Sunday, January 05, 2014

An Open Letter To Bill De Blasio about the Central Park Carriage Horses

Dear Bill,

You don't know me, but we went to the same high school. Not at the same time, just a few years apart. But we definitely had some of the same teachers. Did you learn US and Vietnam from Larry? Yeah, Me Too. I also spent many formative years on the fifth floor of CRLS.

One thing you don't learn in the Cambridge Public Schools is ANYTHING about horses. Trust me. If there had been any equine opportunity available to us, I would have ferreted it out. I was a horse crazy kid in a city. Now as an adult I have the privilege of owning and caring for my own horse. So, it is safe to say that I know a little something about horses.

I can pretty safely assume that you know NOTHING about horses other than what you've been told. You've probably never ridden one or brushed one or sat in a field and let a horse walk up and sniff you. You've probably never seen a horse who has clearly been abused, protecting his head from gentle hands with rolling eyes. You just see horses in the city and think "that's not right."

The carriage horses are not abused. They are working for a living, just like a child's pony or any school horse upstate. In exchange for that work, they are well fed, they have clean, calm stables (I've seen them) and lots and lots of love and attention. They get turned out in a field a few months a year. This is not a bad life for a horse. Trust me. I spend a huge chunk of my salary ensuring a quality life for the horse that I love. The animal rights activists trying to take the horses out of the park don't know any more about horses than you do. They just see an animal working and think it's inherently wrong. They think this regardless of the conditions or circumstances.

Let me tell you something about equine body language. The carriage horses are not stressed. They stand relaxed with their heads down, with one back leg cocked. Their ears are drooped at a 45 degree angle to their heads or swiveling around a bit listening to sounds. If you look at their faces their eyes are "soft" meaning you can see no or very little white. This is not the language of a stressed prey animal. A stressed horse is snorting, head high eyes rolling looking for the lion or whatever is about to land on its back. It's ears are either all the way forward or back. It's feet are dancing and it is ready to bolt.

You also need to know something about horse "rescues" in general. I believe that is your solution to house the carriage horses after you have taken away their jobs. There are very few reputable horse rescues in the US. Keep in mind that the ASPCA is under funded and under resourced in many rural areas. Many "rescues" are underfunded and go begging for funds for hay to get them through the winter on the Internet. Some are run by animal hoarders posing as a rescue.

Horse "rescues" can't and don't keep the horses indefinitely. Their mission is to place horses with loving families. Sometimes those families lose their jobs and the horses end up at auction. Did you know that the most popular horse to be sent to slaughter up in the feed lots in Canada is a heavy draft horse just like the NYC carriage horses? The chances of those horses ending up in a feed lot in Canada or Mexico after an exhausting four day drive without food or water increases exponentially if you take away their jobs. And that is unequivocally, objectively from any standard you use abuse. Once they leave their owners hands anything could happen to them. Instead of trotting around pulling a light carriage and sleeping in a warm, dry stall at night, they'll be on their own. Who is going to track them?

There is a reason that people who know about horses think the carriage horses are in good hands NOW. Let them keep their jobs. Let the little kids like me with the crazy horse gene who grow up in the city get to see real horses from time to time. Let the horses be loved on by those kids and not be ripped from their lives to parts unknown.

Good luck and congratulations,

Margaret Sanford
Melrose, MA




Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A brief explanation of my current Connemara obsession

I was spending a school year with my aunt Carolyn in Ithaca NY after several unsuccessful years in the Cambridge, MA public schools. My aunt sent me to an alternative school where we did "Tuesday Projects" instead of having regular classes. So, on Tuesdays, you'd do something you loved, like art or music or getting stoned in the art room (This was 1981)... But me and another group of sixth and seventh grade girls did horseback riding. Our teacher, June Pollack had a mixed herd of horses of various sizes and breeds. We all had our special horses that we rode every week. My favorite was a chestnut mare named "PG" short for "Pretty Girl." We'd bomb around the back fields of Ithaca NY with no helmets or saddles. (Something that I'd probably never allow my kids to do. At least the no helmet part!) "A" shows and blue ribbons were far from our minds. We were just horse crazy and loved to be around horses and to ride under any circumstances. In short, that year was heaven.

