Thursday, July 30, 2015

Protect Your Horse From Heat Stress

Safeguard your horse from this potentially serious summertime health threat.

The carefree days of summer can quickly turn worrisome when elevated air temperature and high humidity begin to take a toll on a horse’s health. Heat stress can occur when a hot horse isn’t able to sufficiently cool himself by sweating. The condition affects equine athletes as well as more sedentary individuals. A horse standing in the close confines of a trailer or poorly ventilated barn can overheat. Here’s what you need to know to safeguard your horse from this potentially serious summertime health threat.

The Cause

A horse’s muscles generate significant heat, especially when he’s active. Sweating is the mechanism his body uses to dissipate the heat. But soaring temperatures and high levels of humidity (see below) make it more difficult for the sweating process to have its usual cooling effect. As a result, a horse may become dehydrated, lose vital electrolytes or simply overheat.

The Signs

A horse suffering heat stress is likely to be

  • lethargic and weak
  • lack his normal desire to move forward
  • breathe rapidly—faster than 60 breaths per minute with nostrils flared
  • have a respiratory rate higher than his heart rate
  • show little or no interest in food or water
  • have a rectal temperature of 102 to 103 F.

Heat stress can lead to muscle cramping, reduced gastrointestinal function and even colic. Unchecked, the condition can quickly progress to heat stroke—a failure of the body mechanisms that normally regulate temperature, resulting in decreased blood pressure, narrowing of the blood vessels and reduced heart function. It’s possible for the temperature of a horse with heat stroke to rise above 106 F, which leads to damage of the kidneys, liver, central nervous system, lungs and heart. The horse may collapse in shock.

What to Do

Immediately move a horse showing signs of heat stress into a shady spot. Offer him free-choice water, both plain and with electrolytes. Either hose or sponge him with cool to cold water (ice water is OK if it’s available), especially where large veins are close to the skin: Look for the jugular vein on the neck and the saphenous vein on the inside of each hind leg. It is very important to scrape any excess water from his skin. Even a light coating will act as an insulator to retain body heat.

Call your veterinarian if your horse’s temperature rises above 104 F and does not decrease with cool-water baths and rest. He may be suffering heat stroke and need intravenous fluids and electrolyte replacement as well as an examination to determine if he is colicking or tying up. Do not administer medications such as bute or Banamine® while he is dehydrated because kidney damage can occur.

Once a heat-stressed horse’s vital signs have returned to normal and he’s cool to the touch between his front legs, hand-walk him for about 15 minutes to help prevent his muscles from cramping. Then return him to a shady place—maybe a well-ventilated stall or a paddock with plenty of trees—and check him over the next few hours, watching for signs of colic or muscle cramps. If none develop, he can probably return to light exercise, such as walking, the next day.

Weather Watch

“Heat index” is a term commonly included in weather forecasts during the warmer months of the year. It is a measure developed by the National Weather Service to express the discomfort felt as a result of the combined effect of air temperature and relative humidity (see chart). Here’s how to use it to gauge the effect that activity may have on your horse: If the heat index is

  • less than 90 F: Your horse likely will be able to work normally and cool himself sufficiently as long as he’s adequately fit for what you’re asking him to do.
  • 90–100 F: Proceed with caution. Overheating is possible with prolonged activity and exposure.
  • 101–129 F: The risk of heat stress is high. Ride during the cooler part of the day, take frequent breaks and skip high-stress activities.
  • above 129 F: This is the danger zone. The risk of heat stroke is high. Cancel your plans or postpone them to a cooler part of the day.

Sharon J. Spier, DVM, PhD, was Treating Veterinarian in charge of internal medicine at five Olympic Games from 1988 to 2008 and numerous Pan American Games. She is a professor at the University of California at Davis, where her specialty is equine medicine.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in Practical Horseman in December 2014. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fresh, Healthy and Local

Charlie Herrick's Banks Mill Feed
Story and Photography by Gary Knoll

Charlie Herrick grew up in Connecticut. His father was a professor of history at the local university, who wrote a book about American naval history. Charlie says he has two brothers and two sisters, but for some reason he was the only one in the family interested in horses.

“I had your standard backyard horse,” says Charlie. “I loved taking care of him and riding all day. It was about all I was interested in.”

After high school, Charlie headed off to college at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. He took basic studies, and after two years was thinking about doing something different. “I got a job doing construction,” says Charlie. “I liked it, but when a chance came up to be a welder, I took it. Then, I decided to go to University of Maine to become a farrier. After that, I headed to New Mexico to shoe horses.”

Next, Charlie met Mike Freeman, a renowned trainer of racehorses and a member of the Aiken Racing Hall of Fame. Charlie signed on as a groom and when Freeman’s operation made its annual pilgrimage to Aiken, Charlie found himself in tow.

“I loved Aiken,” says Charlie, who worked his way up to being an assistant trainer

While living in Aiken, Charlie got to know a lot of people. One of them was Marilyn Riviere, who owned a number of properties in town. Marilyn mentioned that she had a place that she thought would make a good horse business, and offered to rent it to Charlie. He took her up on the idea and started boarding and selling horses. The business introduced him to Lydia Rose, and the two were soon married. They had two children, a son who now is involved with food services in Charlotte, and a daughter who lives in Detroit where she works improving communities.

In the early 1980s, Charlie and Lydia founded a new company, Aiken Tack Repair. At first, the business operated out of a mobile store in the back of a pickup truck. Then it moved into a building on Park Avenue.

“We started doing mainly tack and blanket repair,” says Charlie.

“What we really wanted to do was create a grocery store for horses.” So Aiken Tack became Aiken Saddlery, a hardware/grocery/tack store, for horsemen and their horses. “I was delivering bags of feed to several large accounts in the Aiken area,” continues Charlie. “When I was dumping the feed into large bins for my clients, I noticed how different it looked from bag to bag. This sent me on a path to discovery. What should horse feed look like? What should it contain? What could be done to produce it locally here in Aiken, South Carolina, and make it better all the way around?

“Then I started Banks Mill Feed, and it became my dream come true. It’s the perfect kind of operation for me.” Charlie spent several years working closely with grain suppliers and nutritionists. He collaborated with Kentucky Equine Research to formulate a selection of feeds designed to help horses stay healthier and to help solve problems related to colic, EPM and various soundness issues.

“What we found was evidence that horses fed high fat, low starch feeds do much better in high heat areas. Horses do better with a lower percentage of protein than what was being offered. We worked very hard to make a feed that would be right for everyone’s horses, no matter what discipline they were involved with or the age of the horse. Immediately, I discovered a need to custom-blend feed with recommendations from veterinarians on a case-by-case basis.

“What I also found was, it was not a lot harder to make clean feed,” Charlie continues. “Large manufactures buy huge amounts of products to mix into feed. They store them in open warehouses, where rats, bugs and dirt can become part of the feed you are buying and then feeding to your horses.”

