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April 2020

From Pony Rides to Professional…Mr. Mike’s Story!

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I always knew that I wanted to be with horses, in some way. From age five until today, when I’ve made it my profession. I guess it’s just one of those things you just know. Like the first time you sit on a pony or a horse, you just know.

Mike with Coco at a western show, winning a first place ribbon!

It all basically started when I was 5. The elementary school that I went to, every spring they had a carnival that was a fundraiser for the school, and they would have pony rides. At the carnival, I rode one of the ponies probably 30-something times. I would just get off, then get back in line. Finally, the carnival was over and they were loading up the horses. I was still there watching them, thinking how cool it was. The lady who owned the ponies came up and told my dad, “I think you’ve got a horse person here”. My dad looked at her and said, “what’s that?”

She said, “come by my place Saturday and you’ll find out”.

I began leasing that pony — Coco, a little gray Shetland pony. That pony, he could drag you around — he would drag me over to the grass and I couldn’t get his head up. I would get so mad at him and kick, throw the rope up, walk away, just leave him there. I remember my instructor telling me to go get my pony and get back on!

Mike, Rosie and Mrs. K – the lady who got him into riding.

I rode and showed Western on Cocoa. When I grew, I graduated to a larger pony and started riding English. I liked the variety, getting to jump. I showed and rode in flat and jumping classes.

It was a while before I got my first horse, after I outgrew the bigger pony I was riding. I was in middle school, seventh grade. We bought this mare named Rosie, a bay Standardbred. I had her from age 3 to 29. I did everything with her. I remember going into Aldie (to where the Aldie Peddler is right there in town) — I used to ride her down there, right across the bridge, and stop traffic. I remember standing up on her hind end in the middle of the yard, and she would just stand there.

Mike with Rosie at a hunter show.

She was bombproof — and she was wildfire. You would pick up the canter — when you’d say “slow down”, she’d say “too bad”. Nothing was ever fast enough for her. There were a lot of people who would say “you couldn’t pay me enough to get on that thing”. But you just needed to understand her, know how to manage her. Then she would be perfect.

When I got Rosie, the first time I went to tack her up, I brushed her like she was a million dollars. Perfectly groomed — I mean, you couldn’t even pat any dust off that horse or comb the hair backwards and see any dander. She looked perfect. And I went to put the saddle on and I remember my instructor coming up to me, and she goes, “hang on, I’m going to help you one second”. I had put the saddle on backwards. I was so excited that I put the saddle on backwards. I remember that like it was yesterday.

Thinking back on my first horse — you don’t realize until different horses have come and gone in your life, and you’ve thought back on your experience with them, how good that horse was, and everything they taught you. It was like that with Rosie. We did so much together. I never would have done a third of what I did with her, with other horses.

Mike with Rosie (center) and boarders (Skipper — right, and Major — left).

I worked at a few other barns over the years, some smaller private barns and a 40-stall hunter jumper barn. Finally there was this one barn where I was working, the owner had this Quarter Horse named Skipper that he hadn’t ridden in a while and had started bucking under saddle. At the fearless, stupid age I was, I said, “let me get on him, I’ll fix it.” And I ended up riding him and fixing the issue. That was my first sort of training experience.

Eventually my dad got moved to central Virginia for his job. When I realized it was “horse country”, I was so excited. I saw how many farms and equestrian people were in the area and couldn’t wait to move. The biggest one I was in awe of was Karen and David O’Connor’s farm. We found a house with a 6 stall barn and 10 acres, and ended up with boarders and training horses for the 21 years we owned the farm.

Mike at Tail Race Farm, his business for 21 years.

One day, my dad and I were taking a drive around during farm tours. We would always pass by the driveway to Sprout, and on that day, my dad said, “you know, I’ve always wondered what is down this road”. We drove down Sprout’s driveway and there was an open house going on. And that’s how we discovered Sprout.

I started volunteering at Sprout, eventually working there part-time, while operating our home boarding and training business.

When we sold our farm after 21 years, I came to Sprout full time. And I’ve been here ever since.

Sprout is a special place to me. It’s special to be able to give people the opportunity to ride, when they probably wouldn’t get the opportunity anywhere else. Some of the things we’re able to do to make it so people can ride, the horses, the people. It’s a place like no other.

Mike with Olaf and Sprout rider, Caroline Elgin.

