 45 lengths or so back, we won. Jody stayed on the correct side of the beacon! Yay Jody!!! Celebration ensued and a lengthy attempt at translating into Spanish why we were saying the horse had won when clearly Fernando, his son and friend had all seen the horse finish last. (This was a multi hour ordeal and only resolved around 5:30!!!)

Now I am a horseman, I know this sucks for the others and is a mighty let down. But I will be quick to point something out. Tonight after feeding I watched our mighty winner. He was sulking in the back of the stall and looking dejected. And it occurred to me, he doesn’t know he won. And I felt awful for him. I wished that there was a way I could explain to him what my parents, teachers, friends and family have been telling me for 38 years. Sometimes its not if you win or lose, but how you try your best. You don’t have to cross the line first to be considered a winner. And likewise sometimes the “winners” in life are in fact truly losers. I know this race is a starting point for him. How he processes the experience and what he does in his next race will be a big sign as to how good or not of a timber horse he will be. But only what it means in relation to timber racing, he’s a star of a horse already.

I went to his stall, and walked in to join him. I did the only thing I knew how to do, without having any carrots. I scrubbed my fingernails on the side of his withers and told him he was a great little racehorse. His initial reaction of the pinned ears was replaced by a soft relaxed gaze. He turned his head and rubbed my back without nipping me as I scratched him. I finished and pet him on the face and then left him alone with his thoughts.

Winner or loser isn’t the only question, and winner or loser isn’t the only answer.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some of the many things I have learned....

Another day, another blog entry!! Yippee and thanks again for the much needed break yesterday. The wave of stress receded and I am back to my happy, bubbly self. Of course this comes after a long day with a great time on a fabulous horse.

Now surely you all have heard all the popular quotes that follow us “horsey people” around all through life:

“There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man” -Winston Churchill

“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in a saddle” –Winston Churchill

“The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears” –Arabian Proverb

And so on and so forth. Essentially the bond between writing and riding has clearly existed for a very long time and has retained with it the element of inspiration. So I find myself inspired after one very good ride, and one not so good ride today. The inspiration only gets my fingers as far as the keyboard; let’s see what my mind can create.

A long time ago I was a small girl growing up in rural Baltimore County. We didn’t live on a farm. We lived on a tiny road that was near a few farms. Somehow, and believe me everyone in the family has tried to figure out how, I found the horses that lived closest to us. Even now I recall the memory of watching those horses and riders pass before me as I leaned against a split rail fence around age 5. It was love at first sight.

As a teenage girl I was fortunate enough to have understanding and brave parents who had not only a sense of humor but a bit of wisdom. I’m sure their thought process went something like this:

Mom: “Ok so we caught her riding a horse at a friend’s house without a clue in the world how to do it. I think we need to get her in a lesson program”

Dad: “Well I mean really what will it do for her?”

Mom: “Keep her away from boys”

Dad: “Who do I make the check out to?”

I laugh, it probably wasn’t exactly like that but it did keep me focused on equines more than boys for a very long time. And in the process we all learned many things about being “horsey,” things that Mr. Churchill and the other great equine laureates had not mentioned.

1.) Buying the house 1.7 miles from the entrance to the nearest ER was in fact a very convenient move! They still know me there.

2.) When it becomes girl vs. horse. Horse always wins.

3.) When it becomes girl vs. riding instructor. Instructor always wins.

4.) Basically girl will almost always lose battles of will with equines and those who understand equines..or at least understand equines more than girls!

5.) When you show up 45 minutes early to try a sale horse and it's being lunged and already covered in foam, don’t believe the sellers who say “Oh she’s just out of shape we were on vacation last week.” Umm yea no. She was a dead run away all the time I owned her. (Yes we bought her, we were still learning)

6.) Moms and Dads need to be given some credit, just for allowing their children to hop on 1000lbs of herd animal, divided from its herd and kicked in the ribs by a small shrieking object. See we think it’s the child that’s in danger, mom and dad know it’s the horse!!! And they happily let us do it because we want to, and because before the internet it was really good cheap entertainment.

7.) When the people from the summer day camp call and say that they found your kid unconscious in the horse field, at least try to act surprised!

8.) When the first truck and trailer take their maiden voyage to a local show, and the car phone hasn’t been installed yet, why would it be a shock that you blow a tire on the trailer? On July 4th, and can’t find a soul at the end of any phone.

