Monday, December 30, 2013

American Driving Society Meetings | 12/30/2013

Showcasing Aiken

By: Pam Gleason, Photography by: Gary Knoll

The American Driving Society brought their annual meeting and convention to Aiken this fall from September 26 through 29. Driving enthusiasts came to the city from across the county, some of them bringing horses and carriages in order to participate in drives and parades that were held in conjunction with the event. The serious business included a board of directors meeting, as well as the annual members meeting. Other activities exposed the drivers to Aiken, and let Aiken have a good look at the drivers. There were organized drives in the Hitchcock Woods and at the Silver Bluff Audubon Sanctuary, as well as a parade through town on Saturday morning. 

"It was wonderful," says Susie Koos Acker,who is the executive director of the ADS. Susie came all the way from Wisconsin, bringing three driving ponies and two vehicles. "For one thing, the weather was ideal. And we were just overwhelmed by all the generosity and how friendly and accommodating everyone was."

The first outing was a drive at the Audubon Sanctuary, which took place on Friday morning. This drive attracted a large crowd of 35 carriages, including many members of the Aiken Driving Club, as well as visiting drivers. Saturday morning, a carriage parade of about 25 rigs made its way through Aiken on a route designed by Mrs. Katrina Backer, who led the parade with her impressive four-in-hand. On Sunday, Jack Wetzel organized a drive through the Hitchcock Woods. This included a picnic at the tea cottage. 

Jeff Morse demonstration
In addition to the drives, there were several well-attended clinics dealing with issues related to driving. The most popular was a session that gave some hands-on training advice for transitioning a riding horse to a driving life. This clinic, which took place at Ford Conger Field, was conducted by Jeff Morse, a trainer from Massachusetts. The demonstration horse was a Lipizzaner, brought by a member of the United States Lipizzan Federation. The USLF is an ADS breed partner and held its annual North American Lipizzan Symposium in Aiken at the same time as the ADS.

The biggest news to come out of the ADS meetings has to do with the ADS endowment fund, which was started a little over a year ago as a way to pay for driving initiatives and development programs. Recently, a member offered to put $50,000 into this fund as a matching grant if the society can raise $50,000. One of the goals of the society the coming year is to raise this money. They are currently planning a fundraising campaign.

Peggy Dils, who is the president of the Aiken Driving Club, coordinated the ADS meeting locally. She was roundly applauded for her efforts, and also received a gift of a week's free tuition to a CanDrive camp in British Columbia. CanDrive, organized by Caio and Gerard Paagman (well-known in Aiken for their traveling Ideal Harness carriage shop) provides driving getaways in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The week offers trail and pleasure drives as well as lessons and clinics from top driving professionals.

The ADS meetings brought some first time visitors to Aiken, as well as many people who had spent time in the city before. After such an enjoyable weekend, those first-time tourists and regular visitors are likely to want to return. Some of them might even return for good: one of the sponsors of the meetings was Meybohm, a local real estate company with many agents who specialize in horse property. One feature of the weekend was a real estate tour. Apparently, it was quite well attended.

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Aiken Hounds Centennial | 12/23/2013

From 1914 to 2014

By: Pam Gleason, Photography by: Gary Knoll

On November 28, Thanksgiving Day, the Aiken Hounds will meet at Memorial Gate in the Hitchcock Woods at 11 a.m. for the blessing of the hounds and the opening meet. This will be the centennial celebration of the hunt, which was established in 1914.

Opening meet is a Thanksgiving tradition in Aiken, attended by hundreds of spectators who park outside the woods and then walk down the trail to Memorial Gate. Horses arrive in trailers that are parked wherever they can find space, and then the riders, in their formal hunt attire, make their way into the woods. The gathering is a celebration of one of Aiken's most venerable institutions, and the informal start of the Aiken winter season.

Because this is the centennial year of the hunt, the opening meet will come with a little more fanfare than usual. Organizers are preparing a centennial hunt commemorative program, which will include stories about the hunt as well as remembrances about various people who were important in the hunt's history, and stories about hunting in Aiken.

The Kissing of the Hounds
There are a number of items that will be for sale, including two different limited edition silk scarves, one a square with a special centennial year logo, and the other an oblong with a painting by Georgianna Conger Wolcott. There will also be a silk tie in Aiken Hounds colors with the centennial logo, as well as St. Hubert's medals. (St. Hubert is the patron saint of hunters.) These items will also be available at Memorial Gate, and also at the annual "Bloodies and Bagels" breakfast held at the Aiken County Historical Museum on the morning of the meet. The breakfast is for the benefit of the Aiken Land Conservancy. A few other centennial-themed items will be available in the new year, including polo shirts and baseball caps.

The opening meet includes a blessing of the hounds that will be performed by Father Wiseman from Saint Thaddeus Episcopal Church. Father Wiseman is a dedicated animal lover, and Linda Knox McLean, who is the master of the Aiken Hounds, says that he will by "more hands-on" this year. Linda will also address the crowd, and she will award colors to the foxhunters who have earned them. "Colors" are coat collars of a contrasting color that are sewn to the hunt coats of the most accomplished and dedicated foxhunters in the hunt. The Aiken Hounds coats are green (they were originally made of billiard cloth) while the collars are a pale yellow.

The 100th season will be hunting as usual in the Hitchcock Woods, and it will feature a pair of joint meets with the Moore County Hounds from North Carolina, which is also having its centennial this year. Other special events include the annual hunt ball on February 15, held at Joye Cottage. Joye Cottage is a winter estate that was built for William C. Whitney in 1897. It is one of the largest and most historic homes in the city

Aiken Hounds History

According to the book, Life and Sport in Aiken and Those Who Made It by Harry Worcester Smith (Derrydale Press, New York, 1935.) the first hunts held in Aiken were live hunts undertaken by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hitchcock with their pack of foxhounds. These hunts never really caught on, however, because "in pursuit of the wild fox precipices were descended by Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock in a manner that would make the Italian cavalry purple with those days the fields following the Master and his wife were very small indeed, for leaping precipices wasn't in everyone's veins."

The hunt was revived as a drag hunt in 1914, and in 1916, the Aiken Hounds was officially recognized by the Master of Foxhounds Association. Drag hunts do not pursue any live quarry. Instead, they follow a scent trail laid down the morning of the hunt. This gives the baster and the staff the ability to choose the route, and it also ensures that every hunt can be fast and exciting - after all there will never be a time that the hounds are unable to find a scent. Drag hunting came into existence in the early 19th century.

The first drag pack in Aiken was brought down from Pennsylvania by Earle W. Hopping, an international polo player and foxhunting enthusiast from Bryn Mawr. Hopping served as the first master of the Aiken Hounds. He was succeeded in 1917 by Walter M. Phelps, whose family owned Rose Hill Estate in Aiken. In 1919, Mrs. Hitchcock took over the mastership, serving until 1934, the year that she died as a result of a hunting accident.

Mrs. Hitchcock with her beagle pack.
By all accounts, the years when Mrs. Hitchcock ('Lulie' to her friends) was master, the hunt was a unique experience. In those years, the Aiken Hounds was the only hunt in the area, and many members of Aiken's Winter Colony participated. These people were not casual or timid riders. In fact, a number of them were amateur steeplechase jockeys, and the hunt served as a training exercise. The Hitchcocks, and all those hoping keep up, were mounted on "clean-bred" thoroughbreds, and they flew. Harry Worcester Smith describes one portion of the hunt this way"

"The Master says, 'Let's go!' And the sport begins! Three abreast they charge the first jump on the Todd Cut and race up the hill at a strong pace, turning right-handed, go down the Jouac line, over three or four jumps and then turn left-handed into the new Border line, and here is where the fun begins! The jumps all average four feet four to five feet six inches, according to the rise and fall of the ground. And going at a racing pace the horses take off two or three feet in front, and land found or five feet beyond, covering fifteen or twenty feet, and how they love it....I must admit the spirit of racing enters these so-called drags quite a little..."

