THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 13
National Horse Show
November 1947 was the first year that Pony Classes for children would be included in the National Horse Show in New York. Anne-Dicky (Dickerson) Parish, a cousin of my mother’s, lived up in North Salem, New York and was as horse-crazy as was my Mum. Anne-Dicky owned a small chestnut red pony named Robin Red Breast and between the two Mums, they were determined to go to the National Show and too, that Robin Red Breast should be shown in the Small Pony Hunter Division. I suddenly found myself competing in the Nationals in New York City! What a hoot for a six year old. All my dreams scrambled up with magic, were now a reality. Formally dressed in English riding attire, I was delighted with the opportunity. There was so much to do to get ready for this big event.
Proper attire was very important. Somehow Mummy managed to outfit me very correctly, in high black, leather boots with patent leather tops, short-shank spurs, and the required boot straps which were to rest on the third button of my English styled, buff colored breeches! My clothes were pieced together from family and friends and some were purchased from second hand shops. A yellow wool vest was worn under a black Melton, fitted riding jacket. The costume was completed with a white linen stock, which swaddled my neck and was held in place with a plain gold colored safety pin. All children wore black velvet hunt caps secured to our head with wide elastic bands under our chins. There was a black grow grain ribbon on the back of the hunt cap which was placed upside down and sewn in place. This designated emblem stated one’s position in the hunt field, should one ever go out on a fox hunt!
The higher up members of the hunt, wore “ Pink “ riding coats. “ Pink” riding coats were called Pink, because they had been created especially for fox hunting attire, by a tailor in London whose last name just happened to be Pink…Hence the title of the Pink coats ever since! The hunt caps bore the same emblem but it was applied right side up. Lots of details like this were very important in formal riding dress. Two pairs of gloves were needed. Leather gloves made of pig skin, and only pig skin, were worn, under sunny conditions, because they made for a good grip on the leather reins, and kept them from slipping through your fingers. However, if it should happen to rain, well then, under the skirt of the saddle, would be tucked away, a pair of white string gloves which were to be used by the rider should he or she happen to encounter inclement weather. The pig skin gloves would be removed and stuffed into your pocket in your riding jacket and then the white string gloves were to be used because they were the best for holding on to wet and slippery, leather reins. The gloves were secured under the billets, below the billet guards of the saddle, which secured the girth to the saddle and thus on to the horse! They were folded up in such a way that exactly three fingers of the white string gloves would protrude out in front of the skirt of the saddle, so that the rider could grasp them easily should they be needed. All of these ridiculously petty “appointments” developed over time, becoming a foxhunt and horse show tradition and all of these things were needed to complete one’s attire for any formal occasion. Originally each item had a specific use. For example, in an emergency, the riding stock could be used as a bandage or perhaps a sling or tourniquet should the rider fall and break an arm or collarbone. Hungry? A sandwich case was attached to the seat of the saddle and contained a metal sandwich box and glass flask for something to drink. All bridle parts were sewn in. i.e. no buckles were allowed. ( I Never did understand the reasoning behind this requirement) A leather breastplate for the pony must also be included, with a martingale. We had to carry a classic English hunting whip and be able to use it, by cracking the whip over your head while on board your pony! I practiced at home while standing up on a chair in the middle of the living room and I practiced a lot before I practiced this activity on my patient pony. Poor, poor pony if you missed! Wow! All of this attention to every detail and all in the correct sizes for a six year old! However did they manage it!
My Mum was my riding teacher. Together, we practiced jumping over stonewalls and green grass banks, while galloping over the prescribed zigzag courses, all in preparation for the jumping classes in New York. We practiced in noisy situations in an indoor riding arena too, with lots of bright lights, hoping to accustom Robin Red Breast to the strange sights and sounds of the city. I do not know how we fitted school and horse shows together but we did. I am quite sure though, that hooky had to be a part of it. Children’s Classes were to be held on Saturday and Sunday, November 8th and 9th.
With all of this hustle and bustle, we left home with many suitcases and headed for the Belvedere Hotel on Friday night. We got up at five a.m. and rushed over to Madison Square Garden to feed and water the pony. Down burlap covered ramps we bounded, to the Garden’s basement where Robin was stabled. She was cleaned and polished. Her mane and tail were braided for the occasion by Anne-Dickey’s stableman, Jordan. Then we were ready for the big day to begin. In between the pony classes, I had enough free time to visit with the Royal Canadian, Mounted Policemen and their horses that were also showing in the Garden. It was the first time I would see the splendid white Lipizzaner horses from The Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. Colonel Alois Podjahsky, head of the Riding school, was kind enough to hoist me up onto his splendid white stallion and give me a ride around the Garden basement. That special time was one of the dreams that you keep for a lifetime.
A small orchestra was nestled above the western end of the horse show ring. Both the Canadian Mounty’s horses and the Lipizzan stallions danced through their performances to live music. They were magnificent. Riding to music was a new concept for me. I immediately recognized that this is how life should always be. It should be with music! Hence forth and forever more, I declared to myself, and began to sing songs to my pony, confident that he would enjoy the music as much as I did. I was determined to teach my pony all of the tricks, which I had seen in the city, just as soon as I returned home.
Easy and I would continue to compete in the National Horse Show over the years until we went to college. The complex preparations for Horse Shows, and the competitions themselves, were some of the learning experiences, which become your own library from which to draw inspiration, later in life. The world of horses and ponies, teach love, responsibility, courage, understanding and the value and rewards of hard work.
By December of 1948, it was clear that Easy and I had out grown out little ponies. Our dear Grandmother managed to find two more ponies. “Fox-Trot” for me and “Mr. Chips” for Easy. Mummy started to teach neighborhood children how to ride, in order to help pay for the feed and hay for our ponies. They brought their friends and their ponies and all of a sudden there were lots of ponies and lots children on the Kelsey Farm. In addition to starting the riding school our Mum also started a day camp for us in the summer time. She also funded the Pegasus Project, which involves pony riding therapy for severely disabled children. The children’s camp, the riding school and Pegasus, are still active today and are being run by my twin sister Easy. Many ponies have lived in our lives, helping us to grow up and become responsible, productive citizens.