9.) When you can go into any hospital in the U.S. and tell the CT scan technicians what will happen and what noises the machine will make, while concussed, you know you’ve done this too much.

10.) You tell your grandparents, who have helped kick in to buy a horse, that their one and only job as ‘owners’ will be to name the horse. Ok, here’s the name. You like it.

Me: “Hey Gramma, how did you come up with the name?”

Gramma: “It was your Great Grandfather’s favorite Irish hunter’s name.”

Me: “Wait! I have family that rode.”

Gramma: “We all rode dear.”

(This was a newsflash at age 23!)

11.) Horses mean travel. Travel means being not close to the previously mentioned ER. Hence you end up lying on a gurney listening to your mom tell you how a wheelchair guy in the Atlanta airport with nothing to do, saw her and her expression, chucked her in the chair and RAN her to her gate, of course the furthest away from the concourse! (You can get anywhere from Atlanta…Mom made it to the Ky. ER an amazing 4.5 hours after she got the call from the hospital)

12.) Same time, while lying in hospital corridor, with intern patiently dialing your house 800 miles away, and entering the 20 (!) numbers of your long distance calling card, after the 1-800 access number, and the 10 digits for the actual number, you finally reach your father and have this conversation:

Me: “Hey Dad. Things aren’t going so well here.”

Dad: “Oh? What’s up?”

Me: “Well I am staring up at IV bags”


Dad: “Oh, the horse got hurt.”

(Shake my head close eyes)

Me: “No dad”


Dad: “Oh…..OH!”

Me: “Yea dad”

These are just some of the things I have learned from horses. And even as I go through this list I realize how involved my folks and other family members have been. I really do owe them a much bigger thank you for their assistance to my one devotion. My poor mom got bucked off my first pony and still has a scar on her nose. Meanwhile my poor dad has every right to think he’s a jinx because for a while there he ended up in some ER, with some rider, not always me, a whopping 75% of the shows or races he went to. They’re there still and I think they’ve grown to like or at least appreciate what these horses have helped their little girl to become. My mom’s still my best groom, and my dad, with proper allergy pills, can walk and graze a horse like a champ.

So whether it’s a day when I feel like I am a writer who rides horses, or a rider who occasionally writes, just know that behind this page, letters, sentences and lines is a woman who has hit the deck, eaten too many carrots, painted her nails with white out, hates grammar and learned to deal with those 3 am mornings, all for the euphoria of a gallop into the wind or a paragraph that comes out better than you’d hoped. And it all started leaning against a wooden fence.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Too much to do, too little time to blog effectively

So I am typing this brief note from the comfort of my bed, replete with microfleece sheets, a heating pad, pj's and of course, doggies. :-)

Today's blog has been bumped. "Why?" you may ask. Because I am beat, stressed out and must care for myself a smidgen before a busier day arrives tomorrow.

I promise to return tomorrow, most likely with a thrilling tale of either 1.) Great foxhunting in the last days of our stellar season or 2.) miscellaneous adventures of life at the barn while preparing 4 horses to go foxhunting, oh and 3 are grey!!

So you all have my very heartfelt thanks as I call an audible and go to sleep. Hug your family, pets and all. Pray for good sport for us tomorrow. Bodie and I will be out and about, you can't miss us: one girl with freckles and a big smile sitting on an 18 hand dapple grey Irish horse. I swear we could be a tourism poster for the Emerald Isle!! Night!!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Not the post I expected to write today

And so begins one of those rare posts where what I intended to write about gets shelved in favor of talking about something more important.

I was, and probably still will in the future, going to speak about grammar, equitation and the importance of thank you notes. I rode three different horses today jogging on the roads around the farm and the simple cacophony of the horses hooves on the pavement helped me to think it all out and round out what I wanted to say, discuss and send as the message to the people of the blogosphere. However, when I arrived home real life and its uncertainties showed up before I had started typing.

I was laying on the couch getting my laptop booted up, when my older big dog, “Scarecrow,” suddenly kind of jumped up, ran to the front of the couch and collapsed suddenly against it. Well fur or no, he’s my baby. I knew something was wrong and like any good parent I put everything down, moved the coffee table and started trying to discern the problem. Was it the snow shovel that had just blown over in the wind on the porch? Did my younger little dog “Taz” do something to spook him? I looked him over, tried to get him to stand and walk three feet to me. That’s when I knew what it was.

