My polo ponies may be out in the pasture, but they’re still on my mind… all the time. Are they eating enough? Will they be warm this winter? Gabby (above) is a pro at snow, but it’s the first Canadian winter for Mojito (below).
If you still haven’t rounded up the perfect gift for your horse-obsessed loved one this Christmas, allow me to suggest two books – both charming, but totally different from each other.
Lead with Your Heart: Lessons from a Life with Horses is written by a neurosurgeon with a passion for horses. Dr. Allan J. Hamilton’s writing style is not Dry MD — which is probably why he’s a script consultant for both Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. His book is a collection of bite-sized essays on training, peppered with examples from horses he’s worked with, and non-horse situations that he believes draw a clear parallel… like kids at the grocery store checkout.Horse Owners’ Essential Tips may have a humdrum name and yawn-inducing cover art, but this is definitely a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Inside, Philippe Meyrier’s down-to-earth conversational writing style, along with cute illustrations, detailing all kinds of great ideas. Tips include natural fly repellent, a cure for chapped lips, and -my favorite- a suggestion to stop ponies from nibbling on wooden fences or stall doors.Both books are a wonderful winter vacation read. I know I’ll be consulting them again in the spring, when it’s time to get my fat polo ponies fit again. Merry Christmas!
Wellington, Florida, bills itself as the Winter Equestrian Capital of the World. If you don’t happen to know famous residents and riders like Jennifer Gates, Eve Jobs, or Jessica Springsteen personally, chances are you might spot them en route to a hunter jumper venue, like this smiling commuter (people are friendly here). She might also be headed to The Tackeria, a tack shop extraordinaire located a block from where this photo was snapped.Horseback is the preferred mode of travel here, where streets have names like Quarter Horse Trail and Paddock Drive, and there’s a community named Mallet Hill. To make it even more equine-friendly, buttons for the walk signal are offered at rider height. Wellington is a village of approximately 60,000 people, 13 miles from the beach. For the estimated extra 15,000 who come in for “the season,” starting in November, many camp out in gated mansions, in gated communities. However, don’t go confusing this decadent Greek Revival barn with a residence. It’s just a barn. With a five-car garage. Some of the best restaurants are members only. Luckily Mason Phelps, powerhouse behind the equine-focused Phelps Media, and CEO-slash-CFO Chip McKenney, graciously invited me to experience the butteriest of chardonnays at The Golf House. Although Wellington has multiple golf courses, everyone who’s anyone knows which club the House is in. If you’re not from here, it’s a tad confusing. But a seasoned seasoner knows that the Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club doesn’t actually offer polo any more, although that doesn’t stop it from being a coveted residential address. Word on the well-heeled street is there are 57 private polo pitches in Wellington, far outnumbering actual polo clubs. Even though it’s not yet officially open (the high goal season is January through April) I ducked into the world-renowned International Polo Club. One of the few clubs in North America with grandstands, it also boasts artfully disguised water guns for the sprinkler system. If you want to, you can play polo every single month of the year in Wellington. Few do, but many play a whopping ten months, including Chip McKenney, founder of the Gay Polo League. He’s so dedicated to the cause, he’s devoted his license plates to it. And he’s tipped me off to a few places where I can jump in for some chukkers, even if I’m not a member. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other attractions in Wellington for the equine enthusiast, including…… the National Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and traditions of the sport. Stay tuned for insider polo tips and interviews… Blue Besos is hot on the heels of Wellington equine style all week!