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.



  1. Well written Emily!

  2. Awesome tribute. I am so glad you went today. I wanted to go. Where did you find the picture?