Every hunt was not a race, however. One of the great advantages of a drag is the ability to control the pace as well as the route, and there were always slower hunts that took smaller fences. These were designated as children's hunts. The smallest children might go out on a lead rein, while older and more accomplished riders would jump and learn the duties of the hunt staff. Mrs. Hitchcock was always conscientious about teaching children and bringing up the next generation of sportsmen. That commitment to youth continues today, and the Aiken Hounds regularly holds children's hunts and employs the services of a junior whip.

Aiken Hounds Today

The Aiken Hounds today is led by Linda Knox McLean, the third woman in her family to serve as master of the hunt. Her mother, Lucetta Crisp Knox, was the master from 1956-1966. Her grandmother, Helen Knox, was the master from 1940-1945. Her great aunt, Frances Wood, was the master from 1948-1951. Linda has been the master since 1994, meaning that she has led the hunt for 20 years, the longest tenure in the history of the hunt. Women in he family have been masters of the hunt for 38 of the past 100 years. 

Madelyn Eaves, junior whip
The Aiken Hounds go out every Tuesday and Saturday during the season, which runs through March. The fields are often quite large, sometimes even as large as they were in Mrs. Hitchcock's day. The jumps are not as tall or as wide as they were in the old times. The pace, although it can be galloping, is not as brisk as when it was set by some of the boldest jockeys in the country.

But the scene must be substantially the same. The woods have a timeless quality to them, and the traditions of the hunt live on. If you go out and watch, or join the hunt and ride, you will see the hunters in their green coast, the well-groomed horses, the tri-colored hounds with their noses to the ground, and you will be observing something that could have taken place 50 years ago, or 100. One of Aiken's favorite traditions, the drag hunt is entering its second century on solid footing, and seems likely to continue for many years to come. The hounds catch the scent, give tongue, and they are off. The hunt is on.

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Edition of Equestrian Quarterly

We would like to share a fantastic article about Aiken, SC that was recently published in the Winter Edition of Equestrian Quarterly. Enjoy!!

When Boomers Retire


Monday, October 21, 2013

Ask The Judge | 10/21/2013

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,

I was recently at a dressage show and I saw a Training Level Rider test. I am interested in entering this class, but I would like to know what differences there would be between this test and a traditional Training Level test?

                                                                                       -Learning Every Day

Dear Learning,

In 2013, the United States Equestrian Federation designed three additional dressage tests. These are known as the Rider Tests. They are offered at Training, First and Second Levels: one test for each level.

The purpose of the 2013 Training Level Rider Test, according to the USEF is:

"To confirm that the rider sits in the correct posture an alignment an shows correct mechanics in walk, rising trot and canter. The seat is sufficiently independent for the rider to maintain a steady, elastic rein contact and encourage the horse to stretch into the contact. The horse is ridden actively forward showing impulsion and balance required for the level, bends equally to the left and right sides on turns and circles, and makes smooth, willing transitions."

There are a number of similarities between the traditional Training Level test and the new Training Level Rider test. Here are some of them:

           1. You perform and are judged individually.
           2. The test is ridden in a standard or a small dressage area.
           3. Only one judge is mandatory.
           4. There is a prescribed set of movements you need to perform.
           5. Tests start and end with a halt and salute.
           6. If you have three errors you will be eliminated.
           7. The difficulty of the test resembles a Training Level test.
           8. There are many of the familiar Training Level movements, such as 20-meter circles, changes of rein, medium and free walk and a stretch circle.
           9. The halt may be performed through the walk.
         10. USEF dressage rules apply.

There are also some major differences, such as:

           1. There are no scores for the individual movements of the test.
           2. The directives are focused on the rider's position.
           3. If you make an error, you will have .5 points deducted. If you make a second error, 1.0 additional points will be deducted. (In a traditional Training Level test, 2.0 points are deducted for the first error; 4.0 points for the second.)
           4. All trot work must be rising, except a few steps (4-8) of sitting are permitted during transitions.
           5. There is a different set of collective marks - the traditional "gaits, submission and impulsion" are not noted.
           6. The collective marks are your only scores. There are five and they all have a coefficient two. The highest possible score on each collective is a 10. Therefore, the perfect test would earn you a 100.
           7. Scoring is in decimal points; for instance you might get a 7.2 on one of your collective marks. (In a tradition Training Level test, scoring is in half points: you might get a 7.0 or a 7.5.)

The collective marks and what they mean.

           1. Rider's Position. The rider's ear, shoulder, hip and heel are aligned vertically when sitting at all gaits. The trunk is slightly in front of the vertical when in rising trot. When seen from in front of behind, the rider is straight and symmetrical, with even shoulders, hips and stirrups. The rider sits in harmony with the mechanics of each gait. The hands maintain a steady, elastic contact with the horse's mouth.
           2. Rider's Correct and Effective Use of the Aids. The rider prepares for and performs the movements using subtle, tactful and effective aids. The horse is appropriately bent through the turns and on circles and is straight when moving on straight lines. The horse responds willingly, giving the impression of clear communication between rider and horse.
           3. Horse's Response and Performance. The horse's training appears to be following the principles established by the Pyramid of Training. The horse moves actively forward with a consistent tempo in each gait, and reaches confidently to the bit. The transitions are performed willingly and smoothly. The rider demonstrates the horse's clear reactivity to both lateral and longitudinal aid influence.
           4. Accuracy of the exercises. The geometry of the movements is correct in terms of their size, shape and placement in the arena. The circles and half circles are round, have the correct diameter and they originate and terminate at the correct place. The corners are performed as one quarter of a 10-meter circle.
           5. Harmony between rider and horse. Both horse and rider appear calm focused and confident. They perform competently at the level and are pleasant to watch.

The Training Level Rider test is good for riders and horses of all ages. It is appropriate for people who want more input on their position and effectiveness and less focus on their horse. I would encourage you to try a test. It is a different way to be critiqued, and I think you will find it as enjoyable to ride as a traditional test. Good luck.

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Secret Lives of Horses | 10/14/2013


By: Mary Jane Howell, Photography by: Gary Knoll

The dictionary defines the word "serendipity" as a gift for finding good things accidentally. Although it wasn't quite an accident that Gail Watson ended up owning a Thoroughbred mare with such a name, it is interesting that the mare changed hands a few times before finding the perfect owner at age 4 - an owner who understood her unique personality.

Serendipity started her life in Canada and was brought to New York as a show ring hunter prospect. The mare refused to do her flying changes (the first of many strong opinions) and thus found herself for sale. Gail was training with Bill McGuinness at his North Salem, New York barn at the time, and Bill was always on the lookout for prospective event horses. He saw that intangible "something" in Serendipity and at his urging Gail bought the mare. This was in the mid-1980s and it wasn't long until Bill had the mare (known as Maggie at this point) ready for her first event on Long Island.

The outcome of the trip to Long Island is lost in the haze of history, but one thing does stand out - it was then and there that Maggie fell in love with trucks and trailers. She was obviously one of those females who liked to be entertained, to be doing something, or at least thinking about doing something fun in the future.

"The sound of the truck meant action to Maggie - you get on, travel a bit, get off, and then get to go cross-country," says Gail. And she always leapt off the trailer, even when all the other horses politely stepped off. Perhaps she was doing her own warm-up for those cross-country drop jumps.

