Posts Tagged horseback riding

Unbelievable Athletic Achievement

Been away for two weeks and just about caught up. But have to show you this astonishing achievement by a very avid horseback rider. Will wonders never cease? A fabulous Halloween week picture from Central Park, NY by Bill Cunningham:


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Goofy Prancercise May Be For You

Well I finally heard of Prancercise. I only went to France for a week, but one author said, “Wait, what’s prancercise? Have you been living in Pyongyang or something? It’s an exercise routine inspired by horses, featuring such moves as “the prancercise gallop” and “the prancercise box” as well as some incredible rhymes by its instructor and founder, Rohrback, decked out in a crisp salmon jacket and some very revealing white pants:

“We’re gonna really cut the noose and let it loose, with the prancercise gallop.” ”

Joanna Rohrback knows you are laughing at her, and she doesn’t care.

She’s aware that people think her exercise routine “Prancercise” is “goofy,” and that by extension its founder must be “spooky and goofy and weird and wacky. I say bring it on. I love it. Look at all the attention it’s getting me. If I wasn’t all those things, I wouldn’t be who I am.”

You can see the original routine below, and you can read more right here .

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Mother’s Day Roundup

think you can stop one of these horses when it wants to run away?  How about three of them without halters?

think you can stop one of these horses when it wants to run away? How about three of them without halters?

There are times in my life, when I feel no one else in the world—or very few people—are doing what I am doing at that exact moment. I once assured my lawyer that I was his only client that day—or ever—cleaning the inside of a horse’s sheath (the tubular skin that houses the penis). He agreed. I often told myself that no other CEO’s were mucking horse manure, when I had to do that chore.

I was reminded four days ago of those rare and special moments. Strange how many of them involve horses. We left the house just in time to head for my mother-in-law’s Mother’s Day lunch at her nursing home. Well into her 80’s, she is easily unsettled if we are late to the dining room. Just as we were about to drive off, I heard that a pair of sunglasses was missing. “Grandma is going to be upset,” I announced. And I waited for my passenger to make the trip back inside to search for the needed opticals. Thank goodness for this few seconds delay.

When we finally set off, I looked to the left and saw three Cleveland Bay horses staring at us from the driveway. It took me a few seconds to realize they had escaped from their fenced-in pasture. The last time this happened, two of them were in open fields and took almost an hour to round up. They looked great cantering through the tall summer grass. But it’s no joke if they make it to the road and are hit by a car.

this gives you an idea how big  a Cleveland Bay horse is

this gives you an idea how big a Cleveland Bay horse is

Now we had three mares wondering how they got there and what they should do. I quickly made a sharp turn to block one stone-wall opening, hopped out of the car, and tried unsuccessfully to prevent the lead mare from going though the other opening of our circular driveway and head down toward the road. Did you ever try to stop a 16-hand-high frolicking horse with your bare hands? Helluva trick. Impossible. “Grandma is really going to be pissed,” I thought.

“How did they get out?” my daughter asked innocently. “Doesn’t matter now,” I blurted, “We have to get them back inside.” You can really see the pragmatist side of me in moments like this one.I raced the car to the barn, picked out some neck ropes and threw grain into a bucket.”This is going to be quite a trick,” I thought, running through the fields after “wild” horses in my loafers and dress-up clothes.

But miraculously, shaking the grain bucket worked like a snake charmer. Those horses heard that food 200 yards away and came right back toward the barn. My daughter blocked one other passageway by standing in it with both arms spread out asking, “What do I do if they charge me?” “Get out of the way,” I told her, as I put a neck rope around one horse chomping grain and led her into the stable. The other two followed automatically. All three horses were soon in their stalls, and we were driving towards Grandma’s luncheon.

The whole incident lasted less than 10 minutes. We couldn’t believe what had just happened, and it all seemed surreal. Now who do you know who started their Mother’s Day like that? A small adventure in a somewhat special day made even more special and unforgettable, because someone left open a gate and someone else wanted her sunglasses. The difference a few seconds can make. If we had left an instant earlier, no one would have been there to stop those horses from running free all over the farm and maybe into the road. Lucky break.

I was proud that I knew what to do, was unafraid to do it, and saw that it worked. A non-event if you are a rancher or handling horses every day. But I am not and don’t, and was pleased how far I’d come from a small house on Miami Beach, where I grew up with frogs and pollywogs.

