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.

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.

 

 

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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.

Trail Riding During Mad Dash at Fairfield Hills

Last time I rode on the grounds of Fairfield Hills it was the late 1990s for the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard Judged Pleasure Ride. This annual event has obstacles to tackle, things to pull, gates to open and executing some pretty scary stuff that you’ve probably never done on your horse before that day. Aside from the mylar balloons that thwarted our team’s chances at glory that year (we came in second) its challenges are nothing compared to what I encountered this past Saturday trail riding during the Mad Dash Adventure Race, but more about that later.

Oz and me head out on a trial ride from the Fairfield Hills Campus

Oz and me are ready  to head out on a trial ride from the Fairfield Hills Campus. Photo Credit: Ray Peterson 

A Sea of Timothy Grasses

This past month, I’ve been blessed to return to ride the hills. A benevolent friend takes her horses and me out to enjoy this hidden beauty nestled in the center of town. I don’t know who or what organization mows those lovely paths around the perimeter of the fields, but thanks! It creates long ribbons of green velvet that cushions unshod hooves at the canter while riders can focus on the majesty around them. The tall grasses, crying to be turned into succulent bales, surround us so we look like floating upper bodies in a sea of timothy.  Unlike higher elevations in town, the sky opens up at these hills with clouds dusting the treetops, when the wind is just right.

A red barn, a brown barn, a ghostly metal pavilion dot the landscape as we bob along. We land at crumbling roads, now more gravel than tarmac, fallen prey to rainwater, erosion and neglect. We dive into open vistas, birds dart from the grassy depths as we gallop by, the good horses taking them in stride, not spooking at nature’s presence. Riding up the hills are especially joyous, faster and bolder, easier for them, more fun for us!  Sweat builds on their shoulders and haunches, signs that the day is getting hotter, and trails traversed longer. Another field, now plowed dark, waiting for seeds, fills the air with earthen scents. As we trot along the far side, silent stream to our left, fallow fields to our right, we slowly come to a walk as we met the long black driveway taking us far from where the cavalry horses and military dogs live. Ahead lies one final burst of pleasure called Yahoo Hill.

But first, we must cross Wasserman Way with rattling trucks and speeding cars, save but one, who slowed to a stop for the safe passage of the horses into the woods. A left turn, exploding up the hill, muscles rippling, hooves reaching, hocks pushing against the soft soil, trampling tall grasses down to the earth, slapping reeds echo as if cut in harvest. Atop the hill, nostrils flaring and heavy breathing from horse and rider, wide smiles all around. A great way to start the day in Newtown, still morning, not yet feeling the heat and hectic-ness of the day. Horses bow heads in agreement.

Oz & Bea plot their ride

Oz & Bea plot their ride! Photo Credit: Ray Peterson 

From Woodlands Into A Mad Dash

On Saturday, our trail ride grew to three gallant steeds and towards the end took us on a magical woodland journey. Blazing through fragrant pricker bush roses and other sweet-smelling native shrubs, disrupting bumble bees and scattering small birds, we came upon Deep Brook. Descending a rocky bank, a pause for an equine drink, up the muddy slope into soft pine needles soaking up splash and muffling footfalls.  Among majestic pines we meander along the river, up a steep incline into the cool forest. We turned right, across the Housatonic Railroad line onto a hidden, ancient trail. We walked along a former railroad bed, still clutching its old steel rails and rotting wooden ties. We weaved between strong maples disrupting the order and symmetry of the forgotten spur.  We emerged from behind the old storehouse at Fairfield Hills.

Mad Dash Race

Getting ready to load onto the trailer after the trail ride. Photo Credit: Rhonda Cullens

We ended at the intersection of Wasserman’s Way and Traders Lane. Waiting for the traffic light to turn to green, the Mad Dash Adventure Race was in full swing. Who knew? As we worked our way back to our respective horse trailers, fire engines sprayed water, tents and flags fluttered, runners scurried through mud pits, over tall wooden walls, and across slippery grass. This got the horses’ attention! As we neared our trailer, a big wave of children came crashing down on us — part of the Mini Dash for kids — dozens of them came barreling at us full speed with glowing t-shirts of orange, lime green and pink. Just before impact, they thinned into single file, banking right and away from us. The horses, prick eared, looking, thinking, moving sideways, waiting, then exhaling, relaxing, and head lowering as we ambled back to the trailer. I remarked to my friend, “Talk about distractions! We should get extra credit on our next judged pleasure ride for this performance.” The horses were great! And so was our ride!

