Tag Archives: horses

Musical Ride II

The RCMP Musical Ride was in Sussex this week at the Princess Louise Show Centre. Tonight they are giving a very special ride in Moncton, to honour the three Mounties killed there one year ago. A lot of emotion for them, one rider told me. Some have been stationed in Moncton. All know someone stationed there or nearby. A difficult performance for them and one they feel very deeply.

Teddy in PLP stall before musical ride
Teddy in PLP stall

So too for us in all the New Brunswick audiences. Remembering the horrible day that took the lives of Constables Fabrice Gevaudan, Doug Larche and Dave Ross and wounded Constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen. We are privileged to have the horses and officers of the Musical Ride with us at this sad time.

Below are photos of horses and riders before, during and after the performance. Click or tap to see a larger view.

Tacking up

Cybil and rider Cpl. Beverly White
Cpl. Beverly White puts bridle on Cybil
Riders prepare
Riders prepare in PLP barn

Musical Ride

Line up at opening of show
Opening of performance, Princess Louise Show Centre
Viper and rider Jeremy Dawson
Viper with rider Jeremy Dawson of Newfoundland
Lances forward
Lances forward

Meet the horses

Viper meets and greets
Viper meets and greets audience members
Steele and Cst. Hugues Dionne
Steele and Cst. Hugues Dionne

Cooling out

Returning to barn at PLP
Returning to barn at PLP after show
Cooling out horses
Cooling out horses beside barn
Rider walks horses

The week before, the Musical Ride was in nearby Hampton NB. Click here to see my post and photos of the horses’ arrival at Butternut Stables and their parade through town to the performance field.

Musical Ride

unloading-horse-photo-D-StewartThe RCMP Musical Ride was in Hampton NB last week. The horses stayed at Butternut Stables where I ride. I was there when they arrived and, next day, I ran alongside as they walked from there down Main Street to the soccer field where they performed. Black horses, red serge. Impressive. Imagine them precision riding at top speed.horses on the way to Musical Ride Hampton

“32 horses and riders moving as one, perfect harmony between man and beast, a kaleidoscope of manes and tails and battle lances crisscrossing in a collage of synchronous movement. It takes your breath away.” Lt. Welsh, All the Queen’s Horses, Due South

RCMP-Lenny-photo-D-StewartIt started in the 1870s with the precursor to the RCMP, the North West Mounted Police. The men did fancy drill maneuvers with their horses for fun. In 1904 they performed for the public at fairs in Manitoba. Mounted patrols stopped in 1936, but they kept the horses. The Musical Ride officially became part of the public duties of the Mounties in 1961.

The horses are Hanoverians, raised and trained at the RCMP farm near Ottawa, Ontario. The riders are officers who first learn to ride, then perform. After three years, they return to regular duties.stabled-photo-D-Stewart

I don’t think there’s anything comparable anywhere. Certainly there are armed forces ceremonies that combine tradition and ritual with active duty. The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is one. You can watch it – at Buckingham Palace.

A moveable feast of tradition – and horses

RCMP-trailers-Hampton-photo-D-StewartBut the Musical Ride is a moveable feast. The cavalcade (4 tractor trailers and support vehicles) travels across the country annually to cities and small towns to perform. Money raised goes to the sponsoring community groups.

back-of-procession-photo-D-StewartIn much of Canada, the RCMP are the provincial and local police force. But they are also a federal policing agency, equivalent to the FBI in the US. I try to picture FBI agents on horseback, looking non-threatening, looking comfortable. Can’t do it.

Cybil-and-me-ButternutIf you’re in Yarmouth NS, you can see them this weekend. Next week they’ll be back in New Brunswick. June 2 and 3rd, they’ll be in Sussex at the Princess Louise Park. I’ll be there to say hello to the lovely Cybil. Here is the 2015 schedule for NB, NS, Ottawa, SK, QC and NL.

due-southATQH-mtvpersiaPaul Gross’ song Ride Forever kept going through my head as I watched the horses unload. They didn’t come down the ramps the way they do in a Due South episode. Listen, and watch in this youtube video.

 

Track Royalty

Entrance to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky DerbyThis coming Saturday, May 2nd, is the Run for the Roses, the first leg of the Triple Crown.  The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. The young royals of mainly North American horses will be there. Both connections and horses dream of winning it and going on to win the other two jewels of American Thoroughbred racing.