Besides Gail and Bill, Maggie was very fortunate to have Amy Struzzieri in her life. When Amy was in her teens, she started working for Bill, doing everything from grooming to driving the van to events. Now a dressage judge and trainer in Aiken, Amy became Maggie's caregiver upon the mare's retirement. When Amy moved here two and a half years ago, she brought Maggie with her.

"In the late 1980s and 90s, there was the most wonderful group of women who rode out of Bill's barn," recalls Amy. "When we shipped to an event we had the most incredible amount of fun. We stayed at beautiful bed and breakfasts, had great dinner, good wine, and the women had a blast at the event. Some women went Baby Novice, others went Training level, and if anyone fell off they had to buy Bill a case of wine!"

Maggie and Gail competed with this group throughout the Northeast, with favorite venues being Groton House in Massachusetts and Millbrook in New York. Maggie continued to be opinionated, and although she was not asked to do a flying change, she did have her reservations about the dressage test.

"She understood early on that dressage was like spinach - eat your spinach my dear child and you get to have a yummy dessert, which in her case was going cross-country," says Gail. "She would trot down the center line and halt at X and rear. It was not my fault - she was simply lodging a protest. I must say it was a very lady-like rear. She would then continue on with the rest of the test, sweet as pie. We could never break her of the habit."

While you could still count her age in the single digits, Maggie got the unglamorous nickname of Crabatha - must have been the pinned ears in the stall when her expectations were not met.

"The show barn life was basically all about spending most of the time in a stall, with a few hours of turn-out and then, of course, riding time," explains Amy. "She was definitely the queen bee of Bill's barn. Pampered -yes! Demanding - yes! If it started to rain, her groom would go running out to bring her in."

But for all her idiosyncrasies, Maggie was a balm for Gail, who was an attorney in her professional life, and who was also married to an attorney. While many professionals might escape from their New York offices and head to the Berkshires or the Hamptons for the weekend, Gail was more content to have adventures with Maggie.

"We competed at the Novice and Training Levels," says Gail. "And I'm proud to say we almost always got pinned in the top four. What I remember best about Maggie during our years together was that she loved the challenge, the change in routine, and all the different smells. I was just blessed to be along for the ride."

Maggie was bred one time and had a colt in 1997 who ended up doing the show hunter circuit in Florida. Obviously Maggie did not pass along her dislike of flying changes to her offspring.

When Maggie retired from competition a few years later, so did Gail. They were each other's yin and yang, and when it was time to stop, they stopped together. Maggie was turned over to Amy, who was overseeing several retirees in New York. Maggie had a large pasture and a friend to share it with. No more barns, although she did have a 20 X 20 stall that she could use as she pleased. Mostly it did not please her to be in, except when it rained and then Amy would only see Maggie's nose poking out the door.

Although life was good for Amy and her band of retirees, the New York winters were getting old. Amy had met Marshall and Betsy Lamb when the couple was in New York to judge the Golden's Bridge Hounds Hunter Trials, and an open invitation to visit Aiken was give.

"Like everyone else who visits here, I fell in love with the town," explains Amy. "When I moved here in 2011, what I remember most was that Maggie, after a 15-hour ride, leapt off the trailer in perfect form."

If Maggie thought she was getting to compete again after years of retirement, she had a surprise. What awaited her was a huge field and balmy weather. Instead of just one friend, she had seven and all the grass she could eat.
She also got a new nickname: Magpie.

"She's in her 30s now - although a real lady never tells her exact age," laughs Amy. "She is having an interesting life here. She is the adopted grandparent to several clutches of chicks at the Lamb's farm and she has to delegate her precious time to not one, but two boyfriends."

Her favorite food is soft bananas, which she can gum with her worn down teeth. She gets four quarts of senior feed morning and night, with the addition of electrolytes, MSM and a daily wormer. Although there is enough warm water in her grain to make it look like gruel and it takes he ages to eat, the results speak for themselves. She looks fabulous for a mare of her age.

"She definitely is still vain. She won't go back outside to 'her boys' until I've wiped the food off her face," said Amy. "She locks those knees and refuses to budge until she is cleaned up - simply amazing."

Although her black coat is now a rather unflattering shade of tan and her hearing is almost gone, she is still a princess. Visitors to her field must see and pet her first and she does everything but climb into your pocket. She would like to explain that her skin is rather delicate these days, so mind how hard you scratch those places where she itches. She loves living outside and hardly ever goes into the huge shed, even when the afternoon torrential rains hit on an almost daily basis. She probably laughs at the memory of her younger self - the demanding and pampered one!

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ask An Expert | 10/7/2013

Ask An Expert | Your Questions About Horses

By: Pam Gleason

This column answers readers' questions about horses. Anything is fair game, from questions about equine health to how to get along with the other boarders at your barn, to general horse keeping.

Dear Expert,

What's the best way to treat rain rot? My horses are turned out this summer, and with the amount of rain we've been getting, they all have rain rot. One of them has it pretty bad. How do I get rid of it and can it be prevented?

                                                                                                     -Hate Rain Rot

Dear Hate Rain Rot,

Rain rot, otherwise known as rain scald, is popping up around Aiken this summer and we got quite a few questions about it. Before we get to this question, here's a quick summary of what rain rot is:
Rain rot is an infection of the out layers of the skin caused by bacteria called Dermatophilus congolensis. These bacteria are quite widespread and are assumed to be present in the soil. Dermatophilus doesn't generally give any trouble unless the weather is wet and humid, which causes the bacteria to become more active. Horses generally get infected after they have been out in the rain, which is where the descriptive, ugly name comes from. Other animals can also get rain rot, according to Merck Veterinary Manual. In sheep it is called lumpy wool disease, and in cattle it can be a serious problem, especially in Africa. It's common in crocodiles in Australia, and the books say that people can get it, though we have never heard of a human with rain rot.

When a horse is first infected, he might be covered with little bumps, usually on the back, hindquarters, neck and anywhere that rain gathers and runs off. If the infection progresses, those bumps get larger and harder, and eventually form scabs and crusts. When the scabs fall off, they take tufts of the horse's hair with them, and may have pus underneath them. Horses can have a few scabs  here and there, or they can be covered with them. In early stages, rain rot doesn't appear to cause the horse much distress, but when the scabs form, they can be quite painful. If the lesions are under the saddle area, they can make a horse unrideable, and if they are present in any significant amount, they can definitely ruin a horse's coat and overall appearance. Summer rain rot is usually not as bad or as ugly as winter rain rot, though there are exceptions.

So, that explains what rain rot is. Now, what can you do about it?

We posed this question to Dr. Tom Stinner, a veterinarian who practices at Southern Equine Service in Aiken. Dr. Stinner says that rain rot has been a problem this year because of the constant moisture.

"It isn't just the rain rot," he says. "Humidity and sweat can also keep the skin wet. Moisture, combined with dirt in the horse's coat, form a film on the skin that can act as an incubator for bacteria."

If your horse has a mild case, Dr. Stinner says that there are many topical creams and ointments you can use. "But a lot of it is just to clean it, to get the dirt off and loosen up the scabs which are protecting the bacteria. You want the scabs to come off so the areas of infection can dry out."

Dr. Stinner recommends using a mild disinfectant wash, such as Betadine or Nolvasan scrub or shampoo. After the horse is clean and dry, you can apply an over-the-counter ointment or cream to the affected areas. These do not have to be strong or heavily medicated ointments, since what you are mostly doing is helping the skin to heal, and softening any scabs that are still there.