The Teacher

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The Teacher

By Amy Perez

Like many of us, we all have had many teachers in our lives. It starts with our family. Our mother, father, siblings, and grandparents and as we age we continue to receive new teachers in our lives. School teachers are usually what comes to mind first when you hear or say the word teacher. But there are so many others that come and go in our lifetime and I bet that if you can think about it, you will always have one special teacher that has impacted your life more than the hundreds of others that have crossed your path in life. Maybe it was a music teacher, or maybe it was a religious teacher, or possibly it was an animal teacher. 

That’s what happened to me…I had the best teacher and he was an animal. I’ve had many animals in my lifetime. Dogs, lots and lots of dogs…each with their own unique lessons that they brought to me and each has a special place in my heart. I’ve had a few horses in my lifetime as well.  My first horse was a special teacher, he taught me at the tender age of 7 through the age of 18 how to be responsible.  He was with me all during my growing up years until I went to college and I sold him to another little girl so that he could teach her the same lessons of growing up and responsibility.  He was a special one…but the MOST influential teacher in my lifetime will be HEMINGWAY.  No, not the author, but the horse.  My horse.  I called him ERNIE.  He had many names though…ERNEST, ERN, ERNEST-T.  He came into my life after I had raised my two children and wanted to start riding again.  He entered at the perfect moment.  I had goals to horse show at Upperville, and Aiken and Kentucky with my first horse as a kid, but was unable to achieve them. But with ERNIE, I had the opportunity to achieve those goals in my adulthood.  

ERNIE and I were successful in the show ring. He would light up whenever he was in the ring. The judges loved him as did many a spectator.  He was famous for his kind, gentle demeanor and his gorgeous jump.  The first lesson that he taught me was kindness. Whenever a competitor at a show would exit the ring just finishing their jumping round ERNIE would ALWAYS shake his head up and down as if to give his approval of the round to our competitor and say, “Yes, what a fine round that was!” I still to this day, no matter if I know the horse and rider competing against me and my horse or not, I always take my kindness cue from ERNIE, and say to them “well done, nice trip” upon entering the ring. 

ERNIE taught me to listen. Horses don’t speak like humans do. But they do “talk” to us. He taught me to listen when it was time to retire from showing. I didn’t hear him for a while because I wasn’t listening. He was telling me, through his own way, that the jumps were getting harder, his body was getting heavier and his feet were getting a little sore. I wasn’t listening when he told me in his kind, gentle way that he just wasn’t able to be the partner to me that he once was…but he STILL wanted to be my friend and companion.  I remember the day that I finally LISTENED to ERNIE. I took his cue, and told him that he would be my forever companion and we would retire from the show ring.  He loved his new “job” of his retirement life of walks on trails, and standing in the ring with me watching his barn mates taking lessons and jumping jumps.  He enjoyed his pasture time with his friends and quietly moved aside while he watched me grow with his new brother, always seeming to say, “ you can do it mom” 

I could go on and on with the hundreds of lessons ERNIE taught me over the 9 years we were together.  But the most important lesson he taught me, was selflessness.  Having horses in your life is a tremendous honor and responsibility. ERNIE told me last week that he wasn’t feeling well.  I listened.  ERNIE showed me the way to kindness and selflessness was to send him somewhere without me, to where he would wait for me, but that I would be without him for a time. ERNIE thanked me and we had one last lesson together….how to be without each other. I miss my friend ERNIE so very much. But I know he’s still going to teach me. I know these lessons I learn without him will be perseverance, patience, and loyalty.  Until we meet again my sweet friend, and teacher. 

Crafty: Pushing The Limits

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By Perri Green
In this time of COVID 19 isolation I have been using Facebook to reconnect with people.  It was requested that we should post a photo of us on a horse that makes us happy.  I posted a photo of me riding my horse, Crafty Craig at the Ledyard Olympic three-day eventing selection trials. I won fourth in that competition.  It was my first time riding in the advanced division.

How did I get to this point in my riding career?

I am one of the luckiest people to have been raised with horses most of my life.  My father gave me my first pony for my fourth birthday, Brownie was a Shetland and not the nicest of souls.  Daddy would not let me ride by myself with a saddle because I could not tighten the girth enough to be safe.  I rode bareback.  Each day I would take a dining room chair out to the yard and lead Brownie up to it so that I could get on her.  We would start our ride around a field near the small barn.  As we got to the end of this field and turned around to head back, Brownie would spook at a roll of American wire.  I would fall off and that would be the end of my ride for the day. One day I stayed on through the spook and from that day forward my riding took a great turn for me.

