Friday, July 29, 2016

EQUUS Consultants | Horse Elbow Injuries

Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS Magazine's Medical Editor, discusses elbow injuries and how they can be prevented.


Q: My 20-year-old Thoroughbred mare has been wearing egg-bar shoes since re-injuring her right front suspensory two years ago. The shoes seem to really help her, and she is going great. My problem is that she repeatedly cuts her left elbow on the shoe. I suspect she does this when she gets up after lying down. She usually doesn't cut her right elbow, but has nicked it a couple of times.

The first time she cut her left elbow, the injury required two sets of staples, then a set of stitches, all of which kept getting ripped out. We finally left the wound open and let it heal on its own. However, she has cut the elbow again twice since then.

I did get a boil-boot, which she wears when not being handled, but she is still cutting herself. I'm at a loss for what else to try. I need to find something she can wear for long periods of time that won't interfere with her ability to stand comfortably.

A: Elbow injuries are among the most troublesome. The elbow area is in motion so much that surgical intervention is fruitless and can even encourage the formation of bulkier scars. Once injured, the healed elbow becomes a larger and more tender target for reinjury--the site originally damaged by a sharp edge becomes vulnerable to duller ones. Often, pressure from the ground is all that it takes to pull apart old elbow scars.

The strategy for preventing elbow trauma is simple in concept, but challenging in application: keep the offending surface-the ground or shoe edge-away from the target area. I have two suggestions that might help. First, if your mare is stabled much of the time, try keeping her on a "deep litter" bedding system, removing only manure and soiled bedding while adding small amounts of new bedding daily. Eventually you'll build up 12 to 18 inches of spongy stall floor that will provide extra cushioning. I also recommend that you try a thicker shoe-boil ring than the one you have used. Look for one that sticks out at least two or three inches beyond the egg-bar shoe. You can experiment with padding and duct tape to make your current shoe-boil ring larger if you cannot find one this bulky.

- Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from EQUUS Magazine. This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, July 22, 2016

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.



Dear Amy,

I will be advancing to Second Level dressage this spring and I have a few questions that I hope you can answer before I compete. 
First: Will we be using the same tests this spring as they did last fall? 
Second: Would it be appropriate to rise to the medium trot? 
Third: What is the difference between a lengthening and a medium trot?

Sincerely, Second Level

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Second Level,

How exciting that you are ready to move up to Second Level. I would be happy to answer those questions. They are good ones.

As far as the tests being different than they were in the fall, you have no need to worry. They will be the same tests. The USDF Dressage tests change every four years. The last year the tests changed was 2015. Those tests went into effect December 1, 2014 and they will be used through November 30, 2018. There is a joint USDF and USEF committee that is tasked with devising the 2019 tests, which will go into effect on December 1, 2018.

If you are ever unsure about whether a test will be the same next year, just look at any printed test, which will say the year that it went into effect. You can always know when the tests will change by counting four years forward. December 1 is always the date that new tests come into use. (This will be the December of the year before the date printed in the test.)

Your second question is about rising to the medium trot. The answer is no: you are not permitted to post during the medium trot, or any other trot work at Second Level and above. Although Second Level tests don’t seem to clearly state that sitting the trot is mandatory, it most definitely is. In any trot work in any dressage test, it is a given that sitting is a must: the only exception is when the test clearly states that rising is permitted. Once you graduate from First Level, you will not see this option on any test sheets.

If you opt to rise to the medium trot, you will be given an error, a two point deduction off your total points. I highly discourage doing this, and not just because you will lower your score. Learning to sit the trot is an important step as you progress in your dressage riding and training. Sitting the trot is a more effective way to influence your horse’s balance and engagement, and is necessary for collected gaits that are introduced in Second Level.

Your third question is about the difference between the medium and the lengthening trot. There is a difference, although many of the qualities are the same. In a trot lengthening, the judge looks for the overall strides to become longer, while the horse simultaneously stretches and “lengthens” his neck, without losing the rhythm and tempo of the gait. The judge will be looking for five qualities: 1. A moderate lengthening of stride and frame (you should see a clear difference from the working trot); 2. The regularity and the quality of the trot; 3. Straightness; 4. Consistent tempo; 5. Willing, clear transitions.

