Elvemel Reunion ~ Izzy & Jinx

One the eve of Jinx & Izzy’s 13th Birthday, here’s a video from last summer when the two litter sisters — CH. Elvemel For Your Eyes Only CGC and Elvemel Miss Money Penny — met again for the first time since puppyhood at Elvemel. 

 

Izzy & Jinx

As I got ready to celebrate Jinx’s 12th birthday last year, I began to wonder about her litter sister Izzy. I had gotten updates over the years, including one of her sprawled out in joy at the doggie day care center, but it had been a few years now since her owner and I spoke. I checked my smartphone for her phone number, but it was not there. I checked Facebook for her, not there either.

Make the Call 

Sitting on my desk were my breeder notebooks. I’d recently unearthed them to show a friend who was planning her first litter. In desperation, I flipped through the pages and came upon the 1989 litter. And there is was, her old phone number. But before I picked up the phone, I briefly wept, in case the news was not what I wanted to hear. Then I got the courage to dial.

“Hello?” came a familiar female voice on the other end. “Hi, Is this…?” I asked, even though I recognized her voice immediately. “Yes, it is!” I could tell she was smiling and recognized my voice immediately too! We burst into happy conversation about Izzy’s birthday, that she had just a few months ago gave up her mascot gig at the doggie day care center. “She’s doing well and has finally has started to slow down,” she said. We both laughed.

Once though, the condo association issued a cease-and-desist to all dog owners from grooming on a common grassy area. Apparently Izzy had left one too many chunks of white fluff. These days Izzy eat wells, goes for daily walks, and heads upstairs to put herself to bed in the bedroom. We made plans for a litter reunion in a few weeks at Izzy’s ancestral home at Elvemel.

Roxanne – 30 Years Ago My First Pup is Born

I’d only been a reporter for barely four months when I called my editor, Curtiss Clark, to tell him I wasn’t going to be at The Bee that morning — March 29, 1986 — because my Norwegian Elkhound bitch Mumbles was going to whelp her (and my) first litter of puppies. The day fell on Good Friday, and secretly I was happy that I missed having to trundle down to the Smoke Shop for my weekly job of asking the Bee Lines questions.

But the canine birthing event did provide fodder for a personal column I wrote a week later. I wrote about the birth of one particular puppy, Roxanne (yes, she was named after the Police song, and yes we sang her name to her in that “Rooooxanne” way only Sting can do). When born her little 8 ounce body was not breathing. I quickly learned how to clean fluid from newborn nostrils and gently shake the puppy to dislodge any other fluids from where they shouldn’t be. Then I ever so gently blew life into her little lungs, and with a twitch, a gasp and squirm, the tiny black form came to life in the palm of my hand. It really was the miracle of birth, Norwegian Elkhound style.

Mumbles checks out her pups. Roxanne standing tall in the middle

Mumbles checks out her pups. Roxanne standing tall in the middle. 

Roxanne was the only female in a litter of three and so I had no choice but to keep her as she would become the foundation bitch of the Elvemel Elkhounds line. So proud was I of this little puppy that I brought her everywhere. I even have a photo of her at about 4 or 5 months old in front of the Newtown Bee. The only thing more frightening about raising my first homebred show dog, was my big curly permed 1980s hair in that photo. As a puppy I would bring her to The Bee to socialize and play with Bart, Sherri’s Baggett’s Golden Retriever puppy. They were only a few weeks apart in age.

Roxanne visits The Bee in 1986

Roxanne visits The Bee in 1986

Eventually Roxanne became a champion and shortly thereafter went to the Westminster  Kennel Club dog show to win Best of Opposite Sex to Best of Breed. I only showed her three more times after she finished, including the Westminster win.

Handling Roxanne at Westminster 1988

Handling Roxanne at Westminster 1988

After I bred her the first time, I invented a tagline for her ads, “Her specialty was always in the whelping box.” I thought it was a cute play on words. She had 33 puppies in five litters, and produced seven champions along the way, three in one litter of five.