By the time I was six we had moved from the small farm outside of Frederick, MD to a big farm in Loudoun County, Virginia.  Daddy had ridden most of his life so he now had big thoroughbred horses and he bought a horse for my mother.  Mommy was not an avid rider but encouraged me to be the best I could be.  We had a neighborhood young man help us with the barn, Rick Eckhardt.  He started to give me lessons and my riding progressed to using a saddle and beginning to jump.  I was getting ready to go foxhunting with Daddy, who told me when I could successfully jump a big log in our front field he would take me hunting. When Rick was not teaching me, my riding consisted of starting each ride with a charge to the big log.  Brownie would stop and then I would continue with my ride, until one day she jumped the log!  I stayed on.  That late afternoon when Daddy got home from the office I rushed to the barn to tack up Brownie and show him my new achievement.  I got on and immediately went to the field with the log.  We took a run at it and she stopped.  I got really mad at her and she jumped it from a standstill.  I fell off but got back on to try again.  This time we flew over the log.  The next morning Daddy took me on my first foxhunt.

My riding background was foxhunting, Pony Club and local hunter shows.  I outgrew Brownie and moved onto other ponies.  Daddy had many horses who were in training to hunt, point to point race and compete in the beginning stagesof three-day eventing in Virginia.  He was the DC of the Loudoun Hunt Pony Club for a few of my early years in pony club and he was one of the original founders of the Loudoun Hunt Point to Point races at Oatlands.  Horses were his hobby and love.  He could ride any horse that someone gave to him.  There were many horses that were talented but also a bit wild and crazy. I loved to be in the barn and around all of these horses.  I could ride every day.

When I was twelve, I went to visit Rick Eckhardt at Gladstone, NJ.  He was on the three-day Olympic team.  Seeing the fellow team members and their horses, I was hooked and decided that I wanted to try out for the Olympic team someday.

By the time I was thirteen, I moved from the “boring” hunter shows and into the jumper shows.  It was a thrill to compete against Red Revell and Wally Holly and beat their time.  I was competing on a small quarter horse, Mr. Gaines.  He was fast and could jump the moon and turn on a dime.  The first time I jumped Mr. Gainesover a five-foot oxer, I felt like I did heading into that log on Brownie.  When we cleared it and I felt that plain-sailing sense in my heart and stomach I was hooked.  The bigger the better in my book.

By the time I was fourteen, my father had bought Crafty Craig as a six year old steeple chase prospect.  He had been banned from Saratoga as a three year old because he would not start.  He then was sent to a show barn to become a confirmation hunter.  They fed him to make him look pretty but the feed made him buck his way out of the show circuit.  He could jump beautifully and he was fast if he had the mind to run.

I was by then exercising all of Daddy’s horses.  The first time I rode Crafty, I asked Daddy what he could do. Daddy replied “Everything, he can jump the moon!”.  I took him from the barn to a field with a long hill to “leg him up”.  We entered the field jumping over a small coop and he just hopped over it without any effort or hesitation.  As we were walking down the hill a herd of cows came rushing out of the woods into the field.  Crafty bolted down the hill.  I could not stop him or turn him into a circle. I headed him to the gate at the bottom of the hill.  The fencing was barbed wire and I did not want him to run into the fence.  Four strides out from the gate, Crafty changed gears, collected himself and effortlessly jumped the gate.  He landed on the other side and galloped along nicely.  The cows were blowing at us from their vantage on the top of the hill.

I called Daddy at the office and told him I wanted to buy Crafty from him.  He agreed if I would sell my pony first.  This was a pony I had broken and made myself, The Impossible Dream, “Impy”.  This devastated me but I did sell her to a young girl in Pennsylvania.  She would send me notes with photos for many years.

At fourteen, I had a six-year-old thoroughbred who could jump, walk, canter and gallop.  He really did not know how to trot.  This was fine by me, I did not like hack classes, dressage or anything to do with flat work.  Jump, jump, jump worked for me.  I rode with Janet Carter (Janet Hitchen) the first summer I had Crafty and she wanted me to do the hunters.  I convinced her after several frustrating shows that Crafty and I were much better at jumpers.  Peter Wilson (I think) set up a jump at Warrenton Horse show over a pick-up truck bed with a rail over it.  Crafty and I dazzled all by jumping it effortlessly.  I changed from a hunter entry at that show to the jumper classes. We got some blues and I was hooked again.