If the horse has a severe infection, or it doesn't respond to tropical treatment, Dr. Stinner says that adding antibiotics is often necessary. "You should call your vet if the horse's skin is very sensitive, or you are treating for several days and you don't see a response, or the scabs are very widespread. The bacterium is sensitive to Penicillin or SMZs [sulfamethoxale], and sometimes we might use an immune stimulant. We would combine these medications with topical treatment."

Dr. Stinner says that if a horse has a stubborn or especially severe case, there is often an underlying cause.

"It might be a cause of poor nutrition, so that the horse's immune system is compromised. Horses with Cushings [a hormonal disorder] often will get nonresponsive rain rot because their immune system is knocked down. In those cases, treating the underlying problem is important."

Can you prevent rain rot? If you can keep a horse dry, sure. But it is not easy to keep a horse dry in the summer in Aiken. If they are not getting rained on, they are often sweating. The best way to prevent an infection from getting started is to make sure that the horse stays clean, though as Dr. Stinner remarks, bathing a horse frequently is a doubleedged sword, since you do want to keep a horse clean, but you don't want to make him wet all the time. Early treatment is the key to preserving his coat and appearance.

"In the summertime we often get calls about a horse having hives," says Dr. Stinner. "A lot of times, it turns out that it's not hives at all; it's rain rot. If you start treating the horse immediately, you can often keep a case from progressing to the stage where there are scabs and the hair falls out."

Since rain rot is so common, there are quite a lot of home remedies for it. Some of them work, some don't, and some work, but might be at the cost of your horse's comfort, well-being and general attitude. On the Internet, people swear by bathing horses in bleach solution, Pine Sol solution and ammonia solution. Others say you have to curry the horse very hard to scrape off all the scabs and then treat them with something powerful and caustic. Dr. Stinner says that these remedies might work, but are generally overkill and not recommended.

"Aggressively cleaning the skin with something strong might work, but you have to be careful. The horse's skin might be irritated and sensitive and if you put something on it that is too harsh, you may kill some of the bacteria, but you are likely to make the horse more uncomfortable and you might slow down the healing process."

Dr. Stinner says that some milder home remedies and prevention tactics might be helpful. Some that get the stamp of approval from farm owners in Aiken include rinsing a horse with a Betadine solution after a rain, or misting his coat with a Betadine spray. Many of the expensive over-the-counter remedies that work well have mineral oil as a main ingredient. Some horse owners swear that plain mineral oil or baby oil works all by itself, without the need for antibacterial agents or disinfectants.

"This could be because the oil loosens up the scabs, and then seals and protects the skin," say Dr. Stinner. The downside is that a horse with baby oil on him looks greasy, and if he has light-colored skin or has lost a significant amount of hair, the oil could accelerate a sunburn. The upside is that baby oil is inexpensive and not painful for the horse, so that grooming remains a pleasurable activity for him - more aggressive tactics often result in a horse that runs off in terror when he sees you coming with a curry comb.

So the bottom line is: keep it clean; and if those things don't work, call your vet. The bacteria that cause rain rot are not usually very difficult to kill as long as you a diligent, so always remember to treat your horse's skin like the sensitive organ that it is. Good luck!

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

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Time to Build | 9/30/2013

Equestrian Facilities Going Up

By: Pam Gleason, Photography by: Gary Knoll

Aiken's builders, at least those that cater to the equestrian sector, are in agreement: demand for their services is rising. The real estate market is heating up, people are buying homes and land, and many people who have had real estate for a long time are ready to start building. Aiken's market is following national trends: According to the National Association of Home Builders, the number of building permits issued nationwide is up 25% this year over last year. The South Atlantic region is slightly ahead of the national average, counting 33% more building permits in 2013 than at this time in 2012.

How busy are Aiken's builders? Some of them are very busy indeed. Donnie Shaffer of Donnie Shaffer Homes says he has sold three equestrian "spec" homes since January, has five equestrian homes under construction and is getting ready to begin work on six more homes in equestrian subdivisions. JD Cooper of Cooper Home and Stable says that demand, which had tapered off a little in 2012, has come roaring back this year. Grant Larlee of Larlee Construction says he is working on new homes and barns as well as historic renovations. The recent trend has been to build smaller structures, especially when you are talking about houses, and builders agree that the people who want to build in Aiken tend to be educated consumers who are seeking quality work and attention to craftsmanship.

"Our clients really appreciate the details," says Todd Gaul of Designer Builders. "The people we deal with acknowledge the difference in quality, and that is what they are looking for when they hire a builder."

Do Your Homework

How do you choose the right team to make your Aiken home or barn a reality? Builders agree that is starts with doing your homework. Your relationship with a builder is very important, and you need to find someone you can talk to, and who understands what you want. Even more important, you need to find builder who will actually do what he says he is going to do, and who has a solid reputation in the community.

"Do good research on who you are dealing with and find out what their qualifications are," says Todd Gaul. "Look into their financial stability and their experience - what have they done, how much have they done. Talk to existing owners and people they have dealt with in the past. Ask for references and check on them. You don't have to just rely on the references the builder gives you to find out who they have worked for. Ask around, and listen to what people tell you. If you hear something bad, don't second-guess it. Things have a tendency to be consistent."

JD Cooper agrees.

"There is a good quality here in Aiken County," he says. "We have good contractors, good subcontractors. Anybody that moves into this area should have a good experience with regards to building." 

Builders who do good work should be eager to show it off, and their clients should be happy to recommend them.

"I don't have a single client out there that I wouldn't want you to talk to," says Grant Larlee. "I couldn't sleep at night if that wasn't the case."

Kenny Taylor, who owns and runs Taylor Made Barns, tells a similar story: "Every client that I have had has always told me that I can show their barn at any time, whether they are there or not, and whether I call ahead or not. That's important to me."

Doing your homework also means making sure that the builder you select knows how to construct the type of project you have in mind. Some home builders in Aiken are horsemen, or have worked in the equestrian industry enough that they understand how to build barns. Some home builders are not really familiar with barns, and might not know how to make things safe for horses. If you choose a builder for your home, and he offers to build your stable as well, be sure that he knows what he is doing.

"You might show your builder plans for a 12 X 12 stall," says Grant, whose father was a harness horse trainer and who grew up in the horse business. "You mean a stall that is 12 X 12 when it is finished. If you give that plan to builder who doesn't know horses, he might frame the stall out at 12 X 12, so that when it is finished it's a lot smaller."

Kenny Taylor says that he has been called in to fix problems in barns, but builders who don't know horses have a tendency not to finish out their edges," says Kenny. "I like to round out the edges so that there isn't a sharp edge on a post. The way they run their wiring might be different than what I would do - they might have it more exposed, and horses can get at it - they may not understand the reach of a horse. Finally, I've had owners that I have talked to who had their barns built by homebuilders, and sometimes the crews don't understand about nails and screws, and that they don't mix with horses. I've talked to two owners that have had nails go into their horse's hooves and the horses have gotten abscesses, all because the crews were not careful enough."

There are builders in Aiken who are ready and able to construct the home or barn of your dreams, but every builder in the city is not in that category, so doing your homework is crucial.

"You hear it, I hear it sometimes," says Todd Gaul. "People are upset with their builder. You have the opportunity to do your research, and the time to do it is before you sign a contract."

JD Cooper is too polite to discuss problem builders. He just laughs.

"You don't have to go there," he says. "People do sometimes, but you don't have to."

Design-Build, or Design and Build

Once you have decided what you want to build, there are generally two different ways to appraoch the home or barn building process. One way is to consult an architect, a farm planner or a designer first. Choosing this option, you would come up with your plans, which would be complete, or almost complete, and then take those plans to builders to have them bid on the job. The second way is to choose a builder first, and work with the builder on your plans and farm design.