What did you do on Mother’s Day? Chase any horses? Wrestle some alligators?

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Uplifting Splendor Of Friesian Horses In Motion

My friend Carolyn wrote, “This video is for a horse lover like you. This was my fantasy horse when I was 9. Still is.” Even if you are not into horses, the magnificence and poetic, flowing motion of these Friesians will lift your spirits and bring you close to flowing tears. In the midst of bad news and a down couple of days, I am positively grateful for this gift from a friend in California.

Here is some background:

The Koninklijk Friesch Paarden-Stamboek (Dutch: Royal Friesian Horse Studbook (KFPS) is the oldest studbook in the Netherlands and promotes the interests of the Friesian horse. The KFPS has been realizing this by the meticulous registration of Friesian horses since the time it was founded in 1879. In addition, the KFPS has established a breeding program to maintain and further refine the unique characteristics of the Friesian horse.

The KFPS is an international studbook with 15,000 members of which almost half are located outside of the Netherlands. Friesian horses can be found on every continent and in more than fifty countries.

The interest in the Friesian horse has exploded in recent decades. As a result, the breed now has a population of 60,000 registered horses. More and more horse lovers are impressed by their regal bearing, their suitability for both recreational and professional equestrian sports, and their friendly character.

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Hiroshi Hoketsu Is A Better Olympic Horseback Rider At 70 than At 40

Hiroshi Hoketsu, age 71, is this Olympics' oldest competitor

The female gymnasts are often children, just 15 or 16 years old. But here is a story by Martin Rogers about the oldest competitor in this year’s Olympics, a Japanese equestrian who is 71. Most impressive is that he says “I am a better rider at 70 than I was at 40.”

The oldest competitor at the 2012 Olympic Games has revealed the extraordinary sacrifices he has made in order to remain a medal contender well past retirement age.

Hiroshi Hoketsu, who will represent Japan in the equestrian discipline of dressage at the age of 71, told Yahoo! Sports how chasing a slice of history and becoming the oldest Olympian in the last 92 years is the result of a fanatical commitment to the sport.

“I have not seen my wife, Motoko, for more than a year,” said Hoketsu, who lives and trains in the German town of Aachen in order to team up with his horse, Whisper, and his Dutch coach. “It is difficult to be away from home for this long as an old man and I owe everything to her patience and understanding.”

Hoketsu will take part in his third Olympics, 48 years after making his debut and finishing 40th as a show jumper on home soil at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Despite continuing to rise at 5 a.m. every day to ride horses, he quit competing and became a successful international businessman for pharmaceutical companies.

After hanging up his business suit and briefcase, Hoketsu still had the itch to compete and entered the world of competitive dressage at his wife’s insistence. At the time, neither predicted his comeback would result in qualification for the Beijing Games four years ago and now the London Games.

Hoketsu credits his performances to dedication and a bond with his mount that he describes as “magical.” He has become a star in his homeland and a poster boy for the elderly.

Although Hoketsu rises early every morning and attacks practice sessions with as much zeal as riders young enough to be his grandchildren, he confesses he does not adhere to the dietary regimen you might expect from an Olympic athlete.

“I eat what I want to eat and drink as much as I want to drink,” said Hoketsu through an interpreter. “People might expect that I am able to participate for so long because I have special habits. But my secret is to have a good life, enjoy yourself and do the things that make you happy.

“Having said that, I am out there riding horses every day for several hours. Then I come back in and do many exercises, to help with my strength, coordination, and, most importantly, my balance.”

Hoketsu is the oldest Olympian since Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn won bronze at the age of 72 at the 1920 Antwerp Games and would ride into the record books if he was able to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

Such an outcome is unlikely, but don’t rule it out just yet.

“My wife would like for this to be my last year of competition and that will probably be the case,” Hoketsu said. “But I still feel my riding is improving, little by little. That is my motivation. I am a better rider at 70 than I was at 40. Most people can’t tell but my body is getting a little weaker. My horse knows it and she helps me.”

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Marta Sweeney’s Passion For Horses

My passion for horses began on my first carousel ride. From that point on, the seed was planted: “I could be riding a real, live pony.” The dream never ended, there were stuffed horses on my bedside, life evolved and other priorities stepped in.