The medium trot is more than a lengthening, but does not cover as much ground as extended trot (this movement comes in at Third Level.) In the medium trot, the horse’s frame should stay rounder than it did in the lengthening, with the poll the highest point. The judge will be looking for: 1. A moderate length of frame and stride; 2. Engagement; 3. Elasticity; 4. Suspension; 5. Straightness; 6. Uphill balance; 7. Transitions (if these are not counted as a separate movement).

The biggest difference between the lengthening and the medium trot is that the trot lengthening comes out of a working trot, which means that there is not as much engagement of the hind legs. The medium trot, on the other hand, comes out of the collected trot, which means that this gait demonstrates more impulsion and engagement. In the medium trot, the horse should be carrying himself with uphill thinking and some overtracking should be evident.

As the renowned dressage trainer Walter Zettl writes in his book Dressage in Harmony: “The medium trot must come from the collected trot. It can only be as good as the collected trot that precedes it because it expresses the carrying power that the horse is now developing in its collected work.”

I hope this helps you as you make your transition to the next level. Good luck!



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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Are You My Mother?

An Adoption Story


by Pam Gleason


The grass has turned green, the trees have fresh leaves and there is a feeling of renewal and regeneration in the air. At horse farms up and down the East Coast, this is foaling season. At the racehorse farms in Kentucky and elsewhere, the majority of foals are born during the months of February and March. This is by design: Since all Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds born during the same calendar year will be officially 1 year old on the following January first, horsemen try to have their foals early so that they are not at a disadvantage when it is time to race.


Nurse Mares and their Foals

Depending upon their breeding, racing mares and their foals can be incredibly valuable. Top quality Thoroughbred mares are often first bred when they are quite young, and the same things that made them great racehorses – a competitive spirit, a desire to run – can make them less than ideal as mothers. Occasionally, a new mother will reject her foal and refuse to allow it to nurse – this happens in about 2% of all Thoroughbreds. Other times, something goes wrong, and the new mother needs medical attention, or even dies, leaving behind a needy orphan. There are many reasons why newborn foals might not be able to stay with their biological mothers.
In all of these cases, breeding farms with valuable stock might call upon the services of a nurse mare, a mare whose job is to take over as the mother of a foal whose birth mother is not available. One fairly recent example of this that made the news concerns Rachel Alexandra, the winner of the 2009 Preakness Stakes and the 2009 Horse of the Year. To start with, Rachel Alexandra was herself raised by a nurse mare because her mother rejected her after her birth. Then, in 2013, Rachel Alexandra had a filly and developed a life-threatening infection the next day. When she subsequently went in for surgery at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., her filly was matched with a nurse mare named Ojos, a sorrel Quarter Horse from a farm that supplies dozens of nurse mares to breeding farms in Kentucky each season.

Reports in the racing and equestrian press celebrated the fact that the royally-bred Rachel Alexandra filly had bonded with Ojos, who was known as an excellent milk producer and mother. Somewhat less attention was paid to the palomino filly that Ojos had borne the day before she was shipped to Stonestreet Farm to act as a surrogate mother to a member of racing royalty. But Ojos had just given birth, and her foal, known as a nurse mare foal, did not come to Stonestreet with her mother. Instead, that foal stayed home where she was paired with another artificially orphaned foal of a nurse mare. They were both fed by bottle and bucket until they were old enough to eat grain and grass.

The topic of nurse mares and their foals is controversial to say the least. On the one hand, breeders can find comfort in knowing that if their broodmare dies or cannot care for her foal for any other reason, they have a good chance of replacing her with an experienced mother that they can lease for the season, all thanks to the nurse mare business. On the other hand, it can be hard to justify depriving one newborn of a mother, just so you can give that mother to another foal, even if the other foal is more valuable.

And then there is the question of the fate of nurse mare foals themselves. There are certainly some that are well loved by the farms that supply nurse mares. These farms, after all, can be superbly equipped to provide the near constant care and feeding that newborn foals require, and they may have specific plans for their nurse mares’ foals. For instance, the filly that Ojos gave birth to before going to Stonestreet was said to be a well-bred Quarter Horse with a reining or cutting career in her future. But all nurse mare farms are not equally as responsible, and a certain proportion of nurse mare foals, sometimes just a day or two old, regularly find themselves in undesirable places, and even in auction houses, or worse. The industry is not regulated, and there is no way of knowing exactly how many nurse mare foals are born each year, nor what happens to them. A number of horse rescues have been created specifically to care for these unwanted foals, to raise them, pay their medical expenses (which can be substantial) and find them homes.

