Sunday, March 26, 2017

Dream Day: Riding in New York City's Central Park

There's those horsey bucket list items that you look at and probably may never accomplish.  Like riding Grand Prix (dressage or jumping, in my case, HA!).  But then there are those bucket list items that you wake up one day and say, "Why not?"

Enter taking a scenic trail ride through Central Park.

It's romantic.  It's unique.  It's a poetic combination of one of my favorite cities and my favorite pastime.  And it was far past its due date.


A good horse friend and I hopped on a bus up to NYC earlier this month and decided to check one off.  And in case you are behind the times like I was, YES, you can take trail rides through Central Park.  The old Claremont Riding Academy used to do these back in the day, but after they closed their doors, the rides were shut down for some time until the good folks at Chateau Stables stepped up and took them on.

Interested in booking a ride?  Check out:  NYC Horseback Rides

The Horses
We met up with our excellent guide, Anthony, at Tavern on the Green promptly at 2pm.  He brought a beautiful bay gelding, Hudson, who is a retired NYC carriage horse.  He ponied the big Belgian Charlie, who was relatively new to New York, and had been rescued a few months earlier from an Amish auction.  Chateau had spent time getting his weight up and feet corrected and he was relatively new to this string.

My friend rode Hudson, who is a veteran of the NYC streets and the park.  Charlie was super sweet, but greener as expected.  He was huge, had questionable steering, and had no idea what leg was, but once I figured out to just use voice cues, he was super easy (but still huge).  Anthony walked along on foot, and for those who are not experienced riders, the guide is available to lead the horses for safey.  Both boys were in fantastic weight (plus a few meals), were relaxed and happy on their routine stroll through the park.

My friend with Hudson, me with Charlie
The Ride
You can buy a one-hour ride for $150, or a two-hour ride for more (I forgot what the rate was and the site won't load on my computer right now).  While that might seem steep, keep in mind that the horses have to make the trek up from W48th street to get up to the park, a journey of about 18-19 blocks in NYC traffic.  So all told, it seemed like a much better deal when we realized that Anthony had ponied up those 18 blocks and back down just for us.  It was a cold day, no one else was brave enough to schedule rides.  I'm sure it's more economical for them if they have two or three rides in the park back to back.

Our one-hour ride kept us on the lovely, wide Central Park bridle paths.  We stopped at the Reservoir for photos, kept on walking, and stopped for more photos on the way home.  I loved talking about my job with Anthony, who was lovely and happily told us about horse keeping in the city.  The real joy was seeing people's reaction to the horses.  You could see the smiles pop up instinctively on people's faces when they saw us riding by.  They took out their phones for pictures.  They pointed us out to their children, who stared up at these huge horses with awe.  Some were tourists.  Some were New Yorkers.  All of them seemed totally thrilled to see real horses out in the park, in the middle of the city.  That was such a wonderful, singular experience I don't think I'll ever find again.

The Stables
During our ride, we mentioned we were curious about the differences between country and urban horse management, and we were invited back to the stables to see for ourselves.  We didn't ask and certainly didn't demand - it was offered up and we happily accepted the opportunity to see how these urban horses live.  We followed Anthony (who ponied the horses back through traffic) and made the walk down from the park.  Once at the stable, Anthony popped in to let the manager know we'd be coming in, an a hot second later we were welcomed with open arms.  The Chateau staff was warm and friendly, very happy to chat horses with fellow horse people, and told us to take a look at whatever we wanted and to ask whatever questions we could think of.  The anti-carriage/anti-horse crowd wants to always make a stink about how horses live in the city.  These folks, though, had nothing to hide.

What we found on our no-notice visit was a stable full of extremely well-fed, relaxed, content horses neatly tucked into box stalls.  The stalls were all well bedded (way more bedding than most boarding barns I've been in!), all had mountains of fresh, good quality grass hay, and fresh, clean water.  The stalls on the ground level were temporary, as once the horses leave for the day, the space is used for pony parties.

We took a walk up the infamous NYC stable ramp (as one of the carriage drivers noted in an interview awhile ago: "In the wild, it's called a HILL!") and took a look around the stalls on the second floor.  Most of these guys seemed to be boarded carriage horses.  The aisle was narrow, but everyone was tucked in with fresh hay, water, and bedding in their box stalls.  Everyone was contented and munching away.  Everything was neatly put in its place.  You get the sense that everything has its spot in order to make the chaos in such a small space work.  And it does.

The Chateau staff clearly cares about their horses and it shows. Back in October, I did a trail ride through London's Hyde Park.  It ran about $120 based on the current conversion, and also lasted an hour.  But the stables were much closer to the park, and once we were done with the ride, there was a sense we were being rushed out the door.  By contrast, no one at Chateau made me feel rushed, we were chatting like we had known each other forever, and I felt like I was visiting a friend's barn.  We felt welcomed and that was such a great way to end the ride.