No horse has done it since Affirmed in 1978. It’s the longest gap ever in Triple Crown history.  I didn’t see Secretariat’s spectacular runs in 1973, but I certainly knew about them. With three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s, I thought it was something that would happen like clockwork every few years. Little did I know.

looking up at twin spires from seating areaChurchill Downs, even without horses there, is magical.  In the tunnel and trackside, you almost see the horses and jockeys. Inside the viewing salons, you feel the money and the excitement. In the betting lounges, the tension and hope for the big win and desperation over the big loss surrounds you.

What’s wrong

There’s a lot wrong with the horse racing industry, just as there is with any sport business that involves animals. Too many horses are bred in order to find that elusive ‘superhorse’. What happens to the foals that don’t make it to the track, and those that do Thoroughbred great Ferdinand racingmake it, but aren’t good enough for the big time?  What happens to those that are good enough but, like any athlete, get past their prime?

The great Ferdinand, 1986 Kentucky Derby and 1987 Breeder’s Cup Classic winner and 1987 Eclipse Horse of the Year, was slaughtered in a Japanese meat-packing plant in 2002 after his career at stud was deemed over. He earned over $3.75 million.  His reward was to become steaks and dogfood.

What’s right

There’s also a lot right. Running faster than the wind is in the blood and bones of a Thoroughbred. Most racing people love horses. They ought to. It’s the horses who run the race and win the glory and the money. The jockey, trainer, groom and exercise rider help the horse, but they are support staff. A jockey can cause a horse to lose a race, but he can’t make a horse win. It’s the horse’s mind and heart that runs the race. And that’s all the people need to remember. Look after Cat at Barbaro memorial stone, Kentucky Horse Park 2007the horse and the horse will look after you. And remember, when that horse no longer wins the big purses, it was his or her effort that got you where you are.

That’s where owners, owner syndicates, trainers and jockeys can go wrong. They think it’s them – their handling, their business decisions – that are key. People who believe in their own centrality in horse racing should instead invest in NASCAR or motorcycle racing. The thrill of speed and winning is the same, and it is solely your care and handling that makes a car or motorcycle win or lose. It might be cherished by you, but it’s inanimate. It will not feel anything if you junk it at the end of its career. If you’ve done well in horse racing, thank the horses that did it for you by treating them right in retirement.

Thoroughbred Retirement

In 2005 NY racing groups began the Ferdinand Fee, a voluntary $2 per race charge with girl petting horse at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm 2007proceeds going to Thoroughbred retirement farms. Old Friends Equine Retirement Farm near Lexington is the only one that takes stallions. Because of their often-difficult personalities, they can be hard to handle. Most rescue and retirement farms are not equipped for them. Mares and geldings stand a better chance than stallions of having a good post-race life. (Updated from my St. Thomas Dog Blog, May 5, 2011.)

The Tao of Horses

“If you knew a horse, you could depend on him and if he was going to do something bad, you could depend on him to do that too. I always understood horses better than I did people.“

This opinion on the staightforwardness of horses is from retired US Captain Thomas Stewart. His story is in The Tao Of Horses: Exploring how horses guide us on our spiritual path by Elizabeth Kaye McCall. At the end of WWII, Capt. Stewart and Dr. Horse stories Lipizzaner 2002 London ONRudolph Lessing, a German army captain and veterinarian, got 200 Lipizzaner stallions and broodmares out of Czechoslovakia before it was given to Russia in the Allied division of territory.

The Lipizzaner story is in the chapter entitled ‘Peace – The unequivocal ambassador’. This book has many such horse stories – individual people and horse breeds that are particular noteworthy in the equestrian world. It’s a small book and it covers a lot of ground. Each chapter focuses on a few people and the breed of horse with which they work. You get the story of the breed, including individual horses, people and their philosophical musings on what horses and their particular branch of equestrian activity gives them mentally and physically. The author adds her own thoughts in short sections at the end of each chapter. She includes a physical or mental exercise as well as travel tips and internet search suggestions.

I stay well clear of any book with ‘Tao’ in its title, too New Age self-helpish for me. But when I found a copy in a thrift store – why not? I’m very glad I bought it.

