Showing posts with label The Aiken Horse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Aiken Horse. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Eventing Preview

Winter in Aiken

By Pam Gleason

Aiken's event riders had better get ready: It's going to be one heck of a season.

The Aiken area has been a winter destination for event riders for several decades. Aiken has wonderful footing, good weather and a plethora of recognized and schooling competitions that can put a lot of show miles on a horse in a very short time. There are clinics, lessons, social events and an exciting atmosphere. Sometimes it seems as though everyone is here: Olympic riders and legendary figures in the sport, established and aspiring professionals, talented juniors and, of course, amateurs from up and down the Eastern seaboard.

The number of competitive opportunities in Aiken seems to grow every year, and this season there are so many that event riders may never unpack their trailers. By our count, there are 71 separate competitions or clinics for event riders between the beginning of December and the end of March in the Aiken area alone. This does not count the United States Equestrian Federation High Performance Eventing training sessions that are expected to return to Stable view in the new year. (The USEF usually announces the actual dates in early January.)

Aiken also makes a convenient base of operations for riders who will ride in Georgia at Pine Top and Poplar Place, or in North Carolina at the Carolina Horse Park in Mill Spring. Tryon is the new location for the Fork CCI3* this April and will hold the 2018 World Equestrian Games in September 2018.

To help Aiken's eventing enthusiasts keep track, we have once again pulled the eventing dates from our calendar. We hope that this list will serve as a handy reference. Of course, there are other activities that will also interest Aiken's event riders, so be sure to check the website of the relevant facility before heading there, as time and dates do sometimes change.
Aiken Horse Park
931 Powderhouse Road
Aiken, SC 29801

Contact: Debbie Salem: 803.257.0925

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Secret Lives - Apple

Apple the Morgan

by Pam Gleason

On Saturday, April 23, Lizotte’s Applelonia, a 14.3 hand Morgan mare known to her friends as Apple, celebrated her 30th birthday at a party thrown for her by her owner, Ellie Joos. There were apples, of course, and carrots and carrot cake in the shape of a horseshoe baked by Ellen Hawkins. There were party favors to take home, and a crowd of about a dozen human celebrants who gathered around a picnic table at Billy and Shirl Tronoski’s Chime Ridge Stables in Aiken, where Apple lives. Chit Chat, Apple’s Thoroughbred friend (and Ellie’s other horse) was on hand. Apple herself, dressed up in a party hat with pink ribbons in her mane, took part in all the festivities, clearly enjoying the attention. She had the air of knowing that she deserved it.

Apple came into Ellie’s life 22 years ago as an overweight 8 year- old who had recently had a foal. A lovely dark chestnut born and raised in Vermont, she was most notable for her kind disposition and her willing and eager character.

“My horse had bucked me off for the last time,” says Ellie, who lived in New Jersey at the time. “My boyfriend Bill –now my husband – said it was either the horse or him, so I found a new home for that horse with a more experienced rider and began the quest for my next horse.”

Bill happened to have a friend in the textile industry who knew Apple, and suggested that she would be the perfect match for Ellie because she was sweet and kind and would help restore her rider’s confidence. And so, sight unseen, Ellie bought Apple and had her shipped from Vermont down to the New Jersey stable where Ellie had boarded her last horse.

“As she exited the horse van, I thought ‘Oh no, what have I done?’ remembers Ellie. “Having had a baby the year before, she still looked pregnant, and she was sluggish from the trip. After a few days rest, my trainer, Cindy Canace – who was appalled that I brought this horse down from Vermont sight unseen – and I began to train her. Although she had been backed, she did not know how to steer very well and could barely pick up the left lead canter.”

But despite this unpromising beginning, Apple would soon prove herself to be invaluable. Her outstanding attribute was her desire to please.

“It wasn’t long before I realized that no matter what we asked of her, she was going to try her heart out to give it to us,” says Ellie. “This little mare, only 14.3 hands, was going to prove to us that she was worth it. My trainer at the time was training several horses of her own and remarked that the difference between her one horse and my mare was that if she asked her horse to do something, the mare would go out of her way to do otherwise. If she asked my horse to do something, Apple would try hard to understand and to do it.”

In the following years, Ellie and Apple trained in dressage and went trail riding. Ellie was never into showing, but she felt that the dressage training would bring out the best in her “little horse that could.”

“She loved attention and especially loved going out on trails,” says Ellie. “And best of all, she loved the grandkids and nephews that learned to ride her. She was patient and gentle, never took a wrong step when the kids were on her on the lunge line, learning balance and developing a steady seat, legs, and kind hands on the reins. The kids adored her and could not have had a better learning experience than on this sweet mare.”

When Apple was in her late teens, she began to develop a subtle lameness. “It was nothing serious, just a noticeable misstep here and there. After a number of months with various treatments and rest, I consulted a vet that was known as a lameness specialist in the area. She was diagnosed with articular ringbone in her front right leg. We began daily joint supplements and pain medications to keep her comfortable and this greatly helped,” says Ellie.