Quality control is much easier for a small operation like Banks Mill Feed for several reasons. One is that the man actually making the feed has been doing it for almost 20 years. Another is that all the grains and supplies come in and are stored for a very short time in sealed, small silos. Finally, before anything enters a feed bag, it goes across a shaker screen where any hulls, dirt, or unwanted parts are eliminated. The Banks Mill Feed plant in Aiken can produce up to 400 bags of feed a day. The feed is distributed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Charlie is passionate about his business, and equally enthusiastic about all types of horse sports, and he has tried many. Once settled in Aiken, Charlie discovered polo. “I fell hard for the sport,” he says. He played for over 25 years with and against some of the greatest players the game has ever seen. He made a name for himself in the sport during the first decade of the 21st century when he ran the annual Aiken Polo Pony Sale. Charlie also foxhunted: he was one of the founding members of Whiskey Road Foxhounds and he hunted regularly with the Aiken Hounds.

Most recently, Charlie has been involved in Western sports. He started out with competitive trail riding, and he is now very involved with team penning, which he says is one of the fastest growing sports around. “It’s a very humane sport for the cows and is attracting a huge following of riders from all ages and both sexes,” he says. Seeing a need for more competitions, Charlie and his friend, the horse trainer Eddy Braxton, formed a group called Sorting USA which holds regular events and practices in Edgefield. “The sport is growing like a wildfire, not just in Aiken or the South but everywhere,” he says.

Charlie Herrick has been in Aiken for almost four decades and has seen the horse world here grow and diversify. His own business has also flourished, giving horse people in Aiken the opportunity to buy locallymixed feed that they can depend on. Charlie promises that freshness, high quality, and scientific nutritional value are the cornerstones of the Banks Mill operation. “I guarantee it,” he says solemnly.

For more information about Banks Mill Feed, visit the website www. or call Charlie: 803.641.0007

April-May 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Off and Trotting

Harness Races Return to Aiken
Story by Pam Gleason, Photography by Pam Gleason and Gary Knoll

The trotters are in behind the gate, and heeeeeere they come!

A field of three horses trots up behind the moving starting gate at McGhees’ Mile on Banks Mill Road in Aiken. This is the eighth and featured race of the day, the Ken Hardin Memorial, and these horses know their jobs. The earlier races had mostly green 2-year-olds, and few of the other horses racing today have ever made an official start. The horses for this race, by contrast, range in age from 3 to 7 and have raced anywhere from seven to 40 times. The greener horses were pulling slower jog carts. These horses are hitched to sulkies, commonly referred to as race bikes.

“Things are gonna get serious!” promises the announcer, Roger Huston, as the gate car pulls away and the horses start trotting in earnest. He is right – the horses fly over the red clay as Huston calls off the fractions: opening quarter 29 and 4, (“I told you they were gonna get serious); the half at one minute flat (“They’re even getting more serious,”) three quarters at 1:31 and one fifth.

“Into the stretch they come . . there’s no doubt about this one . . . Flashy Cash showing his heels to the field!” The final time, two minutes and three fifths of a second, isn’t any kind of record, but is certainly respectable for horses at an unofficial training track in South Carolina.

This day, March 28, marks the comeback of the McGhees’ Mile Standardbred races, which were once an annual tradition. Originally, the races were the third event of the Aiken Triple Crown, three consecutive Saturdays of horse sports that include the Aiken Trials for young Thoroughbreds and the Aiken Spring Steeplechase, which is an official race meet on the National Steeplechase Association calendar. But there have not been enough Standardbreds at the track in recent years to hold the races here, and so the Pacers and Polo match took over as the third leg of the Triple Crown back in 2004. Although the polo match retains its place in the Triple Crown, the harness horses have returned, and it looks as though they are here to stay.

“We’re happy,” says Janis McGhee, who owns the track along with her husband Bruce. Janis estimates that as many as 1,200 people came out to picnic railside and cheer on the horses and drivers. “It’s more people than what I expected this time,” she continues. “My kids and I put a lot of work into this . . I really have to give credit to the kids. They worked from morning until night. If it wasn’t for them we couldn’t have done it.” The McGhee sons, Bruce and Matt, also enlisted their girlfriends to help. One daughter, Jessica, who is in veterinary school, came down to help out on the weekends along with her son. It was a family event from start to finish.

Although the races have an informal atmosphere, there is nothing amateurish about them. The drivers and trainers are professionals, and include Kenny Edwards, who races and trains in Ohio. This is the second winter that Edwards and his family have come to train in Aiken for the winter. His wife, Beatrice, says they came to Aiken for the mild weather, and so that Kenny wouldn’t be tempted to race in Ohio through the bitter cold months. “If we weren’t here, he’d be racing at Northfield Park right now, where it’s snowing,” she says.

The announcer, Roger Huston, is among the most well-known professional race announcers anywhere. He normally announces at the Meadows in Pennsylvania. Every September, he is the voice of the Little Brown Jug in Delaware County, Ohio, a pacer’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby. Huston, who is known simply as “The Voice”, has been announcing for 56 years.

“I’ve announced 169,000 races at 134 different race tracks in eight countries – Finland, Norway, Sweden, Wales, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the United States,” he says. “I love to announce races and I love to go to new places. This is the first time I have ever been to Aiken and I hope they invite me back.”

The races are a success by every measure, and if this day is any indication, harness racing is coming back as one of Aiken’s equestrian disciplines. Spectators certainly enjoyed themselves.

“This is exciting, it’s wonderful,” says one spectator, Elliott Levy, who is the former director of the Aiken County Historical Museum. “It’s something that really belongs in Aiken and it demonstrates the diversity of the equine community here. It’s another element that makes Aiken so unique.” Elliot points out that there are two other equestrian events going on today, Pacers and Polo and the Aiken Horse Show in the Woods.

“Every place is drawing crowds,” he says. “The worst part about Aiken is trying to decide which horse event to go to – you can’t go to all of them!”

April-May 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015

Vaughn Equestrian

Putting Down Roots In Aiken
By Pam Gleason, Photography by Gary Knoll

For the past decade, Melissa and Darrell Vaughn have managed the Stable on the Woods, a commercial enterprise on the edge of Aiken’s famous Hitchcock Woods. In that time, they have seen the business thrive: They have attracted boarders, taught students, bought and sold horses, and made a name for themselves as serious horsemen with superb business and managerial skills.

Last June, they took the next step in their personal and professional lives, buying their own farm on Banks Mill Road. The farm already had two small barns, ideal for their personal horses and their working students’ horses. Over the summer, they added a 12-stall barn for client horses, as well as a meticulously manicured, mirrored, full-sized dressage arena with top-of-the-line GGT footing. The farm occupies 12 spacious acres in an established equestrian neighborhood. It has grassy paddocks, a round pen and schooling areas for jumping and flat work. There is also a house for the Vaughns and housing for working students. Melissa and Darrell, with their horses and dogs, moved in this past October.

“We wanted to make sure that everything was in place before we moved,” says Melissa, explaining that they are not leaving their work at The Stable on the Woods. The new farm simply represents a personal investment in Aiken, as well as in their own professional advancement as horsemen. How are they able to keep up both facilities?