An ice storm put a temporary end to our riding, so June brought us to see the Greystone Connemaras instead. We entered the barn out of the biting wind and the breeder, Marianne gave a brief lecture on breeding and explained that she bought the first pony Hideaway Greystone Alexeander from Hideaway Farm in Geneseo NY and said something like "He doesn't look like much, but has very good breeding." She said she named him Alexander after her husband because he was so expensive. (A statement that rolled off of me at the moment but I think of now when I grin at my husband who has promised me a horse for my 40th birthday in June). Our eyes probably glazed over a bit when she was talking about bloodlines and breeding... We were horse-crazed little girls who had never owned a horse. We probably would have been thrilled with a donkey. Then she brought Alex out of his stall. We all said WOW and learned a bit about the Connemara temperament. Until then the little I knew about stallions was that they were dangerous creatures, wild and unmanageable... (OK, most of what we knew about Stallions was from the book "The Black Stallion" which we considered to be the definitive tome on the subject). And out came Alex who was so beautiful with his kind eye and we all got to crowd around him and pet him. Then she put him back and she brought out Errill and suddenly I understood what she meant about bloodlines and breeding. The cute little bay was this magnificent creature's dad. The barn got silent and I think me and the girls issued a collective gasp. This was the horse of our dreams from his dappled black coat, to his arched neck, the way he pranced out of the stall, so full of himself, a bit more "stallion like" than Alex but was not too proud to get neck scritches from a band of 11 and 12 year old girls. Marianne explained a bit about the way black connemaras usually gray, but the band of brown around his nose meant that he'd stay that color.

One of those girls and I came back every Tuesday for about another month or so until the trails became ridable again. There wasn't much for us to do there. We hung out and played and stared at Alex and Errill through the bars of their stalls. When we'd gallop around each others yards pretending to be riding. One of us would yell "I call Errill!" or "I call Alex!" That was the last year that I got to PLAY like that before boobs and boys and other things complicated our lives.

So roughly 30 years, one husband and two kids later later, somebody on the Chronicle of the Horse community forums asked a question about Connemara blood lines and my mind flew back to the Greystone Connemaras. A quick Google search revealed that Errill or "Greystone McErrill" died in 2009. The photo on his obituary made me catch my breath again because part of me will also be a horse crazy 11 year old. I learned that those two stallions were the foundation for an important branch of the breed. I also realized that it's not too late to get my Greystone Connemara pony and think I will be shopping for one this summer.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Horse Hunters (But not Hunter Horses)

I sold my last horse in 1998 in the Spring. It was like a great weight had been lifted off of me emotionally and financially.

At the time I had no idea how ridiculously common it is for amateur riders like myself to be completly "over-horsed." I had never been a particularly timid rider before I got him but I was terrified of him by the end of it. He was wonderful on the ground and on trails but in the arena, he was spooky and bucky with me. Plus he was HUGE and athletic and just "too much horse" for me. I swore I'd keep on riding but somehow I forgot to ride for 12 years.

On a side note, I came across him about a year ago. He is 20 now (how did that happen! He was 4 when I got him) and somebody was selling him on Dreamhorse.com. I e-mailed the seller to see if was the same horse and it was. He's down in Florida somewhere hopefully enjoying his golden years. She said he was perfect, never put a foot wrong. I'm glad he outgrew his "youthful antics."

So, after six month of weekly lessons, my equine-alogical clock has been beating me over the head. I want my own horse again. Like YESTERDAY. I could lease or part lease, but frankly I don't want to subsidize somebody else's horse and horse people are fucking crazy and I don't want to deal with their brand of crazy as it relates to the complex emotions when you let somebody ride your horse. Why, yes I'd love to ride in your 16" saddle because it was professionally fitted to your horse. (WTF is that by the way? Another way to blow hundreds of dollars on this obsession. People now pay hundreds of dollars to have a saddle "fitted" to a horse. They take scientific measurements of your horses back and charge you hundreds of dollars to re stuff your saddle to "fit" the horse instead of just using a bunch of cushy pads to keep it in the right place. I'm sure horses haven't been running around with sore backs for the last 4000 years, right? Surely this is unnecessary? But I digress). I have my own 17.5" 18 year old hard-as-a-rock Crosby Hunterdon that I love and it fits most horses quite well.

So, Rich and I talked it over. I was prepared for him to tell me that it just can't happen. Of course it can't happen. But he said OK. Go get a horse. You've been warning me about this for years. It's not like it's a surprise. I'm trying to wait until September. But if the right horse comes along, I'll just buy it. Or to be more accurate Rich will buy it for me for our 10th anniversary and my 40th birthday. But I have to board it.