He couldn’t walk using his whole body. His right side was in spasm and his head was hanging awkwardly. I stopped him inside of six inches and let him lie back down. “Crow” has had this before, it’s a seizure. The vets can’t tell me much about why he gets them, they say to stay with him and comfort him until it passes, oh and to time the duration. So there I sat on the floor holding my shaking dog telling him it’s all gonna be ok. And every time he has ever had one of these episodes it has been ok. And today was no different.

Inside of two minutes he had calmed, his heart had stopped racing and the only after effects I saw were the usual dry mouth and panting. After giving him enough water to clear the panting I settled him on his favorite chair and brought in the best medicine the vets ever advise to give: ice cream!! Yep sure enough Breyers 100% natural vanilla ice cream gives seizure dogs back the blood sugar they need. Crow looked at me with the bowl of ice cream like we’d both (happily) taken full leave of our senses.

I fed it to him slowly, you know how much those brain freezes could hurt, and he thumped his tail in appreciation. Now “Taz” as a loving ‘sister,’ sat with us ever since the seizure began. To be honest it was as much her reaction to him that brought me to action that much quicker. Even now, some four hours later, she is staying within touching range of him and occasionally will get up and go lick his nose or eyelids before lying back down.

I know tonight I am not coming off as a great blogger. This isn’t a story, it doesn’t have a catchy plot, no outline holds this together, nor do I know what the ending will be. But then that’s life a lot of the time. We can plan over and over what we’re going to do. We can KNOW what’s on the ‘to do’ list cold and yet something, someone, some event will jump in and rearrange it all. And yet like all animals in nature we have learned to adapt. Some of us better than others admittedly, but we all know that life is unpredictable and even the simplest plan to do one thing can be instantly re-prioritized when someone really needs us to help them.

A dear friend of mine just got a new puppy, and as he described their first walk around the area he lives, I just had to sigh. I know that I did all sorts of cool first things with all my dogs. The sheer joy and love in those moments was staggering, but I can’t remember any of it. I said this to him and wished aloud that I had kept a journal for each dog I have had. And as this night’s gone on I realized slowly that maybe it isn’t so much about each and every thing we did, but rather maybe its about the intricate collage of the feelings I get sharing my love for these creatures that don’t care if it’s the first time we go for a walk at the farm, or the 6,543rd time. They know I love them, even if I am scolding them for eating the stuffed animals to shreds for the thousandth time. I know I need them to share my life with and tell stories to. (I actually read “Twas the night before Christmas” to them this past Christmas Eve. Taz was enthralled, Crow, not so much)

There are going to be days where the routine and the plan work. There are going to be days where everything gets run through a high speed shredder and I am clinging onto anything solid so as not to get shredded myself. But then I come home and lay in my queen size bed with two good sized dogs sharing it, my hopes, my dreams, and my ice cream with me. And that’s enough.


Monday, March 22, 2010

I went to bed and woke up today as a motivational speaker...

I have not a clue where the message behind today's blog came from, but since I like it, we'll go with it. :-) ( I write it all in word first before I copy here. So sometimes I'll put a little note in after having read the final version)

Its day two of blogging and my writer’s block has hit. Well ok, maybe its not so much “writer’s block” as it’s not knowing which of the bazillion things flying around in my head to write about next. I kind of feel like I have to write about horses to keep people interested. But conversely I am myself about more than just horses and I like to ponder a lot of various things. I’m trying to choose and having trouble which is the “right” path.

In keeping with my promise to post things from my past first I have done some scouring, found some old notebooks and laughed myself silly at some of my college writing papers. Among these my favorite has to be the paper assigned to delve into the inner 'love related' themes in any movie and to discuss which of the literary and sociological representations of love that the film encompasses. And your brave blogger chose not an easy film, like oh say, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Casablanca” or even “Gone With the Wind.” No sadly my friends, my corrupted view of the world helped me to choose a film that wouldn’t be considered a love story by many stretches of the imagination: “The Waterboy.”

It stars Adam Sandler, Kathy Bates and Henry Winkler and is the tale of a semi-challenged boy who was the football team’s waterboy until he proved he was capable of so much more. It is a good old fashioned underdog story and over and over as I read the paper I realized all the elements that run parallel to pieces of my life experiences:

Belief in himself was a late development.

His skill set wasn’t discovered at an early age

When his awakening to being his own person developed, his first instinct was to come barreling back to the safety of his previous cocoon: his home. But by then too many self discoveries had been made and the own clear choice was to hoof it out on his path.

