the 2016 USEF Medal Finals

I don’t believe in Courses dictating the winners of hunter and equitation classes. What is to judge when it is a survival game? Anyone can judge it. In the jumper ring the course usually does dictate the winner, because you are jumping for a clean round, not for style, so no one cares what you look like, essentially. We see some very charismatic and unusual riding styles at the top sport all the time, but at then end of the day, clean fast rounds win the money. You aren’t being judged for use of aids and position. You only have to look to the French Showjumping team for good examples. Bosty won’t be winning any equitation classes against Kevin Staut, that’s for sure. However, both are winners.

The difference in developing a stylish rider through an Equitation Final is to push through riders with good composition, but weak aids, not punish the horse by inventing complicated questions only seen at the very top of sport. If you are a seriously dedicated Course Designer and set courses for Equitation riders all year long, you will know that it doesn’t take an overly technical course to weed out the weakest riders. Then judges will be able to concentrate on awarding actual equitation. Course Designers work very hard all year long, year after year, setting different combinations of jumps for different parts of the country for different classes. Just because you can RIDE a course, doesn’t mean you can BUILD a course. Those are two very different things. Course building takes forever to get just right, you have to practice a lot, you have to be licensed for it by the USEF, you need a mentor to teach you, but apparently at the most prestigious class of the country, those licenses are not required. How is this possible? Why do the rules not apply to the Medal Finals? Isn’t it a USEF rated show? If I were riding, I would want a licensed Course Designer to build my track. However, the rules clearly state the Judges MUST design the Medal Finals Class, but it doesn’t state WHY the judges must design it. And it does not require those judges to be licensed Course Designers.  Is the rule outdated for today’s riders? Is that the right direction to head?

Yes, I understand all of these questions asked this year of the 2016 USEF Medal Finals are questions we all should be able to answer, go forward here, add there, but this year there was a major difference.

What I hated about the course this year, is that it seemed to really punish the horses. It wasn’t ridable, and lacked flow.  Even if riders could muddle through, the horses were totally overwhelmed and maxed out to all of their scope. One moment they were being kicked hard to clear a giant over with zero approach and the next you had to pull their faces off to fit three strides into a two stride, which didn’t make any sense. Not in this ring, anyway. Maybe in an outdoor Grand Prix ring, but the PA Farm Show Arena? It is one of the smallest rings we ride in. You could set a course of cross rails and it would be challenging enough. The winner will still stand out. But when horse after horse after horse is excused after being trapped by the course itself, you know something isn’t right. The horses have little or no chance. Really high quality animals were put into a situation where no rider could just excuse themselves after a major fault. On the International Grand Prix Circuit, two rails will fall, and often the rider will save his horse and pull up. These young, inexperienced riders won’t know to do that. They will not pull up even after obliterating the second jump, with a  wave of the hand to the judges, despite there being no chance to make the cutoff. Trainers would not permit riders to just give up and leave. Later in the class, the judges were excusing riders for just one refusal over three, I am assuming because the time it took to get riders through three refusals was ridiculous, or because even the judges couldn’t stomach the carnage. I am not a supporter of punishing equitation horses. They endure thousands of jumps in their lifetime as it is and are not exactly protected, despite new rules being set in place for the future. So few of the 276 horses performed without some sort of stress from the questions asked, that I am surprised the ASPCA wasn’t there protesting. Those rails are not made out of PVC.


big crowd for this class


The Judges making the courses, based on what they want to see out of the class, seems like a dangerous precedent to set and unfortunately failed this year as we watched rider after rider attempting what could have been a jump off round in a million dollar grand prix in Saugerties. But these kids aren’t riding for any amount of money, much less a million dollars. However, the ones with Grand Prix experience certainly answered the questions on very talented animals. And in the end, the winner most certainly deserved to win.

If the idea of this class is to prepare the riders to become Grand Prix riders, what should we do for the ones who don’t have grand prix classes in their future? Tell them not to bother? Some riders could become very nice hunter riders, actually, but I’m not seeing any relevance with this class on a hunter rider’s resume, and if I had a kid entering this year on her junior hunter I would have probably suggested he or she scratch to protect the horse. I actually like when juniors can ride their hunters in an equitation class, I think it shows a well-rounded athlete in both horse and rider. I didn’t see any today.

The same applies for hunter courses in general, whether it is a derby, handy, or classic round. Let the judge do the job of actual judging the best horse, not let the course dictate the winners with rails, refusals, and general confusion. That is the point of having a judge in the hunter rings, after all.

Some don’t want the judges to actually have to provide their opinions too much for classes this large or even on the winners of these  eq classes, but then why do we even need judges? Someone has to pick the winner, and yes someone’s opinion does matter, because it is a SUBJECTIVE sport. Maybe a nice balance between the course dictating, and judge’s opinion would be healthier. Or, we could have a popular vote by audience participation. Like “the Voice”.

As far as the Medal Finals, I am sympathetic to the couple hundred kids who had no chance today, I have no explanation for you, and hope you didn’t have high hopes for this class. Life is tough, in a few weeks it won’t matter if you made it through or not, but for sure I am way more sympathetic toward the horses. My heart aches for them. Over 100 horses had refusals, which means at least 100 horses knew they weren’t able to help their riders. At least a 100 horses had their careers shortened even more today.

If we are going to keep Live Streaming up for the general public to get more educated, and more involved, we might need to rethink the licensing of the judges if they are going to continue building these major tracks. Or not, who knows. For almost three hundred competitors, there are three hundred opinions. Mine means little. In the past there have been judges who have elected to let the course designer design a track, and worked with them to tweak certain areas weeks in advance to get it all set. Those judges wanted to judge, not course design. Regardless of general opinions, I still believe the job of a Course Designer is a paid position for a reason. And I believe if you are getting paid to judge something as important as the USEF Medal Finals which calls 276 riders from all over the country to one venue, you should clearly be prepared to judge 276 riders on their equitation.


second course made more sense than the first

On the flip side, the second course for the top 25 riders called back was great and allowed the riders to be shown off a little, while still asking hard questions. It seemed like the audience breathed a sigh of relief when it was clear no one was going to see an untimely death in the middle of the ring. The pattern made sense, flowed, and gave a clearer sense that riders were going to be judged on actual equitation. The horses, for the first time, seemed to enjoy their jobs just a little bit.


top four called back for further testing , McKayla, T.J. Annabel, and Taylor


Whatever you believe should have been accomplished with this class, just remember the future depends on the horses willing to participate in these classes, without them, we are nothing.

We are halfway through a very busy fall season for horses, let’s hope the horses survive it.  The Grand Prix horses will probably be ok, the rest, I am not so confident about.

Good Luck everyone.


warm up ring

Ludwig who?


Where are you? Brooke asked with utter confusion over the phone. Ludwig’s Corner! I replied, nearly shouting over the noise around me. Who’s Ludwig? she asked. I don’t know, I said, but his corner is pretty amazing.


Main Hunter

I have been to a lot of horse shows. East Coast, Midwest, West Coast, Canada, Mexico, Europe, you get the point. Well traveled. Almost exactly one year ago I had just about enough of the “Rated” shows in this country, and took a few moments to vent my frustration. Then I started looking outside my little bubble. At the time, Ludwig’s Corner had just finished their Labor Day horse show and County Fair, and Andy Kocher had popped up in my news feed as winning the 2015 5k Mini-Prix/jumper Classic. I raised an eyebrow. Why would Andy pick this horse show to attend? Maddy forwarded me all the rest of the info on the horse show in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, (about a 2 hour drive from us) and firmly insisted that next year, we are going. She received no argument from me.


Ring 3

Maryland has plenty of horse shows, and we now have an incredible mix of Recognized shows and Regional shows, so for several trainers in our area, our travel times are not severe before we can arrive at a pretty decent show grounds and spend some money for a ribbon, so admittedly, this show hasn’t really popped up on the radar of equestrians further to the South. Yes, some people know about it, and it has been going strong for 75 years, but generally outside of Eastern PA and NJ, it is still a bit of a mystery. Maddy wasn’t taking no for an answer, and spent all week organizing how to get her two horses there for Sunday, eyeing the hunter derby with one horse, and the Melvin Dutton Hunter division for the other horse.  She brought her boyfriend to hold the end of a lead shank and help with the drive. Quite the scenic drive, btw.


Corey’s job for the day

I met her there, had no trouble finding it, and was directed by several people on where to park, it was clearly a well rehearsed routine. They were preparing for a huge crowd, and were diligent with spacial usage of the grounds. From the parking lot I had to walk through the setup for the fair to get to the rings. I noticed two things immediately….a mechanical bull, and a rock climbing tower in the middle of the vendor and food tents. hmmm. I kept walking, taking note. There were three show rings, all beautifully prepared, good footing (newish I understand), normal courses, nothing trappy or complicated. It was starting on time at 8 am. Since Maddy had entered the first few Adult equitation classes, I was able to see firsthand how everyone involved with the show started their day. My first impression was the fact that everything ran like a normal recognized show, the staff was incredibly capable, professional, and this was not their first rodeo. The secretary I knew, so no problems entering, the announcer I also knew, he does almost all of the big shows in Eastern PA, so his voice reassured me he wold know when to announce and for what, and would be properly informed as the day progressed. I was not disappointed.

