Dec 21, 2015

Christmas Miracles Do Exist--Just Look at the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club

By Maggie Junkin

Several years ago my grandmother gave me the book “Fletcher Street” by Martha Camarillo for Christmas.  As I paged through glossy photos I saw a side of Philadelphia I didn’t know.  Not the center city I have come to cherish from taking the train into town to see the Christmas light show or having lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. 

From the train windows I would always see glimpses of North Philadelphia.  Boarded-up city neighborhoods crippled with poverty, crime, and drug problems.  But Fletcher Street, in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, is different.  Horses are the focus and the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club has been around for decades, giving kids my age a chance to escape the life of drugs and violence; kids that share the same love of horses I have.  

When my grandmother gave me that book, Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club was strong--a safe place for kids to escape to and where they could learn responsibility through hard work and horsemanship.  It also gave many horses a second chance at life and escape from the slaughterhouses. 

However, since that book was published the club has hit hard times.  In 2008, the City’s Redevelopment Authority ordered the club off the land nicknamed  “Fletcher Field."  They bulldozed all the barns and corrals.  Ever since, the club has struggled to exist.

 Ellis Ferrell, Jr., is the club’s president. He has dreamed of land to call his own.  Land that he could build his own stables on and provide a positive future for the club.  In the last year a glimmer of hope came in the form of a vacant lot, donated by real estate investor Adam Ehrlich.  Now that Ellis finally had his vacant lot, it unfortunately was not empty. Unoccupied for years, people had used the lot as a dumping ground. It was filled with mountains of trash.

This is when local horse enthusiasts learned of the club’s need for help.  With the help of social media, donations of barn supplies and tack were collected at a local horse show.  Karen Raach, of Rock Solid Stables in Limerick, Penn. organized efforts to help the club.  When the time came to clear the lot, Dominique Damico, of Ramble on Farm in Berwyn, Penn. enlisted the help of her boyfriend, Dan Aquilante, of Aquilante Construction, who immediately organized a crew to clear the land the day after Thanksgiving.  John Mastriano of Tustin Farm in Hainesport, NJ and his wife, Audrey Winzinger, of Winzinger, Inc. were watching the story unfold on Facebook and were thinking of ways to help beyond donating blankets or feed.  When Dan stepped into the story, Audrey knew immediately how they could help.  Dan had cleared the lot by then, and he and Audrey got together to figure out what material was needed to stabilize the ground.  The Winzinger Company donated and delivered 125 tons of recycled concrete.

The lot ground is now flat, ready, and stable for building.  With the magic of Facebook this small horse community stepped in and helped carry the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club one step closer to their dream.

They are now in need of help for their final phase.  The club is raising money for building their stables.  I invite you to go to their Facebook page, Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, where you will find their Rally Fundraiser page.  

Learn more about their journey to turn dreams into reality to give kids and horses a better life together.  In this season of giving please consider a donation to support this inner city safe haven.

Maggie Junkin is a 13 year-old who competes in the large pony division.  She is committed to animal rescue.  Her favorite rescue to support is Danny and Ron’s Rescue.  She lives with her family, 6 dogs and 3 cats in Jenkintown, Penn.

Dec 16, 2015

The 16 Things Riders on the Circuit Really Want for Christmas

By Kim Ablon Whitney

1. Real bathrooms somewhere other than WEF.  Or at least a porta-potty that hasn't been sitting in the baking sun for hours on end.

2. A month where the vet bill comes and there's a $0.00 balance.  Or at least a bill that doesn't make you feel faint.

3. To feel certain that it doesn't matter what trainer is standing at the in-gate.  Excuse me, Andre, could you just stand at the in-gate while I'm in the ring and look like you're my trainer for a few minutes?

4. A washable show coat that doesn't need a once-over with the steamer.  Of course we should just be happy they're washable now.

5. A husband or father who says, "You really need another horse."  Then he'll add, "Get another saddle and a few more dogs while you're at it."

6. White breeches that actually stay white.  Or at least a year's supply of Tide Boost pods.

7For everyone at the shows to be friendly and courteous.  No one cutting anyone off in the schooling ring, taking your spot in the order, or yelling at you for riding too close.  Everyone smiling and saying 'hello' and 'how's your day going?'  Oh yeah, and a horse show manager that asks what he can be doing better.

8. A horse that stays healthy.  No soft-tissue injuries.  No abscesses.  No colic surgeries.  No Lyme's Disease.  No kissing-spine.  No nothing.  A hearty, sound horse.

9. A bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich that is calorie free.  Or at least a moratorium on the amazing smell of this quintessential horse show breakfast wafting out over the show grounds.  Seriously, how is anyone supposed to fight that urge?

10. A quality hunter that could win at big shows for a reasonable price.  Okay, it's not like we're asking for a horse that can win at Devon to cost $10,000, but under $100,000 would be nice.

11. For styles to stay the same for at least a year.  What?  I need a new $600 helmet and $300 breeches?  My brands are already out of vogue?

12. Flights back and forth from WEF that aren't delayed.  Never, ever say this one to anyone who is stuck in the Northeast for the winter!