Outer Banks Horses – More Than Just Misty

Marguerite Henry’s classic book Misty of Chincoteague certainly fueled my love of horses and countless other pony-crazed little girls for generations. The fictional tale written in the late 1940s features a herd of small wild horses on Assateague, a barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. While Misty and her adventures made wild ponies famous, there are several other herds of wild horses scattered among the Outer Banks off North Carolina. How these “banker ponies” got there is a mystery. They have been there for centuries. Legend has it they swam ashore to the barrier islands from shipwrecks of early Spanish and English explorers.

Shackleford Horse

Shackleford Horse

Shackleford Banks Herd

Shackleford Banks, situated off the coast of North Carolina, is the southern-most barrier island of Cape Lookout National Seashore. The land is owned by the federal government and managed by the National Parks Service (NPS). Living on the 9-mile long island, filled with nutrient-rich native grasses and sea oats, are the Shackleford Horses. This hardy herd fluctuating between 110 and 130 wild horses boasts an array of colors from bays and chestnuts to those with flaxen manes and tails. Proudly standing between 11 and 13 hands tall, they wear thick coats with coarse, long manes to protect them from hurricane force winds and damp sea fog. With keen instincts, stallions can quickly spot trouble on the horizon (or tourists!) to make that fight or flight decision to protect their ‘harems’ as well as mares protecting their newborn foals.

Today, the Shackleford horses are co-managed by the NPS, who owns the land, and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses, Inc. (FSH), a North Carolina non-profit corporation and an IRS 501(c)(3) charity founded nearly two decades ago and run completely by volunteers. The foundation’s mission is to “Protect and Preserve” the Shackleford herd. One of its first goals was to find a permanent way to do just that.

Awaiting a new home! Visit Schacklefordhorses.org

Awaiting a new home! Visit Schacklefordhorses.org

Federal Protection 

In gaining federal protection, scientists needed to establish a genetic link to their historic status as a native breed. Oral histories and quotes from generations of coastal North Carolinians are important, such as “They’ve always been there, they were here when our people came; they swam ashore off sinking ships.”  But having sound scientific research and evidence would be even better.

In 1997, researchers, after studying DNA blood samples, established a genetic link to the early Spanish horses. Most importantly, one very old genetic variant called, “Q-ac” surfaced. This marker was found in two other older equine populations, the Puerto Rican Paso Finos and the Pryor Mountain mustangs in Montana. Its appearance is significant as it can easily be lost through some called “genetic drift” which means it would have disappeared quickly if non-Spanish modern horses were introduced into the herd along the way. With scientific evidence in hand, the FSH was able to move forward with the “Shackleford Banks Wild Horses Protection Act” and a year later President Clinton signed the bill into law.  The FSH now manages the herd in partnership with the NPS by use of birth control darts, rescuing some that wouldn’t survive on their own and removing others off the island for adoption to control the herd size for optimal survival.

Scratch me here!

Scratch me here!

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Carolyn Mason, who helped start the foundation and keeps the adoptees and rescues on her farm on the mainland. Her family has been in the area for generations. Watching her commune with the ponies was like seeing an artist nurture her canvas. She knew all their moods, all their habits, all their lineage and history. She had been caring for them for decades not only against the ravages of hurricanes on the outer banks but in her backyard. She spoke of each horse on the island, not as the number they are assigned, but the names they had been given like Spirit and Merlin. At her farm, I met “Aftermath” born during Hurricane Irene. Her knowledge includes knowing matriarchal breeding lines, knowing how many foals a mare had and to which stallion. Listening to her was like watching an episode of National Geographic. Mason watches this wild herd from a far, yet intimately stewarding them, like the gentle stroke of an artist’s hand, wanting to capture the beauty of nature on the canvas but not disturbing the natural setting.

Schackleford Horse Diego

Schackleford Horse Diego

With the help of dedicated foundation volunteers like Mason the FSH continues their historic, genetic, health and cultural research. Herd numbers are still over 100 horses with room for sustainable growth and genetic diversity. This stewardship of a centuries-old herd is the kind of story that hopefully future generations of children will discover just as I discovered Misty over a half century ago.

Some great resources on the Shackleford Horses:

Horses Have Birthdays Too!