Since Apple was no longer up to dressage, Ellie got Chit Chat so she could keep riding and training. Apple continued giving pony rides, riding lessons and trail rides to Ellie and Bill’s grandchildren. In 2013, Ellie and Bill moved down to Aiken. Apple and Chit Chat followed them a month later, and have been installed at Chime Ridge Stable ever since.

“When she was first here, I was still riding her and had engaged the services of Amber Lee to help ride Chit Chat,” says Ellie. “We would ride together around the property of Chime Ridge Stables, and we would switch horses and Amber would ride her as well.”

When Apple was 28, she started stumbling when she was ridden, and so was completely retired. Today, she lives a life of leisure at Chime Ridge, where she has her own stall and is turned out regularly with Chit Chat. Always an easy keeper (“the kind of horse that will inhale grass and gain 100 pounds”) Apple is still in good flesh, though the dip in her back and her many grey hairs betray her age. She is happy, enjoying life, especially getting treats and attention from Ellie and hanging out with Chit Chat.

“The two horses are very close and scream for each other when one is taken away,” says Ellie. “They spend each day outside grazing and come into their stalls early afternoon for lunch. I usually go to the barn late afternoon to take them out for grooming and riding.

“In the 22 years that Apple has been in my life, I never went off her when I was seriously riding her,” continues Ellie. “She was always very careful with her steps and very steady when the kids rode her and they all loved her. She is truly worth her weight in gold.”

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

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Double Life of George Morris

Unrelenting, the book

By Pam Gleason

In his new autobiography Unrelenting, George Morris tells tales and he names names. The book purports to reveal “The Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights and my Pursuit of Excellence,” (the subtitle) and it bears this caution between the preface and the first chapter: “Warning: This book is a candid portrayal of my life. Innocents and those faint of heart or closed of mind may wish to proceed no further!”

This warning might seem a bit dramatic for the autobiography of an internationally known showjumping rider, trainer and coach, but for George it is (almost) appropriate. Morris, who recently retired as the chef d’equipe of the United States Olympic showjumping team, is probably the most recognized figure in the hunter/jumper world today. In a career that has spanned seven decades so far, he has also been an equitation rider (at 14, he was the youngest ever to win both the AHSA Medal and the ASPCA Maclay finals in the same year), a member of the U.S. international showjumping team (they won team gold in the Pan American games in 1959 and team silver at the 1960 Olympics in Rome,) the owner of a top hunter/jumper stable and a traveling clinician. He is also known for his writing: his first book, Hunter Seat Equitation, originally published in 1971, is in its third edition and is still considered among the most important books in the hunter/ jumper canon. It is not an exaggeration to say that George Morris, a charismatic figure, has a cult-like following: in some circles he is often referred to as a god, with only a touch of irony.

Over the years, Morris earned a reputation for his excellence in horsemanship, his relentless pursuit of perfection, his critical eye and his biting commentary. He is notorious for his toughness— his clinics have been known to reduce riders to tears. Especially in the past, he was also reputed to have a short fuse, with “a compulsion for control coupled with a tendency to go berserk or become irate for seemingly no reason . . . and sudden, volatile temperamental behavior.” This is according to the preface, written by Chris Kappler, who is his protégé and former business associate as well as an Olympic gold medalist.

Morris’s reputation also includes some other whispered-about aspects, chiefly related to his personal life, although before this book the actual details of that life have not really been common knowledge. Unrelenting shines a light on that life, providing all the gossipy details about the people that Morris dated over the years, both men and women. He explains his relationship with the movie star Tab Hunter – they met at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden when George was 19 and Hunter was 26. He writes about his wild partying life in the 1960s and 1970s when he used to frequent Studio 54 in New York City. He even sometimes went out clubbing directly from a horse show, going so far as to park his loaded horse trailer on a city street while he spent the night partying in a bar. He talks about his drinking, a vice he inherited from his parents. He touches upon his tomcatting adventures while traveling both in America and overseas, and discusses the perception of “alternative lifestyles” and how that has changed over the decades.

Is there anything really astonishing here? Not in 2016, not really. But for Morris, who was born in 1938 and came of age in the 1950s, it probably seems shocking. It is also fair to warn the more traditional of Morris’s devotees that, if they read this book, they might be learning more than they want to know about their hero’s personal life. Some readers have, in fact, objected to the inclusion of so many intimate details, wishing the narrative had stayed in the barn rather than slipping up to the bedroom. In addition, one might wonder if all of the people Morris admits to sleeping with are entirely happy about seeing it all described in print.
Fortunately for those who are not interested in the gossip, the book also includes many genuinely interesting details about George Morris the man, as well as a fascinating history of the horse show world from the 1950s through the 2000s. Morris grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut, in a socially prominent, country-club atmosphere. His father, born in Augusta, Ga., was from the Morris Publishing family, making George a close relative of Billy Morris, publisher of the Augusta Chronicle and the founder of the Augusta Futurity, among other things. His mother’s family owned newspapers and other businesses in the New York City area. George was attracted to horses from the time he was very young, seeing them as his “salvation” in a world that made him so anxious and upset that when he was a pre-teenager his parents pulled him out of school for a year to send him for counseling.