Dog of Vikings! 

Buried deep in the Elvemel archives I unearthed an old dot-matrix print-out of her show record which documented 42 shows over two years. I did eventually take her out to a national specialty in 1996 and 2000 for the veterans sweepstakes. At the latter, a friend made her a headpiece of sequins and beads which resembled a Viking princess helmet with long glittery braids. Did you know that the Norwegian Eklhound is known as the Dog of the Vikings. His skeletal remains have been found near Viking graves around Scandinavia dating back 5,000 years. That was until, DNA proved the breed was much younger than that – oops! We like to think those bones belonged to related ancestors.

Beyond showing and whelping, Roxanne has provided me some lighter moments. There was the time she found her first skunk, literally moments before my grandmother would be visiting the house in Newtown for the first time. Thinking I could get to her later with a bath, I threw her downstairs in the basement only to have that skunk smell wafting up into the living room as grandma walked through the front door.

Once she got loose from my home in Southbury and made her way to a local dairy farm, only to come home covered in green “cow pie” stuff. This antic was followed by her chasing Burt around the yard after he found a dead, dehydrated, flattened squirrel. Squirrel jerky anyone?

Roxanne and Ray enjoy a moment in the kennel Ray built for Elvemel in 1995

Roxanne and Ray enjoy a moment in the kennel Ray built for Elvemel in 1995

I still have the fleece jacket I left on the chair one day after a dog show. When I came back into the room, she had eaten a hole in the pocket where the liver was. I never mended the pocket. Whenever I wear that jacket and put my left hand in the pocket, my fingers always find that hole, and Roxanne’s antics are revisited.

She was the consummate beggar, especially at the dinner table. Her ability to talk to us in a low moan, “rahr, rahr, rahr” is still repeated by my husband Ray and I when we eat dinner. We make fun of Jinx, six generations down from Roxanne, who tries her vocal skills in the same manner.

Roxanne a few days before she passed away in 2000

Roxanne a few days before she passed away in 2000

Roxanne lived well into her 14th year. Later in life we called her “Slab” because in her old age she began to resemble a slab of beef. She started a love affair for me of breeding dogs and following generations of happy pets placed in loving homes. Today, on this 30th anniversary of Roxanne’s birth, Jinx — the last bitch in the line of direct descendants — took a walk with me as we visited Roxanne’s final resting place in the back yard. The daffodils I planted 16 years ago on her grave had just started to bloom.

Jinx amid Roxanne's daffodils

Jinx amid Roxanne’s daffodils

Regina Brown Last Seen Alive ~ March 26, 1987

Regina Brown was last seen alive 29 years ago today — March 26, 1987.

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Regina Brown, right, with her mother Ernestine Fontenot during happier times

Two weeks prior to her disappearance,  Regina Brown, an American Airlines flight attendant, was reading about the disappearance of Helle Crafts, another Newtown flight attendant whose pilot husband had recently been arrested for her murder. In Danbury Superior Court, a three-day probable cause hearing from March 10th to the 12th, was held to determine if the state had enough evidence to proceed with the prosecution of Richard Crafts for the murder of Helle.

As a reporter for The Newtown Bee I wrote on March 13, 1987:

“Helle Crafts told her attorney that if anything was to happen to her during her divorce proceedings from her husband Richard, not to assume that it was an accident, Attorney Dianne Anderson testified in the probable cause hearing, in which Mr Crafts is charged with the murder of his wife.” 

Many of those close to Regina said she followed the Crafts case closely, even keeping newspaper clippings about the case in her kitchen drawer. She began to tell friends, most notably Hope Lambert, what Helle Crafts told her divorce attorney, if anything should happen to her not to assume it was an accident. Regina’s words to Hope: “If you don’t here from me after I send the children to Texas, than Willis will have done to me what he promised to do.”

