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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Equines of Serendipity- Kitten

Chevals JS Dream Doll

She came to me in a dream. I told my Mother the next morning that Dolly's foal's name was Kitten. "Yes, and what if it is a stud colt?" she asked. "No," I said. "She's Kitten." "Well, we shall see about that," she said. In the predawn hours of May 14, 1998, my Mother woke me and said, "Get yourself to the barn. Kitten has arrived."

If you look at Jeanne Mellin Herrick's portrait of the standard of perfection for the Morgan mare, you would swear Kitten posed for it: dark chocolate chestnut, two hind stockings, big, doe eyes, powerful, yet delicate. Ok, so Kitten is a Saddleback Supreme granddaughter, has 4 crosses to Pecos, 3 to Ben Donn and has unmistakeably the best of Applevale, Saddleback and Aquarian breeding in her papers. [Both my Mother and I have worshipped Fred and Jeanne Herrick for 40 years. They knew what they were doing, and we have proof.]

Kitten's registered name is in memory of the late Jennifer Steensen. When Kitten and Ace were born, Jennifer came to visit them. She was so excited, her laughter could be heard from inside the van, before she even got in the barn. Getting her wheelchair situated in the alleyway was a drama, so I just let Kitten out of her stall. She had to be restrained [by two people] from climbing into Jenn' lap, she was so determined. Jenn was shrieking with delight. I took photos.

Later that week, Jenn was scheduled for surgery to fuse her spine. Scoliosis was diminishing her lung function and the surgery was necessary. She asked her mother to frame one of the photos of her and Kitten to take to the hospital. On May 22, 1998, eight days after Kitten arrived in my world, Jennifer left it. My last memory of Jenn is her laughter, and the day old filly trying to board the wheelchair.

Kitten's story is not complete without Jennifer, just as Don Pecos needs Morgan. Their paths crossed only fleetingly, but the poignancy lingers on, eleven years later. Never underestimate the power of a seemingly chance encounter. Whether you believe in God, karma or destiny, Kitten and Jennifer fit the profile. Jenn's time with me was finishing, Kitten's was just beginning. That they met was the treasure.

So, whenever the world collapses on top of me, I go and sit at Kitten's feet. Right in front of them. She has no regard for personal space, mine or hers, as evidenced from day one. She wraps her lovely head and neck around me and holds me until I can crawl out from under whatever is overwhelming me. She is my sentinel.

She is also the dam of Cheval's Joie de Vivre, the mare in the photo at the top of this blogspot. I have not been able to breed her as much as I wanted, but one day, there will be another pre-dawn birth. I am waiting for Felix, Kitten's colt, who came to me in a dream.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Equines of Serendipity- Don Pecos

Don Pecos du Cheval

The prince regent of my family's breeding program, Don Pecos is the horse my Mother always wanted to breed: sound, correct, breathtaking movement, intelligent, tractable, 100% Old Type Morgan. Robin Groves describes him "as the standard by which I judge all others." And recently told a group of auditors at a clinic that she wished each one of them could have an opportunity to drive THIS horse [referring to Don Pecos]. One of the auditors said, "He looks like a Ferrari!" "He IS a Ferrari," Robin confirmed.

A veteran of the carriage driving show ring, he has multiple titles to his credit, including the 2000 Villa Louis Concourse d'Elegance Champion with Harold Ault as whip. He is a pleasure, even a blast to drive, but not for the faint of heart. Remember, this horse is a Ferrari.

An outstanding horse, to be sure, but beyond the glitz and glamour, there is another story that belongs to Don Pecos. Involving another Morgan. Morgan McCormick, a 12 year old boy with Trisomy 18, a rare chromosomal abnormality, who rides Pecos weekly. The Ferrari motor idles softly and Don Pecos measures every step, carefully, to do his job for Morgan well.

Don Pecos loves his job as a therapeutic mount, just as he loves Morgan. Every Wednesday, Don Pecos waits for Morgan. He knows. And for half an hour, Don Pecos walks for Morgan, exercising and strengthening Morgan's muscles. [ The rhythmic, cyclical movement of the horse aids in all manner of functioning, but more on that in a future blog.]

There have been several times Morgan had therapeutic riding hiatuses due to medical conditions. Boy, I tell you those were tough. Trying to explain to Don Pecos that Morgan isn't coming tonight is bad. Trying to explain you don't know when Morgan is coming is heartbreaking. Don Pecos just keeps looking at the door. Waiting.

But, Morgan is one helluva tough cookie and he is back astride again, riding his princely steed, Don Pecos du Cheval. There will be future blogs about Morgan, but Don Pecos' story is not complete without him. Don Pecos may be small in horse terms, but his engine and his heart are very powerful. Vroom, vroom...

