Category Archives: Horses

Horse Fun Show

Saturday was a horse fun show at Butternut Stables in Hampton. And it was fun!horses by ring for show at butternut stables

Riding students on school horses, visiting horses and riders. A barn open house and bbq. Warm, sunny weather. A good thing because the yard and barn were full of horses, people and dogs.

It was my first time in a show. As the day neared, I got more and more scared. I weighed the validity of every possible excuse to not take part. Assuming that my preferred horse was sound and that I was too, I couldn’t come up with any good reason to bail.

The number of horses available was finite, the number of potential riders was not. The horses could not be overworked. Maybe there costume-kids-photo-jim-stewart.would be so many kids wanting to ride that I could do the “adult” thing and offer my spot to them. Fingers crossed!

The road alongside the stable was filled with vehicles as far as you could see. I took my helmet with me, in case my plan failed.

Saddle up

Elizabeth, the owner, said “You can saddle Jamie. You’re up for Lady rounding polepole-bending next.” “Are you sure he’s ok? Is anyone else riding him? I don’t have to, if you need him.” “He’s good to go,” she said with a little smile. Like she knew exactly what I was doing.

Saddled up and waiting, another rider asked me if I was excited. I figured saying I might be sick at any moment was more than she wanted to know, so I just went with “terrified.”

Then Jamie and I were called. My teacher Dani opened the gate for us. “Back straight, sit up tall,” she said. I did, and stopped thinking about the people lining the rail and the timer. Jamie and I loped up one side, trotted the poles and loped for home. We did it – in a respectable time! Yeehaw.

Nervousness? Gone. Next was keyhole, and we were first up. A line laid on the ground in the shape of a keyhole. Run in, turn around and run out, as fast as you can without touching the line. I’ve ever only shoe-race-photo-jim-stewartdone it playing around in lessons. Fortunately Jamie had more experience. We did it.

The shoe race – where I realized, after we started, that circling and dropping a horseshoe in a barrel was not going to be as easy as I thought. I slowed Jamie, got it in, then we knocked over the barrel. Disqualified.

Show Ribbons

Finally, the flag race. We loped around the ring, plucking flowers off poles held over the fence. Jamie shied at one flower, but I managed to grab them all. We got second place!2nd-place-ribbon-photo-jim-stewart

Whew! My competing was done. Jamie did more work than I. He went in a few more classes with another rider. He and I joined other horses giving rides to non-competing kids. And we took a teddy bear teddy-bear-photo-jim-stewartaround the ring in the costume class. Mya the teddy bear won second place.

To top it all off, I won a 1st place rosette. High points in 16+ group. I was the only one in that group. But I am very proud of it. I am also proud that I can now say that I have competed in a horse show.

timbit-pic-jim-stewartThanks, Elizabeth, Dani and the ring crew. Thank you, Wendy, for being there. Thanks, Jim, for taking pictures. And thanks especially to John Perkins – I wish you could have seen Jamie and me go!

School Horse

To call yourself a rider, one  horse can give you your best final test: a school horse. Horses ridden in lessons build up knowledge of school horse dennywhat makes a good, and bad, rider. When you can ride a school horse consistently well, you can say, why yes, I do ride.

School horses are the most even-natured and tolerant creatures in a stable. That is why they give lessons and the divas of horsedom do not. School horses will figure out what the mixed cues you’re sending actually mean. But not forever. When they deem it time, they require you to do it correctly. They make you search for the answers of how to ride.

Like every student at Butternut Stables in Hampton, I started on Denny. He is an old hand at lessons. He is quiet and gentle with little kids. With older students, he assesses their abilities and acts accordingly. Sometimes he helps you learn and sometimes he simply amuses himself. Just depends how he feels at that moment.

Anything a neophyte rider can do wrong, Denny knows. Anything a horse can do to foil a rider, Denny knows. He has a neck of steel that he can lock in place if he wants to go a different direction than you want to go. An hour on Denny is a full workout – legs, arms, and patience and willpower.

Ride on the wind

oreo and me leaving arenaBut Denny and every school horse I’ve ridden like to show you what they can really do. When they figure you can handle it, they’ll take you for a ride on the wind. “You wanna go faster? Okay!” You can only hang on. You’re trying to remember what you’re supposed to do. Your human teacher yells ‘legs, seat, reins!”

With or without you doing anything, your Pegasus suddenly snorts and stops. You put your parts back where they belong in the saddle. Then, as if he had never seen that vast plain in his ancestral mind’s eye, your horse goes back to plodding along.