In September 1986, the court had issued a restraining order against Willis Brown, to stay away from Regina, the house and the children, based on a documented history of domestic violence against Regina. Willis Brown also was reluctant to admit that the children were his, and by March 1987, the three children had been submitted for a total of six paternity tests, all requested by Willis Brown.

Regina had on March 21, placed her two older children, Nicholas and Reina, on a plane to Texas to stay with her parents, Emile and Ernestine Fontenot in Liberty, Texas.

According to Lambert, Regina called her on March 22 to say her husband threatened to kill her and the three children, who at the time were 4, 3 and less than 2 years old. On March 25, Regina called Lambert again and said that she was sending her last child, Ashley, and the baby sitter, Sharon Ryan, to her parents in Texas. She told Lambert that she should call Texas the next day to see if she had arrived and if Lambert did not here from Regina by March 27, to wait a few days until March 30th and if she still did not hear from Regina to call police.

Regina never did appear in Texas and she never contacted Hope Lambert either. But Lambert never called police in the wake of Regina’s disappearance either. It was her neighbor Linda Van Horn who notified Newtown Police on April 2, that Regina Brown had not been seen since March 26, 1987.

March 26, 1987

What exactly happened that day? At approximately 4 p.m. the Brown’s babysitter Sharon Ryan drove Regina and Ashley in Regina’s gold Honda Civic from their Newtown home to New York. First they stopped in Danbury before heading to La Guardia Airport. They drove down Route 6 from Newtown into Danbury and stopped at the Path Mark supermarket to buy a half gallon of Sealtest milk, a half gallon of Tropicana orange juice, and a plastic container of chili, which Regina ate partially en route to the airport. She cashed a $20 check at the supermarket.

The next stop was McDonalds, where Regina purchased a Happy Meal for Ashley. The same McDonalds where the Crafts nanny, Dawn Marie Thomas, worked the night of ‘Storm Carl’ on November 18, 1986, the last night that Helle Crafts was seen alive. This was the last meal Regina would provided for her youngest daughter.
After McDonalds, they stopped and used $8 of the $20 to fill the car up with gas at the Mobile gas station at Exit 8 off I-84. Then Ryan drove the car to La Guardia, where Regina was based as a flight attendant with American Airlines. Ryan noted that when driving Regina’s Honda she used Regina’s key ring which had 6 to 7 keys on it. Ryan later told police that prior to leaving for the airport, she overheard Regina on a telephone call at home telling someone to let themselves in to feed the dog.

Regina had gotten a mixed breed puppy named Sport, part Brittany Spaniel, just a few months earlier. By the time of her disappearance the puppy was approximately 9 months old. The puppy was in need of some shots and vaccinations, but Regina couldn’t afford them, as she told her divorce attorney. She said she struggled to pay for expenses for her children, since Willis, her estranged husband, was late paying her the court-ordered child support she needed. Willis Brown was a pilot with American Airlines and also owned and operated The Moped Man, a moped rental business on Block Island, Rhode Island.  Regina opted to pay for the needs of the children before the puppy.

Barking Dog 

When they arrived at La Guardia that night, Ryan and Ashely went into the American Airlines terminal while Regina parked the car in the employee parking lot. Later she joined them in the terminal, after picking up her most recent pay check. Then she left them again to make a few phone calls from a pay phone at the airport.

At 7:08 p.m. Regina calls Liberty, Texas, charges the call to her home phone, and speaks with her mother. It is the last time she speaks with her mother. Shortly thereafter, Regina Brown put her youngest child, Ashley, then 19-months-old, on a plane to Texas. She kissed her goodbye. It was the last time anyone saw her alive.

Based on evidence collected by local police, it appears Regina Brown did return to her home that night.  She had told friends and family that she planned to fix up the home, get things in order, and then join her children and parents in Texas in the coming days.

On March 27, 1987, at approximately 2:30 a.m. – Regina’s next door neighbor called the Brown residence to ask why the family’s dog was barking constantly and keeping the neighbors awake. There is no answer to the phone call at the Brown residence and the neighbors call the police.