"The basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes." Henry V, Act III, Scene VII, Wm. Shakespeare

Don Pecos, Michele Hoyne and Lucy welcome Morgan back to therapeutic riding, Spring '09

Monday, August 24, 2009

Equines of Serendipity- Aced

Chevals Topp Mentor

I have known Ace since shortly after he was born. A little black Morgan delivered into my life through careful consideration of bloodlines and temperament, he has changed my course in so many ways, it is often impossible to calculate. Every day, I wonder how I can love him more and every day he gives me greater reason to do so.

He is my Precious, Bijou, my forever horse. Any little child or terrified adult can ride him in the arena. Anyone who has the strength to hold the reins can drive him. He is the ultimate teacher, babysitter and companion. No one can leave without first falling in love with Ace, no matter what their disposition or opinion of horses. He is a constant source of wonder.

Ace is not the flashiest horse in the barn; he does not have Major’s rock star charisma or Don Pecos’s regality. He quietly, sweetly goes about his business. This is not to say he is without beauty, quite to the contrary. He is beautiful inside and out.

Anthropomorphist beware. I try very hard not to assign human characteristics to the horses. However, if you are a purist of this line of thought, I challenge you to spend a while in Ace’s company. He assumes human traits. It is as though believes it a condition of domestication.

Ace studies us. He notes our reactions to different stimuli, and then feeds them straight back to us. Ace provides input into lessons [Hey, look, Michelle! If I do a two thirds of a canter step before I go into the trot, rider rises on correct diagonal every time! Neat, huh?]. The most often repeated question in lessons with Ace is: Did he do that or did you? The most often repeated answer is: Ace did that. He is, without a doubt, the most intelligent, most affectionate, most generous, most kind, most resourceful horse I have ever known, and I'm not alone in saying this.

I never have to remind Ace's clients to thank their horse. At the end of every lesson they both wrap themselves around each other.

Ace is the stuff of legends. He is a quiet hero, a Mearas of Rohan. Precious. Bijou. However you call him, he Aces it.

Equines of Serendipity- Major

I have spent my whole life looking for knowledge, purpose and adventure. No where have the rewards of my pursuits been greater than in the company of a horse.

My first word was hoss. I reckon it will be my last. All the ones I speak in between will pale in significance. So, enter the steeds who carry, pull, cradle and fulfill me and many others. They are Major, Ace, Don Pecos and Kitten. I will spend the next few blogs introducing them in detail, starting with Major.

The Major General
Major was born on my family’s acreage west of Des Moines, IA on Memorial Day in 1994. My mother named him in honor of that, and my father who at the time, was a major in the National Guard and for his sire, Black River Major.

Love at first sight is a chemical reaction to an attraction which usually ends very badly for me. In Major’s case is was the first chapter in a new saga. Yes, we’ve had our share of disagreements, but he is quick to forgive my mistakes and even quicker to learn when I am right. He taught me how to train a horse: with my intellect, integrity and sincerity. He has been the personification of the Koran and of Shakespeare showing me “the power of flight without wings”, “for when I bestride him, I soar.” I taught him to be a Ladies Horse: soft on the bit, the epitome of good manners and of good breeding, a true gentleman. And whenever I get silly, too lovey-dovey or lazy, he bites me. Not hard, just a warning: the Major keeping me in line.

The stories of Major could fill a book. Here are some of my personal favorites...

That he prefers to use the people door instead of the livestock door to enter and exit the barn.

His beloved goats, Amos and Andy in his feed bunk, flanking their Major while they all shared dinner.

Playing games of tag, tug of war and fetch the tree branch with his first born foal.

After showing great leniency with a trespassing kitten in his stall, he deposited the repeat offender by said kitten’s tail in the water bucket. Problem solved. No harm befell the soggy kitten, except to his pride.

Standing in his stall every day staring at the radio whenever Doug Brown was reading on NPR's Book Club. One day, I turned off the radio to see what he would do and he shot me a look that said very clearly, "WTF!" I turned it straight back on and he looked at me, sighed heavily and returned his attention to Mr. Brown's honey voice.

“Why do I love the Iowa State Fair? Corn dogs with mustard, onion rings, Dairy Barn Milk Shakes and all the people who come to see me!” Major says.

The time I had to be excused from a Western Pleasure class because he was acting so strangely. Outside the arena I looked at him and said, “What the …was that about?” He looked back at me with pouty eyes, opened his mouth and the heavy silver bit fell out. My young grooms had not got the screws tight after cleaning the bit and they fell out. Major had been trying to hold the bit in his mouth the whole time.