George first rode with the New Canaan Mounted Troop (he studied with Margaret Cabell Self, whose books about horsemanship were once essential reading for students of horsemanship), then went on to the Ox Ridge Hunt Club before transitioning to Gordon Wright’s stable. In the 1940s, the forward seat, which George learned, was still an unusual and cutting edge style. In the 1950s, when George started competing in the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, the show was a society event, written up as such in the New York Times. Spectators wore mink coats, top hats and tails. In the 1960s, when Morris became an equestrian professional, it meant that his days of competing for the U.S, were over: in that era, the Olympics were strictly for amateur riders who were not allowed make their living as equestrians.

Not only did Morris live through many changes in the equestrian world, he also seems to have met, known, ridden with or taught essentially everyone who had an influence on the development of the American style of riding, as well as pretty much anyone who has competed at a top level from the 1950s up to today. Because so much of his career has consisted of traveling to give clinics, this includes horsemen from all over the country, not just the East Coast where he has been based throughout his career. It also includes many riders and trainers with lesser accomplishments and ambitions. If you have ever been serious about horsemanship in the hunter/jumper world, you most likely have a direct connection to George Morris. In fact, one of the guilty pleasures of the book is seeing when and if he mentions someone you know. (Morris even once gave a lesson to Pete Bostwick, one of Aiken’s most versatile and iconic horsemen.)

Another, more straightforward pleasure is hearing about many of the individual horses that George rode, owned and loved through his life. There is Game Cock, the horse that took him to the Medal and Maclay championships in the 1950s; Sinjon, the horse the Harry de Leyer (of Snowman fame) gave him to ride that carried him to the Rome Olympics. There are quirky and sensitive horses, such as Rio, a brilliant jumper who had a tendency to panic and bolt whenever his rider mounted or dismounted. Although the book does not delve into his training methods with these horses, his strong bond and sympathy with them shines through – even if there are moments when he seems to forget about this bond to pursue his other appetites.

Other interesting tidbits include the fact that after the 1960 Olympics, Morris left the equestrian life for a time to study acting, and actually performed in summer stock for two years. His initial discomfort with acting school, in which he was required to dress in a skin-tight leotard, is described in a memorable section – he may not have been happy, but he was nothing if not brave.

The book, which was written with the help of Karen Robertson Terry, is very long. It is divided into seven sections, one for each decade, which gives it logical structure, and it includes many wonderful photographs of George as well as of the people and horses he discusses in the text. It also incorporates over 150 short pieces about George by people who have known him over the years, including his colleagues, students and friends.

Some of these short pieces don’t amount to much more than flattery (“What George is so great at is teaching. . . .” etc.) while others offer insight into his training and teaching methods. Still others reveal bizarre, and even potentially damaging information: There is a description of him giving an entire weekend clinic dressed only in a black string bikini. An international competitor remembers finding an illegal poling device hidden in his manure pile on one of his trips overseas to compete. His niece remembers terrifying riding lessons with him, in which he forced her (at age 6) and her brother (7) to jump a triple combination without reins or stirrups, and blindfolded to boot (“He would hit the pony with a crop and we would jump fences we couldn’t see. If we didn’t do it perfectly, we would have to repeat the exercise over again.” Eventually, the little girl fell off and broke her arm while doing this exercise.) The same niece remembers a mortifying experience at a horse show. George had decided her brother’s horse was tired, and actually went to a stranger’s trailer, unloaded a likely looking animal, tacked it up with a saddle and bridle he found, and had her brother ride this (essentially stolen) horse in the next class instead of his own. After the class, when the irate owner confronted George and the nephew about their unauthorized use of her horse, George merely handed back the reins and angrily told the women her horse was a nag and a loser.

Why, exactly, would George Morris want to include these kinds of stories in his autobiography? He does not explain them, or apologize for them, or reflect on them in any way. Perhaps their inclusion is simply to enhance his image as a “bad boy.” Or perhaps it can be attributed to a certain lifelong lack of judgment and self-awareness that has cast a shadow on his reputation since the 1950s.

This brings up another criticism of the book, which is that it could have benefitted greatly from a more authoritative editorial hand. The writing tends to be loose, burdened with clichés and with terms that are sometimes applied incorrectly. The extreme overuse of exclamation points, especially in the first sections, is distracting to say the least. While for the most part, Unrelenting, is eminently readable, it could have been better (and shorter) if it had been edited more thoroughly.