Marta Sweeney and Libby

Finally at the age of 42, I decided to take riding lessons on a horse called Max. He was a typical schooling horse who knew every trick in the book to get you off his back. I am continually fascinated by these massive creatures who allow us to ride on their backs. They deserve a great deal of respect.

The challenge continued for three more years, until I finally purchased Libby, a four-year-old, thoroughbred mare with papers that titled her Crowned Loyally. How appropriate for her personality.

After many years with this out-of-control youngster, the connection starts evolving. Everything becomes so comfortable and complete. I become incorporated with all the muscle and power beneath; she is communicating with the navigation above. It has turned into a perfect partnership.

Libby truly is my queen. She is 15 now. Quieter. Though she was never as spirited as many other thoroughbreds. She was never on the track. A relationship with a horse gives you the faith you need to be a competent rider. It makes the challenge of your journey together so worth the commitment.

We ride together four days a week. First we do a rigorous 30-minute workout in an indoor or outdoor arena, depending on the weather. They might be 100-150’ wide by 250-300’ long. We walk, trot, canter. Maybe do a little jumping. Libby has a stifle (knee) problem that is common in older age for horses. The worst thing is not to exercise a horse. It’s all a labor of love. Then Libby and I head out to the fields, occasionally the trails through the 400-acres available to us there. On Mondays I take a lesson to keep things in check. Sharyn, the manager of the barn where Libby boards, watches me as I ride, tweaking me, telling me not to lean too far forward and to make my turn and open my shoulder.

Marta riding Tristan

All three of my daughters ride, and so does my husband who had a lot of horse experiences as a kid. Our barn has many people in their 80’s still riding, all women, except for one guy. They are very physically fit, and this gives me a good goal to aim for.

Horseback riding takes a lot of lower body strength, your legs squeezing to create pressure that gets the horse to move forward. You work your abdominal muscles, and it’s good for cardio. You have to tuck in your stomach. You can’t have your stomach loose. It has to be tightened up. Your ankles are in an awkward angle, but you get used to it. When you are in bed at night, exhausted, it’s a good feeling of tiredness that relieves a ton of stress. It’s great for mental balance, and you sleep so much better.

It’s a real workout. When my daughter Amanda rides—she is 20, in college, and only gets on a horse occasionally now—after just half an hour she says, “My legs are killing me.”

For me it’s an addiction. All very good. It’s a great way to fill your day. I play golf too, but after 4-5 holes, I am yawning with restlessness. Not when I ride. There Libby and I are a team.

Some days she wants to work and follows my commands without a problem. She stands quietly near the mounting block, so I can rise into the saddle easily. When the weather is cool, there are no bugs, and she has had a good turnout, she is happy to be with me.

Other days she “says” “No, no, no, I don’t want to work,” and steps away from the mounting block. She drags me to the center of the arena instead of staying near the sides. She pins back her ears. Horses have so many ways of telling you when they don’t want to work, beginning with just getting them out of the paddock and saddled.

Horses are pretty easy to read if you are an animal person. Read the rest of this entry »

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Olympian Courtney King-Dye’s Scull Fracture Emphasizes The Dangers Of Horseback Riding Without A Helmet

Millions of people ride horses, a sport that has its exciting and dangerous moments. Kids start when they’re less than five, and I have a friend who sees riders in her barn in their late 80’s. I have another friend who at age 56 took up hunter-jumping, did endurance riding (25 miles in a day) in Arizona, then fell jumping back East, broke her back, healed, studied dressage, then reining, and is now learning western. She is a Greenwich suburbanite who is on a horse almost every day of the last 10 years. Now that is enthusiasm.

helmet on ira on Moose—2004

But I think in this sport, it is common. Horse riders—whether world class or simply local barn level— are often so committed to their sport that almost nothing will stop them from daily or frequent practice. They seem obsessed, blessed and are to be admired for their devotion and envied for their passion. I think more of them are women than men, but no matter how quiet and timid some of these ladies seem at a dinner table, they are determined to ride. I met such a female some years ago who rode every day for 17 years, driving to her horse’s barn a half hour or so away even in rainstorms and winter blizzards. She had to ride, even if it was indoors. Not mounting her horse daily was not an option. It was her life.