At 2:41 a.m. the neighbors call the Newtown Police Department. According to the log book, filled in by the dispatcher, dated March 27, 1987 2:41 am, the neighbor “complains that Mr. Brown is not home and dog is barking.” It was noted that no cop was sent by the dispatcher on duty.

I interviewed those neighbors in 2006, who had since moved to another home in Newtown. They said, they actually went over to the house that night after the cops wouldn’t send any one. The husband said he saw the dog in the breezeway of the Brown home, tied up and barking. The breezeway was a hallway between the main residence and the detached garage at 18 Whipporwill Hill Road.

As I continued to research a Connecticut Magazine cover story I was writing, published in June 2007, a retired Newtown Police detective told me, “We should have sent someone to the house on the barking dog complaint, it might have made a huge difference.”

As it turned out, the event provided police with a first clue, a staring off point for the investigation into the disappearance of Regina Brown.

Area Pony Clubs Make a Splash (Newtown Bee)

Wilton Pony Club Rocks!

Wilton Pony Club

Check out this wonderful article from the Newtown Bee about Beach Day:
http://newtownbee.com/lisa-unleashed-area-pony-clubs-make-a-splash/

beachday Wilton Pony Club Members at Jennings Beach

Lisa Unleashed: Area Pony Clubs Make a Splash

by Lisa Peterson, Newtown Bee

Scattered sunshine, a very low tide and a panoply of ponies populated Jennings Beach in Fairfield this past weekend. It’s rare to see more than one or two other horses out on the beach during a ride despite Jennings being one of the few beaches that allows horses (and dogs) access from October 1 to April 1 each year.

But upon arrival in the parking lot, we were greeted by several horse trailers, which was unusual. Once on the beach there were ponies and people everywhere! Large ponies, small ponies, and one very small pony with a flaxen mane and tail. Too cute for words! Where did this pony herd come from? A quick glance at one…

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Reporter’s Notebook: Regina Brown on this date in history

March 1987 was a haunting month in Newtown, Connecticut.

On March 1, 1987, American Airlines flight attendant Regina Brown was in the midst of a divorce from her estranged husband Willis Brown, Jr. The 35-year-old Newtown resident was planning ahead for the safety of herself and her three children.

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Regina Brown circa 1980s – Northeast Magazine 1990

She was planning on returning to work so she did not have to completely depend on her husband of four years. The 51-year-old American Airlines pilot was already two to three weeks late with weekly child support payments of $170, she told her attorney in a letter.

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Willis Brown, Jr. on Block Island – August 2006

Based on a documented history of domestic violence against her, the state had recently awarded her temporary custody of her children and the Whippoorwill Hill Road house as well as issued a restraining order against Willis. Regina told friends she was planning an Easter party with her children the following month.

But no one in Newtown escaped the growing media coverage surrounding the so-called woodchipper murder case. Eastern Airlines pilot Richard Crafts was arrested on January 13, 1987 for the murder of his wife, Helle Crafts.

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Richard Crafts Perp Walk at Danbury Superior Court – January 13, 1987

Just like Regina, she too was a Newtown flight attendant, married to a pilot, with three children in the midst of a divorce. The probable cause hearing — which would detail the state’s case to proceed to trial — was scheduled to start on March 10 in Danbury Superior Court. The same court Regina’s divorce case was being heard.

For the first time the public would learn the gruesome details of how Richard Crafts carried out the murder of his lovely Danish wife.

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Helle Crafts circa 1986 ~ Newtown Police Department photo

How he killed her at their home on Newfield Lane on November 19, 1986. How he disposed of the mother of his children using a rented commercial woodchipper into Lake Zoar. Everyone would read in the newspapers how Richard Crafts almost got away with the perfect crime.

 

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.

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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.”

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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!