I have a wonderful trainer (excellent) at a barn that is a bit farther than want to travel (not excellent). She knows how to assess the brain of a horse like nobody I've ever met. So, I'm in good hands there. I had her take me to see a little Connemara filly yesterday that I found through my obsessive web searching. I'm proud to say she know knows I have a good eye for a horse. We both fell madly in love with this mare. She moves like a Grand Prix dressage horse in a small sane horse package. Her temperament boded very well for a very smart and safe horse. Unfortunately she hasn't been started under saddle yet. But both trainer and I felt pretty strongly that I'd have a super star in a year if we took it slow. In my trainer's words "She had that wow factor." Do I really want to start a young horse after a 12 year hiatus?

Yeah, sort of. I've done it before with lots of help and support and I think I could do it again.

Unfortunately this process is about as logical as looking for a boyfriend when you're 19. So what if he's a not quite recovering heroine addict? He's GORGEOUS and he's the drummer in a punk band.

You can fall for the wrong horse the way you fall for the wrong guy. Hard, inexplicably and dangerously, irrevocably. I hope I'm mature enough to go about my horse search in a rational way. Go with the sure thing! The Steady Eddie who's had all sorts of riders and has been a rock star for all of them (and not in the drunken wake up in your own vomit rock-star way).

But this maturity and rationality seems to have deserted me after I pulled on the thick curly forelock of a 3 year old Connemara mare who has never been ridden.

I will NOT make a decision until I've seen a few more. It's wonderful and a bit sad how many nice horses are in my relatively meager budget. The economy has made a lot available to me that wouldn't have been 10 years ago.

Anyhow, I've always said that being an adult is understanding how you're crazy (because face it everybody's crazy) and working with it. This horse thing is a big part of my crazy. Irrational, I know. But I've been this way since I was three years old. It's time to work with it instead of fighting it.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Another Exciting Episode of: Barn Hunters

On Aprils 23 I will have been married for 10 years. I remember being single and meeting jerks/guys and wondering if a guy could be "the one." When I met Rich and after our 2nd date, I knew I was on to something really good. He asked me to date him exclusively and I had to think about it. I called him the next day and said "Um, yeah. I think you're right." And he said. "Awesome. It's going to be good," with a certainty that I would get to know. I've felt that blood pressure drop while house/condo hunting. You look at a lot of crap and then walk into a place and think "Oh, I can work with THIS."

There's a lot about this barn search that reminds me of house/husband hunting. You look at a lot of places that you WANT to make work because of proximity or price. But in your heart you just know that they don't. They're too crowded, or they don't have an indoor arena or all of the other clients are 12 years old.

I think I found a barn that I thought "Oh, I can work with this" I had that feeling about it. I love everything about this barn except for the location. It's in West Bumfuck, MA. But it's the part of West Bumfuck MA that's halfway to The Farm, so I could conceivably zip out there in the middle of our vacations which are mostly spent there...

I have two more places up North to look at, one in Boxford and one as far as West Newbury. The WN one is as far as the first place, but it's up 93/95 which are much faster roads than route 2. The fact that I realized that I am willing to really travel for the right place has totally expanded my options. I just need to figure out what I'm doing before March because I have to re- up my lessons at the place I am now otherwise, I'll be without riding and if I lose momentum again, I will be very sad. I'd like to start riding at the barn I hope to board at once I get myself rehorsed sometime this Fall. (If all goes according to plan!) There's about a million little ducks running around that will need to be in a row by then.

Meanwhile, I have fallen inexplicably and madly in love with the photos and video of an Irish TB in Ohio. My smarter equestrienne friends don't think he's all that. But something about him really moves me. But alas, I'm sure he will be taken by September. I'm sure hoping there will be another one.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Agony of The Feet

It's all about feet. A lot has changed in the horse world in the last 12 years. This isn't surprising. I think of the conflicting pregnancy advice I got with two pregnancies 18 months apart and well, experts on just about everything change their minds a LOT.

One thing that's changed are boots: riding boots. I used to have a pair of black, Michelan Man tire winter riding boots. They had a velcro closure in the back. They were huge and puffy. But they were WARM and wicked comfortable to ride in. And EVERYBODY at my barn and other barns had a pair. But the newer winter boots are much more streamlined with zippers up the back. I find the zippers sticky and annoying especially if I'm trying to zip them up with cold hands (as I always am). They look better. But I don't *really* give a crap what I look like when I'm schooling. They are reasonably warm with fuzzy fleece-like insides instead of nylon with a synthetic down fill. I think I'll find my Michelan Man boots sometime this spring. They are somewhere in the bowels of my parent's junk-filled 3 story barn in Western, MA. There's a chance I could have lost them in the Great Fly Wipe Explosion of '99; wherin a nasty sprayer of flyspray broke in my tack trunk and left everything in said trunk so revolting that my parents threw them into a garbage bag and took them to the dump. Still missing are: All my bits, My Rambo Rain Sheet, my Tailored Sportsman breeches that I got for $10 off of a 2nd hand rack at Urban Outfitters of all places, all my grooming equipment except for a rusted hoof pick, my black and purple saddle pad with my initials on it. Where did it all go?