Which way is best? That depends on whether you talk to a designer or a builder. Most of the more established equestrian builders are also designers, or have design consultants and draftsman who are quite capable of working with you to make whatever you desire. Most builders, even those that are accustomed to making the designs themselves are also open to working with plans that are already drawn up.

Karl Splan, a designer who owns and operates Aiken Residential Design, says that hiring a designer first is the right way to go, and is the best way to ensure that you get what you want in the most cost effective way. He recommends drawing up plans with your designer and then submitting them to three builders for bids.

"In commercial construction, architects design buildings," he says. "An invitation to bid is issued to select construction firms. Then the owners, with assistance from the architects, review the bids submitted and choose the contractor ... this system has proven itself to be the best alternative for commercial owners and it is also the best method of choosing a contractor for residential construction. It gives the owner the greatest leverage during the transition from design to construction."

Karl further argues that designers are selling a service, while builders are selling a product. "This creates a differences in perspective that has a profound effect on the design. The contractor or local builder will likely create a design that emphasizes profitability, as opposed to the specific wants, needs and tastes of the owner. It's the natural inclination of most builders to suppress creative solutions to individual owner's requirements during the design process in the interest of doing things in the standard fashion in order to insure profitability."

Builders have a different take on the situation. "There is a bid advantage in having those early discussions about the design with the person that is going to see it through," says Todd Gaul. "I sit down with the owners personally, and we discuss everything, and I know why things are the way they are because I was there from the beginning. So often I'll get a set of plans that people have drawn already complete, and they will sit down with me and find out that what is on the paper isn't even close to their budget. If we do it together, we can start pricing out the home or the barn before the drawing is complete. That way you can mold the budget and the design at the same time. It's the beginning of a relationship - you get comfortable. Ultimately, the builder is responsible for the product, so you might as well be involved in it from the beginning."

Forging Relationships

Home and barn builders are not just building physical structures, they are also building relationships with you, the property owner. If you choose right, it will be a good relationship. Builders agree that, as in any good relationship. Builders agree that, as in any good relationship, communication is key. Builders of Aiken horse properties are often hard at work in Aiken while the home owner is back in New York, Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, which means that builders have to keep their owners up to speed via telephone or email. This also makes it extra important that the owner knows he or she can trust the builder.

Whether the owner is in town and checking on the project every day or not, a comfortable and friendly relationship is important for both the owner and the builder. Owners need to be confident that builders will listen to their concerns and will do their best to create the property that the owner envisions. Builders know that if they have a good relationship with the owner, they will have more business in the future, both from referrals and from future construction - the owner might need a guest apartment, or an addition to barn for instance. 

The builders that we spoke to tend to go above and beyond to create good relationships, and those relationship often continue long after the project is complete. Because he does so much work for absentee owners, Grant Larlee says he often acts as a concierge service for his owners. He has several large storage buildings at his offices on Toolebeck Road, and he often uses them to keep furniture for his owners while he is doing removations, or even to store their cars, trucks and trailers when they are out of town. He might also make sure that those cars are filled with gas when the owner comes to town, or he might watch over the property during the summer months.

"Out motto is 'there's no such thing as can't,'" he says.

Builders today are looking forward to more good relationships. Those who work in the equestrian sector are getting busy, but they generally still have time to devote to new projects. They also agree that now is a good time to start one.

"Prices for materials are still low," says JD Cooper. "Lumber spiked up the beginning of the year, but those prices have been coming back down. Everybody has seen an uptick in building - most of my work has been from outside of town, but you're starting to see a return of activity in the subdivisions now, too."

Trends in construction generally follow trends in real estate: when land and homes start moving, builders and renovators are in demand. The previously sluggish Aiken real estate market in reviving, which means a building boom might be in the offing. Building materials are likely to get more expensive in the near future, and the desirable builders will have long waiting lists. If you have been biding your time to get into the building market until you felt the time was right, your wait is over. That time is now.

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Palace Malice Wins Again | 9/23/2013

Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice was the favorite going into this year's Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on July 27, with good reason. The 3-year-old colt had won the Belmont Stakes on June 8 with supreme authority and, according to his connections, had only improved since that Grade 1 victory. With his entourage in tow, Palace Malice paraded around the paddock at Saratoga, slightly on the muscle with jockey Mike Smith in the saddle. Less than 15 minutes later, the pair was having their picture taken in the winner's circle.
Palace Malice delivered another major victory that afternoon, winning the 50th edition of the Jim Dandy by a length and in near-record time. (His 1:47.37 was the second fastest Jim Dandy in the history of the race).
"When you win a stakes race at Saratoga everyone knows it and appreciates it," he explains. "It's a racing crowd and they really understand the game. I love winning a race anywhere, but it's always special to win at Saratoga."
The Jim Dandy was named in honor of a 3-year-old colt that won the 1930 Travers Stakes at the incredible odds of 100-1, besting that year's Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the process. And for anyone who loves the history of racing, Palace Malice's win in the Jim Dandy was especially fitting. Another Aiken racing outfit - the famed Greentree Stable under the guidance of John Gaver Sr. - had won the very first running of the Jim Dandy in 1964 with a colt named Malicious. Rather similar names!

After the Jim Dandy win, the Travers (known as the Midsummer Derby) is the race on everyone's mind. With a $1 million purse, the 1 1/4 mile race attracts the top 3-year-olds in the country. Palace Malice will be there, as will Orb, winner of this year's Kentucky Derby. The Preakness winner Oxbow hurt his ankle in the Haskell Stakes on July 28 so it is highly unlikely that he will be entered, which is a shame. It's been 31 years since the winners of all three Triple Crown races have met in the Travers. It looked as if it might have happened again this year.

Another likely contender is Verrazano, who won the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 28, by an incredible 10 lengths. Verrazano, like Palace Malice, is trained by Todd Pletcher.

The Travers will be at Saratoga on August 24 and Cot Campbell is more than excited.

"Our cold was terribly impressive in winning the Jim Dandy, and he has come out of that race better than ever," he says. "My wife Anne and I went to the barn around 9:00 the night of the race and he was bouncing around his stall and I couldn't feed him peppermints fast enough.

"Mike Smith felt that Palace Malice finished up the race with something in reserve. When you watch the race, you see that Mike let up on him the last five or six jumps. He could have won by a wider margin than he did, had he needed to."

Campbell, who stays in Saratoga for the duration of the meet, sees Palace Malice each morning, and is in constant contact with the colt's trainer Todd Pletcher. Mike Smith calls California home and is currently riding a Del Mar, but he will fly back East to ride Palace Malice in the Travers.

"I've spoken with Mike on the phone and he is genuinely sold on the fact that our colt is becoming a superior racehorse," Campbell says. "While we have great respect for Verazano, I would not want to concede favoritism in the Travers at this point. As Mike says, 'Palace Malice will be the horse to beat.'"

Palace Malice's victory in the Jim Dandy pushed his lifetime earnings to $1,231,135 and he became Dogwood Stable's seventh millionaire. Summer Squall is on that list, as is his daughter Storm Song. Southjet, Wallenda, Smok'n Frolic and Limehouse are the others - pretty impressive company.

When asked how Palace Malice compares to some of Dogwood's other top runners, Campbell says: "It's difficult to compare horses of different eras, and it is a dangerous practice. Those that were so great 20 or 30 years ago automatically lose a little luster when compared with the current ones. Still, I think given Palace Malice's personality, his class, looks and running style, he is certainly right up there at the top of the list of Dogwood stars."