The existence of nurse mare farms, and the foals that are byproducts of the practice, has not been common knowledge until relatively recently. Even now you will find horsemen who refuse to believe that large numbers of these nurse mare foals exist; who claim that the rescues that are devoted to them are not being honest about where the foals come from, or that the people that run the rescues don’t know what they are talking about.

Be that as it may, it is very hard to deny the existence of the foals themselves. Each spring, they arrive by the dozens at Dream Equine Therapy Center in York, S.C., a rescue created for them by Terri Stemper, a registered nurse who found out about nurse mare foals when she was a university student working at a major veterinary hospital in Kentucky. A number of these foals are often fostered in Aiken, cared for by Gina Greer, the owner Epona, a shop on Laurens Street. Some of them find homes in the area: Carolina Moonshine, the horse that Julie Robins of Aiken Horsemanship Academy rode in the American Horsewoman’s Challenge in 2014, had been a nurse mare foal.


A Different Kind of Adoption

It’s a beautiful spring evening in Aiken, and a small crowd has gathered at a farm in Three Runs Plantation. They have come to watch an unusual event. In one stall, there is a 2-week-old chestnut colt with a blaze and four white stockings. He has just arrived from Dream Equine Therapy in York, and he is hungry after his twohour trailer ride. A nurse mare foal, he was born in Kentucky, taken from his mother about 24 hours later, and put together with other nurse mare babies. When he was just a week old, he and four other motherless foals were accepted by Dream Equine and shipped to York. That was a week ago. Today, he looks strong and healthy; after years of practice, the people at Dream Equine are quite adept at feeding and caring for orphans, even if it is a labor intensive and expensive proposition.

While the foal explores his stall, Gina Greer goes to get Louise, a former nurse mare that was rescued several years ago from a hoarding situation. Louise is a black and white Paint with a sway back. She is currently lactating, and ready to be a nurse mare once again. This time, however, the foal she will be nursing is the chestnut colt. He is not a valuable racehorse. Instead, he is an ordinary foal, a foal like the ones that were taken from her, year after year, during her career.

There is another important difference. This year, Louise is not lactating because she had a foal. She is lactating because she was treated with a specific combination of hormones to fool her body into thinking that she was pregnant. Hormone Induced Lactation (HIL) in horses has been under study for some time, and Dream Equine Therapy is something of a pioneer in its use with broodmares. Every spring for the past few years, Dream Equine has used HIL to give a handful of foals orphaned by the nurse mare business their own mothers. This will be Louise’s fourth time to be a surrogate mother through HIL.

Although Louise has mothered foals that were not her own many times before, Gina is not taking any chances with the mare rejecting the little colt. The HIL adoption protocol that Dream Equine uses requires that a veterinarian be present to simulate the entire process of giving birth. Louise already has a full bag of milk thanks to the hormones she has received in previous weeks. Now, she is given a mild tranquilizer, followed by shots of the same hormones that mares produce naturally when they are going into labor.

Then the mare is brought into the stall. Eric Gum, a neighbor in Three Runs Plantation, cradles the foal to keep it away from the mare until it is time. The vet performs some internal massage to further fool the mare into thinking she might have just given birth. Sleepy from her tranquilizer, she seems impassive. Gina holds her cautiously, looking for any indication that she might not accept her new red-headed child.

Meanwhile, the foal has a one-track mind. He knows where the udder is, and he is ready to nurse. When he is allowed to approach, he sniffs her a few times, and then goes straight for the groceries. After letting him drink for a little while, Eric pulls him away, testing to see if the Louise is starting to have maternal feelings for him.
“I’m waiting for a nicker,” says Gina.

And it is not long before one comes. Eric guides the foal out of the stall, into the paddock and around a corner. A moment later, Gina leads the mare out after him. And when she sees him, there it is. Her nostrils flutter, and she nickers softly. The bonding has begun.