Maddy and her horse bounced around the first few classes, which were not crowded, judging was correct, we collected a few ribbons, and then stuck both horses back on the trailer to investigate further. By 9 am the Fair side was really just waking up, and vendors were only just starting to unravel the tent flaps, and get organized. We walked through and made our way back toward the secretary stand to check out the Awards table. It was nothing short of ridiculous. Champion and Reserve Champion winners of each divisions were getting totally spoiled, and the table was rivaling most year end Association prizes. Not only that, but attached to each prize was an invitation to compete at the November CCHSA Final Horse Show at Wyndsor farm. Not going to be in the running for a tricolor? No problem, you can still buy a raffle ticket for a beautiful horse jump for $20.



Noble Outfitters in the house!!

There was a volunteer tent, complete with cases of water for volunteers, a proper coordinator, located at the top of the hill overlooking the rings. Next to that was the rather large Sponsor tent, which I gather there are many of. The souvenir tent let you take pics in the rather clever hand held Instagram frame, so we did, hashtagging and snapping our way through the day. There was an abundance of food. Everywhere.


When Mads is right she’s right! She’s had her eye on this show for one year! And now I ‘m sold. It’s a fair, it’s a horse show and it is awesome. They have thought of everything. Pony rides. Hay wagon rides. No USEF fees. Derby. Good footing. Carriage driving. Mini Prix. No USEF fees. Mechanical Bull. Rock climbing wall. Bungee jumping.  Beer. Food. Stellar prizes. Did I mention no USEF fees? Ludwig’s Corner #Fan4Life

^^Insta post ^^

By noon, the fair was in full swing, so as we grew bored of watching the hunters, we just shifted our location over to watch all the regular people and their kids play and scream their way through the fun. Dozens of vendors surrounded the main fair attractions, although not large, it accommodated the locals nicely. We watched little kids scale the rock wall, attempt the mechanical bull, do bungee jumping jacks, or slide down an inflatable slide. Just past the line of vendor tents, half a dozen ponies were available for pony rides. Want to see what the big kids were doing with their ponies? Walk a hundred yards back to the show rings and see for yourself. All these discussions the USHJA is having about how to grow the sport and apparently this horse show has been answering all those problems for the last 75 years.


I know there are a couple of shows attracting the general public, Devon coincides with it’s fair, Tryon International Equestrian Center is exceptional in everything they do with the public to fill the stands for Saturday Night Lights, but there is one MAJOR difference at Ludwig’s Corner. There are NO USEF fees. All this tremendous fun and exposure to ALL kinds of disciplines, pomp, circumstance, and flare, and the USEF/USHJA is not invited. I love it. With the exception of the commendable USHJA Foundation, which is a partner, they might as well not have existed. Maddy could afford to show BOTH of her horses in an appropriate atmosphere, with proper company, a proper facility, and walk away satisfied.


A costume class!

There are plenty of county shows coinciding with fairs across the country, but this event was clearly a well-established result of an incredibly dedicated team to raise the standards a bit, and it is working. Working really well.


Of course, there had to be a fail. But the Fail did not come from the horse show itself. It came from the Exhibitors.

Addressing tough topics for me is not terribly difficult, but I do resent feeling like the Principle of a High School when it comes to “Show Etiquette”. Maybe I should let bad behavior slide, as many people seem ok looking the other way when human beings become utterly unglued over nothing, but then, what would be the point of this blog?

I struggled with this all the way home, not sure whether to ruin a perfectly good blog post about a wonderful show I have every intention of supporting in the future with two aggravating details that make me want to issue yellow cards.

One reason I may not be the best future ‘Horse Show Manager’ is that I will have no problem throwing your ass out on the street, along with any number of horses you brought with you, should you feel arrogant enough to berate a member of my staff, rather loudly, and in ridiculous fashion. I literally have no idea what would possess someone to have an indescribable meltdown to the person behind the wheel of a water truck simply trying to do his job to prepare the surface in a warm up ring to your liking, but this guy did. And most of the horse show was witness to it. Also, it was 7:45 in the morning.

Let’s get one thing straight. The two people driving the water truck and tractor with the drag are employed by the MANAGER of a horse show to do one thing. Prepare the ring.  There is not one person on the showgrounds who should interfere with these two employees under any circumstance as far as I can think of, outside of an emergency. IS THERE?? Am I missing something? Can I just state how bad you make the rest of us look? It is like interfering with a TSA agent trying to do his/her job at the airport, do you think the agents ENJOY touching several hundred people a day looking for weapons of mass destruction? ok, well, maybe a slight stretch of a comparison, but still, I would have thrown this jerk out.

The other peculiar behavior I witnessed was the nearly half hour stretch between the 2nd and 3rd horse in the Hunter Derby.

The morning schedule of adult and children hunters finished at the proper time, and as stated in the prize list, the afternoon ceremonies would begin with a flag presentation, national anthem, followed by a carriage horse demonstration and Derby at 2pm. A slight hiccup with the Carriage Drivers being delayed pushed the Derby back one hour. We were all aware of the delay. Posted order, 26 entries, all timed and displayed at the ingate and the office. Meanwhile, we enjoyed watching the slew of carriages once they finally made an appearance. All Good. Water and drag, set for the derby. First rider standing at the gate, guess where she was from? Maryland. Second rider kind of casually strolled up to the gate, not eager to get in the ring, but was there, regardess, went in, did her thing, came out. I didn’t think anything of it.

Then, nothing. Like literally, nothing. I looked at the ingate, no one was there, I glanced at Maddy holding her horse, and we made those questionable scrunched up faces at each other like uh…now what? I looked into the warmup ring to see a madhouse of dozens of riders in shadbellies all flying around frantically prepping their horses and couldn’t figure out for the life of me what they were doing!

The pregnant pause went on for so long, and was so painful, the announcer finally said, “well I guess no one else is interested in showing in this class, so we can move on”, and the threat DIDNT EVEN WORK! The poor girl begging people to just come up and go out of order was exhausted and clearly defeated by the lack of willingness to participate in the derby. People watching from the hill, baking in the sun, got up and returned to the fair.

Again, I am left wondering, IS this behavior ok? It was so awkward, because had Maddy and I known this was going to happen, I would have GLADLY moved her up from 18th in the order to go 3rd, but it really didn’t seem like reality, so we were stuck, thinking surely the next rider is coming up any second, right? OH! I spotted her, here she comes, we all breathed a sigh of relief as one person casually walked out of the warm up ring up ready to compete! NOPE, just kidding, she actually was just letting horse stand at the gate for her real turn, much later in the class, I think she went in the ring just before Maddy.

I have to be careful here, but I definitely have noticed a difference when showing in the North East versus showing in the South, MidWest or West. The temperature does change. I can be a stranger in a lot of places outside of Maryland, and in my own personal experience, I have noticed trainers interacting with each other with either warmth or coolness, and today I noticed a particular coolness. The strain of an empty ring is very real when outsiders are looking in. If you went to the circus and stared at an empty ring with no elephants for half an hour, my guess is you would complain to the people putting on the circus. But I witnessed trainers not working together to solve the problem of an empty ring, and I was saddened by it. Despite the fact that it isn’t my circus, and not my monkeys, I think it is a problem that needs to be addressed for the sake of our sport. If you don’t want to go into the ring for your class, why are you at the horse show? On the flip side I don’t want to hear rude ingate operators berating exhibitors at 7:15 in the morning, but we really need a common ground here, I think the word I am looking for is respect.

Sigh, enough about the two Fails. Maddy enjoyed herself immensely, I snapped a nearly two hour long story, and loaded my phone up with dozens of pictures, she continued on with her young horse to the Melvin Dutton hunter division (named after a legendary horseman in his own right who has touched the lives of literally hundreds of horsemen) and left completely satisfied with the day. On a pleasant side note Melvin Dutton was there for the ribbons, which I was so glad to hear, after his tremendous recovery from last year, and Maddy was thanked for showing in his namesake division, a touching moment for those of you who know him. If you do not know him, here is a tiny description:

 It was a good day. It was a great day. I’ll be back for more of the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show in the future, and I bet a few more Marylanders will be making those stall reservations, too, so plan ahead.




A prompt Marylander Brianna Kenerson, first to go in the Derby. She walked in as soon as the tractor was clear of the gate.


Maryland native Megan Miller showing in the Derby


The jump I need to win. #feelingconfident


Mads earned several ribbons, but we were most proud of her Adult eq over fences class and 2nd place.

Labor Day Weekend just got a lot more interesting. #LCHS for the win this week.