My first and only horse, Moose, an Arab-Percheron cross, died last year at age 27. But we had many great years of riding in the woods, pastures, jumping, and just being buddies. He only threw me a couple times, and could have often, when he was startled by a flushed grouse or a static tractor that he noticed. I was pretty good at shifting weight, squeezing legs and hanging on in a fraction of a frightening milli-second.

I always wore a helmet, as silly as it looked for me to be adorned in black velvet head gear on the road or plain dirt trail. But I was cautious, being brand new at the game, having only bought Moose when I was 50. I made myself learn to ride English, so I couldn’t hold on to a Western saddle horn when my horse cantered or galloped. At one point I was taking two-foot jumps bareback. Not bad for an old geezer in his mid-50’s.

With this simple background, I was very saddened to read that an Olympic rider, Courtney King-Dye, was injured last March and suffered a serious head injury, because she wasn’t wearing a helmet. Shocking. She was in a coma for about three weeks, and is now slightly recovered.

Courtney King-Dye and her late Olympic mount, Mythilus © 2008 by Nancy Jaffer

Here are excerpts from one news story:
Courtney often wears a helmet, but she was not in this instance. Lendon Gray, her mentor, said that for the last 15 years of her riding career, she wore a helmet and hoped she could encourage others to do the same, but helmets are rarely seen at a dressage show.

Another Grand Prix rider Heather Blitz has started a campaign that urges dressage riders to wear helmets, as she requires her students to do.

Citing the need for dressage riders to acknowledge the inherent risks of being on a horse, she said, “Courtney’s accident reminds us all how vulnerable we are around horses.

Recounting the accident, Lendon said of the horse, “We think one hind foot stepped on the other and he sort of semi sat down and tipped over sideways. Courtney was basically under him; she stayed in the tack and obviously her head hit the ground.”

Paramedics were on the scene quickly and Courtney, who had suffered a skull fracture, was taken by helicopter to the hospital. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fiona L’Estrange’s Life-Long Love Of Horses And Dressage

Horses have been part of my life most of my life. My father rode, my mother rode. My grandfather was absolutely passionate about horses. He was the British ambassador in Honduras and was able to get heavily into polo ponies…civil service allowed you to live the grand life. He had nothing—no money, an old car. Broke his hip riding a polo pony in his 80’s. That was chips for his riding. The end.

Fiona L'Estrange and Digger before their dressage demonstration at the 2002 Belmont Stakes

Fiona L'Estrange and Digger before their dressage demonstration at the 2002 Belmont Stakes

So I came by my love of horses honestly. In the genes. Always ridden since under age 10. Rode at boarding school. We had a house in London, where I grew up, lots of friends who rode and took lessons, and I went with them. I borrowed a pony when I was 11 and then graduated to horses.

I still take lessons—you have to, even those at the Olympic level have trainers. You always need eyes on the goal, especially with a horse you’re piloting. That’s what makes riding such a difficult sport.

“Horses are extraordinary and unique. No other animal could be so misjudged, mishandled, mistreated and abused and still try to serve willingly and to the best of it’s ability.”

People are always trying to make the horse submit. They shouldn’t do that. They try to make the horse think like a human. It doesn’t work out so well. You have to learn to read the horse and have a working partnership. The best riders know how to ask a horse to be his best. It’s the only way to have a great partnership. It’s a great feeling, I think for both horse and rider, when a session goes really well.

When I was growing up and through my teens, mostly riding in woods and fields, we played hunting games, like egg and spoon, balancing while galloping, sack races (hopping alongside the horse). It took lots of skill, practice and training. We had bending poles races (you weave left and right around them), relay races, teams. It teaches you to work together. I participated in Pony Club……it was all huge fun.

When I was 19, I came to America. There was a bit of hiatus while I was getting adjusted. I lived with a race car driver who traveled to various tracks around the country, so I decided to get back into riding during these race weekends–then suddenly I was riding around the New York area during the week too.

I also hunted both in the UK and here. The staff wear pink coats so that you can clearly see them in the field. They keep the hunt together. The Master leads the entire field. The Whippers-in are responsible for the hounds. The rest of us are in black jackets and tan britches.