After a few more mini separations and reunions, accompanied by several more soft nickers, Gina breathes a sigh of relief, and everyone leaves the barn to celebrate another successful adoption. The chestnut foal nurses happily, thrilled to have a mother after all. The whole process doesn’t take more than an hour.

When Terri Stemper first started using HIL to give some of the foals she rescued their own mothers, she hoped that the concept of using hormones to bring nurse mares into milk would catch on. If the owners of the farms that supply nurse mares to the breeding industry employed HIL, those mares wouldn’t need to be bred to make them ready to nurse. The nurse mare business could become cruelty free, and there would no longer be a supply of needy orphans for her to rescue. Although some breeders in the racing industries have indeed used nurse mares that have been prepared through an HIL protocol, it is not being done on any large scale. Hundreds of foals are still being born each year so that their mothers’ milk can be fed to a different baby horse. Each spring, places like Dream Equine Therapy still spend thousands of dollars and even more hours raising and caring for the unwanted nurse mare foals.

Meanwhile, controversy continues to swirl around the nurse mare business. No doubt some people reading this account will take issue with it, and even claim that the nurse mare foals don’t exist, or that those that do are universally well cared for and don’t ever end up in rescue. Some might even contend that the story of the chestnut colt, now named Justin, can’t be what is claimed; that he would never have been separated from his mother on his second day of life.

But there is one thing that perhaps everyone can agree on, and that is that the little colt will be better off with a mare to supply him with his milk, and with an adult horse to provide him with daily lessons on how to act like a horse. In short, he deserves a mother. And thanks to Dream Equine Therapy and Hormone Induced Lactation, he has one.


- Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from The Aiken Horse.

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

New Beginnings at Great Oak

Therapeutic Riding in Aiken


by Pam Gleason


Aiken’s therapeutic riding program has a new home at Great Oak, a 20-acre farm just minutes from downtown Aiken. A registered 501c3 charity, Great Oak Aiken Therapeutic Riding Center was formerly known as STAR and has been serving the community for 20 years. It is an affiliate of PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship), and its mission, according to its website, is “to provide equine assisted activities that promote the physical, emotional and psychological health of individuals with special needs.”

Great Oak represents a new beginning for the organization, which had been facing some challenges in recent years. The chief challenge was that although the program had horses, instructors and students, it didn’t have a permanent home, but operated out of various different facilities over the years. Because it didn’t have an indoor ring, its classes were at the mercy of the weather.

“Things got canceled a lot,” says Wendy O’Brien, who is the chairman of the board of directors. “Most of the students were children and they came after school, so there was only a limited time frame to begin with, and if it rained, you had to cancel.”

Wendy says that the program was first started by Steve Groat, Ash Milner and Alan Corey. “Steve put me on the board of directors about five years ago,” she continues. “Then he passed away almost three years ago. His wife Jeannie and I made a little promise to him and his good friend Alan Corey, who also passed away last year, that we wouldn’t let it die. So we decided that the program needed its own home. We either had to build a facility, or close. So we pushed and pushed, and finally bought land, and here we are.”

The land that they bought is a parcel on Route 19, just three miles from Route 20 and about seven minutes from the Aiken YMCA. The Y has an active adaptive program and will be offering therapeutic riding through Great Oak. “Between Aiken and Augusta, there are 1,600 people in their adaptive program, and they can’t wait to send us students,” says Wendy. Adaptive sports, like therapeutic riding, are modified (or adapted) to be accessible to individuals with special needs.

It took a little while to select the right piece of land, but Wendy says she is thrilled with the new property. “We didn’t want a place that was too far out of town. David Stinson, who was the realtor we were working, with showed me this place, even though it was a little beyond my budget. We drove in, and I realized it was perfect. David showed me lots of other places, but I kept coming back to this one.”

Eventually she decided to buy it, whether it was in the budget or not. “We’re really paying for the location she says. “And it couldn’t be much better. There is so much traffic that goes past us, we’ve been generating a lot of interest.”