Last week we learned husbands have birthdays and hounds have human age equivalents. But what about horses? Unlike purebred dogs, most horses don’t come with registration papers with their birthday proudly displayed, so it’s a guessing game. Even Thoroughbreds registered with The Jockey Club lose their actual birthdays to the convenient New Year’s Day in order to have a consistent racing year.

Before you can calculate a horse’s human age equivalents, you have to determine the horse’s age in actual years. For centuries horse traders have peered into the equine mouth to look for clues. Horses, like dogs and humans, have two sets of teeth, their baby or ‘milk teeth’ and their permanent teeth. Most horses have all their permanent teeth by age 5 and are considered to have a ‘full mouth.’

It’s easy to look at a very young horse’s mouth and see which milk teeth have appeared or been replaced by permanent teeth in determining his age. Once a horse is considered ‘aged’ (9-years-old and beyond) there are other more subtle signs to look for. Unlike dogs and humans, horse’s permanent teeth continue to grow throughout their life. This phenomena ensure a lifetime of grass grazing and grain grinding. As they age, horse teeth also change shape and develop markings.

As a Thoroughbred registered with The Jockey Club, Mikey's birthday is always January 1st.

As a Thoroughbred registered with The Jockey Club, Mikey’s birthday is always January 1st.

Cups, Stars, Grooves, and Hooks

Cups: The shape of the tooth changes from rectangular to triangular as the horse ages. When you open the mouth of a young horse and view the bottom front teeth (center and corner incisors) on the grinding surface from above, you will see dark rectangular centers called ‘cups.’ These cups are visible on all incisors by age 5, but slowly disappear from the teeth progressively. They fade first on the bottom from the center teeth out to the corners and then on the top from the center out to the corners, so by age 11 all the cups should be gone.

Stars: As the cups begin to disappear, a ‘dental star’ appears on the grinding surface towards the front of the tooth. This yellow-colored spot starts out rectangular and becomes rounded with age and will eventually replace the cup on each incisor. The stars begin to show up around age 8 on the center teeth and appear on the corners by age 11.

Galvayne’s Groove: This dark-colored groove is located on the incisors at the upper corner of the mouth, just before the canine teeth. This groove won’t appear until the horse is around 10 years old. It appears first at the top of the tooth and works it way down the front of the tooth. It reaches the middle of the tooth by age 15. Then it continues down to the bottom of the tooth by age 20. Then it reverses itself and starts to disappear from the top of the tooth, so by age 25 it’s only visible on the lower portion of the tooth. By age 30 it should have disappeared from the tooth.

Hooks: Another clue to determining age can be looking for hooks on the top corner incisors. Uneven wear on the upper and lower corner incisors can cause a hook to form at the back and bottom on the top corner incisor. The first hook appears at age 7 and disappears at age 9. Then it re-appears at age 11 and remains until the mid-teens.

Another indicator of age can be seen by viewing the horse’s mouth in profile.  Lifting the lip take a look at his bite from the side, the older the horse, the longer and more angled forward his permanent teeth will be. For you trivia buffs out there, the term “long in the tooth” comes from the horse world and refers to this observation. This term also gave birth to a piece of sound advice: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!”

Horse Age in Human Years 

Is there an equivalent human age for horses? It appears about a decade ago, as part of a marketing campaign from Pfizer Animal Health (now Zoetis) to promote their Strongid daily wormer, they released The Age Relationship Chart which calculates a horse’s age in human years.  A rough estimate said that horses are basically 6.5 years old when they are born (because when they are born they can stand and run) and will age that fast (in human years) until they reach four. After that they settle into a 2.5 human years for every actual horse year for the rest of his life.

According to the 2003 press release from Equine Resources International, LLC, “Horses go through the same life cycles as do humans. They have distinct childhood, adolescence, puberty, maturity and geriatric phases of their lives,” said Dan Kramer, Pfizer’s equine market manager. “This chart will give horse owners added insight into their horse’s life stages and greater understanding of the issues at each stage. For example, a 22-year old horse would equate to a human of age 65.5. A horse that is 36 years old would be celebrating its 100th birthday if it was a person.”