Second floor at Chateau

The Traffic
Just because someone might be wondering - we watched Hudson and Charlie navigate the walk down to W48th through NYC peak traffic.   They never left our sight.  And you know how many times we held our breaths in fear of horses in such dense traffic?  We didn't.  The only remotely hairy moment was when Charlie spooked at some caution tape....but there was (thankfully) no traffic at that moment.  It lasted about 2 seconds and the rest of the 99.99% of the walk down was totally uneventful.  Horses were relaxed.  Traffic was respectful.  Traffic was actually more respectful than what I would usually encounter on the back country roads in Nebraska.  For the whole 19 block walk.


I know...I was shocked too.

The Urban Horse Debate
If you've read this blog or hit any of the links to the right, you may have noticed that I'm an avid NYC carriage horse supporter.  I go to NYC several times a year, and have never seen a horse in the city that caused me concern.  All were in good weight, relaxed, sound, and getting good exercise.  I defended the trade against animal rights nutjobs and worked to educate my non-horse friends.  I've taken carriage rides.  I firmly believe that a horse with a job is a horse that is happier and SAFER than a horse without one.  That is a horse that is in danger.  The NYC carriage horses are highly regulated and doing a job they were bred for.  They have better healthcare and vacation plans than most humans I know.

While the ban is dead, these folks still come across daily abuse from animal rights protestors.  They still get criticism from fellow horse lovers.  Is walking 15-20 blocks in city traffic between their stables and the park (and back) ideal?  Of course not.  Would it be best to have the horses stabled in the park?  Of course.  But that will never happen.  Too many horses, and absolutely no space in the park available.  You know what?  That is okay.  Having just ridden through it, I think I appreciate Central Park even more now and understand better than before just how precious every square foot of that green space is.  So many people go there to get away from the concrete jungle.  It needs to preserved as is.  The horses are fine.  I was happy to get to spend 5 minutes with one of the carriage drivers on our way to meet up for our ride.  It was 5 minutes of talking to someone like an old friend - a fellow horseman and horse lover who had a passion for his animals.  I was happy to offer my support and he was happy to have some kind words (and yes, we took a carriage ride later that afternoon).

Some horse people will forever be against horses in the city, and that's their opinion.  My opinion is based on seeing horses many times in the city, both in the park and out, and now having seen one of the stables.  I will support these urban horses.  The life isn't ideal, but it's clearly working for them.  The horses that aren't suited to the city, don't stay in the city.  And those that do stay, get out on the farm AT LEAST five weeks out of the year.  Many have far more farm time than that.  Bottom line, these horses are wanted.  They're well taken care of.  They're someone's livelihood.  Both Hudson and Charlie were relaxed and happy doing their jobs.  Because if I learned only one thing during my Central Park trail ride, you don't make an 1800lb horse do anything it doesn't want to do!

World Cup Finals 2017 - Omaha bound!

I'm flying back out to Omaha on Tuesday to enjoy the FEI World Cup Finals Omaha 2017.  I am so excited to return to Omaha, where I spent the better part of six years and where Soon and I got our start.  Omaha and Nebraska have a special place in my heart.  I'll defend them to the death from any ignorant asshat who dared open their mouths and complain that the FEI awarded the Finals to Omaha in the first place.

Looking at you, Facebookers and COTHers who whined like little bitches.

This is a chance for the world to see a different type of American city.  I love Las Vegas, my Vegas trips are some of the most fun I've had ever, but let's face it - this is a chance for the globe to see what the middle of America has to offer.  And it offers the chance to grow the sport in a thirsty market.

Omaha is a great city, with all the conveniences and very few of the hassles.  The people are fabulous and they get behind events like this.  The city hosts the College World Series, which brings 300K+ people to the Omaha area annually.  The expected 70K (?) for the World Cup will be nothing.  The international horses enjoyed a short, probably 10 minute trailer ride from Eppley to the CenturyLink Center.  The Omaha Equestrian folks have been working the last six or so years hosting the International Omaha jumper show at that venue, honing their skills.  I attended the first three years and saw a very polished product by the time I left in 2014.  I expect that they will be on point for World Cup. 

I'm excited to spend time with great friends that I consider family.  I'm thrilled to share Omaha and Nebraska with my horsey buddy who's making the trip with me.  And of course I'm beyond excited to spend five days completely immersed in the best competition in the world.

I moved to Nebraska for love.  It didn't work out...but a few years later I found it in an adorable little bay gelding, so I guess in the end I found love after all.  Nebraska, its country, its people...I fell in love with them too.