The purchase was made in December, and contractors and architects have been working assiduously ever since. There was already a small house on the property, which is being renovated (“It even came with a board room!” says Wendy with a laugh.) The land itself was very overgrown with weeds and bushes, which have been cleared (“It was a jungle!”) In the process of clearing, they discovered an outbuilding that they didn’t know was there, as well as an allĂ©e of giant oaks that probably once lined the drive leading to the main house on the farm. (“That tree is where the name came from,” says Wendy pointing to an oak with a gigantic trunk and a broad canopy.)

Wendy worked with various architects and contractors to identify the best place to build the barn and attached indoor arena. Arena plans call for many sliding windows so that it can be open to the outdoors on pleasant days, but closed up if it is nasty. There are many other factors to consider when building a stable for a therapeutic riding program. “It’s not like building a barn for yourself at all. We’re very fortunate in Aiken that we have so many qualified people that are knowledgeable about therapeutic riding and they have been very generous with their advice.”

While construction is getting underway, the organization is working on recruiting the best and most qualified staff. They are conducting a nationwide search for a PATH certified instructor, as well as for a volunteer coordinator. “The head instructor is the most important thing, because he or she will be our face. And then the program can’t run without volunteers,” says Wendy. People with physical disabilities often need three volunteers apiece for a lesson: one to lead the horse, and one side walker on each side to steady the rider. Volunteers are also needed for many other duties, including keeping the horses fresh. “They need to be ridden outside of the therapeutic program. They can’t just do one thing.”

Great Oak is currently in the process of selecting horses for the program, hoping to start with six, and eventually build up to 12.

“They do have to be special horses,” says Wendy.

“They have to be unflappable. They have to be sound. Horses that are used to a lot of commotion can be good candidates – some driving horses are good, so are some retired polo ponies. A horse like a Fjord or a Haflinger, about 15 hands and very calm, can be ideal. It just depends on the individual.”

Since the new programs will also be dealing with adults rather than strictly with children, there will be a need for some larger horses as well. Great Oak already has one: a 16.3 hand Thoroughbred.

Wendy says her motivation for devoting all this time and effort to Great Oak is to ensure that there is a successful therapeutic riding program in Aiken: “We want to serve this huge community that could benefit from riding, which has so many health benefits,” she says.

Doug Rabold, who is working as a consultant to Great Oak, says he is especially impressed by therapeutic riding because the atmosphere surrounding horses is so different from that in a clinic.

“What’s so special to me is that if you have a problem and you go to a doctor, you’re in a medical setting. When you come here, you get to ride a horse; you get to be outdoors, connecting with a physical being that is nonjudgmental. It’s so different from being in a clinic; it’s like you’re getting therapy without realizing it. There’s warmth and fun, learning and laughing. That, to me, is what makes it so inspiring.”

- Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from The Aiken Horse.

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

Friday, July 1, 2016

Remembering Aiken’s Horsemen

Skiddy von Stade


by Pam Gleason


When Francis Skiddy von Stade was a young man, he was great friends with Ambrose Clark, the horse lover and Singer Sewing Machine heir. Both were racing and steeplechasing enthusiasts from New York, and both enjoyed spending their winters in the British Isles watching and participating in their favorite sports.

According to the family story, in the spring of 1912, they were in Ireland where they were riding in steeplechase races. On the last day before they were due to sail back to New York, Skiddy won a big race and the two friends went out celebrating afterwards. They visited Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, an action that is supposed to impart the gift of eloquence. They had a quite a few drinks – Brose only drank Champagne, so that was most definitely on the menu.

Skiddy and Brose stayed out late and they woke up late, too late to make it to the port of Queenstown (known as Cobh today) by early that afternoon. This meant that they missed the ship that was to take them back to New York.

And it was a good thing too, since that ship was the Titanic, making her first and only voyage. Just three days later, on April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, killing over 1500 of its roughly 2,200 passengers and crew. Skiddy and Brose would probably not have made it home.

Skiddy von Stade was born in 1884 on Long Island. The von Stade family was one of the earliest Dutch families to settle in New York. Their business was importing raw materials, most especially bristles that were made into brushes. Skiddy’s father, Frederick H. von Stade, was a Thoroughbred racing enthusiast who maintained a summer home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. where he was the longtime vice president of the Saratoga Association for the Improvement of the Breed of Horses, the organization that ran the racetrack there. Skiddy’s mother was the granddaughter of Francis Skiddy, a member of a prominent ship building family – for many years there was a Hudson River steamboat named the Francis Skiddy that brought passengers from Manhattan to Albany.