Riding An Old Schoolmaster ~ Being in the Moment

The ancient word Yoga means to yoke or bind, or more literally the union of the body and the mind. Horseback riding is very much like yoga as it involves a union between horse and rider, proper breathing, and a variety of positions that bring physical strength and stamina, not to mention awareness, to our riding. As we ride our goal is to create balance and to be present in the moment with the horse.

In my mind, nothing forces you to be more present in the moment than riding a horse. It is nearly impossible to be thinking about work, shopping or cooking dinner while you are trying to navigate a 1,000-pound animal around a ring, down a steep path or over a three- foot jump.

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Mikey & Me at our first horse show in 2011

Riding involves channeling the horse’s energy and using your consciousness to communicate with him. You want the horse to direct his energy into a positive outcome, like flexing and bending or collecting and extending or even jumping! You want the rider to be communicating with the horse. When the flow of energy between horse and rider is at its best, you have balance. When you have a perfect ride, you know it because you know exactly what it is suppose to feel like. We’ve all had them and they all dwell in our subconscious memory.

Schoolmasters to the rescue 

At some point in a rider’s career, they have ridden a well-trained horse. Nothing is more enjoyable than effortless communication with a well-trained horse. Many a show horse, such as a Thoroughbred jumper I used to lease, can no longer handle the demands of  higher jumping divisions and has to take a step down to a lower level of riding. It happens to all horses as they age, they wind down their athletic abilities and with it comes the lower fences and eventually just flat work.

These equine teachers are called “schoolmasters” and they are worth their weight in gold. A pleasure to ride, they teach novice riders what perfect riding feels like for the first time. They give veteran riders a perfect ride, when they have forgotten what it’s like from riding horses of different schooling levels.

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Mikey & Me getting ready for a jumping lesson in 2013

As riders our peak ability is determined by the horses we ride. I spent most of the year flat riding a young horse. I hadn’t been on a schoolmaster in about a year. Every rider benefits from taking a step back once and a while. Whether you are training young horses or just pleasure riding, it’s important to get on that schoolmaster that knows everything and can remind you where you need to be. Jumping a schoolmaster can really remind you of where your proper position should be and where it is in reality.

Being Mikey 

For me, that schoolmaster ride came last Sunday, on my former lease horse, a bay Thoroughbred named Mikey. Visiting Fox Hill Farms again and seeing Barb and Jane and all the horses was so much fun. It was pleasant outside, about 45 degrees and no wind, so we opted to have our jumping lesson outside.  At the posting trot I was instantly reminded about his ‘big bouncy trot’ and how I have to post lower to the saddle to keep my position and really use those calf and core muscles I’ve been ignoring lately. During walking breaks, I would ask him to do a laterally movement here, an outside bend there, just to keep him listening and active to my leg.

Mikey reminded me to sit tall with my shoulders back, keeping that straight line from my shoulders through my hip to my ankle. To me working at the walk is like yoga. You are putting yourself into the correct positions and holding them, building physical strength. As I held those correct positions, Mikey the schoolmaster obliged with supple movements and easy transitions.

In riding, just like in yoga, we should practice awareness over action. For example, a horse trots too fast, we post faster to keep up with him — that’s action. An external force upon us that we are reacting to. If we practiced awareness instead, then when a horse trots too fast, we would be aware – internally – that we need to slow the pace, and we would post slower and lower. Our schoolmaster is well-trained and knows this cue and would come back to the pace that is ideal. He has taught us, reminded us, how to have awareness on horseback.

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Mikey & Me enjoying the sun in 2015

We can also be caught up in doing rather than being. Jumping horses can be a lot of doing rather than being. Mikey excels at teaching me to be in the moment around the course. He teaches me to breathe, to relax, to clear my mind before we begin. As a schoolmaster he reminds me to set my pace, maintain it and leave it alone. Being not doing. To make proper turns and keep straight lines when jumping, Mikey teaches me to keep the proper position with eyes up, sitting lightly, hands soft and following. Being ready for the next jump, not doing the next jump. Just being Mikey brought me back into awareness, into that perfect position and gave me a much-needed perfect ride. Afterwards I gave this old schoolmaster two big carrots as a thank you!