Horse Stories

Before I read it, I did not know the singer Wayne Newton is a well-respected breeder of Arabian horses. I did not know that the drummer of the 1970s band Three Dog Night, Michael McMeel, was inspired by the movie City Slickers to set up an equestrian programme for Los Angeles “at risk” kids. The book tells the horse stories of people you have heard of. It also tells about those you probably don’t know of but are happy to learn about.

Tao of Horses
Click for Amazon link

This book is what its title says, a look at the way of horses.  It discusses them and their relationship with humans in all ways – practical, emotional and psychological. You get an easy to understand overview of breeds and equestrian arts. As well, there’s a lot to think about in terms of how horses and humans connect at the heart. Ms. McCall shows the art of dressage, for example, and also explains some technical points of it. You also read about a family who have spent their whole lives in pursuit of this dance between human and horse. You are moved to think about that expression of balance and fluidity in terms of your own life, with and without a horse to share it.

It is a self-help book but it doesn’t outline steps to fix your life. It gives you something better. Food for thought about yourself and your emotional interior and about creatures – human and equine – outside yourself. It also teaches you about horses and equestrian disciplines from reining to racing. A lovely book, and well worth its full price for horse- and non-horse people alike.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Nov. 10, 2011

 

Cigar 1990-2014

Champion racehorse Cigar 2007 at Kentucky Horse ParkThe news from the Kentucky Horse Park that Cigar died Tuesday Oct. 7 made me look through photos I have of him.

After retiring in 1999, he lived in the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park. I met him there in December 2007. He was in his stall, watching a stablehand clean it. But when he saw he had visitors, well, over he came. Then seeing my camera, he posed.  According to the woman looking after him, he loved putting on a show for the punters.  Outside in the paddock, he’d run and roll for the crowd standing along his fence.  Inside his stall, he’d do what he did with me, come right up and strike poses for as long as a camera clicked.

Cigar died during surgery to relieve his pain from osteoarthritis in his neck and spine. He was 24 years old. In his career, he earned nearly $10 million and 19 of his 33 starts. He tied the 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation’s record of 16 consecutive wins.

His maternal grandsire was the 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. His paternal great-grandsire was the great Northern Dancer. Twice voted Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male and inducted racehorse Cigar with stall door open Dec. 2007into the National Museum of Racing and the Hall of Fame, he lived up to the standards of his predecessors.

He thrilled racing fans at the track and, in retirement, he thrilled many more by giving of himself so cheerfully.  You were a gentleman, Cigar, and you will be missed.

He is buried at the Memorial Walk of Champions near his barn and the Horse Park says there will be a public memorial service at a later date.

The Princesses Louise

PLP-Sign-photo-Dorothy-StewartIs Princess Louise Park in Sussex NB named for a British Royal or a horse?  I’ve heard both answers. The person was daughter of Queen Victoria and patron of the 8th Hussars Regiment. The horse was the 8th Hussars Regimental Mascot.

Princess Louise, the horse, was an Italian-born WWII refugee. She later was naturalized as a Canadian citizen, made a Freewoman of the Village of Hampton and a member of the Canadian Legion #28 Hampton Branch.

Princess-Louise-marker-photo-D-StewartShe and her daughter, both members of the 8th Hussars, are commemorated with their own marker close to the Cenotaph  in Hampton’s Veterans Park.

A foal found wounded beside her dead mother in Coriano, Italy, Princess Louise was rescued by 8th Hussars men from the Hampton and Sussex area.  She then traveled with them for the rest of the war – to Regimental mascot Princess Louise and 8th Hussars in ItalyFrance, Belgium and Holland. It took considerable ingenuity to pull that off.

When the men moved by ship to France, they were not allowed to take animals. So they modified a truck that was being transported, building a stall behind a false wall in it. Two of them went AWOL for a short period of time during loading. Afterwards, the charges were quietly dropped. Perhaps the machinations went quite a way up the chain of command?

8th Hussars Regimental Mascot

Princess Louise and the regiment were in Holland at the end of the war. When it came Camp-Sussex-Mural-with regimental mascot Princess Louise photo-D-Stewarttime for the men to come home, they couldn’t bring her back on the troopship.* They left her with the British Army Veterinary Corps, asking them to get her on a ship as soon as possible.