Growing up with horses in his blood, Skiddy took to riding and polo at an early age. He went to St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. where he was the captain of the hockey team and then on to Harvard where he was a star on the polo team. He graduated in 1907, and joined the family business, while continuing to pursue his passion for polo. Rising to a six goal rating, he played on the Cooperstown and Meadowbrook teams that won the Open Championship in 1912, 1913, 1919 and 1920. His teammates included the ten-goalers Devereux Milburn, Louis Stoddard, Malcolm Stevenson and J. Watson Webb.

Loving anything to do with horses, Skiddy also rode to hounds, and was a member of the Pytchley Hunt in England for six winters. He was also a regular “gentleman rider” in National Steeplechase and Hunt Association races in the U.S. from 1912 to 1916.

Skiddy was married in June 1915 to Kathryne Steele, whose father Charles was a partner in J.P. Morgan Company. The New York Times social column described the wedding as a picturesque country affair that “attracted the fashionable contingent from the Meadowbrook and North Shore sections of Long Island.” The courtship of Skiddy and Kathryne was a polo romance; two years earlier, in 1913, Kathryne’s older sister Nancy had married Devereux Milburn, and they all had socialized with one another on the polo field. At Skiddy and Kathryne’s wedding, Nancy was the matron of honor.

That winter, the von Stades came down to Aiken, where Skiddy played polo with Aiken Polo Club and the couple enjoyed everything the thriving Winter Colony had to offer. Within a few years, they had built their own winter cottage, Holiday House, on the edge of the Hitchcock Woods, just across the street from William C. Whitney’s massive Joye Cottage estate. Meanwhile they started their own family, which would eventually include five sons and three daughters.

By the time World War I came, Skiddy was the father of a growing family, so his military service was performed within the country. The Army took advantage of his well-developed skills as a horseman; he was commissioned as a Captain and sent out West to help procure horses, donkeys and mules for the cavalry.

From the teens through the 1960s, anything that had to do with horses in Aiken was connected, in one way or another, to Skiddy von Stade. He rode with the Aiken Hounds, was a contributor to the original Aiken Steeplechase Association in 1929, was an organizer and official at the Aiken Horse Show from the early teens on, and a regular on the polo field. In 1932, when Aiken Polo Club had a 50th anniversary celebration, he was the marshal of the big parade that took over the city and the umpire of the 50th anniversary game. On a national level, his involvement with the sport of polo continued long after his retirement from playing. He was an umpire in international matches as well as one of the selectors of the U.S. national team throughout the 1930s.

The von Stade children continued the family equestrian traditions. Charles von Stade, born in 1919, became one of the most promising polo players of his generation, attaining an 8-goal rating. A superb athlete who inherited a musical gene from his mother’s side of the family, he was killed near the end of World War II, when his Jeep ran over landmine in Germany. (Charles’s daughter, born after his death, is Frederica von Stade, who is a well known opera singer.) Skiddy’s eldest daughter Dolly von Stade, who, at 18 was written up as one of the most glamorous debutantes of her generation, was a legendary horsewoman, who rode and showed hunters, played polo and was the MFH of the Aiken Hounds for over a quarter century. She married the polo player and steeplechase jockey Pete Bostwick, and their sons, Charlie and Ricky became polo players. Today Charlie is the president of Aiken Polo Club.

Nannie von Stade Ward who was number seven of the eight children, remembers that her parents encouraged the whole family to ride. Not only that, her father used to play bicycle polo with all of the kids while they were in Aiken.

“He was a very good father,” says Nannie. “He was very sweet, very gentle and he had a good sense of humor, but you didn’t say anything off color to him. My mother you could say anything to; she loved dirty jokes, but my father was old school. He was quite shy, I think.”

The family used to take the train down to Aiken for the whole winter. Skiddy came with them, but would go back and forth to New York several times during the season to attend to various items of business, especially having to do with the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association, of which he was the president.