Summer in the City

Baltimore is a complicated city. It is a hard city to explain to outsiders. Quite often, it is a hard city to explain to insiders. In other expanding, growing urban environments, development is quicker, neighborhoods change, growth dominates and pushes through walls and forces tolerance and integration. However, Baltimore seems a bit stuck in a time warp, and urban development doesn’t match the likes of San Francisco, Cleveland, Atlanta, or Miami. We tried to affectionately call our city Charm City, but the irony was and is not lost on the generations of families living here, and around the city. Whenever I think about all of the crimes against me in all parts of the world, the drunk fights, the carjackings, the robberies, muggings, chasing away bullies, broken bones, or whatever, the tough girl always tried to come out of me to fight back because, hon, I’m from Baltimore.

So I might as well answer the two most often asked questions of the last four months. How did I become involved with the Arabbers of Baltimore City? And who are the Arabbers of Baltimore City?


Haul for the day

Arabbers have been around forever, long before cars, and people used to sell every known item under the sun off the back of a cart, which was attached to a horse, which traveled up and down city streets like the ice cream truck and the Arabber (pronounced A – rabber) would shout or “holler” about the items in the cart as he (or she) passed through your neighborhood. Generally around here, since cars and trucks have really taken over, Arabbers have had to fight with the city to keep their tradition alive, mostly by insisting that the produce they carry is the only produce being offered in an alarmingly large portion of Baltimore City. It is true. The massive amount of concrete jungle on which nothing but a tiny, heavily barred and surviellanced corner store exists is frightening and depressing. And in those corner stores, there isn’t likely to be any fruit. I’m not kidding. Add to the lack of grocery stores, poor urban development, and unwillingness of banking institutions and other businesses to open in certain areas, and you have what is popularly known as a ‘food desert’. What happens if you don’t have a car? Guess what, a lot of people in Baltimore City do not own a car. What happens when it is not possible for you to leave your home? Another guess, most people are not able to spend an entire day trekking around town, waiting in the heat for a bus that might show up, (or spending more money on transportation than groceries), looking for proper nutrition. Or an open bank. Baltimore city has one of the largest food deserts in the country and is not likely to be changing anytime soon. Growth is so damn slow around here, it is no wonder we are considered a city stuck in a time warp. We have major issues, endless obstacles, and even when it seems one hurdle is cleared, we might be moving forward, at least a half a dozen fresh problems pop up, and boom, we are back at square one. This summer was particularly bloody for reasons most of will never really be able to comprehend, and the grief lingers with the haze, making you want to push the awfulness aside and search for ANY positivity in ANY corner of the world.


The City Paper posted a convenient map. the RED is the food desert. not good.


a couple of these exist

Without having broken my leg, (for which I should have been resting quietly in bed), the Arabbers never would have crossed my line of vision, and I would have only been updated through Equiery posts, or brief mentions of their problems somewhere in the City Paper. However, within under a week post surgery, I had just about enough of staring at my own walls, and begged someone to come pick me up and take me to a horse related meeting. I was looking for my next blog post.

Watching a room full of horse people is hilarious to me, my sarcasm radar gets sharper, my face develops a tiny smirk, and my eyes twitch with this weird battle to prevent an unwitting eye roll.  Way better than Netflix. For real.

The meeting carried on, I took a few notes, checked Facebook thirty or forty times, and made a mental list of things I should really order on Amazon, now that I had upgraded to Prime. Then the floor opened up to New Business, and someone captured my attention. This strange looking and not really horsey man had ventured up to our little meeting to tell us the situation with the Arabbers in Baltimore City, and ask for ideas on how to move forward. I was totally hooked the second he opened his mouth. I wanted to write that story. It had everything I wanted in a piece, and despite only ten minutes of exposure to it, I knew I was totally throwing myself into it. I friended two names immediately on FB, and sent a group message saying I wanted to write their story, please let me, maybe I can bring some attention to you and let’s see what happens. By the time I stood up to leave, Holden was gone, disappearing from the dullness of horsey things being covered in the State of Maryland by an enthusiastic group, and I could hardly chase him down on one leg, and I needed to eat. He did, however, respond to my message, and invited me to the work detail to help clean up the yard.

That was in four months ago in April. Now they can’t get rid of me. Before I could even walk I was hobbling around their yard on pink crutches, absorbing every little detail, desperately trying to learn names of people, names of horses, make countless mental lists and written lists about improvements, clean up, direction, and survival. I met a whole slew of new people sharing the same drive to keep the doors open, and think it is an incredible team. We might be in a constant state of “where do we begin?” but at least the energy is there.

The horses look great, all sorts of junk has been hauled off, making room for future improvements, equipment areas gutted and cleaned. “Fruit”, who is in charge of the yard, hustles all sorts of horse related business on the side, showing up with ponies at birthday parties, taking prom queens for a carriage ride, weddings, funerals, you name it, he can probably swing it. The main priority is keeping food flowing through the neighborhoods, and keeping the horses around that are capable of doing that, but there is still the concrete cowboy in Fruit who deserves to see the city from a back of a horse. And he wants the next generation to have that access as well. #inspiration. I have always firmly believed in animals integrating into city life, but not just cats and dogs, larger ones, too. There are so many city dwellers who NEVER learn what it is like to be around a pony or a horse and that simply just doesn’t seem fair. Everyone deserves to know a horse, learn about one, feel, one, smell one, learn to lead one, draw one, photograph one, learn to feed one a carrot. There is no reason horses should be limited to people outside the city who are lucky enough to drive a car and travel down country roads. If horses were our main mode of transport as they were 100 years ago, it would never occur to any of us that city horses are rare, because last century, the city was full of stables.



I met a lady Arabber. I didn’t even realize there were any lady Arabbers, but I met one! Jackie just strolled in one day while I was hanging around the horses, and she just started chatting away, telling us all sorts of stories about who she knew, where she Arabbed, and what was going on now. She didn’t know the Fremont Avenue Stables, (I think she came from the old Bruce Street Stable before she retired) so thought she would check it out, see if she could bring her husband along one day and go for a ride. How awesome is that? She described her past horses in incredible detail, had learned the tradition from her father, and was on the streets hollerin for a good twenty years.


Jackie once Arabbed the streets of baltimore

There is nothing easy about being an Arabber, you don’t do it for the money, I can assure you. It is work, real work, and you are always repairing your cart, chasing down runaway melons that plop off the side, or getting soaked in the rain. If you don’t have a clear cart when you head back home, you walk it in, if you have sold every piece of fruit on your wagon, you can ride in. Each little detail has come from some tradition passed down in families, learned from a grandfather, or cousin, and the will to keep it all alive is incredibly fierce. Every single Arabber has a story to tell, and the ones no longer around have their faces painted on walls around the neighborhoods to remind us all of their own colorful lives.


BJ getting Tony ready


BJ’s shadow, future Arabber


Community support has been tremendous, I have to admit. Everyone wants to talk about it, contribute, volunteer, offer something, anything, a load of hay, ‘squishy’ horses, books for the coming library, and we are definitely heading in the right direction, despite the usual hurdles and complications. I have learned a lot. I have lost a lot of sleep over it. The sheer magnitude of capital improvements needed in the yard would normally be shouldered on people with maybe a tad more experience, and better connections, but non the less, we all get along and envision the same thing for the city stables. In the past, the horses have bounced around several locations, but now have a permanent home on Fremont Avenue in Sandtown, which the non-profit (The Arabber Preservation Society) currently owns. We envision the property being an open, operational Horse Discovery Center, fully licensed by the city and the State, a safe zone for children, a learning center for anyone who wants it, and a thriving hub for produce on the edge of a massive food desert.  We have already accomplished a lot, but have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us.

You can tell me I am going to fail, you can look at me sideways while you are trying to figure out what in the world has possessed me to become involved with this particular Non-Profit organization. It won’t matter to me or the team, we are doing this. We are going to do something.


teaching this little guy about cleaning tack

The tumultuous year in Baltimore that seems to keep the helicopters buzzing and funeral directors afloat has not been lost on me. I get that most of our country is actually deeply wounded, and will take an incredible amount of tiny miracles to heal, if it ever even does, who knows. It is partly why I have been desperately seeking attention from one other slightly smaller stable in Charm City, located on another side of town, yet directly under a popular highway linking Maryland’s infamous horse country in Greenspring Valley to Fells Point. The two city stables are ten minutes apart by car, but worlds apart on every other level. And no less fascinating.


The stables for the BCMP are underneath that highway

I finally gained entrance into the Holliday Street Stables to talk to the men and women who may have a completely different take on city living than anyone else I know. However they all tack up horses the exact same way you and I do and exactly the same way the Arabbers do, one ear at a time.

These working horses are massive, all draft crosses, one named Hercules is an impressive 18 plus hands, and grey, poor thing, so he sees a lot of baths. There are only 6 at the moment, the wish list has four more on it, but regardless, it is not a large unit compared to other cities. There is no sergeant at the moment. The closest to that rank is Janine Gilley, a ridiculously capable woman with nearly two decades in the Baltimore Mounted Police Unit. Not only can she ride, and police, but she shoulders all of the training, choosing of the horses, feed, bedding, grain, vet, blacksmith, staff, and hundreds of other details that come with horse management. If you ever need a reality check and are feeling overwhelmed with responsibility, take a moment to wrap your head around what she does and you will instantaneously feel better. Trust me. You can’t do what she does. Because she is superwoman and does everything, then uses horses to roam the streets for bad guys and hauls their asses in when they break the law. Her tiny army of 6 is a cohesive group. Some of them are from around Baltimore, some are from places like Jersey, or the Carolinas. They all had to take an intensive six week training course on not only learning how to ride, but on all horse management skills, feeding, mucking, identifying lameness, and troubleshooting everything horse related. The rest they picked up on the city streets.

