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Throwback Thursday

Life Comes Full Circle

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Life Comes Full Circle

Uncle Bob in Germany

by Pam McAfee

“How did you get into horses?” This is a question I am often asked.  I think many horse people get the same question as well.  Usually it is a place or a person or a passion that sends us down this horse crazy road.  Some folks grow up next to a horse farm. Some people have a friend with a horse, and some have an instinctual curiosity about horses.  For me it was a person that sparked my love of horses.

My Uncle Bob was a horse person and having no children of his own he was eager to get me around horses at an early age.  He was exposed to horses because his grandfather, (my great grandfather) had been a fireman and groom way back when horses pulled the fire wagon through the streets of Portland Maine.  As a child growing up on a military base during WW II. Bob and his friends came across an unexploded grenade.  Boys being boys, the set it off and my uncle was left with mild injuries and scars. The army offered the families apologies and a monetary settlement.  My uncle was told he could use the money for whatever he wanted.  He wanted a pony.  That was Bob’s first pony of many over the years.  He rode all over the world as the family was stationed around the globe.  Once adulthood took over, he grew too tall for his dream of being a steeplechase jockey and wound up owning racehorses.  As a young girl he would take me to the training farms in Maryland and to the races to see his horses.

Old Montresor camp brochure

Eventually around age seven I convinced my parents to let me try horseback riding.  (Uncle Bob was thrilled.)  I can still remember the day my mom brought me to a local stable in Montgomery County Maryland just to be there and see the horses up close and smell the manure and swat the flies.  She wanted to be sure I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of barn life before committing to ride.  To me the smell and the flies meant nothing next to the friendly ponies carrying children like myself around the arena.

 

 

That summer I went to an overnight horse camp in Leesburg, Virginia.  It was there at Montresor Camp that I first sat on a horse and fell in love. Each summer for years to come I would return to immerse myself in barn life at Montresor.  Back home during the school year, I could ride for one hour once a week at a lesson barn, but that paled in comparison to those summer days of waking at dawn and feeding and mucking and grooming and riding and all the joy that horse camp encompassed.

Pam riding at Montresor Camp

Life happens, and kids outgrow summer camp.  I attended University of Maryland where I was able to be part of the riding club while earning my degree in business. I worked at a summer camp in Maine as a counselor once school was out sharing my love of horses with a new generation of horse crazy kids.  After a brief stint in the corporate world I have since been fortunate enough to earn a living riding and teaching and training horses.  In the late 1990’s I had two mares I was competing in dressage.  One of them, Dancer, was a horse of Uncle Bob’s who was done racing and looking for her next career.  I was boarding at a facility in Fairfax county, and my husband proclaimed that with what we are paying in board plus our mortgage we might as well own our own farm. Looking back, I know he was merely complaining about the cost of my horses, but I took the opening and ran with it. Soon enough we were scanning the real estate listings regularly.  We looked for months, and then a piece of land came up for sale on Montresor Road. Wouldn’t you know it, my old camp had been sold and subdivided and land parcels were now up for sale. We met the realtor that evening and I was transported back in time standing in the field at Montresor.

Dancer moved to Montresor Road

That same day over twenty years ago, we put down a deposit on ten acres of land and went on to build a home and a barn right where my love of horses was born.  We moved Dancer and my other mare out to the new farm that spring. Now and nearly every day since then I wake up and feed and muck and groom and ride my horses here on Montresor Road with the old red topped camp buildings still in view and the sounds and smells of my childhood filling each day.  Life is good and it has come full circle.

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!