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

American Driving Society Meeting | 9/16/2013

Drivers Come To Aiken

By Pam Gleason

This fall the American Driving Society is coming to Aiken, where it will be holding its annual meetings and convention from September 26 through 29. The board of directors' meetings, which will be at the Willcox and will address important society business, are slated to take up an hour on Thursday and most of the day on Friday. There is also a members' meeting on Saturday afternoon and a few more sessions on Sunday morning. 
The remainder of the time, meeting attendees will be able to take part in clinics, seminars and organized drives in and around Aiken. There will also be receptions, lunches, cocktail parties and the annual awards dinner on Saturday night at the Green Boundary Club. In addition, the United States Lipizzan Federation, which is an ADS breed partner, is co-locating their annual North American Lipizzan Symposium with the ADS meeting. Members of the USLF will have their own business meeting at Newberry Hall on Friday, and join the ADS activities for the rest of the weekend.

"We're hoping for around 150 to 200 people," says Susie Koos Acker who is the executive director of the ADS. According to Susie, quite a number of people are coming from far afield, many of them arriving with horses and carriages. People are shipping in from as far as Vermont and Florida, and everywhere in between. Susie herself will be traveling here on a two-day trip from Wisconsin, along with her Welsh ponies: a pair and a single. She is also bringing a marathon vehicle and a pleasure vehicle.

"I don't think anyone else is coming from quite as far away as I am," she says. "But our registration doesn't close until September 6, so you never know. People are really excited about the meetings being in Aiken. That's why so many people are coming from so far away. We're really trying to showcase Aiken as a tourist destination for carriage drivers."

The ADS moves its annual convention around the country, which is a great way for drivers to familiarize themselves with different regions. This year, they wanted to meet somewhere in the Southeast region. Aiken, with its vibrant driving community, was a natural choice. People from the organization came for a site visit in February, and Peggy Dils, who is the president of the Aiken Driving Club, helped give them the Aiken tour.
"I showed them the sights and the possibilities and they were very impressed," says Peggy. "And then the City of Aiken couldn't have been August-September 2013 The Aiken Horse 11 better or nicer or more accommodating."

Elizabeth Harm who is tourism supervisor for the City of Aiken, and Lisa Hall, who is supervisor of the Department of Parks and Recreation, were eager to help make Aiken the destination of choice. In fact, they even helped the ADS get a grant from the city to help advertise the meeting in order to make it a highlight of the fall season for the driving community nationwide. Every year Aiken gives out a number of grants to help promote the city as a place to visit. These grants are funded by an accommodations tax, which is assessed on hotel stays throughout the city. The a-tax money is used to encourage more people to come to Aiken, where they will stay in hotels, patronize restaurants and enjoy Aiken's downtown boutiques. The grant that the ADS received enabled the organization to do more advertising, and they expect that this will pay off in terms of the number of people who come to meetings, as well as in enthusiasm generated in the driving world.

"Aiken has been amazingly helpful and welcoming," says Susie. "It's been better than any place I have ever held a convention in my seven year tenure with the ADS. With the extra advertising we have been able to do, we hope to encourage more people to come to the meetings, both people who members of the ADS and those who are not. The clinics and drives are open to members and non-members, and there are sessions that will be interesting for people who drive, and for people who don't drive but would like to know more about it."

For instance, there will be a featured session on teaching horses from other disciplines to pull a carriage. The clinic, which takes place over three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) will be presented by Jeff Morse from Massachusetts, a trainer, ADS board member and founding member of some of the largest Morgan horse organizations on the East Coast.

"This is an opportunity for people to learn that if a horse has had another job, you can use the skills and the knowledge that the horse already has and take him into the new sport of carriage driving," says Susie.
The clinic is scheduled to take place at the Aiken Training Track. There will be two demonstration horses, both of them Lipizzans from North Carolina, which have been introduced to driving, but are not yet finished carriage horses.

"We don't want to portray training a horse to drive as a quick thing," says Susie. "Driving is a dedication, and it takes a while to do it. The seminar is about identifying what skills the horse already has and discovering the places where he is going to need more education."

Other activities include a pleasure drive at the Silver Bluff Audubon Center on Friday morning, a carriage parade through the streets of Aiken on Saturday morning and a drive through the Hitchcock Woods on Sunday. In addition there will be an "ask the judge" live demonstration on Saturday afternoon conducted by Shelly Temple and Muffy Seaton, both nationally known competitors and judges. Attendees who sign up for these sessions will be able to drive in front of the judges and get feedback on how they are doing. Drivers and spectators will be invited to ask questions, so that everyone will come away with a deeper understanding of what the judge sees.

"We want people to know that the meetings and events are open to anyone who has an interest in driving," says Susie. "And we'd like to encourage people to attend. You don't have to come for the whole meeting if that doesn't fit into your schedule - there is an "a la carte" option.

"We'd also like to let people know that driving is available for you. If offers an opportunity for a change. Maybe a change in life, maybe a change in passion. One of the neat things about driving is that if you are a person who has always been used to big horses, hunter/jumpers, for example, and maybe you have come to a time in your life where you can't physically handle a big animal like that, if you choose driving, you can go down to a pony and drive and still enjoy the horses, the equestrian community and the friendships that horses bring. Driving gives you the opportunity to do horses on a smaller scale."

After the ADS chose Aiken for its meetings, they enlisted Peggy Dils to be the local coordinator, and the whole Aiken Driving Club to offer support services. Elizabeth Harm and Lisa Hall continued to help with logistics, and many local volunteers are giving their time as well. Peggy, who helped design the program of clinics, says that she is excited that they driving world is coming in Aiken.

"I really wanted them to discover Aiken and have a good time here," she says, "If people are interested in driving, whether they are new drivers or more experienced drivers, we're going to be offering them a chance to walk away with something they didn't know before they came. I think it's going to be a great weekend."
For more information, visit or call 608-237-7382. Registration closes on September 6, but some sessions may be available on a walk-in basis. If you are not a driver, don't miss the carriage parade on Saturday, September 28. It is scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. until noon.

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

Secret Lives of Horses | 7/15/2013

Wilbur the Thoroughbred

By Mary Jane Howell, Photography by Gary Knoll

The 30-year-old Thoroughbred gelding is a graying bundle of contradictions. He has a lip tattoo, yet he never made it to the starting gate. He adores his paddock-mate Charlie, but he has to take a mouthful from each feed tub and hay pile before he shares with his best friend. He is sure that his human mom – Jean Rohland – adores him, even though, when he was younger he frequently bit her, making her arms and legs an interesting shade of blue.

What's not to love about a horse who is absolutely so sure of himself, and expects you to fall in line as well?

Jean Rohland is a lifelong horsewoman with a penchant for hunters. She lived and worked near Rochester, New York, but moved to Aiken five years ago with her husband Rob, and Wilbur, of course. She likes to point out that she got her horse six weeks before she married Rob.

Wilbur has a very faded tattoo on his upper lip, so Jean knows he had been at some racetrack, although there is no record of his ever making a start. His official name was Good Ol Will, not exactly an inspired name for a racehorse. His pedigree was equally nondescript: His sire was a stakes-winner named Gala Harry and his dam was a lightly raced mare named Devilish Miss. The first six years of his life are veiled in mystery.

When Jean first came across Wilbur he was competing in his very first jumper class, clearing the 3' 6" fences as if they were nothing – there weren’t any lower classes at that time. When the class was over, there was a line of trainers waiting to buy the 7-year-old, but fortunately for Jean, her trainers Betsy Hoppell and Stewart Moran were first in line.

"They showed him in First Year Green for a year," recalls Jean. "I bought him the following year and started in the Amateur Owner division. I was really lucky to get him, but, boy, did he have some quirky habits.