“It’s because of Melissa’s incredible organization,” says Darrell, laughing, but not really joking.

“The thing that allows us to do it is that we have great people who work for us and we have a great team at The Stable on the Woods,” says Melissa more seriously. “Jessica Miller has been my assistant manager for a number of years now, and we know we can trust her with anything. Between the organization and scheduling, it works.

“Our primary focus is still over there,” she continues. “But we needed a place to put our own horses. It was a win-win situation. When we moved here, it opened up housing at The Stable on the Woods, and when we brought our horses home, it opened up stall space there. Then, for us, my upper level dressage horse needed a quieter place to train, and Darrell gets in a lot of the problem horses that also need a more private atmosphere. Having our own place allows us to do some of the things that we like to do, while still keeping The Stable on the Woods busy and thriving.”

The new farm is called Essentia. The name, from the Latin word for “essence”, reflects the Vaughn’s sincere commitment to understanding the most important qualities of individual horses and seeking meaningful connections with them. Although they have ambitious competitive and professional goals, their main focus is on doing things right, valuing long term partnerships with their horses and their clients over any short-term success.

“Darrell and I really enjoy the process with the horses, especially the younger horses,” says Melissa. “What we would like to have here is a little bit more of a show barn, not necessarily for people who want to reach the upper levels, but for people who are serious and have good aspirations. We’d also like to explore new avenues in our own riding and get in some quality sales horses.”

The sales horse component is already falling into place. Darrell and Melissa have recently entered into a partnership with another professional who is importing horses from Belgium. They got the first two horses from this partnership this winter, and sold one almost immediately. The other, a 6-year-old KWPN (Dutch Warmblood) gelding named Eluca, recently made his debut in Aiken, showing in First Level dressage. A personable, friendly horse, he is an attractive prospect for any discipline.

Darrell and Melissa met in Aiken about ten years ago. Melissa grew up in New Hampshire, where her parents owned a riding camp and ran a recognized event.

“Horses have been in the family for a while,” she says. “I grew up with all the responsibility of managing a big horse farm.”

While her first discipline was eventing, over the past few years she has turned her focus to dressage. This spring, she competed in her first Grand Prix on Kazio, a horse that she bought for herself in 2011 and has been bringing along ever since. “I’ve always had a passion for dressage,” she says. “I’d like to go to some of the bigger shows and travel more to show in the future.”

Kazio, when she bought him, was a nervous horse with some other issues that manifested themselves in unpredictable behavior in show ring. Melissa spent years trying to figure the horse out. In 2013, she finally got the help she needed from Darren Taplin, a highly respected dressage instructor and trainer who moved to Aiken a few years ago.

“I didn’t in my wildest dreams think I would get Kazio to compete at that level, and I wouldn’t have gotten there without Darren. He was the changing factor for that horse; he made that horse what he is today.”

Sadly, Darren, who had been ill for a long time, died last October.

“I would have loved for him to be here when I did my first Grand Prix,” Melissa continues. “Every time I ride that horse I miss that man. He was a true horseman, and he understood horses. You don’t find people like him that have that true horsemanship, that old school way of doing things. Everyone is in a rush to get horses to a higher level, and you end up with problems. I would give anything for Darren to still be here. You just don’t find people that care that much. That’s what kills me, because we care that much, too.”

While Melissa’s primary concentration is dressage, Darrell is more focused on all around horsemanship. This is not surprising considering his broad and varied equestrian background. Originally from Long Island, he rode for show jumper trainers such as Ralph Caristo and Buddy Brown. Moving on, he did stints in eventing with Michael Page and Charlie Plumb. Eventually, he grew tired of the life on the show circuit, and left it all to join the Marine Corps. After an injury in the service, he returned to the horse life, this time in Hawaii, where he ran his own business and got into other disciplines: reining, cutting, dressage, and even polo. One day he saw an article about Aiken in a magazine, and asked a friend what he knew about the city.

“My friend said Aiken was going to be the up and coming thing,” he said. “And so I came. I knew that wherever there were horses I would have an opportunity.”

Within days of arriving, Darrell was working for Jill Diaz at Estancia La Victoria in Wagener where he helped to train and exercise polo ponies. Not long afterward, he met Melissa. At the time, she had a horse that was giving her some trouble.

“He kept saying that horses that misbehaved weren’t bad, they were just misunderstood,” says Melissa. “And so I asked him to come ride my horse for me, and he did. It wasn’t just talk; he knew what he was doing.”

The two became a couple before they began to work together. “I offered him a job,” says Melissa. “I said, it’s black or it’s white; either we’re going to be able to work together as a couple, or we aren’t.”

“And we just clicked,” says Darrell. “She has her things that she does very well, and I have things that I do well, and we both have a lot of respect for one another’s talents. So we do well being at the same farm together all the time, and really, we go hours and hours without seeing each other.”

One of the things that makes Darrell stand out is his ability to understand and help difficult horses, or horses with behavior problems. He says that many horses end up troubled because they are pushed too fast before they have a proper physical and mental base. In addition to knowing how to ride these horses, Darrell also knows how to touch them. Many years ago, he studied with Jack Meagher, the godfather of horse massage in America, and he uses massage as well as Reiki (energy work) to help horses get back on the right path.

“I get such joy doing the body work, because I know that things are going to be clearer to the horse afterwards,” says Darrell. “Then, because I have worked on them, I know what muscles are bothering them. When I go to ride them, I know how to ask for the things that are going to be easy for them, to give them confidence. And you build on that very quickly.”

Originally, Darrell just did bodywork on horses that he and Melissa were working with, but word got out after Darrell helped one of Darren Taplin’s horses. Now, Darrell travels to a small number of farms as well. “We limit it,” says Darrell. “We try to make sure the horses are on the same kind of program that we are on, because otherwise it isn’t really going to work. I really do it for the horses more than anything. You can really help some of them.”

The Vaughns say they are excited about their future in Aiken, looking forward to balancing their work at The Stable on The Woods with more opportunities to fulfill their own goals at Essentia Farm. These goals start with competition, training, teaching and sales, but they seem to be more ambitious too. Darrell and Melissa are passionate about horses, and their commitment to good horsemanship is palpable. They seem to be in pursuit of something more: a deeper understanding, perhaps, of the essence of horsemanship itself.

April-May 2015

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ask the Judge: Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor and 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 between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage. Do you have a question for Amy? Send her an email at McElroyDRM@, or visit her website:

Dear Amy,

I recently showed in a recognized dressage show. I didn’t realize that the new 2015 tests have a different number of collective marks than the 2014 tests. Could you please explain the new collective marks for the rider position?

Training Level

Dear Training Level,
You are correct that the new 2015 tests have changed their collective marks. The new tests have only five collective marks versus the six that have been in use since 2011. We still have collective marks for Gaits, Impulsion and Submission. The difference this year is that there are now only two collective marks for the rider, rather than three. Each “rider position” scoring box has a coefficient of one.