In my early 20’s, I did a little bit of hunting in Rhinebeck, NY and took lessons at Claremont Stables in Central Park (in Manhattan at 89th street) for about a year and a half—sadly it has since closed.

I had a full-time job then as a Production Executive. I was up at 5-6 am and rode in Central Park on a thoroughbred I’d leased from an illustrator’s representative. Then I’d be at my office job by 9 or 9:30. Did that 5-6 days a week. When that horse developed arthritis, he was retired to a place that had a horse named Melly who was headed for the slaughterhouse. I bought him. My first horse.

Fiona and Digger cantering

Fiona and Digger cantering

Even though I was traveling for consulting business then to Japan and Italy, I started competing in dressage and eventing. Eventing is a real discipline—it is dressage, cross country, then show jumping all with the same horse and rider, all in one day—a true challenge for all.

I still like to gallop and jump, but not in competition. When you jump in eventing, the heights go from about 2’6” to nearly 4’. To be competitive, you also have to be concerned with speed. In the cross country phase, you go from light to dark and dark to light. You go up and down hills, all at the same speed. There are penalties for going over the allotted time.

In my late 20’s, I evolved into just doing dressage. I am mostly teaching just dressage now. For the most part, I won’t take people’s money to teach them to jump at a higher level—other trainers do it better.

After Melly died, I bought my second horse, Julian, who was largely unbroken, but turned into a really good eventer. Then two years later I sold him to a friend and bought Digger.

Digger and I have had 21 years of loving time together. I bought him as an unbroken two year old and did all the work with him myself. We entered major competitions and won major awards. In June 2002, we were invited by an Olympic judge to demonstrate dressage at the Belmont Park track in Long Island, NY, between races and just before the Belmont Stakes. A friend of mine created an audio using Shrek music, “I’m a Believer, sung by Eddie Murphy—did you realize there is a Princess Fiona in the Shrek movies? It was fabulous and fabulous fun to ride on that track in front of apparently 6 million people, both spectating and watching on tv! Actually I’ll bet most of the tv watchers were either in the loo or at the fridge!

on the track at Belmont Park

on the track at Belmont Park

There were so many friends, travel, fun and incidences. And it was a ton of work. We did well at the Devon horse show, the biggest dressage and breeding show in the country. Four exhausting days of competition in Devon, Pennsylvania. Amateurs can compete against professionals. Once I began teaching, I couldn’t be considered an amateur. So I am competing against many Olympic riders most of which are riding horses that cost a small fortune! You can pick your classes, but not who’s in them.

In dressage classes, you compete for a score, not just 1st, 2nd, 3rd through 6th. There is no money for winning. You are competing against yourself. 100% is perfect, but no one in the history of dressage has ever reached that. The highest so far is 82%, and my best was a 71%. There are from 7-28 movements in each test, and each one is graded 1 to 10. Then it’s all totaled and converted to a percentage.

What I love about dressage is that it’s very intellectual, a thinking person’s sport. Read the rest of this entry »

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Women Have Abs Too…Of Course

Here is a magazine cover of Gina Carano, the top female mixed martial arts fighter. Look at those muscles! And on the right is Fiona L’Estrange, who developed her abs and biceps on her horse farm by riding, dressage training, daily chores and yoga. Very impressive…

mixed martial arts top female fighter, gina carano—10/09

mixed martial arts top female fighter, gina carano—10/09

fiona's abs came from horseriding and farm chores—2007

fiona's abs came from horseriding and farm chores—2007

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18 Reasons Why Riding A Horse IS Better Than Sex

A horse-farm owner named Fiona L”Estrange, who is also an FEI dressage rider and also teaches and trains sent me this explanation of why she has spent much of her life riding horses. She has also promised to send some pictures of her abs if enough readers urge her on!

18- You don’t have to sneak your riding magazines into
the house.

17- If you are having trouble with riding, it’s
perfectly acceptable to pay a professional to show you
how to improve your technique.

16- The Ten Commandments don’t say anything about

15- If your trainer takes pictures or videotapes of
you riding, you don’t have to worry about them showing
up on the Internet when you become famous.

14- Your horse won’t keep asking questions about other
horses you’ve ridden.

13- It’s perfectly respectable to ride a horse you’ve
never met before, just once, or, ride many horses in
the same day, whether you know them or not. Read the rest of this entry »

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