From what I could learn about a regular police horse day, it is generally evening work on the weekends. And it is work on the Block. For those of you unfamiliar with the Block, it is a part of Baltimore Street, which holds a variety of strip clubs, and bars, and sees a fair amount of illegal activity involving guns, drug trafficking, stolen cars, etc. – use your imagination for the general content or remember pretty much every case seen on The Wire. You get the idea. The weekend night shift is like 7pm to 3am, and the advantages of using horses to police comes from several angles.

Height for one. You can only see so high in a squad car. But on a towering draft or draft cross, you can see almost to the second floor of a building, above crowds, and further down a city block.

Agility… Yep, those big lumbering horses move way quicker than a squad car, and acceleration in a foot chase is unmatched. These horses even know how to sort of pin an assailant into a corner and just leeeean on them.

Smells. If you pull up to a stoplight, are smoking weed and your sunroof is open, I am gonna guess John Potter and his pal Hercules are probably gonna identify the issue rather quickly, step all 2400 pounds in front of the vehicle and tell you to find the gear for park…

Outside of the evening work on the Block there is other stuff. Crowd control is key to these horses. Ray Lewis knows this first hand when fans were getting a teensy bit too dramatic and wanting to invade his personal space and it took every one of the six horses to intervene and keep his limbs intact in that infamous Ravens parade.

Drill team exercises are practiced constantly to work crowds, changing the formation to adapt to an environment, and tight ranks is the ‘survive or die’ tactic used to keep these officers on their steeds. Paramount in our city.

During the week the daytime shift is significantly earlier, and they work through neighborhoods like Mount Vernon, close to the stables, and following them out one day, I watched people react to the horses walking past, and passengers in cars snapping away at them. Jersey Girl always waved, seriously quick to engage eye contact with people in cars, on the street, and even above on scaffolding.


Janine Gilley finds most of these animals from the Amish, and I can assure you each and every one is ever so thankful to leave that Amish life behind to be a city horse with steady meals, fresh water, and exceptional vet care. She pushed the lighter breeds out for sturdier types, which has worked remarkably well.  After other cities started pulling shoes for the draft horses, Janine followed suit, discovering almost 7 years ago, the traction was better, and after training her riders to keep a slightly keener eye on the ground, it became pretty natural of them to go barefoot. I think this can be used in the other city stables, actually, because many of those horses have weekend jobs and shoes seem sort of pointless. Plus, hello? Can we please the budget director any more than saving on that big ole blacksmith bill?? I did notice the saddles were all Stubben Siegfrieds, which I thought a little peculiar, but there has been some consideration to switching to Western, which might provide more comfort, stickability, and why not be able to lasso a robber and keep him handcuffed to the horn? lol, brilliant, and it worked for that one guy out West who recently caught the purse snatcher from the back of his horse at Target, right? I don’t know if the BCMP has the luxury of switching gear that easily, but it is something to consider for the future. My ass is sore just thinking about those Stubbens. No offense Stubben, but really, what gives with that seat?

I met Janine ages ago through Maryland Saddlery, and have followed the BCMP off and on over the years, many of my friends have offered up their farms for officer training, so the entire unit is well known with horse people in Baltimore, Harford, and Howard Counties, and she has been an incredible ambassador for the City Police. Not only is she genuinely a nice human being, she is supremely dedicated to the history of the mounted police throughout their last 128 years. Almost every scrap of newsprint or media has been captured in album after album, which she put together, and her knowledge of Baltimore, and of Maryland is hard to fathom. I just wanted to know when the first woman joined the unit, because you know, #gurlpower, and as it turns out, we not only boasted the first woman to join the City Unit, she is considered the first woman in the COUNTRY to join a mounted unit, and awesomely, she was African – American!! Her name was Janis West. An article in the Baltimore Sun says Janis had no experience riding a horse at the age of 23, but in 1979, her bosses decided they wanted to see women riding horses in the mounted unit, and she, “being an adventurous type”, jumped at the opportunity and proved to be worthy in every kind of detail, in every kind of neighborhood, for the next 20 years. She rode an ex-racehorse named Cady, and apparently generated an enormous amount of income for the city by distributing a prolific amount of tickets near Lexington Market, and I gather there was no middle ground on whether or not you liked Janis West, depending on whether or not you ever bothered to put money in your parking meter… She served for twenty years.


So much documentation of the history of Mounted Police

The Baltimore Sun has followed the Mounted Police extensively for years, and every once in a while will glorify a bad accident involving a horse, because… Media. But as a rule there are far more city horses retiring to farms in the counties (waiting list, don’t even try) than tragically in the streets. If you spend your life as a horseman you will experience horses living, or dying at inopportune times, but country horses have more untimely deaths than city horses, trust me. Paddock accidents happen everywhere. We have all had them. Don’t even try to argue with me.

One of the more bizarre stories that came out from the officers, was the day they all learned they were out of a job by way of a newspaper. No warning, no notice, just the front page of the Baltimore Sun announcing city budget cuts, and whoosh, mounted patrol gone, kind of like learning you are broken up by your boyfriend by way of a post it note. Yeah, people actually do that. Even more peculiar was that when word spread of the impending doom of the horses and riders which had also served as ambassadors for the City Police since 1888, an anonymous donor stepped in and said, uh no, the horses stay, and here is TWO YEARS worth of funding to keep them here… Blink… Blink….Blink.  Our community has spoken about how they feel about equines, apparently. And someone privately held police horse duties to a very high level, which is not surprising when you think about it. How many people do you know want to take a selfie with a police horse? Pet one? Good grief, I have done it all over the world. Police horses are easy to identify with in the street, like the carriage horses in NYC, they just scream PET ME. And it is allowed here, encouraged, as long as you don’t put a finger or five too close to the teeth like an idiot.


In Mount Vernon

These horses lead to engagement, conversation, and connection, which we all need more of in this city. The outreach to schools and youth keeps the unit furiously busy year round. Like Janine said, you can’t just pet a squad car, that would be weird. I have heard our newest police commissioner has put an enormous amount of pressure on officers to actually get out of their cars and engage with residents rather than slinking around like robots, which has garnered more respect than normal for someone in his position. We need this, he is right. We need a lot more, but it is a good start. The Mounted Police have been doing this all along, but it is a small group, a wildly respected group, but maybe if every single officer could experience one day or one week from the back of a horse we would have a much different city than we do today. Just speculation but still. I am a firm believer in courage. I am also a firm believer in engagement.  Proper engagement, respectable engagement, conversations which don’t erupt into awkward situations.

Maybe the way forward is to be set by example from our horsemen and women around the city of Baltimore. Charm City. Less of Murderland, more of Maryland. 


Going to work, Washington Monument in background

Chapter 3 of Emerald Quality

Yikes, some time has passed. I hate that. It is bewildering to think it is already the end of August, and this past year has swirled around like some windstorm, peppered with occasional golf ball sized hail. When I last wrote about Emerald Quality (Emmie) it was a new year – 2016 – January, in fact, I was coming off my hysterectomy, and sort of standing around unable to participate in any of the breaking, training, or handling of this recently purchased young mare. It snowed a lot. I remember it being particularly cold and useless as far as much training could be accomplished, but this was not a deterrent for the girls. Stacey showed a rare determination to see this filly through the worst months of the winter and come out ahead by spring. I let her.

Following that surgery, when I was finally able to step into the tack at home, I had maybe a week or two before leaving for Gulfport, so I only sat on Emmie once before heading south. I remember choosing the most bitter cold and windy day to haul all of the horses to the McDonogh School for the use of their indoor, and in the back of my mind some strange voice was saying really? Going to pick the two greenest and youngest horses you have today? you sure? oooook, but you are a dumbass! I told that voice to hush, I needed to get fit in a hurry, otherwise what good would I be in Gulfport?


The McDonogh School indoor


Both horses made me work. The first one, a newish gelding, just had to make a big deal about being in a strange surrounding, and had to be ridden with a rather firm set of legs and hands until he gave up the fight and steam rose from both of our bodies. He was good practice for what I expected in Gulfport. Horses are always wild the first day or two when you go south, so it was good for me to be reminded of how to deal with it. Then I moved on to Emmie.

Emmie had mastered the trot with Stacey, but not the canter. She was proving to be quite lazy, and in need of convincing that she had one more gait to acquire before we attempted any jumping. Like a lot of convincing. I was quite winded, actually, in my efforts to get two laps of the canter in each direction, and I am not even sure we accomplished the correct leads. But we did it. And besides her solo head shake and ears pinning with one of my rather fierce kicks in her booty, she ultimately did not protest. This was important for Stacey to see, as she was going to be the one left behind to work it all out, and had already doubted Emmie’s capability to move past the walk and trot. Exhausted, we finished the lot, loaded up and headed home.