The first scoring box for rider position is called Rider’s Position and Seat. The second is called Rider’s Correct and Effective Use of Aids. Let’s look at the directives for these marks.

Rider’s Position and Seat: The directives for this scoring box call for the judge to evaluate the rider’s posture and alignment, stability, elasticity, weight placement, and the ability to follow the mechanics of the gaits. So what does that all mean? Here’s an explanation adapted from the USEF judge’s guidelines.

Posture and Alignment: at all gaits, the rider’s ear, shoulder, hip and heel are vertically aligned. The rider does not lean ahead of or behind the vertical. The rider’s spine is perpendicular to and aligned with the horse’s spine. The back is neither rounded nor hollow, and the shoulders and hips are level. This is the ideal position.

Weight Placement and Stability: At all gaits and movements, the rider sits vertically with his or her weight distributed equally on both seat bones. For example, on a circle, the rider does not lean inward or outward.

Following Mechanics of Gaits: at all gaits, the rider demonstrates the ability to ride in harmony with the mechanics of each gait. The hands act independently to maintain a steady elastic connection with the horse’s mouth.

This mark is evaluated essentially the same as a dressage equitation class would be.

Rider’s Correct and Effective Use of Aids: The directives for this box include clarity, subtlety, independence and accuracy of the test. Again, adapted from the USEF judge’s guidelines:

Clarity and subtlety: The rider prepares for and performs all movements using tactful, quiet, effective aids, giving the impression of clear communication between horse and rider. The training of the horse appears to be following the principles of the training scale.

Independence: Both horse and rider appear confirmed at their level and confident. The rider is able to use the seat, leg and hand aids independently. The horse and rider are pleasant to watch.

Accuracy of Test: The horse and rider perform the movements with the correct geometry. The horse responds obediently and accurately. The horse and rider are able to perform all the movements at the level in which they are competing with ease. This aspect of the mark also relates to the submission score.

Rider’s Correct and Effective use of Aids is scored independently from the other rider score, but the two scores do relate. The better and more secure the rider position is, the more the rider will be able to influence the horse in a positive way.

These newer collectives have been well received by riders, trainers and judges alike. Rider position is important, so continue to work on your equitation, and not just to get a better score on your dressage test. Better equitation will certainly earn you a higher score in these collective marks. Excellent equitation will also greatly improve the effectiveness of your ride and enhance the overall presentation of your test.
                                                                                                                                    Good Luck!

April-May 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015

Secret Lives of Horses: Brandy the War Horse

By Mary Jane Howell

Brandy is a 21-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter, whose quiet demeanor does not imply that she is a wallflower. On the contrary, this chestnut mare has the courage of a lion and the résumé to back up such a statement.

Brandy has been a participant in Civil War battle reenactments, from Gettysburg to the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico. She has herded cattle on some of the biggest ranches in Colorado and Wyoming, and shepherded rowdy college students at stadiums before football games. She has walked ever so gently with a handicapped child on her back, and then later learned to fox hunt. If ever a horse could proclaim “Been there, done that,” it would be Brandy.

Brandy’s owner and partner in all of these adventures is Terry Guriel, a former brewmaster for Anheuser-Busch. Terry and his wife Joanne moved to Aiken from Colorado in November 2011, and their horses followed them a few months later. Although Brandy is now semi-retired, she still enjoys being ridden along the trails that are just outside her paddock at Three Runs Plantation. It is up to her if she canters or just walks along.

She is the “horse of a lifetime” for Terry, and the fact that he rode her for the first time in a round pen set up alongside the original Cabela’s sporting goods store in Kearney, Nebraska, sets the tone for their shared story.

“Brandy was bred and owned by a horsewoman in Iowa who was a long distance rider. The mare was for sale, so I requested a video – Iowa being just a bit too far from Colorado for a casual look,” laughed Terry. “I liked what I saw, so we arranged to meet halfway, which was in Kearney. When I rode her in that round pen we bonded instantly and even though she had only been taught the basics I just knew she was special.”

That afternoon, after the deal was sealed, Brandy headed to her new home in the foothills of the Rockies. The Guriel’s ranch was 40 acres and at close to 7,000 feet. They had some cattle, but mostly it was the fact that the couple could saddle their horses and ride to the high peaks from their backyard that made it the perfect place for them.

The Missouri Fox Trotter has long been appreciated for its stock horse abilities, stamina and smooth gaits. Brandy was the perfect example of the breed, and she loved working cattle. When he drove away from his job at Anheuser-Busch on a Friday afternoon, Terry would slip into cowboy mode. He would often work as a “Day Cowboy” for the big ranches in northern Colorado and Wyoming on weekends.

“Our day would start at 5 in the morning and not finish until 7 or later in the evening,” Terry recalled. “We would herd cattle across open spaces, down ravines – whatever the country threw at us. Brandy was so game and she seemed to really appreciate having a job, although she would be exhausted at the end of the day.”

Terry was also involved in the Larimer County Sheriff ’s Office for five years. The mounted patrol unit was called a posse, and Terry was a deputized member.

“There is nothing better at crowd control than a mounted officer,” he explained. “You have a bunch of rowdy kids who have had too much to drink and they think they’re going to show you who’s boss… you start moving in their direction and suddenly they see that your horse is so much bigger than they are. Sometimes they would jump up and down, wave their arms, try and throw bottles, and Brandy would just march straight into them. If that’s not bomb proof than I don’t know what is!”

The gentler side of being a member of the sheriff ’s office was the once a year trail ride that the deputies did with an organization called FREE (Front Range Exceptional Equestrians). The “Exceptional Equestrians” were children and adults with disabilities.

“To see the smiles on their faces as they rode was so heartwarming,” explained Terry. “Some of the riders needed someone on each side of them, while others could just be led. Brandy knew that she was carrying precious cargo and she walked so gently.”

None of the above-mentioned jobs earned Brandy her surname of War Horse, however. That name she earned by participating in Civil War reenactments over a 16-year period, as well as “fighting” in a variety of Indian war reenactments.

What drives a grown man to become involved with reenactments? For Terry the answer is threefold. He is a fan of history, especially the cavalry; he has a huge interest in antique guns and saddles; and finally he enjoys a bit of time travel of sorts – reenacting allows him to place himself (and his horse) completely in another time period.

Brandy was Terry’s third reenactment horse; his first two did not see the fun of charging into battle with the sound of cannons surrounding them. Brandy, on the other hand, seemed to revel in all the action.

The largest battle that Terry and Brandy were involved in was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 2013.

“We didn’t actually fight on the real battlefield; that is a protected area now as a National Military Park,” explained Terry. “Reenactments are held in a field just west of the original battlefield.”

For the 150th anniversary, there were 10,000 infantry and over 500 cavalry used to reenact the battle that was known as the turning point of the Civil War.

“It was amazing to see that many horses in one place,” said Terry. “Column after column of horses… and then the charge. I was one of the cavalrymen carrying the Confederate flag and when the charge was sounded I had to peel off. You never allow your flag to be captured.”