Sorry, rambling there. The other thing that's changed is everybody has zippers in their boots now! Even their show boots. Back when I was showing this was unheard of. They were considered tacky and inelegant. Now, people are shelling out $500 plus to not have to shlepp around boot pulls and a boot jack wherever they go. (I'm still shlepping my boot pulls and jack whenever I use my Dahners).

The other big foot change is the new movement to shoeless horses. I NEVER saw a working horse without shoes in 20 years besides a few rarely used ponies who were more like lawn ornaments. Now, if your horse's feet are solid enough you let him go barefoot.

In general I'm so happy. My skills are coming back. My confidence is starting to return and we're talking about actually purchasing a horse this fall. But I need to find the right place to keep him. Or her. There seems to be this sweet spot that I need to find that's not too far away, with the right trainer and amenities that I can afford. I keep hearing Suzanne Wong's voice in my head: "Barn #1 is at the top of her budget, but it is only a 30 minute drive.." Once I finish checking out all the different options, I'll post an episode of "Barn Hunters" on here!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Smelly Mom

One of the things that's different this time around is my tolerance for that horsey smell. When I was a kid I loved the smell of horses. All the smells. But not so this time around. It's particularly strong this time of year the horses are wooly and you can't bathe the manure stains out properly plus with the horses wearing blankets that are caked with ground in poop and it smells like, well.. Ass. It doesn't help that my current barn is barely halfway through the boarder stalls before I leave at 11. They haven't even looked at the school stalls which are pretty foul by then.

The school horses spend most of the morning out in the pasture, so it's not like they're standing in it while they wait for the stall cleaners to get to them. They're fat, well shod and clearly loved, healthy animals. But the smell on my hands and clothes when I get in my car is substantial.

Did some jumping today. I actually rode a small course for the first time since 1992. That's a long time between courses. The horse I was riding was a bit like driving a car with a loose bolt in the steering column. He was brave and honest to the fences, but getting him there was a bitch. I'd be looking over my fence and giving what I KNOW are the correct aids for "turn here" and "Go there" and he'd keep going straight. It was pretty funny. I eventually figured it out. But it was tricky.

But the smell on me afterward is profound. I was thinking of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine can't get the BO smell out of her hair. I get home and I run for the washing machine and the shower. I don't remember needing to do this back in my 20's. I wonder if that's another DNA shift from having two babies is a more profound sense of smell.

Weird.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wildcard



I came to the Patriots Party late in life. Somehow giving birth to a boy-child shifted my DNA in such a way that I've come to love football. Last Sunday Rich and I went to the Wildcard game between New England and Baltimore at Gillette. Here we are before the game:

We were cautiously optimistic about New England's prospects. Just my luck going to the first home play off game we've lost since 1976. I'm a HUGE Wes Welker fan and I knew it wasn't going to be the same without him. (I plan on naming my next horse Welker. I have her all picked out in my head! She's a 15.2 or 3 super reliable, versatile OTTB that gets the job done. A real packer.) I pretty much knew what kind of game it was going to be in the first 17 seconds when Baltimore ran in for a touch down on the first snap. Everybody in the stadium watched, jaws dropped, stunned. Then Brady fumbled on the first possession. Yeah, it was that kind of game. So, we just kicked back, cheered and enjoyed our fabulous seats. It was still fun just to BE there. Yeah, it would have been even WAY more fun if we had won. But it's still amazing just seeing the players up close.

It was also wonderful watching Julian Edelman's star rising. We've been enjoying his progress all season. I expect great things from him over the next couple of years. He's a spunky ball of testosterone. Everybody was yelling JULIAN!! JULIAN!! every time he made a play. After the third preseason game, Rich posted one of his few status updates ever to FB. It just said "Yeah, Edelman can stay."

And now I get to experience the end of season let down... No more Patriots football? Until August? At least now we root against the Jets and the Colts. And Rich and I are determined to go to at least one or two games per year. Because it's really kind of awesome.




And I hope next time Tom Brady walks into that tunnel after a game he does not look like this. Dude was in serious pain. Next year is going to be much, much better. (Do I sound like a Redsox fan now?)

ps: more game pics here.