She arrived in New York a few months later. From there, she travelled by train to Saint John where she was given the keys to the city.  She then traveled in style to Camp Sussex in the town of Sussex and served there for 27 years as Regimental Mascot.  Her duties included Sgt-Bickerton-Princesses-Louise-Sussex-1954representing the regiment in Remembrance Day services and most civic events in Sussex.  She greeted officials and was a favourite in parades around the province.  H. Thad Stevens was her first handler and Sgt. Gordon Bickerton took over care of her and her daughter.

Legacy

Princess Louise gave birth to three foals.  After she died in 1973, a daughter named Princess Louise II served as mascot until she died at the age of 27 in 1981.

Regimental Mascot Princess Louise Legion-application-photo-D-StewartPrincess Louise’s horseshoes, framed, hang in the Hampton Legion. Also there is her application for Legion membership. Her hoofprint is on the signature line. In answer to “number of dependants” is typed “3420 (total Regt’l enlistment)”.

LCol. R. S. McLeod wrote her story. You can read it here. Ana Dearborn-Watts later wrote a children’s book about her, The Pony Princess. The Hampton Legion published it and gave copies to area school libraries.

The President of the Hampton Legion told me that usually every Remembrance Day, “somebody writes something Dearborn-The Pony Princess-photo-Dorothy-Stewartabout her.” Indeed a story this lovely, of horses and men, should not be lost to us.

I borrowed the photos of Princess Louise from the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s 2011 Remembrance Day story, here. You can read more about the 8th Canadian Hussars here.

*US WWII veteran Bill Wynne, in his book Yorkie Doodle Dandy, tells how Princess-Louise-shoes-photo-D-Stewarthe successfully smuggled Smoky, his Yorkshire Terrier, back. He laments, however, that others were not so lucky with their adopted dogs, monkeys and other pets. But he doesn’t mention any serviceman trying to sneak a horse on board!

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.

Olympic Eventing

Trying to watch the Olympics Equestrian Eventing of the past three days, I’ve performed dog coming down stairsin my own Eventing competition.  It includes the Stair Dash, Pet Hurdles and Speed Remote Handling.

It’s due to television reception, or lack of.  We now have satellite tv and I’m sure when the bugs get worked out, it will be fine.  But that hasn’t happened in time for Olympics watching.  A new box is on a truck on its way here from somewhere.  I don’t watch sports much; World Cup, Triple Crown races, show jumping, equestrian games and the Olympics.  But those events alone are reason to have a big screen high definition tv.

We have one in the living room, with its fancy box for transmitting the signal to the tv.  Upstairs is a smaller tv with a “standard” box.  The Olympics on tv in upstairs denupstairs one has worked fine, but the living room one?  Sometimes it’s fine but it often cuts out or there’s no signal at all when you turn it on.  We were told weather affects satellite reception so at first thought there must be a storm somewhere.  No problem, see how it goes, there’s other things to do anyway.  But when it didn’t work more often than it did, I called the company.  “It’s the box,” the lady said after taking me through diagnostic unplugging and resetting, “we’ll send out another one – 3 to 5 days.”

But last Friday was the opening ceremony for the Olympics.  No life in the big screen box at all.  So I watched upstairs.  It was impressive but I knew how much more so it would be if I could only watch it downstairs on high def big tv.  Dogs’ dinner was late because the commercial breaks weren’t long enough to run downstairs and feed them.  Midway through Paul McCartney’s Hey Jude, a cat fight downstairs couldn’t be ignored, so I missed the end of the show.

It was during the Eventing that I perfected my own eventing.  Running up and down the stairs, leaping over animals, simultaneous coordination of remote and tv buttons.  I kept Olympic medal presentation on big screenfiddling with the big screen box, unplugging cords I hadn’t unplugged before.  Yesterday, it worked.  I watched swimming and it was glorious. I left the tv on and went out, came back and there was still a picture.  Settled in to watch the show jumping part of Eventing.  Even without high definition on OLN, it was fabulous.  You could see every detail of the horse and the jumps.  I could easily do other things during commercials. Maybe this box is fine, it must have been that last cable I reconnected.

tv with no signal messageZara Phillips and High Kingdom started their ride in the individual competition – and the signal went out.  Even surpassing the gold medal standard in simultaneous performance of my personal eventing elements, I didn’t get the upstairs tv on in time to see the end of their ride.

Dressage starts tomorrow.  The new box had better be here.

