Linx ~ The Last of the Line Claims Many Firsts

More than 30 years ago, I first stepped foot into a dog show ring with my first Norwegian Elkhound Ledgerock’s Sydney Lief, aka Sydney. This historic event in my life with dogs happened at the most unlikely of venues, the Milford Jai Alai Fronton. It was there that I took a chance at dog shows and the gamble paid off. We won Best of Winners and a single championship point. We were on our way to a lifelong passion for the sport of purebred dogs. We were going to become dog fanciers, a group of people who were dedicated to preserving, promoting and more recently, protecting purebred dog breeds. At the heart of this mission, are dog shows, where breeding stock are evaluated to judge their potential genetic contributions to each and every breed of dog recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Sydney never became a champion, but during his show career in the 1980s, I discovered the joy of being an owner/breeder/handler. I came from the horse show world and as a junior rider, I did everything myself from training to braiding to grooming to trailering my own horse to the shows. I liked doing everything myself. Call me a control freak or an over-achiever, but having an intimate role in all aspects of a competition for me, created a deeper level of bonding with my horse. And when I migrated to dog shows, I wanted to follow the same model. And that meant I was going to have to breed my own dogs.

It all began with a bitch called Mumbles. A knowledgeable breeder had given her to us to start our breeding program. And away we went. During the next 20 years, the Elvemel breeding program (with lots of help and mentoring from Kamgaard Norwegian Elkhounds) produced a direct line of award-winning champion bitches from Roxanne to Brittany to Basia to Stasha to Jinx. In 2006, Jinx was bred to an English sire, CH. Kestos Kriega. The results were a litter of two, a boy and a girl. And the one male puppy we named Linx stayed with us.

Linx’s Journey

Most things in life are a result of “timing is everything” or “being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time,” or “everything happens for a reasons.” In Linx’s case, the timing for his show dog career was awful. I had started a job at the American Kennel Club that kept me on a long commute to Manhattan, away from my dogs. I quickly became frustrated at trying to do a proper job with Linx without the proper time and resources.

Looking back, Linx didn’t have the best of starts in terms of show dog 101. I didn’t devote as much time to training as I should have, and over the years, it was hit or miss to having a good ring performance. By the time he was three, I’d only showed him a handful of times accumulating three championship points. I decided that Linx would be a great pet and buddy for my husband Ray.

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Hanging out on the couch! Deciding who is going to get the remote. 

Fast Forward to 2014. We got a new puppy named Adele. I was going to show her. Since I was going to show her, I thought, let’s bring 8-year-old Linx to some dog shows. In 2015, I retired from my AKC job and had loads of time for my dogs. An amazing thing happened along the way. Linx was coming into his own.

At this point, Linx was the sole survivor of my 20-year-old breeding program. His 2006 litter, is the last litter I’ve bred in 10 years, and the last direct connection from my foundation bitch going back seven generations. Linx is the end of the line.

But then he began to accomplish a number of firsts for Elvemel. Linx’s first AKC title, the Canine Good Citizen, was accomplished by Ray, the first time Ray had handled any dog to any title. Linx became the first dog in Elvemel history to earn the Bred-By Exhibitor medallion from AKC, meaning all his championship points were earned by his owner/breeder/handler. Linx was the first to earn his championship as a Veteran at 8-years-old, becoming CH. Elvemel Casino Royale CGC. After earning an Award of Merit at this year’s national specialty, Linx became the first Elvemel dog to earn an invitation to the Crufts Dog Show in England. And then this past weekend, Linx, now nearly 10-years-old, achieved the first Specialty Best in Show win for Elvemel with his owner/breeder/handler on the end of the leash. And while Linx may be the end of the breeding line, another number of Elvemel firsts are his include being first in our hearts, usually first on the couch to watch TV, and definitely first in line for biscuits. Good Boy!

Tippy Toes~ A Yankee Doodle Dandy Dog

Tippy Toes, a black Schipperke-Beagle mix with two white front toes, was born in 1972 during the Fourth of July festivities at Sweetbrier Farm in Easton. A litter of two boys and two girls arrived thanks to the barn’s resident Schipperke. Back in the 1970s “Schips” owned by top trainers were all the rage on the East Coast horse show circuit — before the Corgis moved in.

Soon, Tippy’s mother ran out of milk. He ended up at our home at several weeks old. My mother hand fed the little black nugget until he grew into an adorable puppy. Fittingly, I first met “the little captain” — the Belgium translation of the breed’s name — at summer camp in the Adirondaks when my parents came to pick me up in August. He confidently strode out onto the dock overlooking the deep blue waters of Long Pond.