Brandy never missed a beat, even in the heart of battle with cannons firing and black powder pistols going off all around her.

The question begs to be asked: how do you actually train a horse for battle?

“Brandy just has the right temperament for reenactments,” explained Terry. “She trusts me completely and knows that I am not actually putting her in harm’s way. I trained her to accept the gunfire by giving her treats after each shot. The first time she heard a cannon she tensed like a spring, but that was all.”

“The most difficult part of a battle reenactment is the charge,” Terry said. “Horses will gallop with other horses beside them and behind them – but to ask them to run straight into a column of other horses is a different story. It’s against every instinct they have, and that is where trust plays a huge part. When I ask Brandy to charge I can sense her taking the measure of the horses coming at her. She is looking for that little bit of open space between two horses where she can pass safely.”

It is obviously not for the weak of heart!

Although the Battle of Gettysburg was the largest reenactment the pair have been in, they have also taken part in many battles throughout South Carolina and Georgia, including participating in the Battle of Aiken four times. When they lived in Colorado, they participated in the Battles of Socorro and Glorieta Pass, both Civil War battles fought in what would become New Mexico.

Life is definitely different now for Brandy and her best friend Sonnet, a 16-year-old Norwegian Fjord and Joanne’s riding horse. When they lived in Colorado they dealt with large snowfalls and had the winter off; in Aiken they have three grassy paddocks to mosey through and the Hitchcock Woods to ramble in when they want a change of scenery.

Perhaps when she is dozing in the corner of her paddock Brandy is recalling long runs behind the hounds when she was part of the Arapahoe Hunt (Colorado) and they chased down coyotes, or perhaps the gentler days of hunting in Aiken with Why Worry or Whiskey Road Foxhounds; perhaps she is remembering a long, tiring journey she made with Terry to the “Hole-in-the- Wall” – the famed Wyoming hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; or fierce battle charges. Perhaps she is simply dozing, and content to be one of the happiest horses in Aiken.

The Road to Rolex

Aiken Entries
By Amber Heintzberger, Photography By Gary Knoll

The Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event is America’s premier eventing competition. Held each April at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Rolex is the only regularly-held four star CCI in the Western Hemisphere and it attracts the top competitors in America, as well as a regular contingent of international riders.

This year, a number of horses and riders who train and compete in Aiken over the winter are on the road to Rolex, including some that have galloped over the course many times before, and others for whom this will be the first time. These are a few of their stories.

Phillip Dutton: Mighty Nice, Fernhill Cubalawn, Fernhill Fugitive
Phillip Dutton is a Rolex veteran who won there in 2008 riding Bruce Duchossois’s Connaught. During the winter, Phillip is based out of his own Red Oak Farm in the Bridle Creek equestrian community and he spends his summers at True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pennsylvania. This year, he is on his way to Kentucky with three horses: Fernhill Cubalawn, owned by Thomas Tierney and Simon Roosevelt; Mighty Nice, owned by Caroline Moran, Annie Jones, Michael Bombar, Kevin Keane and Evie Dutton; and Fernhill Fugitive, owned by Thomas Tierney and Ann Jones.

Dutton was thrilled to have Mighty Nice competing again this spring after the horse was laid up with an injury last year. Might Nice, “Happy”, finished third in the CIC Two Star Carolina International at the Carolina Horse Park in mid-March.

Phillip also finished eighth in that competition on Mr. Medicott, owned by the Mr. Medicott Syndicate. Mr. Medicott, “Cave” was also returning to competition after being laid up. After the event, however, Dutton decided to withdraw him from Rolex, not wanting to risk aggravating a tendon injury that he sustained there last year. Currently, Cave is sound, and Dutton’s goal is to ensure that he still has a bright future at the upper levels by not putting undue stress on the tendon. “I think it’s better for him and I’d rather be safe than sorry,” he said wistfully.

Dutton won the Carolina International CIC Three Star on I’m Sew Ready, who will not compete in Kentucky, while his Rolex-bound horses Fernhill Fugitive and Fernhill Cubalawn finished sixth and 16th respectively. “Cuba”, a Holsteiner gelding, won the Intermediate at Pine Top back in February, and both horses had top five finishes at Pine Top Advanced Horse Trials.

Both Fernhill horses also competed at Blenheim (England) last year and performed well; Dutton said Cuba was previously ridden by Alex Green and has more experience at the lower levels, while Fernhill Fugitive is a little greener than his stable mate. This will be the first trip to Rolex for both horses.

“For their first time at Kentucky a top-ten finish is probably a good goal. As they progress, the next time it becomes a bit easier and hopefully they can be a bit more competitive. They’re both good in all three phases so we’ll be trying to get them as competitive as possible while keeping in mind it’s their first four-star.”

Phillip’s main hope for competitive success lies with the more experienced Mighty Nice. “Happy should be competitive; he’s going better and better on the flat and he’s a great cross-country horse,” he said. “I’ve been getting help from Silvio [Mazzoni, the U.S. Eventing Team show jumping coach] on the show jumping and I’m excited about his chances.”

Sally Cousins: Tsunami III
Sally Cousins started her 17-hand Thoroughbred mare Tsunami III, known as “Sue”, back into work on December 1, and she has had her sights steadily on Rolex all winter.

“Sue had done the Fair Hill three-star at the end of October and she is an older horse, so I am careful to bring her back slowly,” said Cousins. “She has a lot of experience and I don’t do too many events with her in preparation for Rolex. She does one Intermediate, then the Fork Advanced and then I take her to Rolex. I’m not sure how many times I’ve done Rolex now, but I know she’s jumped clear around there twice. I have taken her three times but withdrew after the dressage in 2013.”

Sally owns a farm in Aiken, so she’s able to spend the winter training in better conditions than at her northern base in Pennsylvania. “The footing is great and there are a lot of opportunities to get the horses out to competitions or cross-country schoolings. The footing in Pennsylvania is either way too muddy or frozen so we have to come to Aiken to get ready for Rolex,” she said.

So far it’s been smooth sailing in her preparations. “I’ve not had any setbacks and I hope I haven’t just jinxed myself by saying that, but I would like to be in the top 10 this year. I have just missed it by a bit the previous two outings there.”

Like a lot of horses that make it to the four-star level, Cousins said Sue excels on cross-country day. “She is the horse that you want to be tacking up on Saturday,” Cousins said. “She can be tight and tense in the dressage, but she typically does one of her better tests at Kentucky. She may have one rail down on Sunday, but she’s a very reliable jumper.”

Holly Payne: Never Outfoxed
Based in New Jersey in the summers and Aiken in the winters, Holly Payne competed in Kentucky last year aboard Madeline, a 15.1 hand Thoroughbred mare owned by Jill Gordon. However, the pair retired on the cross-country course. This year, Holly will be aiming to complete her first four-star, riding Never Outfoxed, an unraced 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding owned by the Fox Syndicate.

