Friday, December 28, 2012

Secret Lives of Horses | 12/28/2012

Filch, Former Racehorse

By Mary Jane Howell, Photography by Gary Knoll



There have been many lovely horses in Anne Torreyson’s barn over the years, but surely none has been as well-bred - nor as handsome - as her 23-year-old Thoroughbred Filch. The bay gelding was bred and foaled in Kentucky, broken as a yearling in Aiken, raced for four years, then returned to Aiken where he eventually became Anne’s foxhunter. 


Filch was foaled at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky in 1989. Owned by the Hancock family, Claiborne Farm is the gold standard of breeding farms, the home to great stallions and exceptional broodmares. Filch carries the genes of multiple generations of champions through both his sire and broodmare lines. His sire was the Claiborne stallion Private Account, by the hard-knocking racehorse Damascus. He is out of Doodle, a mare whose grandsire was the great Bold Ruler, sire of Secretariat and many other champions. 


For many years Claiborne bred and raced horses in partnership with William Haggin Perry, and Filch was one of about 30 foals from this joint breeding venture in 1989. As a youngster, he would have romped through Claiborne’s lush pastures, but in his yearling year his real education began, and he was sent to Aiken to begin the training process.


Tim Frommer broke all of William Haggin Perry’s horses in Aiken at that time.


“All the yearlings were jointly owned, but Mr. Hancock and Mr. Perry would flip a coin to see who would run each colt or filly: heads would be Mr. Hancock, tails Mr. Perry and so forth,” explains Tim. “It was the only fair way to divide the horses: half ran in Claiborne’s colors and half in Mr. Perry’s.” 


Filch’s coin toss landed him in the Perry barn, and so he came to Tim to be trained in September 1990.  


“When we got Filch he was just a big, gangly kid, and kind of squirrely at first,” recalls Tim. “Once he learned the ropes, though, he was great.” 


Filch trained in Aiken throughout the winter, and the following spring, he was shipped up to Belmont Park to train in Scotty Schulhofer’s barn. He made his first start in July, going seven furlongs on the turf, with Jerry Bailey riding. Not so promisingly, he finished last in the 11-horse field, 27 lengths behind the winner. He was fifth in his next start at Saratoga, hampered by a slow start in the seven-furlong race. It took him three more tries to break his maiden, just days before the end of the year. He was going a mile and an eighth on Aqueduct’s inner track. With the jockey Mike Smith urging him down the stretch on that cold December day, he got up in the final strides to win. 

Like all Thoroughbreds, Filch turned a year older on January 1. The colt was obviously not on the Derby trail, but the feeling was that he still might become a nice allowance horse. He made his first start as a 3-year-old in February of 1992, finishing third in his allowance race at Aqueduct. But he didn’t start again until the fall of that year, and when he did he had a new trainer, Bill Mott. Filch made eight starts for Mott over the course of a year and a half, tallying a win, a pair of seconds and a third.
During his 4-year-old year, Filch was claimed by Dolly Bostwick – an owner and trainer based in Aiken. Dolly ran him several times at Delaware Park and then gave him the winter off before shipping him to Birmingham Race Course in Alabama in the spring of 1994. In the last two starts of his career, Filch was running for a $4,000 claiming tag and was unable to finish those mile and 70-yard races. Dolly called it a day and sent the colt back to Aiken. Filch had 21 starts, with two wins, two seconds and two thirds, and purse earnings of $41,696.
When Filch returned to Aiken he was gelded and then turned out for some much needed rest. When Anne Torreyson heard about him some time later, he had been sold to a woman who was not used to dealing with large, rather unruly Thoroughbreds, and he had become a handful.
“He was walking all over people and obviously hadn’t heard the word ‘no’ in quite some time,” recalls Anne. “My hunter, Ice Falcon, was 15 and it was time to start looking for a replacement.”
After several friends gave enthusiastic reports on Filch for his overall build and suitability for hunting (but not his manners), Anne took the plunge and bought the 16.3-hand bay. It was time for Filch’s second career. 
Anne had started coming to Aiken in 1988 from Unionville, Penn., calling herself “one of those winter gals.” In 1992 she became a permanent resident and later married Win Magerkurth, who was working at the Savannah River Site at the time. 
She readily admits that Filch was a handful in the beginning. “I was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and he really tired me out. I had to ride him in a twisted snaffle with a figure-eight noseband. It worked, but we both hated it.” Later Anne switched to a snaffle and curb, which she said worked better. 
Although Filch proved to be a brave and enthusiastic jumper, he hated ditches. Since these were the early days of their working relationship, Anne still held out hopes that she might event Filch, but the ditch problem was a deal breaker.  