Some of my favorite photos of Soon and I in Nebraska:

My cool Nebraska guy...

Third Annual Spring Yak Shaving Festival

Yesterday was our third annual Spring Yak Shaving Festival.


I had to overcome a really bad night on Friday, where a mandatory formal dinner event kept me out late and gave me a horrible, nauseating headache.  I thought I was past that stage with this concussion, but I'm still finding my limits and trying to stay within them in order to not feel like trash.  Anyway...after a late start on Saturday morning, I managed to:

- Quick hack around the farm
- Bathe Soonie
- Deep clean (soap and oil) bridle including scrubbing all the built up winter grime off and finally deciding to replace the (newly cleaned) laced reins with the rubber reins...BECAUSE WHY AM I USING LACE REINS ANYWAY
- Clean/oil the CWD
- Full clip Soon
- Not die

It got especially sporty when I realized this whole saga should have been titled "A Body Clip Too Far," since the motor on my poor Andis clippers sounded like it was on its last legs.  And let me tell you, when you're starting a full body clip and the clippers sound like they're not gonna make it...this is what that looks like:

We made it through.  Barely.  It was dodgey at the top of his rump and his lower legs, where it's very tough to get those totally clean with 3 inches of hair, and the clippers have to be really on point to cut through the grime.  Thankfully, Soon is a trooper and didn't seem to mind it taking a little longer than it should have.

I wish I could have gotten the cute parts of the clip on film, mainly him being a perfect freaking angel, including him "helping" me clip his face by putting his head exactly where I needed it to be depending what section I was trying to clip.  Totes adorbs. 

How Soon looks now when he gets ready for work

I admit, I was thinking of hiring someone to come out and clip him for me this spring.  But I'm glad I did it myself as usual.  There is something immensely satisfying about doing all the grooming work on your own horse.  I have absurdly high grooming it's always nice knowing that my horse looks ready to walk into WEF (now that it's over....) and I did that.  Job Recreation satisfaction!

He felt a little supercharged today with it being a little cooler and rainy today, so I'm sure that felt interesting on his nekkid body, but he was super polite about it as always, and we had a nice little flat school.  I'm looking forward to getting back from Omaha (World Cup here I come!) and having a perfectly clipped horse and perfectly clean gear to carry out my newfound motivation.

But best of all, no more of this...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What have we been up to...


Well...That's not entirely accurate.  Here's a low-down:

- Did not go to Anne Kursinski clinic in November due to mild "not quite right"-ness in Soon's right front ankle.  I'm calling it Racing Ankle now and it has since calmed the hell down.  Fought like hell to get up to Market Street in December for lessons, but couldn't nail down dates.  We might try lessons this spring, but likely will just try the November 2017 clinic if all else fails.

- Did a consolation Ray Wheeler clinic with Soonie in November and he jumped around like a super star.  I loved working with Ray.  Felt good about my life decisions.

Finally got that random photoshoot shot.  Didn't suck.

- Jumped back into my hockey routine by joining two teams and had a blast. Hockey kind of ruled the winter.  I even backstopped my team to a huge win in the first ever Army/Navy hockey game at the Verizon Center.  It was kind of a big deal.  Check out this super duper awkward interview with me at the end of this video:

- Hockey also kind of ruined my winter.  Got a concussion playing with my men's team when two dudes essentially crashed into me and the net.  It has since been a saga of conflicting diagnoses and guidance from doctors, and now extra (unnecessary?) referrals courtesy of the head injury clinic...I think I'm close to getting cleared for full activity though, so keep fingers crossed.

We're making the best of my current situation though

My usual training routine with Soon has been completely thrown out the window since probably December.  Between my schedule, the weather, hockey, and now this concussion, pretty much the best I can do is inconsistent rides with little/no training goals.  Basically I'm at the "don't fall off and don't mess up the horse to where you'll hate yourself more later."  So...lots of hacking/hill work, some basic flat work in the ring, and a temporary ban on jumping until my brain gets cleared.  Once I get a green light, it's going to be full on 4-5 day/week training schedule with hopefully regular jump schools, lessons, and also hopefully some trail ride trips and cross-country outings.  In the short term, I get to look forward to our annual Spring Cleaning this weekend, where this guy gets a bath and a full clip:

Spring full clip:  BRING IT ON
Other things I need to blog about:
- Hopping up to NYC to ride horses in Central Park! :-D  Dream come true!

- GOING TO WORLD CUP!!  Flying back "home" to Omaha to catch up with some wonderful friends and enjoy the top horse sport in the world.  Competition starts in 7 days, get psyched!!

It should be a good summer.  Bubba seems to think so anyway...