“Madeline is super small and couldn’t make the distances at the fourstar level, that’s why I didn’t take her back to try again,” said Payne. “We worked on it a bit and the four-star was just too much for her. Also, I had two other Advanced horses coming up, so she has retired to compete at the lower levels with her owner.”

“He’s a really awesome cross-country horse,” said Payne of “Fox”, who competed at the Bromont (Quebec) and Fair Hill (Maryland) CCI Three Stars last year, finishing 12th and 9th respectively. “He’s a typical Thoroughbred that gets nervous and he needs work in dressage and that can affect his show jumping too. But he was clean at Fair Hill and has been going well recently.”

Payne started taking dressage lessons with Kim Severson and said they have been working on keeping Fox’s brain “slow,” getting him relaxed and comfortable.

“The dressage is still a work in progress,” she said. “This past weekend at the Carolina International he was relaxed as he’s ever been before the dressage. I was trying a new strategy though, and it didn’t work: I didn’t put any pressure on until we got in the ring, but then he just lost it. He almost fooled me because he was so good getting there!

“I talked to Kim afterwards and she said you have to work through the tension in the warm-up, you can’t just avoid it. He’s not going to go in and win the dressage yet but he is super talented and a good mover so if I can sort it out, he’s an amazing horse, very athletic and very game, which is why he’s going to Rolex. If I didn’t think he could jump around I wouldn’t take him there, but he loves cross-country.”

Last fall in New Jersey, Holly worked with a show jumping trainer, Amanda Fletch, on many of the same things that Severson has pinpointed in the dressage, getting Fox to relax and think slowly.

“I think we are right on track with Kim’s strategies for dressage,” she said. “He’s been tricky to take lessons on because not everyone “gets” his personality, but he tries so hard. I’m careful about who I work with, with him. Kim hadn’t seen the true meltdown side of him yet, so hopefully it’ll help now that she knows what we’re dealing with!”

Payne is hoping for a good placing in Kentucky and is banking on Fox’s cross-country skills to get him there. “In the past he has been competitive because he can jump and he can go fast,” she said. “Ideally I think he could run inside the time, even though it’s his first time out, because he just eats the course up. I know the dressage won’t put us in the top because he’s too immature – that would be hoping for a miracle – but if he can do a nice test, the judges do tend to reward him if he’s relaxed, and if we can move up with the jumping, I think it’s not unrealistic that he could place. It’s not like I’ll be really upset if he doesn’t place, since he’s young, but I’d love for him to be competitive.”

Allie Blyskal Sacksen: Sparrow’s Nio
Allie Sacksen and her 15.3h Connemara/Thoroughbred gelding Sparrow’s Nio caught major attention when they won the 2013 Fair Hill International CCI Two Star, and in 2015 they will be competing in their first CCI Four Star at Rolex Kentucky. Allie says she has been preparing for Rolex by trying to keep things as normal as possible for herself and her horse.

“I am trying not to make too many major changes in my program and fitness routine,” she said. “I have been trying to keep what things have worked for me prior to my other big events and slightly change things that haven’t worked so well in the past. I know Nio really well and know he likes the ‘Keep it simple’ method.”

Sacksen’s prep events for Kentucky included Full Gallop here in Aiken, the Carolina International CIC Three Star and The Fork CIC Three Star in North Carolina.

“I would say Nio is still very green on the flat, and so I believe our greenness will be our weakness,” Allie said. “His strength is the crosscountry, he loves it! It truly is enjoyable to ride him around cross-country.”

Nio has been mainly sound and fit through their preparation, though back in January he had his first hoof abscess, which Sacksen said was very stressful for her.

“I saw him very lame out in the field and freaked out!” She said. “But it ended up popping and healing really fast. Overall things have gone fairly smoothly as I prepare, knock on wood! I try to take each day at a time and not get wrapped up in the craziness of the fact that I am heading for my first Rolex.”

Allie is focused on completing the competition with a sound and happy horse. “I would like to excel at our strongest phase, which is the cross country, and I would like to get around clean and safe,” she said. “I am just so excited to be part of this amazing event and to be able to compete alongside some of the biggest names in eventing. I am just a small town girl on a horse I started eventing four years ago; I took him to his very first event and to be going to our first four-star together is really exciting!”

Sacksen, who is from Fair Hill, Md., spent the winter in Aiken and described it as an unbelievable experience. “I had the opportunity to train with Richard Lamb in the show jumping; he coached my husband while he was training in Modern Pentathlon and is very involved in the United States Pony Club. He has been great helping dealing with the nerves and jitters of training for such a big event. I also have been able to work with Mara dePuy on the flat and she has helped push me and Nio a little more in the flat.

“Being in Aiken gives you the opportunity to train alongside some of the country’s best riders,” she continued. “I have been bouncing ideas off of and asking questions of many Rolex alumni. Aiken has been also really beneficial in helping my fitness because I am able to do my trot and canter sets without having to deal with the muddy, frozen ground that we have up north in the winter. I have enjoyed my time here and hopefully will be making the trip back down next winter.”

The Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event includes two full days of dressage, so the event actually runs for four days, Thursday, April 23 through Sunday, April 26. There are many more Aiken-based riders who have sent in their entries, including Kate Chadderton with Collection Pass, Courtney Cooper with Who’s a Star, Kevin Keane with Fernhill Flutter, Boyd Martin with Cracker Jack, Master Frisky and Pancho Villa, Colleen Rutledge with Shiraz and Covert Rights, and Kristin Schmolze with Ballylaffin Bracken. William Fox Pitt from England, who has won the event three times in the last five years, will be back with three horses, including last year’s winner, Bay My Hero, the winner in 2012, Parklane Hawk, and Freddie Mac, an up-and-coming 11-yearold gelding.

Find out more about Rolex at

April-May 2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Causes of Back Pain in Horses

By Vanessa Craft

Consider the causes of equine back pain and how you can help relieve it.

Horse acting a little testy lately? Sidesteps out from under you when you try to mount? Reaches around to snap at you as you curry along his topline? Refuses to back up or get his haunches under him for a really good spin? Looks like some cranky old geezer shuffling along the riding ring? Flat out refuses to jump anything more; even cavalletti stop him cold? You better listen up because he's not just being difficult; he could be telling you point-blank that his back is bothering him, maybe a little, maybe a lot.

For as common as they may be, sore backs are often confounding to diagnose and treat. The "back," the most complex and expansive locomotor structure of the horse's body, includes

  • a total of 23 or 24 thoracic and lumbar vertebrae between withers and tail head 

  • the spinal cord running through them

  • the muscles and ligaments that hold the vertebrae in alignment

  • the joints between them the multiple muscles anchored to them, connecting the spinal column to the appendages.

Unlike limb pain, which is usually reflected in identifiable lamenesses, back discomfort frequently lacks a readily discernable focal point and characteristic gait effects. A painful front fetlock produces this kind of limp, a strained stifle produces that kind of gait alteration, but what happens when a horse has discomfort in his topline? "The most common symptom of back problems is behavior problems," says Joyce Harman, DVM, of Harmany Equine Clinic in Washington, Virginia. With only these vague indications to go on, you can easily misinterpret manifestations of a sore back as signs of leg lameness or of a training problem.