“I took him to a Lucinda Green clinic and he was wonderful over the jumps,” said Anne. “The ditches were such a problem that I thought Lucinda would ask us not to return after the lunch break! She had a lot of patience with us, even though Filch was insistent that he couldn’t do it. Our big breakthrough came when she had me put on a pair of Prince of Wales spurs. Filch immediately said ‘Yes - what would you like me to do?’” 
From that rather rocky beginning came almost a decade and a half in the hunt field, and countless memories. 
“One time many years ago I took Filch to the Countryside Alliance fundraiser in Newnan, Georgia. It was a great time, ending with one of those huge bonfires. The hunt was fantastic - we were out for five hours! When we got back in I just crawled out of the saddle.” 
Filch hunted with Whiskey Road Foxhounds, Camden, Belle Meade, and Cheshire in Pennsylvania.
Anne rode Filch every day and hunted twice a week. “I couldn’t give him a day off in those early days,” she explains. “He was a big horse and had so much energy.”  

Because Anne had dogs at her farm, Filch never had a problem with the hounds. 
“When I first got him we would be riding out on a trail, with my dogs darting in and out of the bushes. He got used to them pretty quickly.”
As the years went by, Filch started to lose a step or two, and his ankles would start acting up. He was not as fast, but he was much, much wiser, and Anne would use him to teach younger horses the way of the hunt.
Anne retired Filch at the end of the 2011 season, but he has not been “turned out to pasture” by any means.
“He has become ‘Uncle Filch’ at home, showing youngsters how it is done,” laughs Anne. “He makes a very good uncle, expecting all who are with him to act just as he does, being generally nice and polite. He is a very classy guy.”
Like an aging movie star, Filch has his support and medical staff just a phone call away. Dr. Tom Stinner, Dr. Stephanie Hobbs and Dr. Shelley Onderdonk cater to his every ache and pain. Anne feeds him a diet rich in whole grains, with the occasional Chinese herbal remedy mixed in.
Although he never lived up to his breeding on the track, Filch became a star in the realm of foxhunting, at least in his owner’s eyes.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Questions About Dressage | Ask the Judge | 12/21/2012

Questions About Dressage

With Amy McElroy


Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.

Dear Amy,

Could you explain to me what a half turn on the haunches should look like? I am competing at Second Level, but my scores on this movement are significantly lower than my scores on other movements in the test. How can I do better?

                                                                                                        -Getting Fours

Dear Fours,
The turn on the haunches is a difficult movement that is important to perform correctly because it is seen up to the Prix St. Georges level. The movement is performed at the walk and can be used to make a change of direction. When it is properly executed, the horse does not stop, rather his hind legs march in place while his front legs walk around them, swinging in a smooth arc. The movement is a stepping-stone to the walk pirouette, which is seen at the higher levels.

Let’s examine the movement itself, with this description adapted from the United States Dressage Federation “L” program handout.

Purpose: To improve the horse’s obedience to the aids and to improve balance and collection.

Execution: The horse’s forehand moves evenly, quietly and with regular steps around the horse’s inner hind leg, while maintaining the rhythm of the walk. The horse is slightly bent in the direction in which he is turning. In the half turn on the haunches, the horse is not required to replace his inside hind leg in exactly the same spot with each step, but may move slightly forward.

Essence: To maintain the walk and maintain obedience to the aids.

Good qualities (adapted from the FEI guidelines)

  • It is a turn of 180 degrees, executed on two tracks, with a radius equal to the length of the horse, with the forehand moving around the haunches.  
  • The forefeet and the outside hind feet move around the inside hind foot. The inside hind leg describes a very small circle (as small as possible.
  • The horse is slightly bent in the direction it is turning, remaining on the bit with a light contact, turning smoothly around and maintaining the exact sequence and tempo of footfalls of the walk. The poll remains the highest point. 
  • The horse should maintain its forward activity and never move backwards or sideways. 
You are not alone in having trouble with this movement. I often see a variety of errors and mistakes.


Here are some common problems:

  • Bending issues. 1-There is incorrect bend – for instance the horse is bent to the outside. 2-There is not enough bend. 3-The bend is not maintained throughout the move. Correct bend means that your horse is clearly bent in the direction you are turning from start to finish. 
  •  Hind leg issues. 1-The hind leg sticks for one or more steps – in other words, it does not leave the ground, but merely pivots in place. 2-The hind legs step to the outside of the turn. 3-The hind legs become inactive – in other words they are not actively marching. 4-The hind legs take too many steps, or describe a large circle. 5-The hind legs cross over. A horse that is using his hind legs correctly takes three to four active, marching steps.
  •  Energy issues. 1-The horse becomes too sluggish. 2-The horse stops or backs. 3-The horse refuses to turn. 4-The horse is too quick and tense. Your horse should have forward energy and his steps should be clearly defined and purposeful.
  • Connection issues. 1-The horse comes above or behind the bit. 2-The horse tilts his head rather than bending it. 3-The horse is fussy with his mouth – the mouth opens or the tongue comes out. The horse should be confident and reliably on the bit. 
Possible scores:

0: Not performed. The movement is not recognizable; the horse is never walking. The horse is seriously disobedient or displays severe behavior issues.

1: Very bad. Small fragments of the movement are recognizable, but there are major problems or disobediences.

2: Bad. Irregular steps. Totally “stuck” behind. Not accepting the bit at all. Hardly any energy or desire to move. Completely incorrect bend. Severe resistance or disobedience.