In all, Unrelenting is an interesting book, especially for anyone who knows George Morris or is a part of the hunter/jumper world. Beyond its exploration of equestrian life, it paints the picture of a complex individual who seems to have lived a double life, pulled one way by his talent, perfectionism and devotion to horses, and another by his Bohemian nature, his attraction to fast living and big city life and a potentially self-destructive compulsion to defy convention. Love him or hate him, George Morris has been an important figure on the equestrian scene for seven decades. This book, for the first time, provides real insight into how he got there and the obstacles that have stood in his way . . . many of them of his own making.

Unrelenting: The Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights and My Pursuit of Excellence. By George Morris with Karen Robertson Terry. Trafalgar Square Publishing, North Pomfret, NY. 2016. Hardcover. $35.

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

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ask The Judge

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor, a USEF R judge, and a USEF S judge candidate. She is qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fair Lane 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, or visit her website:

Dear Amy,

I’m planning to enter my first FEI test this summer at a small dressage show. I am going to be riding my first ever Prix St. Georges test and I have a few questions about riding at this level.

1. Are you allowed a reader or a caller for the Prix St. Georges? I am worried that I won’t be able to memorize the test because it is long!

2. I have seen riders in Florida competing in their top hats, but I feel more comfortable in my helmet. Is that OK?

3. My horse goes better in his snaffle bridle than in the double bridle. Is this frowned upon?

4. Are there any other differences that I should know about?

Moving Up

Dear Moving Up,

Congratulations! Moving up to the FEI level is a huge accomplishment that many riders can only dream of. I’d be happy to answer all these important questions so that you will feel more prepared when you come down the center line.

1. Can you have a reader for your test: Unfortunately having your test called in the Prix St. Georges is not allowed. This is why when you observe FEI tests, you never see them being called. According to USEF Rulebook DR.122.1: “All FEI tests, must be ridden from memory.”

It is very important at this level to know your test thoroughly, mostly because you need to be careful about making errors in your test riding. The FEI Prix St. Georges Test has different error deductions than the tests at the national levels. (Training through Fourth Level.) At the national levels, you are allowed to have two errors: for the first error, there is a two point deduction; for the second four points. If you have a third error, you will be eliminated. The point deductions are taken from your total score. For example, if you earned 260 points out of a possible 380 in a national test, and you had one error, your score would then be 258. This means that your final score will go down from 68 percent (260 out of 380) to 67.8 percent (258 out of 380.)

In the Prix St. Georges test, however, you are allowed only one error: if you have two, you are eliminated. For the first error you would deduct two points from your final percentage score. Therefore, if you scored 260 points out of a possible 380 on your Prix St. Georges test and you had one error, your points do not change but your final score will go down from 68 percent to 66 percent.

So I would be sure to practice and memorize the test very well. It may look intimidating, but it is easier than you might think. The Prix St. Georges test has a nice flow and each sequence of movements is repeated in the opposite direction, giving the test a pleasing balance.

2. What about top hats? You may have seen riders competing in their top hats at the FEI Levels. But that would have been in FEI tests conducted under international rules. (There are shows that have both national and international rings going on at the same venue.) The top hat is optional at all FEI levels, Prix St. Georges included, but only at international shows. At a national show, on the other hand, you can ride an FEI test, but you may not wear a top hat: a safety helmet is now mandatory even at this level.

USEF Rulebook DR.120.2 says: “For all tests above Fourth Level, the dress code requires protective headgear.”

So, to answer your question, yes, a helmet is OK. In fact, it is your only option.

3. And your bridle? It is certainly impressive to perform a Prix St. Georges test in a snaffle bridle. This is permitted as long as you are at a national show. USEF Rulebook DR. 121.4 says: “For FEI tests ridden at national competitions, a plain snaffle bridle may be used.” I would encourage you use the bridle that will be most effective for you and your horse; your choice of bridle should not affect your score. But keep in mind that if you compete at an international show, a double bridle is mandatory at this level.

4. Other things you should know: At this level, riding with spurs is mandatory whether in a national or international show, according to USEF Rule DR.120.2.1. Although I am sure you are looking forward to wearing your tailcoat, since this is the first test where tailcoats are permissible, a short riding jacket is also allowed. (DR.120.2). Your horse must be a minimum of 7 years old to compete at Prix St. Georges.

There are also some differences in the scoring you should be aware of. In Fourth Level and below, there are five collective marks. The Prix St. Georges test has only four collective marks. All the levels share a score for Paces (known as Gaits in the lower levels), Impulsion and Submission. In the lower levels there are two scores for Rider Position; at PSG and above, there is only one score, but it has a coefficient of two. In the lower levels, the score for Impulsion has a coefficient of two, while in PSG and above, Impulsion has a coefficient of one.