Each August, the von Stade children would go to Kathryne’s seaside home on the beach in Southampton, while the von Stade parents would go to Saratoga for the race meet. There, Skiddy was involved with many different facets of racing life. Not only was he the president of the Saratoga Race Track from 1943 to 1954, he was also a steward of the Jockey Club, a trustee of the New York Racing Association, a director of the National Museum of Racing and a charter member of the Grayson Foundation, an organization that funds research on equine health. He was nothing if not civic minded: he was even the mayor of Old Westbury on Long Island from 1940 to 1950.

“My father loved horses,” says Nannie. “He was also a terrific athlete. He was a great shot, and he loved to go shooting down in Aiken. He had shooting ponies that he rode – some of them were retired polo ponies. He was a very good tennis player too.” He kept English Pointers for quail shooting, but also always owned a Boykin Spaniel. He loved the breed and was a friend of Whit Boykin, the man who established it at his kennels in Camden.

There were two sports that Skiddy didn’t like. One was golf, and the other was swimming.

Skiddy’s dislike of golf went back to an incident from his college days. The Harvard Polo team played at the Myopia Polo and Country Club in Hamilton, Mass., north of Boston. The club had a field, stables and a clubhouse, all backing up to its beautiful golf course. Skiddy was keeping his ponies at the club, which was very convenient for him. One day after a ride, he tied a pony up outside the clubhouse and went in for a drink with his friends. Something happened – perhaps the pony got stung by a bee –and the pony broke loose, galloped off, and stomped all over the 18th green.

The golf-playing members of Myopia were often at odds with the polo playing members, especially when it came to the matter of hoofprints where they shouldn’t be. Myopia at that time was one of the top courses in the country. It hosted the U.S. Open five times between 1898 and 1908 and Myopia’s golfers were very serious about keeping their grounds pristine. As a consequence of his horse’s escapade, Skiddy was banned from Myopia. From that point on, he had an aversion to golf.

“He never learned to swim, either,” says Nannie. “I think it was because of the Titanic. He didn’t like to be on the water.” Nonetheless, his family used to take him out deep sea fishing from Southampton every year for his birthday.

“He was terrified the whole time,” says Nannie. “Poor man. He was very patient with us.”

As the patriarch of a large von Stade clan, Skiddy could be an imposing figure. He always wore a bow tie, and always dressed for dinner. Every Sunday, all the children and grandchildren who were in the area would come to dinner at the von Stade home in Westbury.

“We were pretty much scared to death of him,” says his grandson Charlie Bostwick.

Lellie Ward, who is Nannie’s daughter, remembers going to ride with him in the Hitchcock Woods when she was very small. Lellie is now a professional event rider and trainer who owns and runs Paradise Farm in Aiken.

“It was a big deal to walk into the stable, to go riding with him,” she says. “Riding was always serious with him; you weren’t fooling around. We used to go out on the shooting ponies. He always made me go on a leadline, which I hated, and I had box stirrups. I hated those too.” On their rides, he would frequently remind Lellie to sit up straight and practice proper horsemanship. “He used to say ‘leg, body, rein,’ all the time. I can still hear him saying it. And I say it to my students now all the time, too."

One time, Lellie was out riding with her grandfather and she dropped her crop out in the middle of the Hitchcock Woods. When they got back to the stables, her grandfather asked her where it was and she admitted that she had dropped it. He got back on his horse and made her walk all the way back with him to pick it up, a very long walk for a little girl.

“He said ‘This is why you should always tell someone when something goes wrong.’ He was right. You should . . . he taught me a lesson all right,” says Lellie.

Skiddy von Stade died of a heart attack in February 1967 at the age of 82. His obituary in the New York Times called him “one of the nation’s most eminent horsemen.” An article about him in a New York Racing Association publication, The Winners Circle, praised his accomplishments, but most especially his character. “Above all, Mr. von Stade’s integrity was legend. This was, perhaps, his great legacy. . . He was symbolic of everything good in the sport and his passing leaves an unfillable void.”

For Nannie von Stade Ward, Skiddy was first and foremost a father. “I really don’t know what much about him,” she says. “In those days it was different. We were a very close family, but in those days you just didn’t ask very many personal questions. I do know that he and my mother loved each other from the very beginning to the very end. We were very spoiled that way -- not many people get to grow up with that.”

- Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from The Aiken Horse. Bottom of article 

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