3: Fairly bad. Very inaccurate. Stuck for several steps. The walk becomes irregular. The horse is way above or behind the bit. Severe resistance, lacks willingness to turn.

4. Insufficient. Inaccurate placement. The movement resembles a circle. The horse is clearly stuck behind. The walk is not four-beat. The horse is not enough on the bit. There is some resistance. There is no clear bend. There is some loss of control.

5. Marginal. Slightly inaccurate placement. Too big in size. Some loss of rhythm, tension or loss of connection to the bit. Lacks energy or bend. There might be a small resistance.

6. Satisfactory. The transition could be more exact. The movement is slightly large. There is a small problem before or after the turn. There could be more suppleness, or the horse could be steadier to bit, with his poll the highest point. The horse could exhibit more activity or more bend. He could be more on the aids.
7. Fairly good. The movement could be even more accurate. The circle described by the inside hind leg could be a little smaller. There is no obvious resistance and the horse is fairly supple and active, with a correct bend. He is on the aids and on the bit.
8-10. Good to Excellent. The movement is executed at the correct place. It is fluent with a clear rhythm. The horse is supple, active and obedient. The movement is seamless and looks effortless. 

The half turn on the haunches is a great exercise to help horses prepare for collected work. As you advance, it becomes the walk pirouette, and the movement is also performed at the canter in the canter pirouette. It is a difficult movement, but it is one worth working on. When you can perform it correctly, you should feel a great sense of accomplishment, and you will know you are on the way to success in your dressage.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Letter From the Editor | 12/14/2012

A Letter from the Editor

By Pam Gleason

When horse people come to Aiken for the first time, most of them are struck by how visible the equestrian life is here. It starts with the life-sized painted horse statues downtown, the street signs with horses’ heads painted on them and the crosswalks with their “pushto- cross” buttons positioned at rider height. Then there are the people downtown still in their riding clothes, the horse trailers on the streets, the stables in the historic district and the horse farms that line the roads all around the city. Aiken is obviously a horse friendly place, and a place with a vibrant and diverse equestrian culture.
Today’s Aiken horse world is thriving. We have so many different disciplines here, from foxhunting and eventing to polo and combined driving, dressage, trail riding, western sports, and everything in between. But what you see today is only the tip of the iceberg; Aiken’s equestrian life also has a long and rich history. You can get a glimpse of this in the downtown historic district, where you can stroll (or ride) down the clay roads past the historic Aiken Training Track and venerable Whitney polo field. You can immerse yourself in this history at the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum in Hopeland Gardens, or look through the scrapbooks at the Aiken County Historical Museum. You can ride through the Hitchcock Woods, where the names on the trails and on Memorial Gate recall horsemen who are lost but not forgotten: Pete Bostwick, Francis Hitchcock, Captain Gaylard, Lucetta Knox. Sometimes, when you ride in the Woods, you have the feeling you are riding with ghosts: gallop around the Ridge Mile Track and Thomas Hitchcock’s steeplechase horses from the 1920s might be galloping along with you. 
Today, Aiken’s horse people are looking forward, trying to figure out the best way to help preserve and protect equestrian life, even as it is growing. Will we have a horse park? Can we improve the trail system in Aiken County? Will we continue to have enough open land for our foxhunters to enjoy their sport? But they are also looking backward, perhaps best exemplified by the restoration of the historic Gaston Livery Stable, which was such an important part of life in the old Winter Colony. Aiken’s horsemen don’t just want a new and improved equestrian culture. They also want to honor and preserve Aiken’s equestrian history. 
At the Aiken Horse, our central mission is preserving stories, which is one reason why we bring you so many profiles of people who are important in the local horse culture today – after all, they will be tomorrow’s history. We have also always striven to include historical pieces in the paper, to pay tribute to and perpetuate the stories of horsemen who have gone before us. Generally, these stories have been focused on the first three decades of the 20th century, which was the golden age of Aiken’s Winter Colony. Many of the people we have talked about are already well known to anyone who is a student of Aiken history – William Collins Whitney, Louise and Thomas Hitchcock, for instance.
But Aiken’s equestrian history did not stop at World War II. From the 1940s until the present time, many more outstanding horsemen have made Aiken what it is today. Many of the stories of these people, while preserved in the memories of longtime Aiken residents who knew them, have never been recorded, or are not accessible to the general public. Since we think these stories are important, we decided to start a new series called Remembering Aiken’s Horsemen. Although we will probably profile some prominent people from before World War II, our focus in this series will be on the horsemen of the 50s through the 80s, people whose stories might otherwise disappear. For the first installment, we chose the legendary William Haggard, known to his friends as Billy, a sportsman and patron of equestrian sports who moved to Aiken in 1973.
As ever, we have a full issue for you, starting with our annual Aiken Hunt Directory and ending with our indispensible Calendar of Events. In between, you will find news, profiles, and all sorts of information. If you have an idea for a story, or you know something we should know, please drop us an e-mail. We want to be your horse newspaper.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.