"He had a bad biting habit. He would swing his head around when you were braiding or tacking up and grab whatever body part he could get a hold of. I did have bruises all over my arms and legs that first year! There was one time when I was jogging him in hand and I had to keep going faster and faster because I heard his teeth gnashing behind me – not a comfortable feeling."

Wilbur's saving grace was that he could jump the moon. Because of that, the pair collected ribbons galore for the seven years they competed. They were regulars on the Syracuse PHA circuit and throughout Zone 2. In 1996 and 1997 they were the Amateur Owner Hunter Champions for Zone 2. Jean was also proud of the fact that each year of competition they qualified for the National Horse Show.

"Wilbur was well-known around the circuit," says Jean. "He was such a showman – he loved the crowd and the applause. The more excitement there was, the better he liked it."

Wilbur was one of those horses who had to be lunged for ages before showing, and Jean figures they competed in about 20 shows a year. Whenever she thought she could get away without lunging, she came to regret it once they were in the ring.
The showman act carried over to the paddock at home. "His large paddock was by a four-way stop. One minute he would be quietly grazing and the next he would be putting on a Wild West bucking show for the benefit of any stopped cars. The minute there was no traffic he would go straight back to grazing."

If Wilbur was turned out in an outdoor paddock with jumps, Jean and Rob found themselves running out to take the obstacles down because Wilbur would be jumping everything – no matter the width or height – just for the fun of it.

By the end of Jean's career with Wilbur she had changed trainers, working with Gail Miller of Lehman Farms in Pittsford, New York, since Betsy Hoppell had moved to Florida. Wilbur then took Gail's daughter Leslie through the Children’s and Junior divisions and continued on as a successful Children's Hunter, bringing multiple championships to several young riders.

When he was 22, he was retired from the show ring and would take Jean or her friends on leisurely hacks, something he hated to do in his prime. Now Wilbur lives in Aiken, where he is enjoying the milder climate.

"He was having a lot of trouble keeping weight on during those long, cold New York winters," says Jean. "When we got to Aiken and pulled him off the trailer he came to a dead halt when he saw all the green grass. He couldn't believe his eyes."

When they first arrived in town, Jean rode Wilbur when time allowed, since she had a new horse she was competing. Then, in 2010, Wilbur started to have suspensory issues and Jean officially retired him.

These days he lives at Dawn Sposato's Hollywood Farm and is the beloved friend of Charlie, Wendy Gutfarb's retired hunter who was profiled in the previous Secret Lives column.

"Charlie and Wilbur keep each other young," laughs Dawn. "They have been together for nearly two years and it is amazing to watch them race and entertain each other."

Dawn does admit, however, that Wilbur doesn't suffer fools.

"He is incredibly opinionated, whether the subject is blankets or the position of the feed tubs. I am sure he thinks of me as 'staff,' and if he thinks I am out of line on any issue then he will start snapping his teeth."
If Dawn feeds five minutes late, Wilbur is in an uproar, and he has to sample food from both his and Charlie's feed bucket to make sure they are both getting the exact same meal. Same goes for the hay piles – he always checks each portion of hay to make sure Charlie is not getting something tastier. Fortunately Charlie is the easy-going type.

"I try to make their lives wonderful," says Dawn of her senior boarders. "They've worked hard and deserve to have a pleasurable retirement. Wilbur and Charlie are happy old horses, but they can still get silly."

Recently a 2-year-old filly wandered over to Dawn’s from a neighboring farm, spending most of the night outside of Wilbur and Charlie's paddock. She had the two old geldings in such a tizzy that even when she was back home, they yearned to see her and spent hours craning their necks over the fence boards trying to catch a glimpse of her.

"They didn't eat for a day or two and it took two weeks to get them back to normal," says Dawn.

There's obviously a lot of life left in the two old gentleman!

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Remembering Aiken's Horsemen | 7/8/2013

Marilynn Riviere

By Mary Jane Howell

Marilynn Himes Riviere came from a family that included a United States congressman (her father, Joseph Himes), an oil tycoon (grandfather Charles A. Canfield), and an aunt who married one of the great stars of the silent screen (Daisy Canfield Moreno). Is it any wonder, with this family history, that Marilynn marched to the beat of her own drum?

Although she died in the fall of 1998 at her home in Aiken, "Marilynn stories" abound to this day. Whether it is a tale of her pet emu getting loose and scaring the young Thoroughbreds on the Aiken Training Track, or a recollection of her kindness to the Australian Three-Day Event team when they were in Aiken before the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, anyone who crossed paths with her has at least one great story to tell.

It would have been easy for Marilynn to live the life expected of a politician's daughter – marry well, have children, toe the line. The fact that she bucked tradition but still remained the darling of Washington society speaks volumes about her warmth, integrity and sense of fun.

Marilynn's grandfather on her mother's side was Charles Adelbert Canfield, a miner and an oil man who made a fortune in Los Angeles and Mexico during the latter part of the 19th century. Charles and his wife lived in LA and had seven children, including Daisy Canfield Moreno, who married the screen star Antonio Moreno. Another daughter, Eilleen, became the wife of Joseph Himes, an Ohio Congressman who was a man of considerable import in Washington.

Eilleen and Joseph had three children. Canfield was the oldest; Katrina the youngest. The middle child, Marilynn, was born in 1921. She grew up in Frederick, Maryland in her family's mansion, which was called Prospect Hall. Built around 1787, Prospect Hall was a three-story Greek revival with its own zoo. (There is even a picture of Marilynn and her two siblings, each playing with a baby tiger cub out on the lawn.) Over the centuries, the house had played host to visitors from George Washington to Harry Truman and was one of the most important historical homes in the state. Congressman Himes also maintained a residence in Washington on New Hampshire Avenue, a home that was the center of many of the city's prominent social functions.

Horses were an integral part of Marilynn's life from a very early age. Family scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings of her at age 4 getting ready to show at the Washington Riding and Hunt Club. The society pages of the Washington papers were filled with horse show results, and there was an amazing amount of coverage of Marilynn's rides. Her favorite pony was named Peggy and got equal billing.

Marilynn lived a luxurious life. The children were often shown off at balls held at Prospect Hall. They were also given a certain amount of freedom to develop their individuality. From a young age, Marilynn felt the need to make her own decisions, usually involving animals. For example, the Himes girls were sent to camp in Norfolk, Connecticut each summer. The letters from Joseph Himes to Marilynn still exist. Here is an excerpt from one, dated August 17, 1932:
"My dear I am just as anxious to have you have a good time and to have the things you want… but you poor half-witted creature, you cannot come trotting down to New York with four rabbits and a flock of turtles. It just isn't being done, and if you do it the only thing I know to do is to send both you and the rabbits to some stockyard to be kept there until we leave for Washington…"

When Marilynn was 18 she had her coming out, and her debutante balls and teas were covered by every paper in the Washington area. A columnist for the Washington Star wrote a brief account of Marilynn, leading up to the debutante season, nailing a personality that was exactly the same decades later:

"A love of bantering makes her an entertaining companion. Of a sociable nature, she likes people who are spontaneous and democratic. She has a way of getting into difficulties and of laughingly working her way out…. She finds time for riding, swimming and Princeton weekends. She is fond of sailboats, speed boats, slacks, avocados, graham crackers and those members of the opposite sex who do not refer to her diminutive size."

She stood 4' 11".

When her debutante days were over and she had finished school (Holton Arms in Washington), Marilynn turned her attention to flying. The nation was in the middle of World War II and she wanted to do her part. She received her private, commercial and her instructor's licenses by 1944. In the spring of that year, her father accompanied her to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where she was an instructor at the Van Air Service, a U.S. Army training school. Even when she was a half-country away, the Washington papers followed her career. The headline from a column in the Washington Times-Herald was: "Post-Deb in War: Petite Marilynn Himes Teaches Men to Fly."