Hickstead

Canadian athletics and the world of show jumping lost a superstar last Sunday.  The great Hickstead died during competition in Verona, Italy November 6th at age 15.  His big heart just gave out it seems.

Hickstead 2006 Capital Classic-wikicommons-222fjbHe and rider Eric Lamaze became heroes of Canadian sport, even for those not interested in show jumping.  Especially after they won individual gold and team silver for Canada in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, everyone knew their names.

Both of them fought great odds and have the kind of rags to riches stories that we all love.  Hickstead was a small horse by show jumper standards, but he put every ounce of determination he had into every jump.  He was a joy to watch, back hooves stretched behind him as he cleared fences and water jumps.

Horse Superstar

To those too young to remember Ian Millar’s Big Ben, Hickstead is the epitome of show jumping beauty.  To those of us who watched Big Ben jump, even if we were only watching him on television, Hickstead became a worthy successor to that big beautiful horse.  And Eric Lamaze has joined Captain Canada himself, Ian Millar, as horsemen we admire and are proud to call our own.

Hickstead made me cry many times.  Watching him fly way over fences, seeing the Hickstead jumping at 2008 Olympics - horse superstarexpanse of air between him and the obstacle.  Crying with happiness that he did it and crying in awe of his beauty.  Tears of relief when he’d complete a round safely and with no faults.  Crying at the pride on his face and on Eric’s when they’d finish, and the obvious connection between the two of them.  Then last Sunday, hearing the news of his death and crying for the loss of such a great horse.

He was getting up in years for what he was doing and Eric was aware of that, not over-pushing him and saving his strength.  He also wasn’t planning to retire him and I’m glad for that.  Hickstead clearly loved jumping.  He died doing what he loved.  We should all be so lucky.  Goodbye, Hickstead.  Watching you gave me great joy.

Show Jumper

Coming up fast to the fence, feeling the muscles gather beneath you, crouching low over Ian-Millar-and-In-Style,-winners-of-WEF-Challenge-Cup-Round-7the horse’s neck, then springboarding into the air. Sailing over the rail, touching down on the other side, horse and you regaining balance and cantering on. The exhilaration of flying. One time I did this.

I had no business jumping, in fact had no plans to. I was taking English riding lessons at a large stable. Lessons consisted of riding around in small circles, learning balance and control. I liked it; just being on a horse’s back was enough for me. I had many different teachers, all young women who had ridden since they could walk. The horse was often different too. They wanted you to learn to ride any horse.

One week, only one teacher was there. The others were at a show or something. She had never taught me before. Maybe she was bored, tired of watching incompetent people ride in circles or, with it just being two of us, felt like having some fun. She said, “do you feel like jumping?” I stared open-mouthed and said “I don’t know how to do that.” She shrugged and said “up to you.” I said ok. I’d never ridden that horse before either. He was a good choice. He knew what he was doing.

Jumping

Show jumping sequence over fence, DelawareI was like a floppy sack of potatoes on his back on the first jump. I’d chickened out several times leading up to that; getting to the jump, then losing my nerve and pulling him up. I daresay he was fed up with me and probably as surprised as I was when, finally, I let him keep going.

I remember the power surge as he prepared to jump. But I don’t remember the actual jump. I closed my eyes to keep my heart from stopping. I reopened them when we landed on the other side, both of us in one piece and me still on his back.

Then I wanted to do it again. That time was perfect. I made myself keep my eyes open 2008 Olympics poster, Eric Lamaze and Hicksteadand experience it. Riding Pegasus. It was bliss. I was Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze rolled into one.

Third time, I unbalanced myself. He jumped straight, but I came off to the left. He circled around and stood looking at me. My teacher thought maybe that should be the end of my lesson for the day. So I got back up on him – always get back on the horse – and rode around a bit.

After the Jump

I took him to the barn, took his tack off and groomed him. Then I went to my car. Standing beside it, I had no idea where I was. The barn didn’t look familiar and I didn’t know how I got there, or why. After a few minutes of concentrated thought, I remembered my lesson, the jumps and the fall.

The next week, I had a familiar teacher. She didn’t mention jumping and I didn’t tell her about the week before. I kept taking lessons, but never jumped again. My time as Captain Canada was over. But it was worth every second of terror and the concussion to fly that one time.