Or removing all the fur from the back end of Donkey Otey, his current pasture mate, in retaliation against the burrow’s chewing off half of his tail.

Oh, I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, this black Morgan stud is indeed a larger than life character with wit, athleticism and elegance to spare. He has been dubbed the Mick Jagger of Horses, which I find fitting, considering his strut, his intelligence and legions of adoring fans. He passes on his charisma, talent and his tiny ears to his offspring. I wish everyone could experience one horse, just once in their lives, as exceptional as Major.

For he has certainly made my life much less ordinary.

PS. Special thanks to the Ely's for fostering my boy and providing anecdotes

Accidental Sagacity for Today: Harold Ault

My friend, Harold Ault of Ames, IA, is a rare find. By all accounts, he is the purest definition of eccentric. At first glance, it is easy to misunderstand him. His appearance is usually slightly disheveled, his gait both swinging and staggering at once, his mode of transportation helped down the road with the aid of log chains and cement blocks. But look for the accidental sagacity and you trip over a substantial treasure.

Harold is a walking, talking, dog eared, highlighted, frequently thumbed through, epic volume of encyclopedias. He is a collector of nearly everything there ever was on this earth, namely carriages, their accouterments and a bevy of anecdotes. For the uninitiated, Harold is the Saturday NY Times crossword puzzle. However, if you express an interest, he will start you out with a Monday puzzle and give you many clues.

I have known Harold for 11 years, a year after learning the importance of traces. And now I can tell you the difference between a road coach and a park drag. He has only had to explain the differences to me a hundred times, but he never tires of trying. Every time, he remembers yet another story to add to the richness of the lesson.

To say that I am familiar with Harold's carriage collection would be stretching it. However, I am aware of the historical significance of many of the items. He has so much stuff, both tangible and intangible, that it is sometimes overwhelming. It is a Show and Tell that has lasted 11 years and counting, of which I am eternally grateful to him.

In order to show my appreciation, I nag him constantly about writing a book and categorising his collection. Now that he is retired, I nag even harder. The purpose for writing this blog is to engage you, dear reader, to join my cause. Whenever you see/meet Harold Ault, let this blog be your first impression of him. Look beyond the cover and encourage, berate, cheer, cajole or threaten him into achieving the potential of his collection and in turn of his life's work. And ask, if you dare, the differences between a park drag and a road coach. Someday, you'll be glad you did.

Harold driving Don Pecos put to
his Kimball Stanhope Gig.


This weekend I had the opportunity to meet a woman at a carriage driving schooling show who made a big impression on me. She had a lovely mare that she had taught to drive. Her vehicle and harness were adequate and utilitarian for driving down the road, which was her only source of driving experience. She did a fine job, but, as with all new experiences, she had some challenges. The mare got a little fractious, which, in turn, affected the driver, but there were many experts on hand to give advice and help the situation become a good experience for both of them.

I was so proud of this woman for undertaking the driving experience, for coming to the schooling show to learn more and for her modesty and willingness to accept all comers' advice. She reminded me of me in my first schooling show many years ago. In my beginner's enthusiasm, I had invited the local Morgan club to my parents' acreage. I hitched up one of the horses to an ancient jog cart with an even more ancient harness and joined in the activities.

Bob Riley, a renowned Morgan horseman was on hand, and mosied up to me and asked where my traces were. "Traces?" I asked. "What are traces?" He nonchalantly explained what they looked like and I immediately brightened and said, "Oh! Those long stips! I couldn't figure out where they went!" He chuckled and told me he would hold my horse [incidentaly, one he had trained] while I went to fetch those long strips of leather.

If you are no stranger to driving, you will no doubt be horrified to learn I was and had been driving said horse without traces for some time. Mr. Riley was not easily horrified, he had seen so many idiots driving horses in his 89 years, that I probably wasn't the worst. Although, he did suggest to me that he would like to come spend some time 'helping' me with my driving horses. I may be daft, but I'm not stupid and jumped on his offer.

I spent many an hour on the box seat with Bob Riley and learned many things, mostly from the times when things went wrong. Horses going over backwards while hitched, me going over the dash and landing on the horse, upestting the carriage in a ditch, falling off the back of the cart, stopping a runaway by driving him into the side of the barn. So many memories, thankfully all turned out well in the end.

The woman at the show brought all this back to mind. The sweetness of being a novice, eager to learn. I tried to give homage to Bob Riley and share a tip or two with her. Because she had dressage experience, I told her to drive the horse and ride her vehicle. As I explained my theory, I watched her face light up. It was the same face I gave to Bob Riley when he asked where my traces were. I think that is what is called an aha moment.

I was my great pleasure to share that experience with her.