Now I am not an idiot, I know you’re thinking, “How in the heck did you get that from a silly Adam Sandler football comedy!?” Well the answer is really simple, you see what you know and understand. You can park me in front of Titanic over and over and I’ll always cry at the end. I will never be so fascinated with the architectural design of the fated ship that I research for hours the methods and intentions of the design and construction teams for this fine vessel. That’s because I am not a scientist, architect or builder. I am a romantic, an optimistic, an inner child promoter and a friend to all. This is who I am and what I know. So those are the parts I see in most things I watch, and they’re all definitely present in nearly every thing I have written and signed my name to.

Take for example this poem I wrote nearly fifteen years ago…(It rhymes and it’s a long one but it goes fast, I promise)

The Greatest Game of Tag

Memories abound through my mind

Usually when I wish only to unwind

Thoughts of youthful bliss and glee

Non existent knowledge of responsibility

Running wild through fields of flowers

Laughing, tumbling, supernatural powers

Bikes and skates my only transports

Garbage and dishes simply chores

25 cents my weekly cash on hand

Plenty before inflation hit our land

Simple joys of jumping in leaves

Desperately hating my school uniform’s sleeves

How I recall with a grin my first pup

and the constant chord, “I want to grow up!”

Even know as I pen this verse,

My longing to be young again is a definite curse

To go back in time and be free

To run and play for eternity

I laugh to admit a tear in my eye

Longing to replay those times gone by

Taxes and bills sit beside my desk

Long ago having replaced ribbons and barretts

Emails drown my I.S.P. box

Not one as interesting as my painted rock

Funny enough these words have made me cry

Wishing for some mischief to again sparkle my eye

A grown up’s life is what I sought

Isn’t it odd that now I wish I’d fought?

To stay forever young can’t be done outside

But maybe if that freedom we don’t hide

Just possibly it’s not too far gone

Perhaps my imagination can again let it spawn

UP and high from inside of me

Through and out for the world to see

Why shouldn’t I hide and seek?

When does it become obsolete?

Why do larger bones lead away from playful spirit?

Can anyone see a reason not to cheer it?

To leave our offices once a day

To run outside and simply play

The warm breezes and cooling rain

Dancing with our hope, quelling our inner pain

And yet I sigh with realization

Never will this happen in our troubled nation

Never will the happiness and gaiety be here

Not when clearly our work is so dear

Economy and planning rule our dimensions

Carefree disregard too dangerous to mention

Individual and different as we claim

Yet trapped into a routine always the same

If only I could shout across the land

“Drop your work the great tag game is at hand!”

To watch millions run amuck and wild

Casting away the old, embracing the child

Realizing we are still allowed to frolic in delight

Fighting desperately against the onset of night

One massive melee of grown ups alive

Feeling, breathing, reliving the age of five

And oh what a sight that would be

To mix all people, all classes civilly

Words of hate banned as people competed

No one wanting more than to just not be defeated

What would happen to our world?

What might this change in our boys and girls?

To see the lines of society broken

Watching as all adults run loose and joking

Would it spark the insight that we’re all alike?

Could it possibly cause an end to fights?

I can only guess what might happen to us

A world moving towards shucking all the fuss

And yes I’ll admit to being an idealist too

But I long for my times of tag and Winnie the Pooh

To my mind we might be all alike

Remembering our roller skates and bikes

Along those lines the possibility remains

Maybe you’re longing might be the same

So to further my dreams along

I’ll willingly respond to this simple song

“Drop your work and leave your charts

The greatest game of tag is about to start!”

And if you find that my wishes ring true

I’ll most assuredly be waiting for you

I guess what I am writing about today is that maybe the obvious choices to make in life aren’t always the right ones. We choose to do things that are comfortable with who we are and what we know well. The decisions that cause the least amount of conflict and doubt are the ones that require the least movement from our personal comfort zones. Maybe the choices we make do slowly evolve with our own self confidence and age and wisdom and those “Ah ha” moments where you’re covered in dirt, the horse is galloping off at high speed and you look down at the new shiny spurs and say to yourself, “Ok. I don’t think he liked this tack change.” :-)

So I’m gonna stick my brave little neck out here and issue a challenge. I’d like everyone who has gotten this far into my blog to do one thing in 2010 that makes them scared, uncomfortable and icky at the thought of failure. One thing that somewhere you know deep down you’re capable of, but somehow because we grew up your brain decided that anytime you looked at this type of thing it was programmed to say, “No sorry. The IT center of your cerebral cortex has a permanent failure with this task. Please resume your normal protocol.” I challenge you to look at this “failure screen” take a deep breath and as Kathy Griffin would say “SUCK IT!”