A few days later I packed up a couple of other older horses and headed away from the snow banks of Maryland to the flat and strange coast of Mississippi for a couple of blissful weeks of sun, horse showing, and good company…. We all know what happened next.

Recovering from a broken leg just takes time. There isn’t anything else. Just time. It is the same for everyone. The clock ticks by, and your biggest challenge becomes dealing with that time. You suddenly realize your normal routine is out the window, and you now have all day to figure out three of the most basic human needs. How to get to the bathroom to pee, how to arrange the pillows, and how you are going to get food. Occasionally you sleep. Maybe read something. But basically for hours, days and weeks on end, you only think about when to pee, your pillows, and food.


Deze nugs tho sleep more than i do 

Social Media did save me. I couldn’t write, I could barely read the one book I had, the pain killers just don’t allow for anything more productive than useless trivia and cat videos, but I was able to keep people engaged through simple updates, musing maybe a little more about the powers of Facebook connecting all of our lives all of the time. I was touched by the amount of friends reaching out, knowing I was sitting around doing nothing, and willing to call me to keep my spirits up. That was cool.

My horses had to be dealt with by other people. And they were. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by the best in the business. I know this.  I trusted all of them, and they did not let me down. There was nothing I could do, I couldn’t even think about them, so I didn’t. So many people offered to help, and I took advantage of all of them. For weeks. For months. My gratitude for each and every one of you is officially eternal.

I listened to the doctors. I returned to Baltimore after a month in New Orleans and underwent the major surgery to install the hardware I needed. I let my husband be my nurse a second time in four months. Shockingly, we are still married. I requested a date I would be allowed to be back in the saddle, and was told by the amazing Hopkins surgeon July 1st. In a routine checkup in May, he bumped the date up to the middle of June and I nearly fainted. Suddenly time was moving a little faster, and my heart was starting to pound a little harder.

Despite the crutches, I was keeping busy with other things, which I am very proud to be a part of, but the deepest part of my soul was eyeing the middle of June with an uncontrollable desire to feel my own boots, my own chaps, smell my own horse, and feel of my own saddle. God, I was so ready.

I didn’t really hesitate in my thinking to pick Emmie to ride for the first time back. Why should I? I mean, besides the fact she probably hasn’t even seen her fourth birthday, but what does that matter? A good horse is a good horse, right? Right. So far we hadn’t seen even an inkling of what her full brother, Mark Q, apparently was capable of when he was four years of age (level 9 naughtiness).

I was still on crutches when I hobbled into the barn and spent twenty minutes in the heat trying to get my boots and chaps sorted out to fit over my swollen ankle. I groomed her, with a crutch under one arm, and brush in the other, and she never flinched. She just peered at me with big brown eyes. I tacked her up and leaned on her as I hobbled out of the barn to the mounting blocks (yes plural) with treats in my pocket and parked her on the off-side. I couldn’t mount from the left. I had to teach her to let me mount from the right. I also had to spend five minutes on the bench reminding myself how to mount from the right side. Have you ever tried to do that? #mindf**k. Once I was on, Stacey patiently holding her head, I fed her a treat thanking her for standing so quiet, and then had to cross my stirrups. I wasn’t ready to put weight on my bad leg, and knew if I managed five minutes of walk I would be a happy camper. My mom came out from the house and took pictures of me. she was so pleased, and I was like, Mom really? My outfit is completely wrong for this moment, but she didn’t care. She immediately told the world on FB. I walked, trotted a few steps in each direction and was satisfied. It felt great.


It is now August. I am juggling several projects, clients, lessons and rides, and the leg is healing, getting stronger by the day. I have ventured into the dark side of dressage with one of my other horses even, and found it is quite gratifying. My fitness is returning in the saddle. Meanwhile, I have been wanting to get Emmie to her first horse show, so I earmarked a weekend for a baby green debut. She is developing a following on both sides of the Atlantic, she is the star of a lot of snapchat stories, and I am always answering questions on how she is doing, so I knew it was time. I chose a regional show in Maryland because…. it’s cheaper. Why spend the extra dollars for a rated show when your own state boasts the best Regional Program in the country? Yes, yes we do.

I chose to head to the Black Eyed Susan Horse Show, held at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center last Friday to school Emmie over the little jumps to check her mental attitude. I had literally no idea what to expect. We had managed only one day of putting half a dozen jumps together at home the week before. It was HOT. Traffic was HORRENDOUS. A normally hour and fifteen minute drive took TWO HOURS. She was sweating when Stacey and I pulled her off the trailer. I felt bad. She was wide eyed. Did I lunge her? No. Did she whinny? Yes. Did I put ear plugs in? no. She has never worn ear plugs. Did she kick out when her tail wrap was being pulled off? well, kind of. Did she make contact? no. She has a thing about her bum. Not bad, but still, we have to watch her bum.  Might have been a fly, I don’t know, she hasn’t done that since, but I took a small note. Am I being too honest? Probably, but I have years of not caring behind me to be able to sleep at night knowing she is one of the best horses I have ever had to sell, so being too honest is not going to worry me much.

The test run was successful. Emmie LOVED the utter chaos of schooling day. I was conservative and warmed up in an arena without much traffic before moving into the actual show ring. I prepared myself for the worst and trotted up to the first flowered gate with all my weight in the backseat, heels down, hands up like “What if she stops??” She simply trotted over the flowered gate. I did this two more times before I realized this filly isn’t scared of anything, and within two minutes she had completed her first show practice course. Like pushing the Staples button, I thought, that was easy.

 practice day:

Show day was next. I was totally not getting up early enough to school in the ring again, so she was going to have to remember what she learned the day before. Only this time the jumps were bigger, and she was going to be quite alone. Traffic on the way to the show was not as horrendous, but the temperatures were even higher, and she desperately needed a bath even before showing. We had just enough time. As she almost was dry we tossed the tack on her and headed to the warm up ring. I think I jumped four jumps. We headed to the gate and before too long we were in the ring, alone, and neither of us knew what to expect. Would I be able to keep her cantering? Would she spook, spin, forget what she learned? Do anything remotely expected of a coming four year old? Well, no not really. She had trouble with steering (normal) and one corner of the ring which had a major drop off surprised her, although given one more minute to comprehend would have been solved, but alas, we were not allowed to take the time to investigate.


I wonder if showing the video of a horse at it’s greenest is the smartest thing to do, but when I started this blog about Emerald Quality, I had a gut instinct she would be ok in the end. I decided to endure the criticism, to be forthcoming about her, because I believe in what I do, I believe in the horses I choose, and I wanted to put it all out there about the length of time it takes to bring a young horse along in the United States, no matter where it comes from. You know the story, you have followed it from the beginning. So here she is, the little bay mare from the Goresbridge Auction, nothing more than a jump chute for me to decide that her life should continue here, in Maryland, in America, as a hunter prospect. You can come to your own conclusions, I am happy with what I have, and happy knowing what she will be in the future. And I am so happy she was the horse I chose to bring me back from the broken leg to the show ring in a matter of a few months. It is ok if she doesn’t go in a perfectly straight line the first time in the show ring, she will be better next time.

Now all that time I spent healing is behind me, and no matter what happens in the future, Emmie will be remembered as the one horse I felt so comfortable with mounting from the wrong side on June 20th, 2016.

Video of Emmie’s first hunter rounds :


Speed of life

When I was 15 years old, I had a riding accident. It was early in the morning, and I was doing my side job of exercising racehorses at Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore city. It was a Saturday. We had a few sets to get out, (I rode for a busy training stable, and sets of two or three a couple times each morning was common) and I wasn’t really thinking about much, just taking note of who was in the stables, who might have been hot walking, my egg sandwich waiting for me at the track kitchen later, or which horses we had planned to school the gate.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 12.27.20 PM
I didn’t check my girth twice like normal before heading out to the racetrack. I also wasn’t really supposed to be there. At the age of 15, it is not possible to acquire a license to be galloping horses on the racetrack. You had to be sneaky. I was a year away from the legal age. My parents didn’t really know about this rule, so when I rode my bike to the stable down the street at 5:00 in the morning and I climbed into the truck to head to the track, they were pretty much clueless (and still asleep). I knew what was going on, but was willing to be sneaky as hell in order to get a chance to breeze those horses on the track. It was everything to me. I loved to go fast. I loved every single moment of what I was doing. At home my event horse was fast, like super fast, and it took every little pound of me to keep him in some sort of respectable speed in each phase, and he might have been my first introduction to creative bits to tap into that control factor. I discovered the benefits of a pelham. The racehorses trained me, and I used it in the Three day eventing world. Daily.


My friends at school were more concerned about how to obtain a fake id to get into bars, and I was more concerned about my track license. I was still six months away from a legal license, and obsessed with looking old enough to be there. I cut my hair so short that patrons of the McDonalds around the corner questioned my presence in the ladies bathroom. I once had to show my bra strap to prove I was a girl. The irony of North Carolina does not escape me. I smoked my first cigarette, and learned having a lighter on your body was a viable tool against sketchy hot walkers.