A New Year ~ Same Old Routine

Until you rediscover something, you don’t realize it’s lost. For the past decade I commuted into Manhattan five days a week. Two hours each way. Four hours a day I was locked on a train, away from home, away from my family and away from my dogs. Add to those 20 hours per week, another eight-hour stressful work day and maybe eight hours of sleep. During the weekdays, I was left with four hours per day to eat, keep up with personal hygiene and be with my husband Ray. Those were mandatory items. After that, came the dogs. Or course, there were the weekends, but frankly after a typical week, all I wanted to do was sleep, despite the nagging errands to be done.

Time spent with my dogs was fleeting. A pat on the head, a quick snuggle on the couch while being debriefed on their day from Ray. Despite all this, I added a puppy to our pack, which literally forced me to devote all my free time to socialization, training, grooming, and traveling to classes and events to make sure we had a well-adjusted companion. Now, I was really exhausted!

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At this time last year, I decided I’d had enough with my job, my crappy commute and being disconnected from my dogs, I’d so loving bred myself. All of a sudden, a few minutes at home each morning and evening turned into 24/7 with three Norwegian Elkhounds, ages 11, 8 and 8 months. Each day a pack of high energy, barking, furry friends invaded my coffee time wanting attention, attention and more attention! The household needed, “A return to normalcy” to quote Warren Harding’s 1920 presidential election campaign promise.

Setting Goals 

But what was normalcy for my dogs and myself? We both needed time to heal and heel! As I sat like a zombie on the couch, my dogs would gather, jockey for position, move in for the snuggle attack. Jinx would bat me with her paw to pet her. Stroking her soft coat felt calming. Linx would rest his handsome head on my thigh and look up at me with those big brown cow-like eyes. His gaze soothed me, as I took a deep breath. Adele would run around and play with toys, which made me smile.

This simple morning routine grew into playtime in the yard, walks around town, long grooming sessions and eventually back to training classes to meet new competitive goals. Adele barely managed to calm her puppy self enough to pass her Canine Good Citizen test. Jinx stepped into the dog show ring as a veteran.

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But it was Linx and I who worked the hardest with conditioning, training, grooming and showing to become my first champion in 30 years to have earned all his championship points from the Bred-By Exhibitor class (meaning I was the owner, handler and breeder of the dog). AKC sent us  a special medallion.

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A new routine at home had lifted a veil of canine hierarchy where Linx had played second fiddle to our older male, Obie, who had passed away two years earlier. I could see him enjoying each successive dog show with more self-confidence, more tail wagging and more enjoyment as he met each new judge and a slew of new fans. Linx had finally emerged into his own sparkling personality and overdue recognition.

A New Routine 

Beyond these competitive goals, we all gained something even more special. Our connection through daily routine has not only revitalized us, but grounded us in love. For them they now have an ever present outlet to share their unconditional love. Now, after Ray feeds an early morning breakfast before heading out to work, we have our morning coffee hour, completely with the bitches playing in the living room and Linx eating a bone. We have our ball retrieving in the yard followed by morning nap time (theirs, not mine).

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This peaceful downtime from barking out the front bay window let’s them get some sleep and let’s me get some writing done. After lunch, we may take a walk or attend to grooming. After dinner, they hang with both of us while reading or watching TV unless I have them signed up for an evening class.

But the biggest achievement this year, was a gift from my dogs. Their constant need for attention, physical activity and mental stimulation reconnected me to them. Sticking to our daily routine brings health and harmony to the household. While I’m eagerly mapping out our competitive goals for 2016, I’m also making sure our daily routine does not diminish having found that lost connection with my dogs. As we all make plans for the New Year, remember to connect — or reconnect — with your dogs on daily basis. They will thrive and love you for it. Happy New Year.