Soon after his brother Floppy Ear joined our family. He was the last pup at the barn that nobody wanted. I identified with his lot in life, since I too had always been picked last to join the kickball team. One day, while visiting the Newtown building lot of our new home the brothers took off in tandem. I ran after them down West Farm Ridge Road.  As fast as my long legs could carry me, I hung a left down Hundred Acres, but I was no match galloping dogs on a mission. I stopped, gasping for breath, and watched them disappear down the middle of the road deep into fox hunting country past some of my favorite stone walls jumps. I eventually gathered them up. But before we moved to Newtown, Floppy escaped the property in Trumbull and was killed by car on a nearby busy street. For some reason, Tippy didn’t go with him that day.

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Tippy on vacation in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine circa 1981

Best Friends Forever 

Tippy became my constant companion. For fun I set up an obstacle course of lawn chairs and broom sticks in the front yard, jumping him around like a grand prix horse. Today, they call it the sport of Agility. I even made a Puissance high jump. My Dad built standards with little nails as the jump cups so I could easily raise the striped bar, an old croquet post, to nearly three feet. My parents even drove me to obedience classes where we trained and eventually earned ribbons in class competitions. I remember one score of 198 out of 200. Not bad for a barn puppy born out of wedlock.

Once I began driving, Tippy became my co-pilot. Sitting in the front seat, head out the window, as we drove to yet another barn to ride yet another horse. At one barn, he used to pop out of the car and hop into my open tack trunk to sleep nestled among saddle pads. He learned a large vocabulary. I spoke to him like a friend communicating with full sentences. He always seemed to know exactly what I was saying to him. Going off to college in California was difficult. Tippy stayed behind.

Chow Hound

Fortunately for Tippy, I didn’t stay on the West coast for long. I enrolled in a local university and he came back to live with me. By this time Tippy was known in our family as the “whiz kid.” He had this knack for knowing who the male head of the household was, whether at my Mom’s house, my Dad’s house or my house. He’d sniff out the patriarch’s bed pillow and leave his wet, yellow signature. Even to this day, when I visit my Dad, he points out Tippy’s signature on an old brass plate on a wooden trunk.

During college I lived about a mile from my Mom’s house. Each morning I would feed Tippy, let him out in the front yard to spend the day, and drive off to college. Within the hour, he trotted back to Mom’s for yet another meal. Then midday, he would commute back to my house, even crossing the busy street that took his brother’s life, and be sitting in the front yard for my arrival. This went on for months, until one day a friend driving to my house spotted Tippy mid-commute, stopped and opened his car door. Tippy jumped in for the ride home. Once home, we found him rummaging through discarded brown bag lunches in the back seat. He loved food so much, he once surprised me by leaping across the room and taking a slice of pizza from my hand. All I was doing was sitting on the floor, pointing at the front door with the hand that held the pizza, so someone would go answer it. Tippy answered the call!

Tippy’s most harrowing escape out of the back seat of a car was detailed in a November Newtown Bee column when my hatchback flew open on Interstate 95 as we crossed the Merrimac River Bridge from New Hampshire into Maine. Here’s an excerpt:

Most Harrowing – We had just stopped at the rest stop for gas on I-95 in New Hampshire just before the bridge heading to Maine. We had three people and three dogs in my compact Datsun. My schipperke/beagle mix Tippy traveled in the hatchback area and I had just put him in his cubby and closed the hatchback after a dog walk. Off we went back on the highway and across the bridge. Halfway across the bridge, sitting in the back seat with my two other dogs, Rodney and Allision, I felt a breeze. The windows weren’t down. I turned to look behind me and saw that the hatchback was open! 

“Tippy’s gone!” I screamed. I feared he’d fell out of the car, off the bridge and plunged hundreds of feet into the icy Merrimac River. “Slow Down!” I said still screaming, not knowing what I would do stopping at mid-span. Then looking back across the bridge towards New Hampshire I saw a little black blur round the corner onto the bridge approach. In the middle of the highway, running as fast as his little legs could carry him, was Tippy in pursuit. “Stop! It’s Tippy!” I watched as my little dog got bigger and bigger. It was a miracle he wasn’t hit by traffic. In another blur, in the middle of the highway in the middle of the bridge a car door opened, a little dog jumped in, and a hatchback was slammed shut – twice.

That vision of him running down the middle of the bridge toward the car was the mirror image of his Hundred Acres Road dash years earlier.

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Tippy as he approached 18 years old, circa 1990

As Tippy aged, he switched gears from the horse show to the dog show circuit, where he found a whole new flock of friends who thought he was a purebred Schip with a tail. His antics even prompted me to buy a purebred and start showing and breeding Schipperkes. But all good canine friendships come to an end, and four months shy of his 18th birthday, his life ended peacefully. His final resting place? Beneath my favorite jumping stone wall at the end of Hundred Acres Road. It was officially named, “The Tippy Memorial Jump” as we popped open the bottle of champagne.