Yet, one morning, I had to pay the price for my mind wandering. It was such a cute horse, bay, young, and sensible. We could trot around the entire mile length track going the opposite direction without even a head toss at the other horses flying by him. I was relaxed, he was relaxed, and the horse we were in company with jigged and danced, but we ignored him as a team. We turned around where the starting gate hangs out in the mornings, and picked up an easy gallop along the backstretch. The plan was to hit the turn and pick up to a full breeze toward the wire. I egged him on past the backside stables, it felt good, we were keeping pace on the outside of the greener horse who was just learning the ropes. It was my job to keep my horse just outside that greener horse who was on the rail. We hit the turn, and I felt the normal adrenaline take over as we started to to go flat out. Then I felt the saddle slip. I immediately felt my mouth curse two words out loud and it was over.

I woke up in the ambulance. There was a woman asking me if I could tell her my name. What an odd question I thought, of course I could tell her my name. And I did. I think I got it right. She asked me the year. She asked me who was president. I answered her, but oddly, I hadn’t figured out why I was being asked these questions. Then she asked me my age. I replied 15. She paused. She asked me again. Then I finally remembered where I was. Oh my Lord, I forgot to lie.

My hospital stay revealed a fractured vertebrae, mild concussion, and the doctors said sit tight for the rest of the season, and don’t get on a horse again for a few months. I sort of listened, but at the age of 15, what are you really going to do with all of that free time? Within a few weeks I was back on my horse at home and focusing on eventing. I was banned from the racetrack until my November birthday, but not from the race stable, so I soon returned to trot or gallop babies around the farm, or swim them in the pond at the bottom of their hill.

I finally turned 16, and obtained a legal exercise license and continued to ride racehorses before school every morning, desperately trying to avoid demerits from my school’s student advisor for being late all of the time. I showered occasionally on campus in the dormitories, or just sought out the back of the room for a seat and suffered the endless teacher criticism for being removed or unfocused. In reality, I knew I just smelled like the barn.

My equestrian career flourished, yet the details blurred together and throughout the years, I recognize my experiences have been healthy, I have enjoyed many moments, helped secure my presence in this horse show world just enough for my own personal satisfaction. I have no complaints, it has been good. I love racing, love OTTB’s. I also love warmbloods. I listen well, I hear people’s thoughts, I want what is best for the entire show world. I work like every one else works in the horse world, hard.

Then I broke my leg. At the age of 44, it was the only time I could remember time actually standing still. For months.

Horse people have a ridiculous time frame in their heads when they have to sit still. It is like one week is equivalent to one year. I couldn’t believe what was happening but couldn’t complain because I know it could have been so much worse. I thought of Todd Minikus and his groin injury which had prevented him from competing most of the winter despite it being an Olympic year, and would it diminish his chances of making the team for Rio when he had a barn full of top potential candidates? I thought of Peter Pletcher breaking his arm at the beginning of WEF and all of the people who stepped up to help him get through those important weeks for his clients while he stood from the in-gate. My friends did the same for me. I became incredibly sad for the Eventing world, and hash tagged my way through every fatality, thinking to myself, when is this going to end and what can we do to help this sport? I used to compete in 3-day, I should be able to come up with a solution. Yet, I am still thinking about it… I witnessed countless people react to drunk driving, and wondered why they hadn’t reacted as strongly before this year? I mean really, MADD was created decades ago by distraught mothers. I looked outside of the A-circuit for the first time in years and discovered maybe I could be useful to educational programs, unrecognized circuits, and even kids in the city looking for options besides heroin and crack. Good kids. Kids with hope on their side. I found myself desperately wanting to support people with a carriage business, fruit cart, and even simply being amazed at vaulters. Why isn’t vaulting on everyone’s radar? Or jousting, or polocrosse?  I have more time to watch televised events all over the world, subscribe to every horse channel, and witness every majestic moment or tragedy through my computer. I question my own state facilities, wondering what we can do to make them better, make them competitive on the international circuit.



Photo Credit M Holden Warren


Photo Credit Larry Cohen

I understand when horse people are so focused on their own lives, they are too exhausted to think outside the box, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that an entire population of horse people exist (and all over the world). Racing saw a badly needed hero in American Pharoah, maybe this year’s favorite Nyquist will follow suit to truly inspire race fans worldwide, and maybe those same racing fans will further recognize the second careers of those horses, each discipline needs to remember they are not the only exclusive horse people out there, and we need to think together, think like a horse, think like a solid community. The next few years are going to be incredibly important, we are going to see some big changes in all of our horse disciplines, horse management, tolerance, welfare, and education. Hopefully we see more horse movies like Harry and Snowman to encourage all of us. (Personally, the Black Stallion catapulted my desire to speak with all animals, not just the horse) If we could find a way to see more of those kinds of films, maybe we would see less abuse in our communities. If we can figure out a way to work together, we could bring extraordinary and badly needed change.

We are the same, don’t ever forget it, every soft touch to the muzzle, no matter the background, is the same for all of us, and we need each other to stay in this world we can never let go of. The horse world. Your world, my world, our world. Yet, I am also reminding people for every one of your own accomplishments, it might be equally important to recognize someone else’s accomplishments. Without that tool, we may never be able to find solutions in an ever evolving horse world, we may not ever be able to work together, all horse sports and lifestyles included. You need to celebrate your own successful moment? Good, celebrate someone else’s successful moment with it. It will do you good. It will do all of us some good.



I am so glad I was hurt on March 11th, 2016. It truly may be one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Yes it’s awkward, everything hurts all of the time, but really, who cares about that? The broken leg will heal, eventually. The benefits from my accident could fill pages and pages with stories, about new friendships, new projects, encouragement, relationships, goals, survival, creative teaching, and most of all a new perspective on the horse world. If you haven’t given yourself a reality check in a while, now might be the time to do it, regardless of age. Make sure you are leading the life you want to lead, starting now, make sure you are taking care of the one body you have, so that you stick around to take care of the horses you love. Then try to give back to your community.

This morning I crawled out of bed way too early, got myself dressed and in the car, and drove to the Pimlico racetrack for their Sunrise Guided Tours put on by a slew of volunteers. I don’t like to get up early, I am tired of the rain, but someone in my head reminded me the people putting on events like these, are contributing immensely to the horse world, they are the ones inspiring little kids to maybe consider horses in their own futures, pushing a difficult industry into a positive light, and without them, we may not have anyone rooting for a Triple Crown Winner. Schools are sending groups of kids to take a tour of the facility, I ran into a slew of people I knew, without any prior planning to meet up. Quite simply it was just cool to be there having breakfast and watching horses galloping by. I’d do it again in a heart beat, and if you are anywhere around Baltimore City, you should, too. It is worth it. Coffee, drinks, and fruit on are on the house. I am excited for the Thoroughbreds in our country, I am glad there are many flourishing, I am glad we are making room for them at recognized shows, I want to see more of them each year, I want USEF to recognize multiple fence heights, if they will ever listen to my pleas.  I think they are amazing creatures. I also like seeing where they begin, from the foals at the various Maryland/Kentucky/Pennsylvania farms to the racetracks like Pimlico, Laurel, and hopefully to the shows I attend down the road.


Darius Thorpe talking to kids

 PC jennifer Webster


I am looking at thoroughbreds again in the same way I did when I was 15, as athletic, powerful creatures, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for people working with them at the racetrack. I may have moved on from those thrilling days of speed, but I have no less admiration for them and I am constantly thinking how to connect the dots from the kids visiting city stables to jockeys at Pimlico. I think there is definitely an answer there. Hopefully we won’t lose Old Hilltop, but that reality is haunting us from the horizon. It certainly would make what I envision that much harder. If you have ideas, share your ideas, don’t sleep on them, don’t wait until you are sidelined with an injury to mention those ideas to someone, my biggest regret may actually be not stepping up to the plate earlier with my head full of similar thoughts. Just remember to respect all life with horses, no matter what. Because we are all the same.

And the next time you ride, make sure you tighten your girth.


he can trot and tighten girth at same time

Maryland my Maryland


Sarah and Maddy show their love for the state and build a MD jump

During the most inactive time of my entire life, due entirely to surgeries and broken bones, I have an extraordinary amount of time to explore some other events in the horse world, most people would consider boring events occurring around me. But they are far from boring, if you pay enough attention. Last year I was incensed over certain membership increases, so I delved into those organizations to explore reform. That still continues, and along the way I have re-discovered other organizations and the links between them. Luckily for me, I live in Maryland. I understand the small size of our state and the issues we have and how we have to be careful with in comparing the size of our industry patterns with say, California.

I started attending MD Horse Industry Board Meetings. Ours in Maryland has evolved over the years into a relatively small but focused group of horsemen representing all aspects of life among horses from over 35 different disciplines/lifestyles we offer in Maryland. Ten years ago I tried these meetings and walked away several times with a headache. Today, either my maturity and experience caught up with me or the meetings are actually really productive. Keep your ‘eye rolls’ at bay for a minute, believe me, I have had many over the years, but it is hard to deny inspiration and ideas can arise from a gathering of eclectic horse people, either for your own business, or for other organizations we shovel our money over to each year.