Find whatever it is that you programmed yourself not to do and do it. Believe in your limitless self again. Even if it’s for a mere 5 min break from the kids, a walk around the block, or being nice to your least favorite co-worker, neighbor, relative or school classmate. Whatever the smallest step you want to try is, go ahead and try it. I am not promising success, but I know that the first step is to get out there and try. Adrenaline kicks in even if you fail. And the adrenaline you felt by conquering something you were afraid to try is worth it. To be honest isn’t it important to remind ourselves that we are limitless, boundless free spirits, even while chained to a desk or home for 60+ hours a week doing the “have to’s” in life? Give yourself a moment to relive what that all encompassing rush from tagging some one out felt like.

The paper on “The Waterboy” netted me a grade of a B+. Not because it was such an easy film to pick apart. Rather it was because it was such an unusual choice that my professor liked that I didn’t choose door 1,2,or 3. As she said to me in person, “You, Emily, took the secret trap door behind the audience’s coat check station. And it worked!” How about you look for the overlooked path in your life and see if you too can make it lead somewhere great.

All my best,


Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Glimpse from 2006: Lad's first race of the season

Ok here's the pre-cursor. In 2004 I bought myself a really nice horse. I mean really nice. But then 8 weeks into owning him my job changed and instead of living at home, galloping in the mornings and riding my horse at the farm in the afternoon, I became a full time, all day exercise rider/assistant trainer at Belmont Park. I was living and working on the track property, eating, sleeping and dreaming racehorses. So I made the decision after a few months that the only way to enjoy my horse "Lad" was to somehow involve him in the racing life. Ironic since I had just bought him coming off the track. (That is to say he was slow enough in his races, he was deemed not a good racehorse, and thus a great candidate to do some other sport that didn't involve racing.)

So I thought maybe he might do well in the sport of Steeplechasing. Many failures on the flat track do come over well and can succeed with rolling grass hills under their toes and jumps in their view. So late in the winter/spring of 2005 Lad joined me at Belmont. He trained for the steeplechase season at Belmont Park on a dirt oval. Yea that's a ton like the fields of the Mid Atlantic!! Um no. To say this is unusual would be an eggregious understatement. So knowing nothing but what I hoped to happen and a basic idea of how to train to get there, I started my "hobby career" as a trainer....for my one and only horse. It worked. He shipped down to Virginia and won his first race. AMAZING, but Lad's 2005 season was cut short when a horse in my Boss' string of horses jumped into prominence and ended up on the Triple Crown Trail. So the choice became apparent....Focus on Lad and miss out on the once in a lifetime experience of having any connection to a horse on the Triple crown trail or let Lad enjoy some nice pasture and bring him back in 2006 for another go round. Since his age won't matter in the steeplechase world.

And so it went. Lad went to pasture, and Scrappy T went on to gain all sorts of notoriety in the Preakness of 2005. You know the one where Afleet Alex was coming into the stretch to just glide to an easy win, that is until he collided with a big black horse.....named Scrappy T. *Sigh* Still wasn't the results we had hoped for, but que sera sera. I'll talk about it more in future posts.

So anyway, this post is from Lad's Blog I kept during his 2006 Campaign. You can access the whole thing here:

This was right before Lad was ready to be shipped down to run in his first point to point of the 2006 season: The Casanova Races, held in Virginia in late February.

It's one of my personal favorites. Not sure why, but even though I wrote it, I can still find myself reaching for the Kleenex after reading it. I wonder if anyone else cries at their own memories? OK enough already, here ya go.

Dated February 26, 2006

Have I mentioned that I ride other horses besides Lad? I think so. Well sometimes "ride" is an objective term. "Riding" sometimes really means to stay clinging onto a wild happy and very fit thoroughbred for a span of however long it takes to complete the prescribed circuits of the track. During said "rides" many things can and are being thought through my mind. Such as, "Why am I doing this?" or "When is this (bleeping) (bleeping) (Bleep!) going to settle the (bleep) down!?"

But as part of the routine the horses all get me on their back, we go to the track and return in one piece..well ideally anyway!! Now where am I going with all this? Well now that you know the `ideal' let me present the `less than ideal.'