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. With apologies to Mr. Dickens.This was one of the best. I was so thrilled it was caught on camera. I’m just about to hit my third neck shot in a row, at a good pace, and still everyone’s hanging back, playing me for the miss. Ha! Not this time.Frequent rain, including several storms, made for a lot of missed games this season. Gabby survived being pelted with ice chips with no damage, unlike my car, but it was her pensive look that tugged on my heart strings. Which brings me to the worst of times. Losing my first horse, Simon, in March. We both still miss him. A lot.But when Simon moved on to the big polo field in the sky, the tale of two ponies had to continue, or I wouldn’t be able to play four chukkers this summer. After crying for weeks, I boarded a plane for the desert. During a whirlwind week of trying numerous horses, I discovered there’s a body type I prefer: short and round. Not Skinny might be a better way to put it. Mojito fit the bill, and her laid-back personality fit all the other requirements. Usually more motivated to go slower rather than faster, I spent a good deal of summer trying to encourage my new little 12-year-old with my heels. And, after inadvertently experiencing her top speed of 35 miles an hour (by all estimates of everyone at the club who saw The Runaway Of The Summer), I’m fine with her normal MO. She goes fast when I ask, and slows down when I ask. As long as I keep her off Gabby’s senior feed.Although the weather issues and the aforementioned runaway combined to cost me some of my polo mojo, there were many happy moments. Like whenever I managed to get ahead of Heidi.Or played with friends who were visiting from out of town.When I got smashed in the chin with a mallet two days before the President’s Club Ball, I wore black to match my bruise, and thanked my lucky stars I still had all my teeth.I still need to break my habit of tilting forward … … and I still need to go a lot faster.But at least I’ve got a decent swing. And a mare with a masculine Spanish name. It’s no coincidence that the Mojito also became my beverage of choice for the Summer of 2016.See you next year, Calgary Polo Club!
If you have a horse lover in your life, get them this book for Christmas.
When I was 12, I went to horse camp in Lac La Hache, BC. Growing up in urban Vancouver, I didn’t know the first thing about horses or the people who devoted their lives to them. Walking through the barn in the cowboy boots my mom had bought me from Sears, a grizzled cowboy looked up and told me I have one leg that’s longer than the other. It’s true, but the difference is minimal. He had noticed by the sounds my boots made on the floorboards. We didn’t dwell on it — he mentioned it in just a few words — but it was the beginning of my respect for cowboys and their less-is-more way of detailed observation.
A cowboy in Horses Don’t Lie, who is simply called ‘the Old Man,’ brought that memory back. He rarely speaks, but when he does, it is honed wisdom, there for the taking. Author Mark Rashid chose to take it, and build on it, with a theory of passive leadership, developed from a life lived around horses.
Rashid’s quiet, thoughtful prose is an example of passive leadership in itself. In conversational, homey style, he explains how a happy horse will try its hardest to work for you. He believes in watching for a horse’s tries, versus forcing the issue in alpha leader style.
Now that I’ve owned horses for three years, I know enough to know that I still have a lot to learn. This winter, my ponies Gabby and Simon are on vacation, out in the pasture with their friends at the Calgary Polo Club. We’ve been having an unusually warm fall, so I’ve gone out every few weeks for a casual ride. When you enter a pasture of thirty shaggy, fat horses who are all too happy to be on holiday, it’s a huge compliment when your horses mosey over to say hello.
It makes me hope I’m doing something right! But still, I found Horses Don’t Lie is not only full of ideas how to do things better with horses, it suggests how to observe things better, before the doing. In that cowboy way.
Online crowd funding may make it easer on indie filmmakers to get the cameras rolling, but nothing beats a good old fashioned fundraiser — especially if it takes place at the lovely (and fully functional after last year’s floodageddon) River Cafe.It turns out that Chronic Wasting Disease (the ‘mad cow’ of elk and deer) is a highly contagious brain-destroying disease that can jump to humans. Not cool. Scientist Darrel Rowledge, at the podium, explains that this could make AIDS look like a picnic. Like the film’s title, it’s No Accident. Domesticating wildlife through game farming has created a situation similar to influenza from chickens and SARS from palm civets.Brian Keating, world-renowned naturalist, took time out from his birthday to tell the untold story. The filmmakers hope to raise $1.7 million to produce An Inconvenient Truth meets Sicko documentary. I counted 4 polo players in attendance: Rob and Ruth Peters, Shannon Peters and Jessica Schneider. And myself. As someone who almost got run over by an elk taking my horse out of the pasture last week, I hope this fundraising mission succeeds. This is a film people need to see.