I like where our current MHIB is heading, there is a clearer picture presenting itself about how to connect the web of people involved in horses, and bring in fresh, new faces into our world, and keep the horse business a valid industry in our State. We need all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds to contribute to the future of horse sports, on all levels right? And provide options. There is a lot to be said for people burning out from one discipline, only to discover over 30 alternatives to keep them involved in horses. This may seem inconsequential to you at the moment, but your best friend maybe getting really, really tired of keeping her boarding/lesson facility afloat, want to sell and get out of it entirely, and may not know about the Horse Discovery Program offered which can revitalize a lesson facility with an influx of beginner riders. Adding that farm to the tour, along with a rescue donkey, might just be the answer she needs and you could be the one to offer that suggestion.

There are also parallels coming from within the meetings which could be compared to the USHJA and USEF. It is funny we all are looking for the same thing….. sport growth.

I hear rumors about other states reluctant to evolve, or push for licensed stables and public operations, but I can’t help feel that if we were all moving forward together, we would be waking up to less and less reports of animal neglect on farms across the nation. I know I would be happy to never, ever hear of a Peaceable Farms (Virginia) situation again, or last years Jessica York’s herd in Bangor, Maine which sounds equally messy. There are hundreds of ugly situations all over the country. Maybe if we were all checking on each other a little more frequently, these situations would become non-existent, and we would have less or no need for the ASPCA, PETA, or the Humane Society. How nice to be able to put those jerks out of business. However, I digress.

Sparking ideas is a legitimate reason to keep networking. I learned about the most exciting new circuit developing from an idea Patte Zumbrun has for young riders I can hardly contain my excitement for. This fall she is starting a new association similar to the structure of ANRC, but for high school students. The Horsemanship test is part of your overall score; shows will be provided, and a championship at the end of the year. What an incredible solution to the vast canyon IEA has left with barn owners struggling to provide horses for the ‘Ten Minute Rider’. I am personally a strong opposer to the IEA, I don’t support any equine activity in which the only requirement is the purchase of an outfit, and horses are considered disposable or somebody else’s problem at the end of the day. In my eyes, it is ludicrous, as well as dangerous, and not enough of those riders continue in the industry. This other proven model will broaden opportunities for young riders in different financial brackets, and open the doors for them professionally down the road, essentially grooming our future professionals from the beginning if Pony Club is unavailable to them. Some amount of philosophy is needed in all careers, equestrianism is no different, and it is a relief to see people unafraid to test new boundaries. I hope to follow her progress with enthusiasm.

Military. Maryland is apparently the place to be for Wounded Warriors. I find it dumbfounding there are over 20 stables offering programs to veterans, and thriving in this state. 20! That in itself is pretty incredible, and as far as I know there aren’t too many USEF Recognized Horse Shows raising money for veterans, so these programs are surviving on grants and private donors. Imagine if just 5 horse shows donated a tiny portion of their proceeds to these stables, what it could do for the veterans who served us so we can even have the freedom to run horse shows. Imagine if 10 people reading this called some of those programs and asked if they needed an extra hand or water bucket, halter, or hay…


Hospital horses. Pet Therapy is one of the most effective ways to engage people and sadly one of the most under used tools in society today. What if you had a way to help brighten just one person’s day but no idea how to make that happen? Using your network might allow a few patients young and old to see more than the bedroom walls for an hour a month or more. Maybe an invitation to the Capital Challenge Horse Show might garner enough donations to make this little guy stay busy year round.  Watch the video, just watch.


Big Purple Barn

Find them on FB and like this photo of our mascot Violet if you love horses! Share this photo with a friend who wants to SHARE our love of horses! Meet Violet on 4/24!feeling in love at The Big Purple Barn.

Film Festival. If you haven’t heard of Harry & Snowman I don’t know what to do with you or even guess what you have been doing with your life. And if you haven’t seen it, here is your chance. The Senator Theatre in Baltimore is hosting the final screening before it goes public on Wednesday May 11th. There are 700 seats in the Senator Theatre. It is part of the Winners Tour of the EQUUS Film Festival, and a Spring “Barn Night” might become your best idea yet, if you post a sign in your barn saying “WE ARE GOING TO SEE HARRY & SNOWMAN MAY 11TH!!!!!!!” DO it, not since the Black Stallion has there been a horse movie like this.  Details are being finalized but you can basically see 2 or 3 films (some short) for $15 a ticket, or be included in the VIP reception for $50 and MEET the filmmakers. You should be there. Find the MHIB Facebook page for info.

Jousting. Yep, our state sport. Seriously though, what could be more fun than trying to poke a stick through a ring at 20-30 miles an hour? Heath Ledger made jousting sexy as hell in A Knights Tale, but few people know what it really entails unless you have been to Medieval Times or the Renaissance Festival, there are actually tourneys all over the State and all summer long, starting with one on May 7th in Glen Arm! Just for fun I googled the sight, and discovered there are over 150 riders doing this. Holy Crap. I must see this. or video:

Steeplechase. We can’t get enough of Spring racing in our state, and back to back weekends full of horse racing and pink and green popping up all through the Valley, which the MD Hunt Cup is considered the holy grail of trophies to hold up in the air the final weekend in April on the famed horse farm of the Martin family. It’s ridiculous and dangerous, but sure is fun.  Some of these events host pony racing, (a lot less dangerous and more fun) which eventually bleeds over into the Shetland Pony races held at Washington International in the fall, a huge delight to crowds attending that event. Like seeing them at those big shows? Support them in the spring, too!


future of racing

Polo: It’s everywhere, but essentially Ladew Gardens is the place to find a lot of Polo, especially Fridays and Sundays, and July boasts a fundraiser for Shock Trauma (useful hospital for riders) called the Ronny Maher Benefit Polo Match. Good times, tix here


the perfect Maryland outfits

Those are only a few examples, and people are involved with dozens more, Mounted Police, Arabbers, Therapeutic Riding, Eventing, Pony Club, Foxchasing, The State Fair, Horse Shows, Dressage, Rodeos, Calvary, Assateauge, breed shows, Racing, Special Olympics, and every thing else you can think of.

Change any preconceived notions about the MHIB, visit the site, look at the schedule, see what opportunities are available for you or children you know. There is so much more coming in the future we will all benefit from. If you are in the 49 other states, get motivated to make your Industry Board forward thinking. Create a model which can be used nationally for every discipline, for every horse, for every rider. It is about getting involved.



schedule :


A super moment at Talisman Theraeutic

A Classic Tale

I made arrangements last year to show in Gulfport, Mississippi for this February – March circuit because it has long been one of my favorite show management companies, my former student Dani lives there now (mini-me), and they were offering a $5.00 pre-green division for circuit which I thought was such an incredibly generous move I could hardly pass it up. Westin could basically show for free. I also love the derbies held there, and Week V the derbies would be held on the grass Grand Prix field.

That’s the business side of showing, I guess. The flip side for me is the fact that I hate giving money to show management companies I don’t like, REGARDLESS of weather, location, or money offered. This is a personal decision, and could care less if I am criticized about it. We all have our own idiosyncrasies.

I like to be able to arrive to show grounds, when I am exhausted from a ridiculously long North to South drive, and be surrounded by friendly, helpful people who seemed genuinely glad to see me. The next morning when I walk in the show office, I like how absolutely everyone lifts their heads and takes the time to say hello, even if they are busy with another exhibitor checking in, no one seems to have forgotten their manners, and even the four legged show office dogs sniff your feet. I particularly like the cookies (Belgian cookies) and peppermints off to the side, and noticed my “lollipop for pap smear recipients” container is sitting on a shelf which leads me to spark that conversation all over again. In return, I was given an earful about the embarrassment of having to explain what a pap smear is to a 5 year old boy who wanted a lollipop. lol oops. This explains the height of the shelf the lollipop container now sits on.

The Classic Company motto has always been about providing horse show competition for every level of rider, and from various backgrounds. It is a transient group that follows the shows run by Classic, very few of them have purchased property around one of their circuits, and I have noticed it is a different category of people who work amazingly hard, have respect for their fellow horsemen, and share some tight camaraderie within the horse show community. You are going to see a lot of good sportsmanship at these shows. People show together, but also eat meals together, explore together and party together. A local church opens their doors for free dinners every Wednesday night to exhibitors, (which a handful of us never miss), and it is clear how hard the staff has worked to garner meet and greet parties on and off the show grounds to integrate not only all of us together, but all of us within parts of the community. It really is extraordinary to see the efforts. Casino life is a big life in and around the Gulf Coast, and it is very clearly incorporated through sponsorships and events held during the circuit. Every Monday night a selected casino hosts an exhibitor party.


me, Bob Bell, Brooke Kemper, Grace McShane, Katherine LeBlanc and Drew Coster

They are also always open to ideas. Which I have a lot of. Maybe too many, but whatever. My plan in my head was to gather up all my ideas and present them to Bob Bell and Janet McCarroll at the end of circuit to think about for next year. However, Life had different plans than the ones in my head, and in a very freaky, unlikely mishap, I was spun of my horse and broke my leg one evening of Week V and have been in the hospital ever since. Crap.