Reporter’s Notebook: Storm Carl ~ On this date in history  

When I walked in the door 30 years ago and took a look around at The Newtown Bee’s newsroom, it was the most curious newspaper I had ever seen. Among antiques, a wooden carousel horse, and bee memorabilia was a giant ball of tin foil in the publisher R. Scudder Smith’s office, marking decades of sandwiches for lunch.

The Bee’s offices on Church Hill Road building are just down the hill from the old congregational church on Main Street in Newtown, Connecticut. Folklore has it the holes in it’s rooster weathervane atop the steeple were made by bullets shot by Rochambeau’s army on his way to Danbury to fight the British in 1777. In front of the church, in the middle of the state highway, sits a 150-foot tall metal flagpole. Old glory waving at the passing motorists.

Cub Reporter

Fresh out of college, in my early 20s, this journalist was ready to take on the world, to be a member of the fourth estate, to probe government, to investigate for the public good. Hired on October 28, 1985 as a staff reporter for the police beat, I ended up writing about roaming sheep, flags stolen off the pole and dead people.

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Juxtaposed with the vintage ephemera that surrounded my desk was the new computer monitor with its green glowing LED screen. It was cutting edge newspaper publishing in the 1980s. My editor Curtiss Clark sat in a small office whose window abutted my desk. Sometimes he peered through the window like he was looking through a two-way mirror watching the phone interrogations by his reporters on the townspeople of Newtown.

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Cub Reporter Lisa at her desk at the Newtown Bee ~ 1986

My first story was about a one million dollar property transfer from a doctor’s estate to Danbury Hospital for a new wing and a tower. It was to be named in Dr. Stroock’s memory. As part of the story, I toured his 300-acre Buckeye Farm on the corner of Cemetery and Flat Swamp roads, located in Newtown’s Poverty Hollow district. This part of town was dotted with dairy farms, rolling pastures and landscapes that screamed bucolic.

Missing Wives

Little did I know, that a year earlier, just down the road was a barn belonging to a young mother who was missing. In fact, her case kicked off a string of missing Newtown wives and suspect husbands — Elizabeth Heath, Helle Crafts and Regina Brown — all in the 1980s. These murder cases would embroil and devour the Newtown Police Department, for which I had just been hired to cover as my beat.

About a year after I started my Bee tenure  — on Nov. 19, 1986 — Storm “Carl” battered the small New England town. This late autumn snowstorm encased everything, including the power lines, in icy inches. A photographer from our rival daily newspaper, The News-Times in Danbury, had traveled to the top of Castle Hill. He captured one of the most iconic images, on one of most unforgettable days. White buildings, a gray steeple, snow-covered evergreens and the flagpole took on a silent blue hue. The only color in the photo was the American flag, the one frequently stolen, blowing in a stiff breeze.

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Newtown, Connecticut ~ View From Castle Hill ~ November 19, 1986

There was no power. The town was cold. The Bee offices were closed that morning. I stayed home. To stay warm, I nestled in my bed with my dogs, since my electric heat would not work. Looking out my window, all I saw was my breathe and ice.

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View from my bedroom window ~ After Storm Carl ~ November 19, 1986

Regina Brown, a 34-year-old American Airlines stewardess, was at her Whippoorwill Hill Road home that morning. In the middle of a divorce from her airline pilot husband, she felt vulnerable after the storm. Her house too was heated by electricity. There was a coal stove in the basement that would provide some warmth, but she needed help. Against her better judgment — she did have three young children to keep warm after all — she called her estranged husband, their father, to come over to the house. To the same house that the courts had barred him from entering with a restraining order just a month earlier based on a history of domestic violence. Storm Carl forced Willis Brown, Jr. back into Regina’s Brown’s life.

But what none of us knew that morning, is that another Newtown airline stewardess, Helle Crafts, with three young children, in the midst of a divorce from her airline pilot husband, who lived less than three miles away from Regina, had just been murdered.