On the Road with Linx & Adele

Read Part I of “On the Road with Linx & Adele” as featured in The Newtown Bee

Part II “Barking Nights for Linx & Adele”

There are some things you just don’t think about until they happen. Day one on the road to Illinois was a long trek, 14 hours, including three stops for potty and water breaks,  from Newtown to Elkhart, Indiana. As we nestled into the Red Roof Inn for a good night’s sleep, it was anything but continuous. A group of camo-dressed hunters held a tailgate party right outside our room until the wee hours. Every time they laughed, my Norwegian Elkhounds, Adele & Linx, barked back. Have I mentioned that elkhounds are notorious barkers? Finally we were all fast asleep when someone was banging on our door at 5 a.m. Amidst more barking than before , I opened the door a crack, “Taxi,” said the driver.

“Taxi?” I said to a cacophony of canine vocalization.

“Yes, Taxi,” the driver offered again.

“No, Taxi,” I replied.

“No Taxi?” came his response as I closed the door.  Bark. Bark. Bark. Boy, this was going to be a long trip.

Mr. Sock

Linx hadn’t been on a long overnight road trip since 2007 when I took him to Canada as a puppy. This would be Adele’s first extended trip. Overall, they were really good dogs, but at night, the demons arrived to deprive us all of sleep. The next night was our first night at the resort, the day before the big national specialty dog show started with the Veteran Sweepstakes for the older dogs.

Crash! Bang! Rattle! Clang!  I woke up with a start in the dark. No barking, but I knew that Linx had exited the bed, the wrong side of the bed. He opted for the tight space on the right side next to the wall. He had somehow hit the metal dolly (what I use to pull cargo around the dog show) that I had propped up against the wall at the foot of the bed for storage out of the way. I guess it wasn’t out of the way enough. Linx settled back into sleep on the floor across the room.

Next morning, we all woke up, and I noticed Linx had some dried blood on his left rear paw. Upon closer inspection, he had actually pulled off his toenail. I went to investigate and found it on the floor next to the dolly. Then I got out my first aid kit and cleaned his paw. Next up, with the help of friends, we managed to get him bandaged in a donated clean sock and started him on antibiotics. He was no worse for the wear. But I needed to keep him from licking his paw, so the sock would stay on unless he was in the show ring. That night he proudly picked up a second place in his age group at the sweepstakes.

Crash! Shatter! Rumble!  That night, a bottle of Pellegrino I had in the mini-fridge froze solid and exploded! Woke us up and set off the dogs barking. Three nights, three disruptions. But we tried to sleep on.

A quick trip the next morning sent me to Target to purchase a 10-pack of clean socks. Linx  garnered the nickname “Mr. Sock” among his friends and looked quite fashionable in a rainbow of colors, until someone made fun of him wearing a lady’s pink ped on his paw. I kindly informed them it was for good luck. His next class the following day was a large competitive Veteran Dog class with an entry of 10 and that the first place ribbon in that class was pink and it had his name on it.

The next day as predicted, Linx, at 9 and half years old, the oldest dog in the class, walked proudly into the show ring, performed his best, and walked out with the first place pink ribbon under a Norwegian judge. It qualified him for the Best of Breed class the next day. That night all three of us enjoyed one long uninterrupted slumber.

Best Brace in Show

Refreshed, we were ready to tackle the final day of the national specialty. Early in the day, Adele captured a first in the Open Bitch class. Then came Best of Breed, where Linx gained an Award of Merit, one of only 15 given among nearly 200 elkhounds. But the real fun was just about to start. The last class of the show is called Brace. According to AKC rules, A brace is defined as two dogs of the same recognized breed or variety that are similar in appearance, performing in unison, and presented by a maximum of two handlers. Both dogs competing in brace competition must have at least one common owner. I’ve always opted to show my brace a single handler. I must be crazy!

Adele and Linx stepped into the ring. Our first test was around the ring.  Then we had to stop and stack. Linx on the outside, Adele on the inside. Then the individual exam, showing their bites. And the big test, down and back across the diagonal of the large ring with an outside turn. Stop for the judge for one last look and one more time around the ring. Then months of roadwork and training paid off as Adele & Linx became Best Brace in Show with the point of the judge’s finger. After another two days of a regional specialty and two days traveling home, Adele and Linx, finally got to sleep in their own beds. And there was no barking. Good dogs!

 

 

 

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.

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.

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!