The Prix St. Georges is a fairly long test, with 26 boxes of required movements. The average horse and rider combination will complete it in five minutes and 50 seconds. The most important movements in the test are those with coefficients of two. These are: the trot half pass, left and right, the collected walk, the extended walk and the canter pirouette, left and right. Be sure you have these movements down, because mistakes here can be costly, not only for the movement itself, but also in the collective marks.

I hope I was able to answer your questions and give you insight into your advancement to the FEI Level. Good luck on your first Prix St. Georges test!

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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

All About The Team

Christina Kelly’s Aiken Debut

by Pam Gleason, photography by Gary Knoll

When Christina Kelly was still eligible to ride as a junior, her services as a catch rider on Florida’s hunter/jumper show circuit were in such high demand that she routinely competed scores of horses at each show. Over the course of one memorable weekend in Wellington, she got on 31 different horses. “I was off one and then on another one and back into the ring. I don’t think my helmet came off my head the whole weekend,” she says with a laugh. “It was crazy.”

Christina says that her success as a catch rider was mostly due to the fact that the trainers would bring the horses to the ring ready to win so all she had to do was stay out of their way. “I was good at staying out of their way. I was also good at getting on a horse that I had never ridden before and winning on it. In the Classic, you could only ride three horses. I would usually have six, so I would have to pick. It was a good feeling.”

Now 22 and professional rider, Christina is based in Aiken along with her parents, Barbara and Sean Kelly. Barbara is English, Sean is Irish, and Christina, who was born in England, rode for Ireland as a junior. The family moved to Aiken in January 2016, and Christina has been quietly building her own training and sales business at the new farm ever since. Over the winter and spring, she has been competing at Highfields and trucking her horses up to show in Tryon, N.C.

She also made big a splash at the inaugural Aiken Charity Horse show at Bruce’s Field in May. In the first week of the show, she and Kingdom, a 17.3 hand Irish Sporthorse owned by Andrea O’Brien, won the $5,000 Welcome Stakes. In the second week, they won the $25,000 Aiken Charity Horse Show Grand Prix. Not only did they win that class, they were the only horse and rider combination to have a clear round over Scott Starnes’s surprisingly difficulty course.

“I went first and I am glad I did,” says Christina. “I normally hate to go first, but it was good. I walked the course, we went in and I rode it exactly how I walked it. It turned out to ride a lot harder than anyone had expected.”

Christina has been partnered with Kingdom since February. His owner has a horse shipping company in Ireland and had sent Kingdom to another stable in the Northeast for training and to be sold. An animal who needs a lot of attention, he was not thriving at the relatively large sales stable – in fact, they concluded that he did not have promise to jump higher than the 1.30 meter level. And so he was sent to Christina, where there would be a quieter atmosphere and more personal care. The idea was to get him showing and get him sold.

“He has changed a lot since he came,” says Christina. “When I first got him he couldn’t canter in my jumping ring, which is small and a bit hilly. I think the ring helped him learn to react more quickly and be more balanced. He also craves a lot of attention, which he is getting. I love that his personality is coming out. When he first came he was very cold, but now I feel like we’re friends. He trusts me and I trust him, and if I ask him to do something he gives me everything. I love that. I love how much he tries.”

Kingdom stepped up to the Grand Prix level at the Aiken Spring Classic in April, finishing fifth in the first week and third in the second. He was also fourth in the first week at the Aiken Charity Horse Show before going on to win in his following Grand Prix outing. The Welcome Stakes in that first week at Bruce’s Field was the first competition in which Kingdom and Christina had won at that level together.

“It was funny though,” says Christina. “When I rode into the ring for the class, he slammed on the brakes, spun around and galloped out. I went right off. The bell hadn’t rung yet, so a friend grabbed him and threw me up on him, and we went in and went double clear and won. He’d never done anything like that before, so I was pretty shocked.”

Now that Kingdom has proven himself as a Grand Prix horse, his owner has decided to keep him. “I’m excited about that,” says Christina. “He gets better and better, and now I can to keep the ride on him. It’s just brilliant to have a horse like him.”

Christina comes to an equestrian career naturally. When she was very young, her parents owned and ran Wycombe House Stud, one of the most successful Thoroughbred breeding stables in England. In the early 2000s, they relocated their business to the United States, buying a large farm in Ocala, Fla. Although Christina had her own pony, initially she was not interested in riding, preferring to go to school, play soccer and be a “regular person.” The family had a summer home in Sotogrande on the south coast of Spain, and when Christina was 9, they moved there year round. There, at the international school, Christina became friends with a girl who loved horses, and it was only then that Christina became interested in riding.

At 10, she had her first taste of competing, got hooked and there was no turning back. She exhibited on the European circuit, showing and winning in classes up to the Grand Prix level. Competing with and against some of the top riders on the continent by the time she was 12, she made a name for herself as a precocious talent with determination, nerves of steel and a ready smile. When the family returned to Florida in 2008, Christina had nine horses of her own to show. She worked with several different trainers, including Kevin Babbington, Shane Sweetnam and Candice King. But the trainer who had the greatest impact on her was the Olympian Margie Engle, with whom she trained for two years. While she was traveling on the circuit and showing with Margie, Christina and her family fell in love with Kentucky and ended up selling their farm in Ocala to buy one in Nicholasville, near Lexington.