I went to Oldfields boarding school in Maryland and took Crafty for my sophomore year.  The head riding instructor, Craig Hunter evented.  She wanted me to event Crafty.  She helped me with my dressage and taught me to sit trot on a lunge line on top of one of the choppiest horses I have ever sat on.  This made Crafty feel like a dream as he learned to trot. I had a clinic with Ralph Hill who asked me if he could get on Crafty to show me how to collect him.  Before my eyes, Crafty transformed into a wonder. He was collected and floating.  I asked Ralph to teach me to do that.  He worked with me the rest of the clinic.  I do not know what happened to the other four riders in my class at the clinic but I learned to transform Crafty with Ralph’s guidance.

That spring I entered four recognized events at the training level and we won each event. Crafty and I made the North American Junior Olympic team representing Area 2.  We trained with Jimmy Wofford and had a terrific time winning as a team the first young riders three-day event in Wayne, Illinois.

I was accepted and started at Bowdoin College the fall of 1976.  There was no riding.  I kept myself riding fit by exercising a polo pony.  The summer after my freshman year, I rode with Evie Thorndyke.  I had met her as my examiner taking my Pony Club B Level.  She loved Crafty and convinced me to go preliminary.  We did well at Loudoun and Blueridge at this higher level.  By the end of that summer, I took Crafty to our first Intermediate event at Radnor. Jimmy Wofford and Bruce Davidson were in the cross country warm up area with me. We had all just finished a fast steeple chase and easy twelve-mile roads and tracks course.  Bruce was on Better and Better and Jimmy on Carawich, they were a talking load enough for me to hear them.  Jimmy says to Bruce “Anyone is a fool to start a horse over this cross-country course at this level” Bruce agreed.  My heart was in my throat.  My father had to lead me to the start box because Crafty was picking up on my nerves. He was beginning to not move forward. This did not build my confidence. Once I heard the starter count down and yell “Go! Have a good ride”. I jammed my spurs in Crafty sides started the song “Come Together” in my head and Crafty leaped forward.  The first fence was an easy post and rail. Crafty flew and was now galloping to the beat of the song in my head.  The Irish bank with an eight-foot drop and a four-foot wide and deep ditch on the landing side was effortless.  I loosened the reins to the buckle coming down off this bank, jammed my legs forward and threw up my left arm for balance.  We went clean with no time faults.  Stadium was perfect.  We ended fourth at our first intermediate trial.  Mrs. Mars came up to me at my trailer and offered me a blank check for Crafty.  She wanted Bea Perkins to have him for the team.  I said no thank you, I was going to try out for the team with him.

I went back to Bowdoin for the first semester of my sophomore year.  I informed the college that I was going to take the next semester off to try out for the 1980 Olympic team. The administration wished me well.  At that moment I thought my career was clear.  I was going to be a horse professional after riding for the United States in the 1980 Olympics.

I returned to Evie Thorndyke’s to become a working student in the spring of 1978.  I will now wrap this up by going back to my photo jumping the fence with Crafty at Ledyard. I bought that photo because it was the fifth fence after a difficult fourth fence.  I had walked this course at least five times.  The third fence was a combination with either a huge oxer option or an in and out.  I always took the big options with Crafty to save time and jump efforts.  I was fifth to go on the course.  Mary Ann Tausky was riding Marcus Aurelias and was third on the course.  She had a fall doing the oxer option on fence number three. The committee removed the big oxer option and only left the in and out.  I had not walked the in and out and did not have a good line to fence number four, a bounce vertical coming into a wooded line.

The A and B option went fine and as I was galloping up the hill to fence number four.   I realized that I was not quite where I wanted to be for this tricky question of a fence.  I half halted Crafty and in his exuberance he took off into the bounce and breasted the second element.  He scrambled over it, I stayed on by wrapping my arms around his neck.  We landed I regained my stirrups and back into the gallop with no time lost.  His stride seemed normal and I could not see any blood on his legs.  I said to myself, I will see how he jumps the next fence and pull him up if needed.  That is the photo that I have shared with you.  We were plain sailing.  We finished that event in ninth place.

Crafty and had some mishaps in the other trials. I got sick for one of the trials and Crafty tied up after a roads and tracks at one event.  We ended up being 16thin the country for the 1980 Three Day team.  The short list was twelve of us.

I went back to Bowdoin College, licked my wounds and majored in American History completing the four-year college in three years.  I met my husband Terry and graduated with my class in 1980.

I came home from the trials without being on the team but with a lot of lessons learned and more importantly, an idea of the abounding opportunities that exist for those who are willing to push the limits.  I suppose it’s what I’ve done my whole life and never realized it.  My courage came from an internal drive (passed on from my father) to fly without wings on the back a horse.