HorseAgeHumanYearsChart

Save the Carriage Horses of New York City

With the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show right around the corner, it’s time to share a column I recently wrote about the Carriage Horses of New York City. If you are coming to the city for the big dog show, stop by the stables to meet the horses, take a tour and go for a carriage ride. Go to Facebook for Canines and Coaches 2015 open house event info: https://www.facebook.com/caninesandcoachesNYC2015

Grooming Tyson before he heads out for a carriage ride

Grooming Tyson before he heads out for a carriage ride

Lisa Unleashed ~ Originally published in The Newtown Bee, November 14, 2014:

Last summer I was invited by a fellow dog breeder to go on a tour of the carriage horse stables on 52nd Street in New York City. I was vaguely aware that New York City’s Mayor Bill DeBlasio had made a campaign pledge to remove the horse carriage industry from Manhattan and replace them with electric car rides in Central Park. As a horse lover, I found this political promise odd and even dangerous. Animal rights extremists were alleging that the carriage horses were not be treated humanely and that they needed to be “rescued” from this dangerous life on the city streets. I was curious, so I accepted the invitation and went to tour the stables.

Tyson & I - Carriage horse Extraordinaire!

Tyson and Lisa Peterson. Carriage Horse Extraordinaire! Tyson is a handsome 12-year-old Percheron/Morgan cross. 

What I found amazed me! As I toured the three-story stables, I was impressed with with rubber matted ramps connecting the floors in a barn any horseman would be proud of. It was summer and there was neither a foul odor from the box stalls nor a fly that I could find. What I did find where well cared for, well-groomed, well-fed, content horses munching on good quality hay, drinking clean water, and taking carrots from my hand. One of the drivers, Steve Malone, a second-generation horseman, offered us a carriage ride through Central Park. We climbed aboard the open-air carriage and enjoyed the views, the clip clop of the hooves on the roads, and the slowing down of a hectic day to enjoy the nature of the park. It was a touch point with horses and history.

Carriage Horse Driver Stephen Malone takes us for a tour of Central Park

Carriage Horse Driver Stephen Malone takes us for a tour of Central Park

Because I had taken the time to visit with the horses, experience a carriage ride, ask questions of the owners on all matters of care, conditioning and retirement, I was soundly convinced that these horses, who have a job and do it well, don’t need to be rescued from the city streets. In fact, this industry is highly regulated since the 1850s with oversight by five city agencies and a 144 pages of regulations. Horses cannot work if it’s too hot, the can not work if its too cold, they get mandatory vet visits several times a year and five weeks of vacation away form the city. They even have a retirement home called Blue Star Equiculture.

Rally for Support

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in support of animal welfare where one of the licensed drivers from New York, Christina Hansen, spoke on the topic of the threat to ban the horses. It appears to me that there is a hidden agenda behind this issue. I won’t taint your objectivity about it but it involves real estate developers and animal rights groups electing a political candidate. It also involves a community’s response in the face of attacks. In addition this issue has created a rare occurrence in New York City media, where The New York Times, the New York Daily News and the New York Post, all come out in favor of the carriage horses in their editorials. I urge people who want to learn more about this topic, this hidden agenda, and how to support saving this important tradition of horses in our everyday lives to visit www.savenychorsecarriages.com. Please watch the video, narrated by Liam Neeson, a strong advocate to preserve this historic tradition in the city. Also, stop by the blog posts of author Jon Katz at www.bedlamfarm.com for yet more insight about our humanity and our horses.

Stall with a view!

Stall with a view!

Canines and Coaches & Clip Clop NYC!

The industry has several opportunities each year for open houses and tours of the stables. They believe in being transparent and are proud to show off the care their give their horses. Last June they held their annual ClipClopNYC open house –  www.clipclopnyc.com – and in February they held the first annual Canine and Coaches open house in conjunction with the venerable Westminster Kennel Club dog show. The carriage drivers offered discounted rides for any exhibitor and their dog who had been to Westminster. It’s nice to see that when the going gets tough, the dog and horse people always pull together. Next year, Canines and Coaches will be happening again. For more information visit http://www.facebook.com/caninesandcoachesNYC2015.

Stopping for a drink of cool water from a water trough used by horses for more than a century

Stopping for a drink of cool water from a water trough used by horses for more than a century

The movement to ban the carriage horses is not over and it’s an issue still before the New York City Council, despite a recent poll showing that New Yorkers are 2-to-1 in favor of keeping the carriage horses in Central Park. If you are a horse lover and want to support keeping this tradition alive, please, follow “The Famous Horse-Drawn Carriages of Central Park” on Facebook and @NYChorses on Twitter. Use their hashtag, #SaveNYCHorseCarriages to stay informed and help however you can.