13. To be treated as well as your horse.  Massage, acupuncture, supplements, new clothes, daily exercise, tons of treats.  Ah, to live your horse's life!

14. For every show to end before five o'clock.  No late days where you're competing when the sun is going down and the judge can barely see straight.  Instead, you'll be done in plenty of time to shower and go out for a nice dinner with your horse show friends. 

15. To get the perfect photo.  You know, the one where your horse's knees are perfect, his ears are up, his eyes are open, your leg isn't slipping back, you're not ducking, and you're not making that weird face you tend to make.

16. For horse show people to realize there's life outside of the circuit.  It's really okay to talk about something other than horses.  There's a whole wide world out there with a lot of wonderful, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking things going on.  Let's keep our perspective, people.... 

Wait, does that mean flights that aren't delayed are off the list?!

Kim Ablon Whitney's 40-page prequel, Hannah & Chris: Before the Circuit, will be free on Amazon for Kindle on December 19th.

Nov 16, 2015

The Five Types of IHSA & IEA Horses

by Kim Ablon Whitney

I love judging IHSA and IEA shows.  Both are great organizations that offer a fun, reasonably priced way for beginners to learn how to ride and for advanced riders to build up their skills and enjoy being part of a team.  And neither organization would exist without the wonderful horses that kindly allow different people to jump on their backs a bunch of times in one day.  In judging IHSA and IEA, I have noticed that there are certain types of horses you see…

1. The Starmaker
He’s pretty, comfortable, and calm.  He has a big rhythmic stride, does auto-changes, frames up, and basically looks like a horse that would fit in at any low level eq or hunter classes below three-feet at most A shows.  

I call him the Starmaker because every single rider—from novice to open—looks good on him.  He’s easy to find a distance on and finds the distance himself when needed.  Everyone is hoping to draw this horse because he makes nearly any rider look like Tori Colvin.

2. No Change Charlie
Not only does he never do flying changes, he doesn’t even like doing simple changes.  He also enjoys picking up the wrong lead on the flat and when starting a course over fences, swapping leads on the flat (beautiful flying changes here even though he doesn’t do flying changes), and cantering in front while trotting behind.

3. Runaround Sue
This horse has one speed—locomotive.  She jigs at the walk, flies around the ring at the trot, and is out of control at the canter.  Somehow, though, over fences she manages to gallop around the ring at breakneck speed yet still add five strides in every line.  Most riders have a look of total fear when they are on this horse.

4. Tiny Tim
He’s 12.3, usually a paint or an appy.  Always furry no matter what time of year of the show.  He’s probably 32 years old but still going strong.  Somehow the largest rider always draws him and her legs hang down to his pasterns.  He’s also usually impossible to get to canter, preferring to just trot a little faster as said rider flails and kicks.  Also prone to breaking five times on course.

5. Rocky Road
Rocky is the most uncomfortable horse anyone has ever ridden.  It’s like riding on a bull dozer inside a tornado.  Even the open riders look like they can barely post on him.  The beginner riders?  It’s a miracle they stay on at all.  When sitting trot is called, a judge just feels overwhelming pity.

But seriously, all these horses are great.  Each teaches the riders in its own way.  And it’s up to the judge to try to look past each horse’s innate differences to evaluate the rider--often no easy feat!

Kim Ablon Whitney is a 'R' judge in hunters, equitation, and jumpers.  She's also the author of the Show Circuit Series.

Nov 4, 2015

What Would George Do (WWGD)?

By Kim Ablon Whitney

Dear Mr. Morris,

I'm certain you don't remember this, but many years ago I wrote to ask if I could learner  judge with you.  I was just starting out as a judge at the time.  I had my New England Horsemen's Council judge's card, which I got at the earliest age possible, 18.  I could not yet apply for my USEF 'r' until I was 21.  

I noticed that you were listed in the prize list to judge at the Myopia Hunt Course Labor Day show.  Back then, there were no hunter derbies and Myopia was one of the only shows that used some of its natural obstacles in regular classes.  The show wasn't USEF-rated but it always got good attendance for the beautiful setting and the chance for courageous riders to show over more interesting courses.

I couldn't believe my luck--you were judging at a show so close to me!  I gathered up all my own courage and wrote you a letter (this was back before email).  I outlined my experience competing in the equitation and cited my NEHC license and asked if I might be able to sit with you at Myopia.

Did I expect to hear back?  No.  But then it happened.  I remember the phone ringing in my house (landline, no cell phones yet either).  I picked up.  "Hello?"

Next came your trademark slow and creaky voice.  "Kim, this is George Morris.  I received your letter."

I nearly fell over.  At best I had envisioned you possibly jotting me a quick note to tell me no and sending it in the mail.  I never imagined you'd call.

You said you would love to have me sit with you but unfortunately your plans had changed and you weren't judging the show anymore.  Wendy Chapot was filling in for you and you suggested I ask her.  

I thanked you profusely and hung up, still in awe, my hands shaking.  In the end, I did call Wendy and I had a great, educational day sitting with her.

I never got to learner judge with you.  But I still learned from you.  I learned that no matter how important you become, you are never too important to be polite and responsive to someone.