Even after you are fairly certain that your horse is reacting to back pain, determining whether it's muscles, ligaments, vertebrae or multiple structures that are strained, injured or inflamed isn't easy. Identifying the cause of the soreness may or may not be possible; sometimes even sophisticated diagnostics aren't able to visualize an abnormality hidden under thick muscle or within dense bone. Yet as uncertain as diagnostics may be, a methodical, commonsense approach can help you eliminate hurtful influences and ease back discomfort that may be making your horse crabbier than he wants to be.

Behavioral clues

  • A horse with severe back pain usually makes strong behavioral statements about his distress, including

  • evading contact during grooming

  • pinning his ears or biting as you saddle him

  • sinking, bucking or rearing when you mount

  • restricting his rolling and lying down or rolling more violently than previously

  • regularly rearranging his stall bedding to he can stand in a more comfortable position. Minor back soreness is often reflected in generalized behavioral changes that can indicate other orthopedic pain as well as back soreness. Hock lameness, in particular, is easily confused with signs of back discomfort. Still, consider back soreness as the underlying reason a horse becomes difficult to catch

  • develops annoying under-saddle habits, such as tail swishing

  • resists backing up

  • resents lateral work, often in one direction

  • acts stiff behind and seems reluctant to fully engage his hindquarters

  • is fidgety, tense and unable to concentrate

  • becomes less responsive to your aids as a riding session progresses. Certain activities may put the back into position to suffer painful pressures, causing horses to resist performing specific maneuvers. For instance,

  • a roping horse may begin to stop too soon or too late to avoid sudden jarring of the saddle

  • a reining horse may be reluctant to sit down in his slides because it hurts to round his back a sore-backed jumper may produce less thrust, jump with a fixed, hollow back, rush to or away from fences or refuse to jump combinations

  • a trail horse may rush up and down hills or try to go downhill sideways to escape his back pain.

When you examine performance problems as possible expressions of back discomfort, consider the point in the maneuver that triggers the horse's resistance. Is it when the horse has to bring his hindquarters under him, move laterally, bear weight on a particular limb or reach forward with his head and neck? Noticing a pattern in his objections can tip you off that a physical problem is a factor in his behavior. Now you're ready to try to localize the pain, first by palpating the back, then by watching the horse move.

Search for soreness

Examine your horse's back by running your fingers along the muscles that parallel the spine, noting their tone. We may use the term "hard body" for an extremely fit, muscular person, but hardness is not what you hope to find during your examination. Hard muscles are tense and probably sore. Harman describes the feel of healthy muscles as "like Jello."

Once you've completed the superficial examination, gradually increase your finger pressure to press more deeply into the muscles. Avoid sharp, sudden jabs, which will cause the horse to flinch, whether or not his back is sore. Instead, work your way along the muscles at hand-width intervals, repeating fingerpad pressure that gradually increases to a consistent moderate level. If your horse sidesteps or drops away, you may have hit on a sore spot. Lack of response to even significant pressure may not mean that all is well, however; the horse, instead, may be protecting his back from your poking by tightening his muscles. The difference in feel between resistant-hard and Jello-healthy muscles should be evident. Next, go down the back's midline, firmly pressing on the top (dorsal spinous process) of each vertebra. If the horse drops away from the pressure, it may indicate soreness in either the spinal bones themselves or the supraspinous ligament running along the vertebral tips. Finally, check the back's ability to flex and extend. Place your fingertips under his belly and push up firmly: If he doesn't raise his back, he may be sore. Usually, vertebral or ligament pain is accompanied by muscle pain, but the reverse isn't true: A horse with sore back muscles won't necessarily have spinal pain.

Watch him move

Now that you have some physical clues to work from, the next step is for you or a qualified expert to study the horse's movement. Enlist a capable handler who can get the horse to jog out as freely as possible in hand, and watch the horse's general posture and the extent of his back action. A healthy back swings in rhythm with movement; a sore back remains rigid to guard against further pain. Continue to observe the trotting horse, looking for gait irregularities that might originate in his limbs. Head bobbing at the jog is characteristic of a horse who's trying to unweight a painful limb.

If your horse is trained to longe, watch him move in large circles in both directions at all three gaits. Again, note any back rigidity and uneven movement. You're not trying to distinguish between causes and effects: Subtle leg lameness might be making the back sore, or back pain could be affecting the horse's rhythm enough to make him appear "off" in one leg. Next, tack up your horse and, depending upon your abilities, ride him yourself or have a skilled, quiet rider take the reins so the horse can be observed for any differences in his way of going under saddle versus on the longe line. The rider needs to make every effort to "follow" the horse's motion with a relaxed back and seat, allowing the horse to move as freely as he can. Aboard a pain-free back, a rider can sense a pendular swing in the back and symmetry through all stride phases; conversely, he'll feel stiffness and unevenness if the horse is hurting. Weight bearing is a surefire way to trigger or amplify painful vertebral, muscle and ligament conditions. If ill-fitting tack pokes, pinches or rubs, the horse will exhibit more pain while working under saddle than bareback. The observer can also note if rider stiffness or imbalance might be evoking signs of back pain in the horse.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Remembering Aiken's Horsemen

F. Ambrose Clark: A lover of animals
Story By Pam Gleason; Photos courtesy of the Museum of Polo Hall of Fame

Frederick Ambrose Clark (1881-1964) was born to immense wealth and privilege. He was not ashamed of this, nor of his determination to live his life in pursuit of the things he most enjoyed. He did not go into business, or even, for that matter, finish college.

From his obituary in the New York Times:
“I am not a money-maker,” he once remarked. “All I know is horses. Why should I go puttering down to an office to meddle in something another man can do 100 times better?”

“Brose,” as he was known to his friends and family, rode to hounds, played polo, competed in showjumping competitions and steeplechases, and drove an immaculately turned out four-in-hand around Aiken and his properties in New York. He was a big man and a bold rider, but not necessarily a good one. In fact, descriptions of his riding almost invariably include accounts of his many falls. According to his obituary, by the time he was an old man, he had broken every bone in his body at least once. The fall that put an end to most of his riding happened when he was about 70 years old. He was at Broad Hollow, his 500-acre estate in Old Westbury, Long Island, riding one horse while leading another, a yearling racehorse prospect. Something spooked the yearling, which pulled Mr. Clark from the saddle, knocking him to the ground where he fractured his left hip. Still, he wouldn’t let go of the young horse. “Damned valuable yearling,” he said later.

Before consenting to get into the ambulance to go to the hospital, he is said to have asked for a blanket, a box of cigars, and a magnum of Champagne.