At some point, you learn how to keep your legs, hands and seat where they’re supposed to be. Your horse slows down when you ask, speeds up when you ask. You’re working together. And running like the wind is fun. Yeehaw!

After riding other Butternut horses, I went back to Denny. I wanted to see what I’d learned. Quite a bit. What a massive thrill when we agreed on what we were doing!jamie and me in outdoor ring

But he’s a tough examiner and I never passed my finals with him. Denny and his stablemate Oreo recently retired to a life of leisure. Both great teachers, they will be missed by their students. Happy trails, boys.

Sadly, Oreo’s trail ended too soon. He passed away Oct. 26th. Robin’s Moocho Denero (his registered name) will not be forgotten.

John Perkins

John Perkins fixing bridle on Jamie August 2016On Saturday, July 22nd, John Perkins, of Butternut Stables in Hampton NB, died. He was my riding teacher. For many others, he was that and more. First, he was a family man and horseman. He and his wife Wendy have kids and grandkids and a stable full of Quarter Horses. They also have a large extended family. And an even bigger surrogate family of horse people.

The loss for everyone is devastating. In emotional ways and practical. So many posts on Facebook attest to that. I’ve been reading them, and crying, astounded by their eloquence and depth of feeling. A huge community of people in New Brunswick, and throughout the Maritimes, eastern USA and Florida are all feeling the same great big hole in their hearts.Watching horses wait to enter ring

John touched a lot of lives, and kept a lot of lives – human and horse – on track. He taught riding to beginners and coached experienced riders. He trained and showed horses. John was an executive member of Quarter Horse associations and a founder of the Princess Louise Park Show Centre in Sussex.

He also shod horses, doctored horses and acted as a midwife and nursemaid for new-born foals. John fixed vehicles, fences and stalls. And he drove a truck and trailer loaded with kids and horses to shows all across the eastern provinces and states.

He took horse-crazy kids (and adults) and turned them into good horsemen and -women. If all you wanted to do was ride for fun, he taught you. If you wanted to go to the next step and start showing, he was there to coach you, get you and your (or his) horse to the show ring and calm you both. When you wanted to buy or lease a horse, he made sure you got a good match.

The Butternut Barn

Butternut Stables signI met him four years ago when I wanted to resume riding lessons. Thanks to him, Wendy and everyone else both two-footed and four-footed, it was easy to start feeling like I belonged at Butternut . It is a family, a very large one. It is not uncommon to see three generations at the barn. People who brought their kids for lessons are now there with those grown-up kids and their kids.

When we started building a barn, John was our resource for where it should be, the layout and what we needed in it. It’s not finished yet, and I still have a million questions for him.

saddleOne thing I’m very happy about – I have his first show saddle. He bought it in the 1980s, he said. I liked riding in it, and I liked its history – the stories he told about it and the horses he had then.

John’s saddle to fill – I’ll never do it but I will forever treasure my time with him. Here’s my favourite horseman song, for you, my friend.

Northern Dancer

There are some athletes so well known that, fan or not, you can place the name without thinking. Gordie Howe, Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Northern Dancer.

Northern Dancer wins Preakness, great athletes50 years ago, the little Canadian Thoroughbred Northern Dancer won the Preakness. Two weeks earlier he’d won the Kentucky Derby, setting a record at 2 minutes broken only by Secretariat (1:59.40) in 1973 and Monarchos (1:59.97) in 2001. Three weeks after the Preakness, he finished third at the Belmont so his name is not on that very short list of Triple Crown winners. But his performance on the track made him famous, and a Canadian hero.

He won 14 of his 18 starts, had two seconds and two thirds. After winning the 1964 Queen’s Plate, he retired due to injury. He then went on to make his real mark in history, as a sire. His name is in the pedigree of three-quarters of all Thoroughbreds alive today. Of the 635 foals he sired, 80% made it to the track, and 80% of those became Northern Dancer statue at Woodbine wikicommons 2008winners. His progeny also were impressive as sires and dams of great racehorses around the world.