I carry the fond memories of the past with me still today. And, as it is in the field and on the course, I keep my sights set on the future.

Let’s ride!

Driving Toward Your Goals!

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Driving Toward Your Goals!

By Anna Koopman

In the equestrian sport of Combined Driving, there are three phases of competition.

The driven Dressage test is a series of movements and ring figures in which the driver and horse must complete at specific places in the ring.  The Marathon, second phase is all about speed, endurance, flexibility and teamwork.  The third phase, Cones is the precision test of the entire event.  Combined Driving is a team event, even though there is one driver per entry, there is a team of people supporting that driver behind the scenes.

Driven Dressage challenges the communication, harmony and suppleness of the horse and driver.  The tests are different for each level of training of the horse and driver combined.  Drivers that are new to Combined Driving begin at the Training Level then progress to Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced.  As one challenges themselves to get better, the dressage tests assist in giving the driver a framework for the training of their horse with directive remarks as a guideline to go by. The dressage phase is normally completed in a presentation vehicle with appropriate attire for the turnout. 

Marathon is a whole other ballgame.  Your horse must be fit enough to go the distance of about 12 kilometers, game to run in six to eight hazards and you must remember where you are going when trying to drive your horse as fast as you possibly can safely. Marathon is normally broken into 3 sections that are all timed.  The first is a trot phase of approximately 6 kilometers.  One has a two-minute window in which your team must come in or incur penalty points for arriving too early or too late.  The next section is a walk or transfer phase of about one kilometer which has no minimum time, just a time allowed.  The third with a distance between six to eight kilometers is the hazard section.  For every kilometer there is a hazard in which the driver must negotiate their horse through lettered gates lettered A thru F dependent on their division. Training level historically has completed gates A thru C, Preliminary A thru D, Intermediate A thru E and Advanced A thru F.  This is a timed event.  For every second spent in a hazard your team incurs 0.25 penalty points.  You can (and should) study hazards as many times as possible on the days leading up to marathon looking for a different route, watching others walk and talking to other competitors about the routes that they are taking and why.   When it is your time to go you need to be ready both mentally and physically for the demands of the sport. Once you and your team have successfully completed the marathon course, a team of veterinarians check out your horse’s vital signs (heart rate, respiration and temperature) and to see if your horse has not injured himself while competing.

Cones is on the third day of competition and is comprised of about twenty sets of cones with balls on the top of them.  For every ball that is knocked off, three penalty points will be added to your score. There is a certain width for each division in which the cones are set based on the with of your carriage wheels. As one moves up the levels in competition the cones are set closer together and the time in which you must complete the course speeds up. The advanced width gives you about two inches on either side of your wheels.  One must drive with precision, concentration and connection.  Double clean in cones means that you did not knock down any balls and you made the time allowed.  The third phase must be completed in the same carriage as the dressage test.

Now, how might you say does Combined Driving relate to life?

Our Motivation Monday interviewee, Diane Kastama, found combined driving out of a love for horses, a need to go fast and a desire to push her limits.  She has competed up to the top of the sport against able bodied drivers and at the Para Championships winning a GOLD medal.  She pushes herself to get up in the morning, care for her horses herself, condition her own horses and compete when she can.  She strives to be excellent at dressage, but her most recent goal was to find a great marathon horse!  Diane at the last world championships leased a horse from Koos de Ronde, a top world ranked four-in-hand driver.  She had the opportunity to drive one of his amazing marathon horses.  Diane was able to feel what it felt like to chase her dreams of going fast.  She wanted to find a horse of her own that could give her that thrill of going fast, the torque of the acceleration and the reflexes to turn on a dime.

I can totally relate to Diane. My current competition pony, Navu had excelled at the dressage phase; marathon and cones were a struggle.  We spent last summer at Sprout going slow back to the basics, working on “dressage in hazards” and trotting cones courses with every drive.  We were able to build on this base during the winter season and slowly we started getting faster in the hazards.  We had one double clean cones in competition at Nature Coast and our best marathon phase of the season at the Live Oak International at the beginning of March!

Navu had the fastest time in the Adequan hazard out of all of the FEI competitors! AND the work we put in behind the scenes along the way allowed us to feel good about moving up a division from Intermediate to Advanced…

We have a new and exciting goal, but with that, lots of homework to do!

With the current “stay at home” COVID-19 protocols, we have all been given a bit more time to think about what matters to us.

So, what matters to you? What are your goals?  What will it take for you to achieve them?   Use this time to study your course, plan your actions and be ready to drive forward towards the future!