One handicap about being a transient equestrian is the difficulty of traveling with special equipment for the horse(s). Unless you are local, and/or have an enormous operation, the ability to haul a treadmill, or multiple magna wave suits, or thera plate is often not a reality. At least not without a tractor trailer and an amazing amount of staff. Why not create a spa for horses. The space is available. If you want people to remain for the entire circuit and think more long term rather than a couple weeks here and there, create enough of an environment to make it plausible. More focus is going to be put on the welfare of horses in the future, and here is a great opportunity to be one of the first ones to provide more services for the horse. If Classic bought a thera plate, and a couple of magnetic blankets, hired a massage therapist, or chiropractor, or both, and set up shop in an area we all had access to, they could rent out these or other services. You could even have an aqua treadmill if you wanted! A complete service facility exclusively for the horse! If you had the incredible misfortune of bringing a clients horse down for circuit and it went lame week one, instead of losing that client altogether, you could participate in the rehab of that horse, and the owner might be really surprised by your efforts and be loyal for life. I would. If I had to turn to an owner and say we have to send your horse home lame or keep it locked in a stall to end of circuit, or here! – a mobile rehab facility is on the grounds let’s try this – what do you think I am going to do? Not only for horses that have unfortunate accidents, but horses are athletes too, and many of us want to be able to provide as many health services to them (but aren’t made of money) to keep them showing in top form. I would absolutely take full advantage of a valet service for my horse to give him an hour on the thera plate whenever he needed or wanted it. Thinking outside the box is what companies outside of Florida need to do in order to keep people coming in and staying for good during winter circuits. The $5 pregreen division worked this year, there were loads of young horses, and I hope that tradition continues into next year as well, but is it enough?

Classic has done everything to provide incredible footing and beautiful fences to jump, which we love, but the reality about the weather in Gulfport is that it is the number one deterrent for people deciding on winter circuits. It is pleasant only about 50% of the time. The airport is the other deterrent and access to the show for weekenders is expensive at best, which may have explained why Apollojets was a huge sponsor for one of the weeks, so they could get their information out to people considering alternatives in flight travel. Brian Hillen was an amazing advocate for the company, and even if this isn’t a viable solution for everyone at the moment, he might be able to provide options in the future.

But if horsemen knew they had access to equipment that would help keep their horses sound and happy through circuits, would it change their minds? And would it be enough? It possibly would be a good start. Classic runs shows all through the year, so the horse spa could travel to Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charleston, Pensacola, Gulfport, and be considered a regular feature included into whatever event wherever they are at any given moment. Grand Prix horses to small ponies would benefit from it, and you may even see some sponsorship opportunities come up from the creators of all those kinds of equipment.

I also bet a spa for people would close up that gap in vendor’s row pretty well, too. Girls need their nails done, you know, even horse girls. I remember pitching this idea with Mary Ruth last year. A group of ladies introduced one at Thermal to offset their showing costs, and it was a tremendous hit. Ohio has a mom spa, right by the pony ring. Still want to incorporate the locals? Then hire them to do the work. There is literally nothing more luxurious to a horse girl than to have someone else shampoo your hair every once in a while, and the reality of horse show life is that we just can’t always find the energy to deal with hair on a daily basis. Help us help ourselves from dirty hair syndrome.

Bring in hot dealers to help us learn how to waste our money in Casinos. I actually did have success with this suggestion, and if the Casino life is really that important and we should be honoring our sponsors, then we need confidence builders to educate  the few of us not comfortable pushing the doors open to casino and walking up to a blackjack table and taking a seat. However, if a hot dealer showed up and educated me on when to say “hit me” I would pounce my over confident butt right on in to the Beau Rivage, order a drink, and go for it!

Even if these ideas never gain momentum, Classic Company is still considered the nicest show management company around. This show has so much camaraderie going for it, it is almost impossible to feel like an outsider. We all help each other out when tragedy strikes, we all regard our fellow horsemen as just that –  fellow horsemen, we understand the need for us all to show up and work everyday in order for shows to go on, and we all have a more grounded outlook on the horse world. If you were going to let your kids roam free and learn from professionals from the sidelines, this is a pretty safe community to do that in. I wanted to offer a pony clinic for modeling and jogging and every trainer I approached about the idea was on board, and enthusiastic about the idea. If I hadn’t been tossed, it might have even happened. Crap again.


Week V offered an International Derby with the substantial amount of $77,700 in prize money offered. It was a big deal this year. It also was a big deal when the realization that a very notorious farm would be descending upon us with several horses to compete for said prize money. My brain was churning. It still is. When I started writing this blog, I had intended to address EVERY aspect of this world, the horse world, good, bad, and ugly, and without any planning, just delved into the far reaching corners of my brain to extract what was getting under my skin. The point is that the fear of the kind of person I become weighs heavily on every subject I bring to the table.

Sportsmanship is such a tricky subject, but I am not sure why it should be so tricky. Fierce competitors claim that being the nice guy will not bring the first place prize, so they forgo manners for wins. In all sports, not just horses. Soccer parents are just as guilty as anyone when they are screaming obscenities from the sidelines. It’s gross. We all know it. The image bad sportsmanship behavior leaves behind actually does have an impact on young people and young people will be the future of sport. Whether you like it or not, SOMEONE IS ALWAYS WATCHING YOU AND LEARNING FROM YOU. Our tolerance for people who have major temper tantrums ringside is enormous. We all look at each other, stay silent, roll our eyes, and give thanks we don’t have to endure the side show on a regular basis. But I am sick of it. I am sick of fence lines being kicked out of frustration, I am sick of the shouting in the schooling area, I am sick of wondering what junior rider is influenced by the drama. There is no excuse for it. It is simply not that difficult to tone down the rhetoric, act like an adult, and quit with the insults.

Watching the International Derby in the absolute worst weather conditions possible with torrential rain that just would not give up, I was depressed about what I was seeing. It was clear we were watching for all the wrong reasons. Whether we had personal ties to some horses didn’t seem to matter, the lack of encouragement for certain riders was abundantly clear. I almost wish I was watching on the computer instead of live so I couldn’t witness the weak applause for the winner. I felt guilty and justified at the same time. What kind of person had I become? Probably not the person I want to be.


starting to gather under tent for derby

That night I broke my leg. I remember every detail. I waited until late in the day to ride my horses because of the bad weather, and my only choice was to ride in the covered arena, a clay surface not ideal for much except rodeos. However, it is the only option in heavy rain. There was one other person schooling in the ring with me, but he left, walking out into the dark, back to his stall. My horse, never having been keen on being left alone, lifted his head to look for him outside the ring as I was cantering a circle in front of some jumps. In that moment of distraction we passed by some standards and when he brought his attention back to me, he was surprised by the proximity of the jumps and suddenly spun around in a panic, leaving me wholly unprepared and vulnerable. I spun off in spectacular fashion with one leg landing perfectly on the ground, only to see the second leg meet the clay right at ankle height, instantly snapping the bones off right through my clothes, and right through my chaps. If I was 5’8” instead of 5’10” I would have landed clean with no injury. It was gruesome and depressing all at once, and I just lay in a heap in utter shock at what I had done. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to call Brooke (who I knew was home on her couch drinking a beer), and suggested she call for help. She did.

Within minutes I was surrounded by wonderful, kind, caring friends, and as TJ held my head up out of the dirt and Paulie held my hand as the ambulance drivers cut off my boots and chaps, my main concern was not seeing any of them again before the end of circuit. I knew I wasn’t returning and I was heartbroken. I was leaving on such a sad note and didn’t want to. We still had one more church dinner left and they were baking a special chocolate cake just for me (I was insisting on the same icing as before and not switching to lemon) and we still had to get the popcorn machine going again because it was such a hit last weekend. Allen Reinheimer was pacing nervously and I am sure his thoughts about what I might blog about were swirling around in his head, but honestly I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to be exactly right there at the time of that fall, knowing they would never, ever abandon me.

Brooke Kemper, Nigel Potts, Cathy Jolly, Tom and Tracey Brennan, TJ Le Blanc, Paul Jewel, Dani DiPietro and countless other people deserve more than just my thanks for seeing me to the hospital, taking care of the horses, packing my stuff at the show, and at the house, driving my horses home,and all the million other things that had to be done as a result. If you see any of these people around feel free to acknowledge their kindness and never forget your world can change forever in just a 5 second incident.

I will recover, I can still participate from the sidelines, I will finish reading the strange and disturbing auto biography of George Morris which was delivered a few days ago, I will continue to search for solutions for the horse organizations we are all members of, and I most definitely will return to the show ring, and Classic Company horse shows will still be at the top of my short list of competitions I love to attend.


Kevin McQueen recipient of Sportsmanship award


Dani showing Westin in adults


family dinners