Red Ribbons at the Redding Horse Show

“At virtually any daylight hour on almost any road in Redding, children in hard hats can be seen riding their ponies or horses to and from practice fields, pony club meetings or any of the many other horse gatherings in the town.” 

This was the scene in neighboring Redding according to Norwalk’s The Hour newspaper dated Aug. 10, 1976.  The reporter was painting a picture of the equestrian community as preparations were being made for the 17th Annual Redding Horse Show which was considered to be “one of the most sought-after local shows in Connecticut.”

Located on Cross Highway at the intersection of Route 58, the large pasture opposite Christ Episcopal Church dubbed Karraker’s Field, was used only once a year for the horse show. In fact, “…both the outside course and the ring are in such perfect condition that both horse and rider are able to perform at the peak of their abilities.”

The Hour continued, “The outside course is long and rambling, offering a true test of a hunter and with the added benefit of No Dust and good footing because of its infrequent use.” The show boasted a trophy and six ribbons in each class.


Karraker’s Field ~ Site of the Redding Horse Show, a popular show in the 1960s & 1970s

This stop on the local horse show circuit was an annual fundraiser for the Boys Club of Redding, whose club house – built in the 1950s and destroyed by fire in 1996 – was down the road. The show even made The New York Times Horse Show Calendar each year. On August, 26, 1979, it read, “Today – Redding, Karraker’s Field, Redding, Conn. Regular, local, special and children’s working hunters; pleasure horses, equitation. 8:30 am.”

Riding the Outside Course

At the 1978 Redding Horse Show, I rode that outside course aboard Speculation my bay Thoroughbred fox hunting mount. This course, like most others at local shows at the time was held in a big field to simulate hunt country. But unlike the others which were up and down hills, around tighter corners and held daunting, solid stone walls in three heights, this one was flat, with well cushioned grass and lovely fences spread so far apart, each one was a long approach.

Redding Horse Show Riding Ring Ruins

Looking past the old riding ring towards the outside course

We were entered in one of the local hunter classes, maybe 20 or so entries. We neither practiced nor made an entrance circle. Simply, we picked up a gallop and off we went across Karraker’s Field in search of the first fence. In the middle of this pastural oasis was the judge’s stand, a wooden platform with a single folding chair from which to officiate.

There the judge watched as Spec and I galloped freely from obstacle to obstacle. No counting strides between coops and split rail fences. As we turned towards home, the red barn and riding ring cam back into sight. We had a blast! We won a red second-place ribbon.

Later that day we entered an equitation jumping class in the ring boasting perfect conditions. We loved the tight turns in that little ring. We had a blast! We won a red second-place ribbon. Finally, we entered an equitation flat class. Spec, a high-energy horse, was settled enough to for me to put in a red second-place ribbon performance.  My girlfriend from New York City had come to visit and proudly displayed my three red ribbons off the back pockets of her blue jeans. She was my surrogate trainer for the day.  Red ribbons waving in unison with her sashay.

Visiting Karraker’s Field

Two years ago I stopped at Karraker’s Field, a mere 36 years after my red-ribbon day for a look around. In the ensuing decades, the horse show had ended and the land donated by the Karraker family to the Redding Land Trust as open space. It was a peaceful place, yet the ghosts of horse shows still lingered. In the middle of the outside course, a collapsed judge’s platform lay hidden beneath a mound of prickers.




The grass from the long and rambling outside course had made its way into the ring, only a post and hinge remained of the in gate.


Only two corners of rotting fencing reminded me of the riding ring with the perfect conditions. The reminders of the Redding Horse Show seemed doomed to disappear into the dust.


Then, last Fall the old red barn where entries were taken and numbers handed out for the horse show had a face lift thanks to a local boy scout. According to the Redding Land Trust site: “There is a corner in Redding Ridge, at the intersection of Cross Highway and Route 58, that has long been celebrated as Karraker’s Field, from the days when young riders assembled there for local horse shows to the open fields now preserved by the Karraker family’s gift to the Redding Land Trust. When Cooper LeBlanc, a member of Redding’s Boy Scout’s Troop 15, was searching for a needed community project to tackle in order to earn Scouting’s top badge of merit – Eagle Scout – he spotted a rotting red barn covered in weeds in the historic field.”


Karraker’s Field Barn ~ recently fixed up by the Boy Scouts

When I drove down Route 58 on Monday, the barn with it’s bright red exterior called out to me, instantly igniting memories of my red ribbon horse show. I could even feel the wind on my cheeks as we galloped the outside course. Thank you Cooper LeBlanc and Troop 15 for preserving reminders of the Redding Horse Show.