The Clark fortune, made in the 1800s, came from a partnership between Edward Clark, who was Ambrose’s grandfather, and Isaac Singer, who invented the Singer sewing machine. The elder Clark was a lawyer who first got involved with Singer during a patent dispute. His pay was a one-third portion of the sewing machine patent. Later, Clark became a full partner in the business, which relied upon Singer’s inventive talents and Clark’s brilliant business acumen. By 1860, Singer was the largest manufacturer of sewing machines in the world, and Clark was a millionaire many times over. He also invested in real estate and built the Dakota, which was one of the first luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan and remains a prestigious address.

F. Ambrose Clark was born in Cooperstown, New York, where his family had a vast country estate. Horses were his life from the beginning. In addition to his own athletic pursuits, he also owned and bred racehorses. In September 1902, when he was 21, he married Florence Lockwood Stokes, the youngest daughter of Henry Stokes, who owned the Manhattan Life Insurance Company. Their wedding was attended by 100 family and friends. The wedding cake, shaped like a horseshoe, was sprinkled with 100 solid gold horseshoe nails that guests took home as souvenirs of the occasion.

Florence (known as Meg) was both an heiress and an avid horsewoman and racing enthusiast in her own right. In fact, she maintained her own racing and breeding operation separate from her husband’s. Her older sister Marie, also an enthusiastic horsewoman, was married to Albert C. Bostwick. Marie’s sons Dunbar and George Herbert (Pete) both got their start in horse racing by working for their uncle Ambrose. Pete Bostwick, who was inducted into the United States Polo Hall of Fame, The National Racing Hall of Fame and the Aiken Racing Hall of Fame, used to ride Brose’s horses in both flat and steeplechase races. These races included the top contests in the sport – for example, in 1928, Pete finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes, riding Ambrose’s Whisk Broom.

The Clarks did not limit their sporting pursuits to the North American continent. They also had a country estate in Melton Mowbry, England, where they regularly went foxhunting. There, they often rode with the Prince of Wales, who later became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. In England, the Clarks maintained stables of flat and steeplechase horses, and could claim the distinction of being among just a handful of American owners whose horses have won the English Grand National. The Grand National is the most prestigious contest in steeplechasing, famous for the height of its fences and for the fierceness of its competition. In 1933, Ambrose had two horses entered in the race, Chadd’s Ford and Kellsboro Jack. Believing himself to be a jinx on his horses that year, he sold Kellsboro Jack to his wife for one pound just before the race. Chadd’s Ford finished second to last. Kellsboro Jack sailed home the winner by three lengths. After the race, Meg magnanimously allowed Ambrose to parade her new champion to the winners’ circle.

In 1915, after German U-boats torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland, the Clarks, like many of their set, decided to spend their winters in the U.S. rather than venturing overseas. In 1916, they joined a growing number of “Winter Tourists” who regularly came to Aiken for the winter months. For several years, the Clarks rented winter “cottages” for their Aiken sojourns, often staying at William C. Whitney’s opulent Joye Cottage on the corner of Whiskey Road and Easy Street. In 1929, they purchased their own estate, Habersham House, which was built two years earlier for Kenneth Schley, the Master of the Essex Hunt. After the Grand National victory, Habersham House was renamed Kellsboro House in the horse’s honor.

Ambrose also built himself a distinctive brick stable in Aiken just across Mead Avenue from Whitney Polo Field. Known as the Clark Barn, the stable, complete with an indoor track, is said to have won an architectural award after it was built, but actual records of this are difficult to locate. In any case, the stable, which today stands beside Winthrop Polo Field and across from the Track Kitchen, was recently restored by Larlee Construction for its owners, Sandy and Don Nicolaisen, and this January won a Stewardship Award from the Historic Aiken Foundation.

F. Ambrose Clark’s love of horses extended to all disciplines and encompassed sporting art as well as flesh and blood horses. Broad Hollow, a 42-room mansion he purchased from Thomas Hitchcock, housed an impressive collection of paintings: “A month with every reference book on sporting art would be necessary to do credit to the gems in the collection,” wrote Harry Worcester Smith, the author of Life and Sport in Aiken. An appreciation for art ran in the family: Ambrose’s brother, Robert Sterling Clark, was one of America’s foremost collectors of Impressionist paintings, while his brother Stephen Carlton Clark, also an art collector, was on the board of directors of both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Stephen was also the founder of the National Baseball Hall of Fame near the family seat in Cooperstown.

Throughout his life, Brose was known for his passion, not just for horses, but also for good living and for a certain stubborn affinity for the past. With his elegantly tailored suits, fancy waistcoats and bowler hats, he is said to have always looked like he just stepped out of a 19th century sporting print. He loved Champagne – he even had it for breakfast. He hated automobiles, and insisted on driving his coach and four wherever he could. When he had to take a car, it was a Rolls Royce created especially for him with a bed in the back. For 15 years he hosted the Meadowbrook Cup, a timber race, at Broad Hollow. He refused to allow NBC sports to drive onto the property and insisted that they transfer their radio equipment to a farm cart in order to cover the race.

Above everything, perhaps, Ambrose Clark had a love for animals – not just for horses but for dogs as well. In the book The Clarks of Cooperstown, written by Nicholas Fox Weber, his great niece, Anne Peretz, remembers having breakfast with him at the estate in Cooperstown when she was about 7. She would sit at one end of the table with her great uncle at the other. Six high-backed chairs, three to each side, were arranged along the table. At a signal, Brose’s six Springer Spaniels would hop into the chairs and wait while the butler served them bowls of food. The dogs sat motionless while Ambrose said grace, and then ate with enthusiasm as soon as they heard the word Amen.

Many accounts of Ambrose’s life say that he and Meg had no children. This is not true, however. In 1910, they had a daughter named Ethel, who had some kind of physical and mental disability. Ethel is rarely mentioned, although when she was 18 she did accompany her parents to Melton Mowbry, according to a brief mention in the New York Times. She lived in her own home on the Clark’s huge property in Cooperstown, where she was attended by servants until she died in 1932. During World War II, the Clarks established a rest camp for Navy seamen in her memory.

In his later years, Ambrose suffered from the falls he took early in his life – little wonder as he is said to have had his spine held together by a number of silver pins. Alan Corey III, a longtime Aiken resident, remembers seeing him on a horse, but recalls that he always looked as if he was propped up there. Both Alan and Ambrose’s great nephew Charlie Bostwick remember him better driving his four-in-hand coach around Aiken’s dirt roads. Despite his increasing ailments, Clark maintained his racing stable until October 1963, when, not feeling able to “enjoy the fun”, he disbanded it. He died the following February at the age of 83.

“He was a real sportsman,” Francis Bellhouse, his trainer, was quoted as saying. “You don’t find men like him any more. After a race, he never quibbled. There was nothing cheap about him. He always ran a first class outfit, no matter what he did.”

Frederick Ambrose Clark was buried in a private cemetery on his Cooperstown property. Two other graves are in this cemetery: one belongs to the beloved horse Kellsboro Jack; the other to Buttons, a special dog. Both these tombstones have long inscriptions. Clark’s is more modest. It has just his name, his dates, and the inscription “a lover of animals.”

April-May 2015

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