His own breeding was excellent, sired by Neartic with Natalma, but he was a small horse, too small it seemed to be successful on the track. No bidders were interested when he was up for auction as a yearling. So owner and breeder E. P. Taylor, of Windfields Farm and founder of Argus Corporation, kept him. After he had made his abilities clear, Taylor turned down all offers to buy even a part interest in him. Northern Dancer repaid that loyalty, literally, with a stud fee of $1 million and plenty of takers. Northern Dancer lived at Windfields Farms in Oshawa and Maryland, where he died in 1990 at the age of 29. His body was returned to the Oshawa farm for burial.

click for Amazon link to Northern Dancer by Kevin Chong
Click for Amazon link

There are a lot of wonderful books about Northern Dancer and there’s a new one out. Written by Kevin Chong, Northern Dancer: The legendary horse that inspired a nation puts the horse’s story in the context of Canadian culture and collective consciousness in the 1960s. The country was finding its way as a nation, trying to form an identity separate from Great Britain and from the elephant beside us, as Pierre Trudeau called the US. Northern Dancer wasn’t just a phenomenal horse running in the most prestigious races in world, he was our phenomenal horse. And, looking at it the other way around, he wasn’t just a great Canadian horse, he was a great horse among the best of America’s horses.

Throughout Northern Dancer’s two-year-old season, New Brunswicker Ron Turcotte had Northern Dancer photo wikicommonsridden him. But when he went to the US, the horse’s connections wanted a known (read American) jockey. Bill Shoemaker first rode him, then switched to Hill Rise for the Triple Crown races. Newcomer Bill Hartack took over on Northern Dancer, beating Shoemaker and Hill Rise by a neck in the Kentucky Derby. Hartack remained the Dancer’s jockey. Ron Turcotte rode him one more time, for his retirement appearance at Woodbine.  Turcotte went on to become a household name himself. He rode Riva Ridge to victory in 1972’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and, a year later, Secretariat to a Triple Crown.

National pride in equine athletes

Northern Dancer created “own the podium” decades before the slogan was test-marketed. His win in the Kentucky Derby was a moment of national pride and self-Northern Dancer Canada Post stamp 1999definition that lasted much longer than the two minutes he took to run the race.

Tomorrow, at Pimlico in Maryland, California Chrome will be trying to match what his great-great (and great)-granddaddy Northern Dancer did in 1964. All Californians, I’m sure, are proud of their home-bred Kentucky Derby winner. So too is this Canadian Northern Dancer fan.

Click to hear a great interview with Ron Turcotte and Kevin Chong on CBC’s The Current.  There is also an excellent post about Northern Dancer’s history and effect on Canada at The Vault: Horse racing past and present.

 

Dressage Top Hat

dorothee schneider diva royal ger-dderosaphotoA requirement for safety helmets to be worn by riders in all equestrian shows is a good idea and, by and large, the helmets look ok.  But dressage needs something that is as elegant as the sport itself.  Something that looks like, well, the traditional top hat.

After watching the Olympics dressage, where some riders wore top hats and some wore crash helmets, I thought can’t technology come top hat helmet by l'Hiverup with a protective helmet with style?  I googled it and, yes, others have thought the same thing.

The helmet on the left looks good.  I’d like to see it on a human head to see its proportions and if it still looks good when on.  The dressage helmet below  does have the shape of a top hat and obviously the protective capabilities of a helmet. But its size, with that protection, makes it also makes it look kinda like The Cat in the Hat.

Megan Rust helmet top hatA serious head injury in 2010 by Olympics dressage rider Courtney King-Dye started the move for helmets for all riders in all disciplines.  Yes, it’s a good idea.  A horse cantering, no matter how elegantly in dressage, is still moving at a good speed and a fall can cause the rider a lot of damage.

But dressage, of all the equestrian sports, is also an art form.  Looks and beauty of movement on the part of horse and rider is an Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro 2012 Olympic dressageimportant element.  Riders wearing a standard shaped crash helmet may as well complete the look by wearing snowmobile pants.

In show jumping and eventing, the crash helmet somehow doesn’t look as bad.  These are more clearly “sport” even though there is artistry in what horse and rider are doing.  But in dressage, the athleticism involved is hidden from view so that the beauty of the movement can be seen.  Like in figure skating, circus performance and dance.  You know these are superb athletes but you don’t want to see the strain of muscles pumping.  You want to see the beauty and fluidity of motion.

If dressage riders are going to wear standard issue crash helmets, you might as well reiningdemand ballerinas wear knee and elbow pads.  Please, scientists, keep working on a helmet that preserves the elegance of dressage as well as the heads of riders. While you’re at it, a protective cowboy hat for reining would be good.  The look of that hat is important too.

Congratulations to Team GB for winning gold in team dressage and show jumping.  And thanks to all competitors for incredibly exciting and beautiful performances.