When the war was over, Marilynn returned to Washington, bought her own plane (named My Sin) and along with her miniature French poodle Sinner, would take to the skies at a moment's notice. She would often fly to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, for a picnic and a swim, and be back in Washington in time for dinner. Rehoboth Beach would play an important part in her life a few years down the road – it was there in 1948 that a helicopter pilot asked if she would like to fly along with him. She did, fell in love with the helicopter and promptly sold her plane. She became one of only nine female helicopter pilots in the country, and the only one with an instructor's rating.

Marilynn found a job transporting planes from military bases across the country to Washington for civilian purchases. On the ground, she became very involved with the Washington Animal Rescue League, serving on its board and oftentimes becoming the public face of the organization. She was also in the Tail-Waggers Club, an organization begun in Washington in 1937. Marilynn became president of the club in the late 1940s and found her niche when she helped develop a 15-minute television show on WMAL that aired once a week. The program offered information for pet owners, and there were always guest appearances by a wide-variety of animals, from injured owls to chimpanzees to bears. Marilynn co-hosted the show with Bryson Rash, ABC's White House correspondent.

The show was filmed in the Commonwealth Building, located on K Street in downtown Washington. Marilynn was responsible for getting all the animals to the studio, which often led the elevator operator to question his choice of jobs. On several occasions Marilynn shared the elevator with a tall, good-looking man named Joseph Riviere, who worked for an investment firm several floors above the television studio. Then one day, Bryson Rash was held up at the White House and Marilynn needed a second pair of hands on the show. She recalled the tall man on the elevator, and had one of the cameramen fetch him. Luckily for her, he came, was a good sport about the menagerie, and they instantly hit it off.

Marilynn and Joseph (Paul) Riviere were married in 1951 in Sea Island, Georgia. The official wedding photographs show that Marilynn's poodle stood by her side throughout the ceremony. The couple made their residence in Washington, although it wasn't long after they were married that Paul served as a captain in the US Air Force, commanding a squadron in the Korean War.

The couple had two sons, Scott and Rhett (known in Aiken as Tiger), and it was because of the boys that Marilynn discovered Aiken.

"My uncle Canfield had a winter home in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and one year my mother attended one of his huge parties," explains Scott. "For some reason the topic of conversation turned to Aiken and the prep school that was located in the town. We were dividing our time between Washington and Florida and mom thought it was time to find a proper boarding school that would take both me and my pony."

Scott attended Aiken Prep first, starting in 1963, bringing his pony and cockatoo along. Tiger followed suit a few years later. During her visits to Aiken, Marilynn fell in love with the Pink House on Easy Street, which, unfortunately for her, was not for sale. There was a lot going on in Marilynn's life in the 1960s and early 70s. In no particular order some of the things she was involved with included flying helicopters (she was a charter member of the Whirly Girls – a club founded in 1955 for female helicopter pilots); her home on Key Biscayne became the go-to place for members of President Nixon's Secret Service, Cabinet, and visiting press while they were in town; she restored an antique fire engine (a 1917 American LaFrance) which she then parked in one of the three houses that made up her compound on Key Biscayne; and she was a mascot of sorts for the Washington Mounted Police, who would visit her in Florida and later come to Aiken to perform during the Spring Steeplechase.

She adored Aiken's Horse Show in the Woods, and one of the favorite memories of both Scott and Tiger is when they competed together in the family class – all mounted on chestnuts.

When the Pink House came up for sale in 1970, Marilyn finally made her move to Aiken. She filled the house with a variety of birds, seven dogs and a large six-legged Burmese tortoise named Legs. Sometimes there might even be a visiting mule. Dinner guests never knew what to expect, and that was the way Marilynn liked it.

"My mother just didn't live somewhere – she enveloped the place," says Tiger. "Times were always fun, she wanted people to laugh and enjoy themselves."

Marilynn was involved with the Aiken SPCA, the Hitchcock Woods, the Aiken Driving Club, and the development of The Alley in downtown Aiken, to name but a few of her favorite projects.

Peter Gray, a former Chairman of the Board for the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, has a delectable memory of Marilynn. Marilynn was a trustee of the foundation, and she was very much involved with the Ax Club, which was a group of volunteers who went out into the woods to clear and maintain trails and jumps.

"The Ax Club was very active in those days," says Peter. "I went to help one day and we went into the Woods on foot. Marilynn prepared a picnic lunch for the workers. She drove into the Woods in a Rolls Royce and her butler set out a picnic table complete with table cloth and fine china."

Marilynn helped revitalize the Aiken Steeplechase along with Charlie Bird, bringing her own flair to the project. For some reason, there had once been mule races at the Aiken Steeplechase and she was all for bringing them back. She held an annual fundraising party for the Aiken Steeplechase Association. At it, her guests donated money for the privilege of pulling straws for various mules. Usually the racing mules were pulled out of some farmer's field the day of the race. Not Marilynn's, however. She had her own mule, a fleet-footed animal named The White Tornado. The White Tornado would be sequestered for months before the race. He was trained by Nancy Cummings, who worked for Paxton Stables, and on the day of the race, his rider was the Canadian jockey Billy Bradfield. The others entries never stood a chance.

Even while she lived at the Pink House, Marilynn yearned for a farm. Dissuaded by friends from buying land out of town, she eventually purchased part of the old Pinkerton estate, Tip Top Two, which was off Grace Avenue. Her horses were moved into the stable, and in the little cottage on the grounds she housed everything from roosters to exotic birds to an emu. Marilynn renamed the property Hidden Stables.

"That was her place to play – a secret hideaway of sorts," says Scott.

Marilynn had a few Thoroughbreds, which she kept at her farm. One day, a gate was left open, and her pet emu innocently followed the young horses across Two Notch Road and onto the Training Track. It is easy to imagine the chaos an emu caused during morning training. John Gaver, who trained for Greentree Stables, nearly had a heart attack when he saw his beautifully bred youngsters galloping riderless around the track.

"There is no doubt that Marilynn was one-of-a-kind," says her longtime friend Sam Erb, the proprietor of the Westside Bowery, "In 1979 she bought the building that houses our bar, then leased it back to us. She had a vision for The Alley and wasn't shy about getting people interested in properties."

Marilynn was behind getting the win photos and stable silks hung on the walls, giving the Bowery its unique equestrian ambiance. Sam recalls that Marilynn and Joan Tower (one of the founders and the first director of the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame) both liked the same table for lunch, and it was always a race to see who would arrive first. For lunch, Marilynn had a white omelet, and a martini in the afternoon – she never wavered from her favorites! She also would often bring in one of her pet parrots, who would sit on her knee throughout lunch and say "hello" to each new customer.

Jeannie Groat, who lives in Aiken, recalls that Marilynn (along with several others) played a joke on Joan Tower that is still remembered today:

"The movie 101 Dalmatians had come out and perhaps some of us thought that Joan was a bit like Cruella de Ville. So while she was having lunch one day at the Bowery we painted black spots on her white car," says Jeannie. "When she came out it took her a while to recognize her car, and we all held our breath – but she had a good laugh about it!"

The mere mention of Marilynn's name around town brings stories of parties, examples of her many kindnesses to people, her behind-the-scenes activities, and always a regretful shake of the head from people who miss her spirit of adventure and her sense of fun. Marilynn Riviere was nothing if not a true original, a person who helped make Aiken an exciting and unforgettable place.

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