It would be impossible enumerate all of Christina’s many accomplishments as a junior rider, which include both junior and all- age Grand Prix wins, high point awards in Florida and elsewhere and a bronze medal in the Junior World Cup riding for Ireland. Then, in January 2012, she aged out of the junior divisions. She had thought at first that she could compete as an amateur for a while on her own horses, but her amateur status was protested immediately and so she had to turn pro. She quickly discovered that life as a freshly minted, 19-year- old professional rider had its challenges.

“It was a hard transition,” she says. “I went from everyone wanting me to ride their horses to having three of my own and feeling like no one was talking to me. I felt like I had dropped off the face of the earth.” Trainers need young riders to show their horses in the junior divisions, but they generally have less need for adult professionals to compete against them in the open divisions.

Facing that reality, Christina decided to further her professional education and headed off to Ireland for the summer. There she worked and trained with Cian O’Connor, an Irish Olympic medalist who has a farm in County Mead.

“It was probably the best experience I have ever had,” says Christina. “I got to learn so much, see the whole management and groom’s side of it, the care of the horses, everything. I was only going to go for three months, but I ended up staying for six.”

Returning to Florida that winter, Christina began to develop her own business: attracting clients, teaching, training and selling. She also rode for several top stables including Ashland and Raylyn Farms. She was operating mostly out of rented facilities, especially after the family sold their farm in Kentucky. Over the next years, she also had the opportunity to spend more time riding in Europe, both for her education and for her professional career. Meanwhile, her parents, who maintained a home on a lake in Florida, were looking for new place to go with their horses. Kentucky had been too cold in the winter and Ocala was no longer entirely to their tastes. They wanted to be somewhere different.

The Kellys had friends in Aiken, and they had always talked about it as a place where they might want to live. In January of 2016, that idea became a reality when they purchased a 15-acre farm not far from the city limits. There, they have a sweeping view over nearby farms along with a stable, paddocks, riding areas and access to several hundred acres of fields and forest for hacking. This is important to Christina, who feels strongly that show horses need to spend ample time outside the ring.

“I love that our horses can be horses and go out,” she says. “I like them to be happy, and I think they do need time in the paddock.” In fact, Christina is such a strong believer in turnout time that when she was showing downtown in Aiken, she regularly hauled her horses home so they could relax in their paddocks rather than staying in stalls at the showgrounds for the entire weekend.

In addition to competition, sales and client horses, Christina also has a number of young prospects on the farm, most of them products of the Kellys’ own breeding program. One of Christina’s first European show horses was a Holsteiner stallion who is now standing in Kentucky. He is the sire of several young horses on the farm, including two out of Christina’s top show mare Camirage. Christina is excited about the prospect of riding and showing this next generation of her own horses, as well as about the opportunities that she sees in Aiken.

“We love it here; we just appreciate it more and more. I’d love to get a good business going and expand it,” she says, explaining that she has stalls open in her barn now and that they have already selected a site to build another stable when they need accommodations for more horses. In addition to picking up clients, Christina has also attracted sponsorship from several companies, including Champions Choice (“it’s a supplement that I use with all my horses that is really amazing”), Cavalor feed, Der Dau boots, CDW tack, Samshield helmets and Kastel Denmark clothing.

There is no question that Christina has been extremely successful, both as a junior and as a professional, but she has never allowed that success go to her head. In fact, she gives all the credit to her team. These days that team includes her mother Barbara and her father Sean, who is also working as the manager at Mill Race Farm, not far from the Kellys’ new place in Aiken. Today, the Kelly family does all their own horse care (Sean even won the groom’s award for the Best Turned Out Horse after Kingdom’s Grand Prix win at the Aiken Charity Horse Show), though that may have to change if the operation gets much bigger. Christina, along with her mother and father, have always enjoyed taking care of the horses, appreciating the extra opportunity this gives them to bond with the animals.

“I love the horses, that’s the best thing about this business, for sure,” says Christina. “You’re doing what you love and you can travel anywhere with what you do, along with your horses, your best friends. The good days, when you win, when your horses go really well, they make it even better.”

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Aiken's Horse Shows

A Bright Future

By Pam Gleason; Photography by Pam Gleason & Gary Knoll

This spring, Aiken was the site of four consecutive weeks of top rated USEF horse shows. Traditionally, the two weeks of the premier Aiken Spring Classic at Highfields were Aiken’s major draw for hunter and jumper riders, providing a competition for local horsemen that also attracted elite equestrian athletes from across the Southeast region. In years past, after the end of the Aiken Spring Classic Finale, these riders moved on, following the circuit elsewhere in their hunt for ribbons, points and prestige.