Any story that starts with me laying on the shed row trying to get sand out of my inner ear is not a good one. When you factor in that my body is in the immediate recovery phase of doing self-diagnostics
after the 1000 lb crush of flipped over equine flesh has just left, is also not good. When you add to this noticeable blind spots on the left eye's vision…well basically that's strike 3. Additionally you
get a free ticket not to the dugout, but rather to the ambulance and from there onto the closest hospital. Yippee. (BIG sarcasm) One CT scan, many digital x rays and a whomping headache later, all is well
enough to return to the track. And so life has succeeded in reminding me that to enjoy the exhilarating gallops on Lad, Scrappy and the rest, there are bad rides mingling in as well. Call it a luxury tax.

And so here I am now. And we're 3 days past the fall and my head is healing. But simultaneously Lad is entered in his race and a mere 15 hours away from loading onto the trailer to ship to Virginia.
Saturday is his day in the 10th race at around 5pm or so. Friends have walked the course and deem it to be in better than good condition and the weather shouldn't kill us too much. The jock is excited and the owner/trainer is trying to think and plan with a huge lump on her head. The horse however is ready. Now again let me interject with what `ready' can mean on a racetrack.

When asked if Scrappy was ready for the Preakness, my answer was a very loud resounding, "Hell yea!" When asked if I was ready to breeze my first 2 yr old going 3 furlongs my answer was (HUGE gulp, 2 puffs on inhaler, fake smile) "Yeah. Ready." (Said nearly inaudibly) My point being that `ready' has a wide range of interpretations. Lad in this case falls into the Scrappy at the Preakness category. If he had to wait another week I would honestly worry that he might get bored and hurt himself.

I sent Lad out for his final work last Thursday. I rode him myself and we worked a total of a mile and a quarter and tried for the bulk of the speed work to last for 7 furlongs in the middle. Ideally I wanted to 2 minute lick into the work and then speed up for the 7, and then decelerate into a 2-minute lick after the 7 as well. It went according to plan and the times were well above what I had hoped for, but right about where I thought he could be. His times were actually good enough to have been published too!!! He went the 7 furlongs in a nice quick 1 minute 33 seconds. And his final 3 furlongs went in 37 and 4/5. This is quite good. And when we consider that last year his best 3-furlong time was 39 seconds and 4/5 I am very pleased.

Since his work I have cut him way back. Instead of galloping and going the normal 3 miles or so a day, he had 2 days off with turnout in the round pen and has gone with the pony twice and hacked around
the backside with me. It would be fair to say that in the hack and the ponying he has started developing his Lipizzaner antics. He is feeling so good, and had his teeth done, got wormed and is dying to be allowed to gallop on again.

So here I sit, Lad is packed and ready to ship tomorrow. I have the overnight (Entry list) for the races in my lap and the silver bowl from our win last year in my view. It’s obvious that I would be thrilled to win right out of the blocks like we did last year, but I have to rethink. This year we have more races, more time, and bigger goals. The ego sees the bowl and wants more, the brain, though dented and ouchy, knows it's about the season, not about this weekend. The owner, as always, fears the what ifs of horse competition and life. The trainer knows she has done all she can and prays it's the right mix. And because all of these people are inside me I feel pretty much like a person with multiple personality disorder. But oddly these feelings mesh together and propel me to keep moving forward. Lad for his part helps out by dragging me whenever I lead him outside of his stall.

Its also during moments like this, the first show, race or outing of the season gives all of us a chance to look back at past highlights and recall the stressed out moments that lead up to the euphoria. For
me I recall my qualifying and riding to a 3rd place finish at the Washington International at the MCI center, finishing on my dressage score in 7th place at my first three day at Radnor, finishing 3rd in my first point to point flat race as a rider, and coaching my first student to complete her first recognized event. Sleepless nights, crash and burns and setbacks and injuries precluded all of those great moments.

I don't know what Saturday will bring, but I do know this. I am a firm believer that life is a journey and that whatever happens is meant to and how you deal with it determines what happens next and what type of person you will grow into. Good or bad, triumphant or disappointing, life goes on and the next turn in the road is still lurking just ahead. I hope we see a nice sunshine on smooth pavement, but honestly if
it's a field of speed bumps spread out like an Olympic mogul field, well I'll gulp, set my jaw and be ready for that too.