The Fancy Ponies of Sweetbrier Farm


You never know who you are going to meet in the horse world! This week I interviewed a woman for an article I’d been assigned to cover for a horse magazine. As usual the first question is, “Where did you start riding?” And to my amazement she answered, “Sweetbrier Farm in Easton.” Here is where my jaw dropped, smile followed and my reply was, “So did I!” We checked our dates and thought we might have ridden there at the same time.

Then I started rattling off the names of school horses, Missy, Briggy, Worthington and Miller. Then she named some ponies, Bonnie, Sprite. And then I offered up the name of my favorite pony, the one who gave me my first blue ribbon — Marvel-Us.


Marvel-Us and Me: Fall 1971 Sweetbriar Farm Schooling Horse Show, Reserve Champion

“Marvel-Us!” she quipped. She remembered that pony too. In fact, she had ridden her, once. As she recalled it, the pony would respond differently to each rider. Those who were nervous or tense, got the speedy treatment. Those who were calm and confident, got the dream ride.  She told the tale about how she watched as someone tried to ride Marvel-Us, getting the speedy treatment. Then she got to hop on during the lesson, and briefly got to experience the dream ride.

Missy and Marvel-Us

My memories of Marvel-Us, where just that, Marvelous! I first climbed aboard this little white pony mare as a 10-year-old. But I didn’t get to ride the dream pony at first. Fresh back from learning to ride at summer camp, I clearly remember my first lesson at Sweetbrier aboard this bay mare named Missy. I had mastered the walk-trot at camp, even showed in the lead line class at the camp show. But the wise instructor felt I was ready for that first canter. Missy obliged, a new riding thrill emerged and I was on my way.

Along that way, I learned to master the canter on an old horse named Miller, who was a retired racing trotter. There is nothing quite like trying to ask a horse to do something he was clearly trained not to do at any cost. But we persevered. Then we started tackling the cross rail jumps on those tried and true school masters, like Worthington and Briggy. As a child you are not quite aware of things like the horse’s age, but I do know that when I asked how old Briggy was, they told me, “Ancient.”

Fancy Ponies 

But then one day I got to ride Marvel-Us. I remember how effortless things seemed, like picking up the canter on her versus Miller, the king of trotting. Eventually, after another year I was able to join the advanced lesson on Saturday mornings. It was filled with fancy ponies like Dark ‘N Fancy, owned by the Humphrys, the farm’s owners. He was always ridden by a red-haired girl named Emily. This very cute large pony, was black with a speckled white blaze all the way down to his nose. His white stockings on his rear legs were matched up front by a near sock and what looked like a white splash on his remaining far leg just below the knee. His nickname was “Too Big” and I can still hear Emily call out to him as “Toooooooo Big.”


Sweetbriar Farm Riders at the Fairfield County Hounds Thanksgiving Day Hunt at Greenfield Hill, circa 1973. From left: Lisa on Gingersnap, Emily on Dark & Fancy, Gerri on her horse, and Holly on Fleet Nancy

There was also Sprite, a dapple grey pony that loved to jump and occasionally stop! I do recall one of my worst spills coming off that pony, right on top of a very sturdy and hard vertical jump, landing on my back, like a gymnast performing a flip. But the first time I ever rode her, the barn let me tack her up myself. So proud was I as I entered the ring to mount up, before the instructor came over to explain I had put the saddle on backwards. Other ponies that joined us in that lesson were Bonnie, a cute bay pony mare, and BeBell, a rambunctious alibino pony, who was actually Marvel-Us’ daughter! Once I rode in a pairs class at a horse show on Marvel-Us with BeBell ridden by a girl named Diane.

And then Marvel-Us gave me the gift of our first few horse shows. Our first was a  schooling show at Sweetbrier, in the fall or winter, it was cold and the show was indoors. But bless you Marvel-Us as she took my novice seat around one of those egg roll jumping courses. It was my first blue ribbon. Later, next spring, took me to my first away show, a local recognized show, where we also garnered a blue ribbon in the pleasure pony class.

It was Marvel-Us who set me on the path of lifetime riding and a love of horse shows. Just like many, many other little girls who passed through the Sweetbrier gates in search of that dream ride. In fact, during my recent interview with the barn owner for that article, she admitted that seeing all those fancy ponies at Sweetbriar fueled her imagination to grow up and bred fancy ponies herself. Thanks Marvel-Us!

Throwback Thursday Horses: Mother/Daughter Maclay Winners Redux

Last night I had the pleasure of interviewing the National Horse Show’s 2015 Maclay Equitation Champion McKayla Langmeier for an upcoming issue of Connecticut Horse Magazine. Before the interview when I learned that her mother Linda (Kossick) Langmeier had won the Maclay in 1983, making them the first-ever mother/daughter team to achieve this honor, it sparked a deja vu for me.