This year however, the two weeks of showing at Highfields were followed by two more weeks at Bruce’s Field in the new Aiken Horse Park. This facility, which had a soft opening in the fall of 2015, was the site of the inaugural Aiken Charity Horse Show in May, an event created in honor of Bruce Duchossois for whom the horse park is named.

Each of the four big shows this spring offered a range of classes, including events for children and amateurs as well as Grand Prix jumping and hunter derbies. The level of competition was high, as was enthusiasm for the events themselves, a positive sign for the future of horse shows in the city and an indication that Aiken is gaining a stronger foothold in the hunter/jumper world.

Aiken Spring Classic

Action started at the Aiken Spring Classic Masters, held April 20-24. This four-day affair featured the $7,500 Welcome Stake on Friday, the $15,000 USHJA International Jumper Derby on Saturday and the $25,000 Aiken Spring Classic Grand Prix on Sunday. There was Liza Boyd and Like I Said, International Hunter Derby at the Aiken Spring Classic strong competition and plenty of ribbons and accolades to go around. Although some riders and their organizations had consistent success, no one dominated all the ribbons.

For instance, it was a great weekend for Penny Brennan, a professional show jumping rider and trainer born in England and based in Alabama. Penny won the Welcome, taking the top spot with Cord 11, a 17.1 hand 12-year-old gelding owned by Meco Equestrian. She was also second aboard her own Sun Tzu, a 12-year old Irish Sport Horse. Penny and Sun Tzu are on a roll – this winter they set the Gulf Coast Classic Winter Horse Shows (Mississippi) afire, winning, among other things, the $35,000 Budweiser Grand Prix. Daniel Geitner, one of Aiken’s top professionals, also found success: after finishing second behind Penny in the Welcome, he and Creativo, owned by Lionshare Farm, came back to win the $25,000 Grand Prix on Sunday. Doug Payne, who is better known as an event rider, was second aboard Courtney Young’s Botanja and Daniel picked up third with the Kenwood Syndicate’s Kenwood.

The $15,000 USHJA International Jumper Derby on Saturday was one of the most exciting classes of the weekend. Held on the Dietrich Derby Field, it was presented by Dietrich Insurance and sponsored by Mystery Stables and Brenda and Bill McKay. The International Hunter Derby is a hybrid between a hunter and jumper class. Recalling hunter shows from half a century ago, it features tall, natural fences and its two, independently scored rounds that reward horses for boldness and brilliance over the course.

Liza Boyd, based in Camden, SC, is one of the country’s top riders in the derby, having won countless trophies, as well as the 2013 and 2014 International Hunter Derby Championship aboard Brunello, a horse that is so famous he has his own fan club and even his own Breyer model. This year, Liza had a number of rides in the class, and came out the winner aboard Like I Said, an 8-year-old first year green mare owned by Pony Lane Farm. Liza was also third on Pony Lane Farm’s 6-year-old stallion Coronado. Havens Schatt, Liza’s closest competitor, was second on John Yozell’s Breeze.

The Aiken Spring Classic Finale week was held from April 27 – May 1. Penny Brennan, once again, won the $7,500 Welcome Stake on Friday, beating Aida Sanchez Long on Katie Barnette’s Catalyst and Christina Kelly riding Faith and Bill Stewart’s Zuleika. On Saturday, Daniel Geitner stepped in to win the $5,000 National Hunter Derby aboard Hilary Baylor’s Naddell, and also took second place on Janet Peterson’s Damocles. Christina Jason, a popular Aiken-based trainer, was third on Southland Stables’ End Game.

On Sunday, the final day, riders assembled to take stock of the course set for the $25,000 Carolina Company Grand Prix. Skies were threatening overhead, and there was a brief downpour between the course walk and the first round. The skies cleared, however, as the action started, and everyone jumped in the sunshine. Penny Brennan and Cord 11 won, with Daniel Geitner and Creativo a close second. Christina Kelly, riding Andrea O’Brien’s Kingdom was third.

As ever, Rick and Cathy Cram, who own Progressive Show Jumping and put on the Aiken Spring Classic, created a show that catered to the exhibitor, with plenty of social activities for riders and spectators alike. These included brunches each Sunday in conjunction with the Grand Prix, exhibitors’ receptions, breakfasts and barbecues. On Sunday, April 24, the Crams dedicated their new viewing pavilion to Mary Ann Parmelee at the brunch before the Grand Prix. Mary Ann Parmelee was Rick Cram’s mother, and an important figure in the development of the horse show circuit in Aiken.

Aiken Charity Horse Show

After the Aiken Spring Classic Finale, the competitors packed up and moved everything a few miles across town to Bruce’s Field for the Aiken Charity Horse Shows I (May 4-8) and II (May 11-15.) There was a strong buzz about these shows, and competitors were coming from near and far to participate. One reason for this was that everyone wanted to try out the new arenas with their professional GGT Footing. Another was to honor Bruce Duchossois, who died in 2014. Bruce was immensely well known in the horse show world, both as an amateur competitor in the hunter divisions and as a tireless promoter and supporter of all equestrian sports. The show management limited the entries to 500 horses, and had no trouble filling all their stalls.