Too often today, contacting someone becomes a tireless game of chase.  Phone calls go unanswered and so do emails.  I know of learner judges who contact judges or management and often get no response.  

I also know of judges who simply won't take learner judges (I'm not just talking about saying no to unqualified learner judges or to having a learner at a high stress show, such as a WCHR show).  

I suppose when you are a senior judge, you have earned the right to say no to learner judges, but you, Mr. Morris, were pretty senior and you a) would have let me sit with you and b) took the time to call to tell me you weren't able to judge that day.

Why?  My guess is because you dedicate yourself to teaching others better horsemanship--whether that be through riding, auditing, reading, or judging.  And because you simply were raised with manners.

When faced with situations of how to respond to people or how to treat them, I wish more judges, trainers, and riders would ask, WWGD? 

Kim Ablon Whitney is a 'R' judge in hunters, equitation & jumpers.  She is also the author of the Show Circuit series.

Oct 29, 2015

Asking the Hard Questions

By Kim Ablon Whitney

I want to applaud The Chronicle of the Horse Associate Editor, Molly Sorge, for her commentary in the October 26th issue.  

If you haven't seen it yet, Molly shares how she asked both Betsee Parker and Tori Colvin "about the effect that the backlash of Inclusive's positive test for GABA has had on them."  Molly confesses she was "shockingly disappointed in the answers," which were vague and even a bit odd (Parker relayed that: "things have been about as wonderful as they could ever have been.")

She was only asking the hard questions, which is what every journalist is supposed to do.  "I'm a reporter.  It's my job," she wrote. 

In mainstream professional sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), the media serves an important role.  Print, online, and TV reporters cover the games--giving fans the pertinent facts from the games.  But they also interview the players to relay their perspective about the competition, the sport, and the other teams and players.  

Reporters also give their opinions on plays, performances, and attitudes, and those opinions are not always kind.  Reporters can be critical of a player not hustling on a play, or flipping his bat when he hits a home run.  On a larger scale, the amount of words written about steroid use in baseball and the players who were involved could wallpaper a small planet.

Alex Rodriguez has been ripped by the media for his steroid use.

I've covered the show circuit for many publications and I've often felt that our job as reporters for the horse show world was only to report the happy moments: the big wins, the hardworking riders, the talented horses.  Basically, I felt I was supposed to make it all rainbows and unicorns.

I have always longed for a more investigative look at our world--to bring to the surface the bad parts that we all see on a day-to-day basis.  Our sport is like any other--we have our warts.  There are riders who have poor attitudes, or horses that get nerved when they come up lame so they can keep showing.  There are horses that are drugged to be quiet.  Where are the interviews with these riders, or the interviews with riders speaking out against these practices?  Where is the story of the horse that was thrown away when it couldn't perform--where is the story that has no happy ending?

In other professional sports, some reporters are known--and sometimes despised by players--for their penchant for asking the hard questions.  In Boston, one of our best sports reporters and columnists is Dan Shaughnessy, who writes for The Boston Globe.  Dan has even been given disparaging nicknames by certain players because he hasn't just tossed them softball questions or written to their egos.

A Washington Post article chastising Bryce Harper for not hustling on a play.

Some players won't speak to the media or won't speak to particular members of the media.  Others learn to deflect questions.  But most understand that speaking with the media is part of the deal.

Perhaps publications covering the show circuit aren't asking the tough questions because then those riders will refuse to grant them interviews anymore.  That, in part, is what has stopped me from asking tougher questions.  Certain riders or trainers might blackball certain writers.

But in order for our sport to become more mainstream, we need to look at all aspects of it.  We need to hold our "players" to higher standards, and we need to write about it publicly when they fail.

I hope Molly's commentary is the beginning of asking more of the hard questions and the beginning of riders giving the answers.

Kim Ablon Whitney is a 'R' judge in hunters, equitation, and jumpers.  She is the author of the Show Circuit novels.

Oct 22, 2015

Top 6 Things Pony Riders Love About The Washington International Horse Show

by Maggie Junkin

1. Walking the city streets of D.C. and visiting the White House.  See, Mom, it's not just a horse show... it's actually educational!

2.  Showing in the Verizon Center -- super cool venue!  How awesome is it to show where a professional basketball and hockey team plays?

3.The Jumbotron.  Seeing your name up in lights?  Priceless!

4. Stabling in the streets.  Not sure it's the ponies' first choice for stabling but it's a pretty cool experience.

5. The shopping.  The best shopping experience of any horse show. An entire concourse of equine retailers and unique boutiques. They even have a candy store with chocolate covered bacon!

 6. The ribbons.  It doesn't matter what color you get, they're all beautiful with an amazing medal in the middle of the rosettes.  These are ribbons to treasure for years to come.

Maggie Junkin is a pony rider and animal advocate who has raised lots of awareness and money for Danny & Ron's Rescue.  In 2013 Maggie was fifth at Washington in the small pony hunter stakes class with Foxlair Fantasia. WIHS is her favorite horse show and she hopes to have the opportunity to show there again someday.