While making lunch it hit me. In 1983, I was a staff reporter at the New Haven Journal-Courier (the now-defunct morning paper of the New Haven Register) and I remember interviewing a Maclay winner from Connecticut. Anxious to confirm my suspicions, I raced to the basement and dug into boxes of my newspaper clippings I’ve hoarded for more than 35 years. Then I found it! The yellowing front page of the Family & Leisure section, with an article I penned under the headline State teen’s ride clinched a national title. Staring back at me was Linda Kossick’s smiling teenage face with her horse and dog.

Newspaper clipping - State teen's ride clinched a national title - from the New Haven Journal-Courier, November 25, 1983

Newspaper clipping – State teen’s ride clinched a national title – from the New Haven Journal-Courier, November 25, 1983

I had taken a few photos of Linda that day with her retired horses out in the paddock. I had such fun interviewing her as I had been one of those little girls – just like her – who loved horses and dreamed of riding and winning in Madison Square Garden at the National Horse Show. Here’s one of my favorite photos:

Linda Kossick Langmeier and her childhood horses

Linda Kossick Langmeier and her childhood horses in 1983 just after her Maclay victory

So this Throwback Thursday has come full circle. I’m proud to write about McKayla Langmeier’s accomplishment just as I was so many years ago for her mother. Does that make me the first-ever journalist to interview both the mother and the daughter right after their Maclay victories? Any other horse writers out there who did this too? Would love to hear from you!

Summer Camp ~ Pleasure Pony Dreams

My chestnut pony Gingersnap first made the long journey with me to summer camp in New York’s Adirondack Mountains when she’d been in our family for just over a year. She was barely 4-years-old. I was 12. Loaded into an open-sided flatbed truck for the trip North, I met her a few days later at Camp MacCready. This sister camp to Camp Pok-O-Moonshine, a converted military boys camp, also clung to rituals like morning inspections, Sunday vespers and eating en masse in a mess hall. Fortunately, the girls camp had a horse program with its own rituals where I learned to ride just two seasons earlier.

My chestnut pony Gingersnap

My chestnut pony Gingersnap

I’ve never been a morning person. Not even the lure of getting up early for a horse show works. So as a tween at camp, rolling out of my top bunk to join the other ‘horse masters’ to feed our hungry charges and muck manure-laden stalls, all before breakfast served precisely at 8 a.m., was a daunting task. Most mornings the head riding counselor would come get me out of bed, since all the horses had to be fed at the same time for fear of a barn riot. Eventually, my morning routine was established and my horsemanship skills, including pitchfork handling, wheelbarrow driving and manure pile management, improved.

As a barely saddle-broke pony, Ginger regularly bucked me off during our first year. Ring dirt and I were well acquainted. My parents had a teenager train her while I polished my stay-on skills on school horses. She had been sent to camp where counselors took over schooling her. So when we arrived, Ginger wasn’t my regular ride. By the end of summer, she was.

Ginger Strikes a Pose with Lisa at Camp

Ginger Strikes a Pose with Lisa at Camp

Pleasure Pony Dreams

As camp came to a close, we readied for the annual camp horse show. I was told I could ride Ginger in one flat class. My riding counselor entered us in the pleasure horse/pony class. “What? Pleasure? She’s the farthest thing from a pleasure pony,” was my young equestrian assessment. Despite protests, I laid out my show clothes and polished by brown paddock boots the night before. Meanwhile, a counselor tamed her long chestnut mane into tidy little braids held by brown yarn. I dreamed of a blue ribbon for my ‘pleasure’ pony.

Lisa and Ginger Share a Moment at Camp

Lisa and Ginger Share a Moment at Summer Camp 

The next morning I bolted out of bed. By midday, our class was called and atop Ginger we boldly walked into the makeshift ring. Its outline marked by a fence of burnt orange wooden slats held together with wire, more suited for keeping back blowing snow than encircling show horses. We went though our paces to the left – walk, trot, canter  – then reversed and executed the walk and trot to the right. On the far side of the ring the senior camper tents – worn green canvas perched on wooden platforms, most likely surplus from one of the world wars, I’m going to guess the first one – were softly flapping in the late summer breeze.

“All canter, please. All canter,” the ringmaster commanded. Once around the ring, pleasurably, we went. As Ginger rounded the far side of the ring, she decided flapping tents were scary. Bolt, buck, bounce, buck, and upon landing I heard the ringmaster, “All walk, please. All walk.” With a mighty upward pull of my right arm, left hand braced deep into those braids, I stopped her in mid third buck. Whew! What timing. I had her at the walk just at the right time. But I knew we’d blown our chance of being pinned a pleasure pony. “All line-up, numbers towards the judge please,” came the final instructions.

“In sixth place… fifth place…,”  came the results from the loud speaker. By the time second place was announced I was ready to walk out of the ring. “In first place, number 22, Gingersnap!”

