When the Chronicle`s editors asked me to succeed Victor Hugo-Vidal as one of their show hunter columnists a few months after his unexpected death, I was a bit intimidated. But, after giving it a great deal of thought, I decided I`d give it a shot.
So, for my first column, I thought I`d write an introduction about myself so you can get to know me a bit. Victor loved to write about his home in California, so I decided to begin by writing about my own hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.
I began showing when I was 8 years old in Buffalo, at what used to be The Saddle and Bridle Club and is now The Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center. Buffalo really has a great history for producing some of this country`s top horsemen and women. Some of these horsemen have passed away, but most are still in the business throughout the country.
They include Bobby Sloan, Chuckie Graham, John Shaffner, Debbie Stephens, Bill Ellis, Robert Meilsoe, Keith Powell, Geoff Teall, Missy and Doris Clark, Skip Thornbury, Nancy Bechtel, Mervyn Alexander, Russell Frey, Chrissy Hannon, Claudia Rohland, Ken and John Smith, Tom Wright, Betsy Hoppel, Billy Glass, Michael and Tom Dowd, Barbie Bancroft, Heather Irvine and Jimmy Piehler.
All of these professionals are or were top riders and trainers. All of them showed at the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, where The Buffalo International Horse Show has been held for the past 56 years.
I rode with Roger Young for my junior years and had success with horses such as The Robin, New Addition, Striking and Numbers Game. Roger was a top horseman`his horses always looked fantastic and his program was all about what was best for the horse. There weren`t as many top shows then as there are today, so the few that there were in existence became very special places to show.
In April we would show at Syracuse PHA (N.Y.), which was enormous and drew some of the best hunter/jumper show barns in the Northeast. Then Saratoga (N.Y.), Devon (Pa.), Detroit and Chagrin (Ohio), Monmouth (N.J.), North Shore (N.Y.) and Piping Rock (N.C.). Then we did the indoor shows in the fall.
My sisters and I all showed in the hunt teams in the National Horse Show at New York`s Madison Square Garden. My sister, Penny, won two legs on a trophy at the Garden, and I ended up winning it the third year to retire it.
As juniors, many of us foxhunted in the fall and showed from April until November. Mason Phelps was always in Buffalo foxhunting with his grandmother, Peach Taylor. Mason went on to represent our country on the U.S. three-day team, created the International Jumping Derby, and was one of our top hunter/jumper riders.
I rode in the amateur division for a few years, but then I turned professional and started SBS Farms. After leasing several places in the area, I came back to the Buffalo Therapeutic to lease it, and 12 years ago I became the executive director. Be careful what you wish for!
We also house the Buffalo Equestrian Center, which gives lessons to children 6 years and older, plus adults of all ages. We now have many amateurs who rode here as juniors and are now taking lessons with their children.
There is a great deal of Buffalo history in this facility, located in the middle of the city. Our alumni serve on our Board of Directors and have helped restore this facility. We have school groups and summer camp.
Lesson stables are becoming a scarce commodity throughout the United States, but they`re something we all need to encourage our areas of the country to rebuild. We`re losing that strong base of riders who come from our lesson program.
Many of our best riders and horsemen and women were once the children who worked at barns to pay for a lesson once a week. Through these programs, they come to know our equine friends and learn how to care for them. Some of them will never show a horse, but their knowledge and love of the horse and barn management is something we desperately need. We need to encourage our young population to experience the care of these magnificent animals.
Most children who are involved with horses learn to organize their time so they can be at the barn and do their schoolwork. They`re taught responsibility and commitment. I think it`s time to get back to these basics.
My rider and trainer at SBS Farms is Jennifer Alfano, who`s a wonderful example for all our children and adults. She came up through a lesson program in Pennsylvania and has cared for her horses ever since age 6. After being a two-time winner of the World Championship Hunter Rider Professional title and having had three USA Equestrian high-score award horses, she still knows every aspect of the management of all 25 horses in our care.
Nothing I`ve ever done has been as fulfilling as the therapeutic riding program that we host here for mentally and physically abused children. I can`t easily describe the sight of watching these children as they view a horse for the first time. And watching them ride for the first time reveals a connection between horse and rider that we all strive to see within ourselves or within our riders.
To have been a part of the hunter world and to have watched some of the top hunters win is fantastic. But I`ve been lucky enough through our donation program to watch these horses give our special therapeutic riders and our lesson students the self-confidence and self-esteem they otherwise would never have been able to have.
Our equine teachers include former show horses like String Of Pearls, Drum Roll, Makers Mark, Follow This, Two Imposters, Air Controller, Easy Look, Maverick, Tell The Truth, Greene With Envy and Al Capony. These horses have a sense of each special student who rides them, and they never take a wrong step! It is amazing.
I am so grateful to the owners and trainers across the country who`ve trusted us with their top show horses. We have many hunters and jumpers in our program whose show-ring careers have come to an end but who have a great life teaching children and adults of all levels to enjoy riding. Each one has a special personality, which lights up after a few months in our program.
Our therapeutic program runs from April through November. All of these horses are part of both the lesson program and the therapeutic program. Many people believe that our show hunters and jumpers should just retire to a field, but I`m a strong believer that these horses, in general, do not do well in retirement because they`re used to constant care. They`re used to performing. They`re used to having their teeth floated, their feet trimmed, and being on a healthy deworming and feeding program.
I would encourage everyone who`s involved with horses to give back to the business and to our equine friends by donating their time in any small way to an organization in your area. You`ll be amazed at how your view of the world becomes so much more positive, on so many levels!