Throughout the show, there was an emphasis on the exhibitors’ experience. Riders and spectators alike gathered under the ringside pavilion every afternoon to watch the classes and enjoy refreshments that were set out at 4 p.m. Members of Bruce’s family, including his father, also Bruce, were on hand to give out trophies and to honor the younger Bruce’s memory. Bruce senior, who is in his 90s, came all the way from Illinois.

The first featured event of the inaugural week was Friday’s $25,000 Aiken Charity Hunter Classic presented by Cold Creek Nursery. The winner of this class was, appropriately enough, Havens Schatt, who used to be Bruce’s trainer and who came to Aiken specifically to honor to his memory. Havens rode Aristocrat, a gelding owned by Tracy Scheriff- Muser. In an emotional moment after her win, she was presented with a glass trophy box that contained one of Bruce’s trademark velvet helmets. Havens was also third in the class riding John Yozell’s Breeze, while Liza Towell Boyd was second (by half a point) riding Stella Styslinger’s O’Ryan.

Saturday featured the $25,000 Premier Grand Prix, “The Inaugural Cup” presented by the City of Aiken. The winner of this class was Clueless P, owned by Hester Equestrian and ridden by Lauren Hester. Lauren is based in Kentucky, and Clueless P is a 10-year- old Hanoverian mare that has Above: Daniel Geitner; Right: Havens Schatt. International Hunter Derby at Bruce’s Field competed successfully all over the country. Daniel Geitner and Creativo cashed the second place check, while Penny Brennan and Cord 11 were third. Other featured classes included Thursday’s $10,000 Future Hunter Stake (Tosh Hunter riding Betsee Parker’s Liberty Road) and the $5,000 Aiken Saddlery Welcome Stake (Christina Kelly aboard Andrea O’Brien’s Kingdom.)

The Aiken Charity Horse Show II took place from May 11-15. On Saturday, May 14, members of Bruce’s family were on hand for grand opening ceremonies that included a ribbon cutting ceremony, a speech by Rick Osbon, who is the mayor of Aiken, and even recorded remarks from Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina.

The opening ceremony was followed by one of the two featured events of the second week, the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. This was an especially competitive class with such entrants as Harold Chopping, Havens Schatt, Daniel Geitner, Jennifer Alfano and Christina Jason, among many others. But if you are in Aiken and it’s a hunter derby, the favorite always has to be Liza Boyd. Liza had two impressive horses for this class: O’Ryan and Like I Said, coming in off her win in the same class at the Aiken Spring Classic.

After the first round, true to form, Liza was sitting in first on Like I Said and second on O’Ryan. When she returned for O’Ryan’s second round, she rode boldly and made some errors that dropped her down to 11th place. Coming back with Like I Said, and ahead by a comfortable margin, she rode more conservatively, taking most of the high sides, but not cutting too many corners. The mare was letter perfect, earning the win and the Bruce R. Duchossois Cup, presented by Jack Wetzel. Liza only recently took over the ride on Like I Said, who made her debut in the hunter divisions in Florida this year under Kelly Farmer. An athletic mare with a pretty head and a scopey jump, Like I Said and Liza seem destined for great things.

Sunday, the final day of the show, featured the $25,000 Aiken Charity Horse Show Grand Prix presented by First Citizens Bank. The course, set by Scott Starnes, had a number of tight turns, along with some difficult distances. When the riders walked the course they knew it would be a test of handiness and scope, but few probably recognized just how difficult it would prove to be.

Christina Kelly went first on Andrea O’Brien’s Kingdom, a 17.3 hand Irish sporthorse that had just stepped up to the Grand Prix level two weeks earlier at the Aiken Spring Classic. Christina rode with precision and confidence to go clear – Kingdom, who has the power to jump cleanly from a long spot, wasn’t fazed by anything. Then Christina settled in to watch the other rounds while waiting for the jump-off.

But there wouldn’t be one. Horse after horse hit the fences, and rails clattered to the ground. Of the 17 horses that jumped, only Christina and Kingdom went clean to take home the blue. Erin McGuire riding her horse Kasarr had the fastest four-fault round, earning them second place honors. Lauren Hester and Clueless P came in third.

Everyone agreed that the Aiken Charity Horse shows were a resounding success, reflecting the hard work put in by the board of directors of the Aiken Horse Park and staff. The success was also due in great part to the positive attitudes of the exhibitors, who came to the show not just to ride and to jump, but to honor the memory and legacy of Bruce Duchossois. The show benefitted Equine Rescue of Aiken, the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County and Danny and Ron’s Rescue.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. 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 allée 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.