Blue Ribbon Pleasure Pony Gingersnap at Camp MacCready

Blue Ribbon Pleasure Pony Gingersnap at Camp MacCready

“What? Pleasure? She’s the farthest thing from a pleasure pony,” was my young equestrian assessment. I had a confused look on my face as I turned towards the ringmaster to get my blue ribbon. To this day, I don’t know how we won that class. My young equestrian assessment was that the judge was rewarding me for staying on. My adult hindsight says the judge didn’t see our acrobatics, since the pleasure class is judged on the horse’s performance not the talent of the rider. Who knows? However, the faded Polaroid of that moment, with a blue ribbon tucked in her bridle and a silver plate clutched in my hand, remains once of my favorite images in the scrapbook of my summer camp career.

Even Mom showed Ginger at Horse Shows at Sweetbriar Farm

Even Mom showed Ginger at Horse Shows at Sweetbriar Farm

The Fall Indoor Circuit

The Pennsylvania National Horse Show just finished 10 days showcasing premier hunters and jumpers ridden by juniors and adults, all culminating in the $85,000 Grand Prix de Penn National. I watched nearly ever round of every class thanks to live streaming on the USEF Network ( the online channel of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Thanks to technology horse-crazy girls like myself can experience equine sports to the extreme from the bending lines, in and outs, and long approaches of those exquisitely executed hunter courses to those thrilling triple combinations, rollbacks, and jumper jump-offs. To my delight I also watched Hunt Night, complete with a pack of hounds and the Ladies Side Saddle division, including jumping! Think about that for a moment.

Horse Show of the Gilded Age
Premier horse shows, like dog shows, grew up in Manhattan’s gilded age in the 1870s and 1880s. The famous Westminster Kennel Club dog show, founded in 1877, which promotes itself as the second longest sporting event in America after the Kentucky Derby, was founded by a group of sportsmen. So too was the National Horse Show founded in 1883 by a group of sportsmen. And while horse sports, in the form of racing was established much earlier, with such venues as the Saratoga Race Course in 1863 during the Civil War, it was the post-war economic boom which fueled incredible wealth and the need to spend it on leisurely pursuits.

At this point those gilded gentlemen and their ladies, needed some entertainment and bragging rights to amuse themselves during the rest of the year when they weren’t up at the “Saratoga Spa” but stuck in New York City for the fall and winter social seasons. Both Westminster and the National Horse Show chose the original Madison Square Garden at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue as the venue for the premier events in their respective sports.

“The National” became “the place” to be seen. In fact, according to the event’s website, “By 1887, the National Horse Show Directory, listing directors and 920 members, formed the basis for Louis Keller’s first New York Social Register.” Even The New York Times journalist Joe Drape gave a nod to the social status of the National when recounting the racehorse Cigar, “to his final destination of Madison Square Garden, where on Nov. 2, 1996, he was thrown a retirement party before the white-gloved set at the National Horse Show.”

As the popularity of equine sports soared after World War II the National had company. The Pennsylvania National Horse Show was founded in Harrisburg in 1945 followed by the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) in 1958 in DC. These three top-rated urban horse shows held in large indoor arenas a few weeks apart in October were dubbed “the indoor circuit” or “fall indoors” for the last half century.

Horse-Crazy Girls
I recall my first trip to the National as a young child mesmerized by something called the Puissance. This class basically asks a horse to gallop at a 7-foot brick wall made of wooden boxes and jump it. I also remember watching the Maclay Equitation Finals because a fellow rider at my barn was showing her sister’s beautiful black Thoroughbred mare Fleet Nancy, a relative of 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet. I also remember another young girl who won that class, Leslie Burr, who hailed from Connecticut. It was at that show I fell in love with horse shows, jumping and Thoroughbreds!

Last week I watched that same Leslie Burr, now Howard, pilot many jumpers around the Farm Complex at the Penn National via live stream. It was a different kind of thrilling than some 40 years earlier at the Garden, but still, today I could watch it where ever I was! And, Olympic veteran Howard keeps those beautiful horses right here in Newtown.

This week I’ll be tuning in to watch the WIHS, which now bills its self as ‘the country’s leading metropolitan indoor horse show,” since the venerable National left Madison Square Garden in 1990s. Indeed, the WIHS has other bragging rights as well, including “The standing North American indoor Puissance (high jump) record of 7 feet 7 1/2 inches was set at Washington in 1983 by Anthony D’Ambrosio and Sweet N’ Low.

And to finish up the indoor circuit October 28-November 2, the Alltech National Horse Show can be viewed online from USEF’s headquarters at the Kentucky Horse Park, the show’s home since 2011. It pleases me to know that the National, at one point near extinction once it left New York City, was a tradition founded and saved by a “group of sportsmen” and sportswomen too!