Wrapping Up The Summer: Rockin In Central Park

Oct 30, 2014 - 3:30 AM
Mane Stream Hotmail stepped up to a great performance in Central Park, and Catherine Haddad Staller sported her new "Broadway" look for the evening. Photo by Monica Stevenson.

Dear Rita,

I think my last few blogs caught you up on the important things that happened over the summer in Europe. I put my horses on a plane back to New York at the beginning of August and settled in at home in New Jersey for a few blissful months of training, showing and spending time with my dogs and my husband.

To those of you who don’t know New Jersey, you are really missing out on one of the USA’s best kept secrets. We live just 45 minutes from the Lincoln Tunnel at the edge of New York City, which means we can enter the city by car in just over an hour if the traffic is not bad. Or we can take a train from Gladstone that deposits us at Penn Station without having to drive at all. So the city, nightlife, culture, art and great restaurants are very close at hand.

But at home in Hunterdon County, N.J., we live in is a horseman’s paradise. The fields here yield some of the best hay and straw that I have ever seen. Pastures are fabulous. The horses thrive here and so do the professionals who devote their lives to them. My horses have the great benefit of truly remarkable veterinary, farrier and equine dentistry care at home in New Jersey.

My inner cook is well taken care of too! In New Jersey, the tomatoes that come off the vine in late August are the best in the world. I don’t even need to put on a flame suit for that statement. Bring it on. I’ll put my caprese (made with Jersey tomatoes, Mozzerella di Buffala, fresh basil and my special dressing) on the witness stand any time. Our sweet corn, peaches and apples are to die for, and our local butcher shop in Chester, N.J., can back up the fresh produce with incredible cuts of beef and lamb.

So, happy as a clam (did I mention the clams? They are fabulous too!), I settled back into life in New Jersey for a few short months this fall. Riding and cooking happen to be two of my greatest passions in life, and I enjoy both of them more when I can share them at home with my husband.

I cook a lot when I am home, and it is one of the things I miss the most when I am on the road. I especially miss cooking together with Greg because we create some fantastic meals together. An evening in our kitchen will remind you of a cook-off duel. And it often ends in front of the big screen for a review of the days’ training tapes. It’s nice to have a partner who contributes so significantly to the things that I enjoy the most in life. We even got to go for a hack together this fall. I am lucky in life, Rita.

So is Mane Stream Hotmail. He has very good people taking care of him. He had a short rest after coming home to New Jersey, and then we slowly began gearing up for two fall shows: The Central Park Horse Show and the Devon CDI-W, both in September.

Central Park came first, and it was quite a show! Organizer Thomas Baur worked hard to create a special dressage event for the inaugural show at the Trump Skating Rink. He convinced Isabell Werth and Hans Peter Minderhoud to fly over for the show with two good horses, and he filled the rest of the roster with top North American competitors and good exhibitions.

While this year’s dressage was more show than competition, I certainly hope it returns to the park for many more years to come. It is a great concept, promoted by good organizers. And from my perspective, showing horses in Central Park just seems like a natural thing to do after all those years in Europe competing in great inner city venues like Stockholm, Gothenburg, Lyon, Cannes, Stuttgart and Wiesbaden, to mention only a few.

Some fine points of organization will have to be tweaked for this show to be a top seller, but I have total confidence that will happen after this year’s successful trial run. For instance, the logistics of shipping horses in and out of the city are a real challenge as is building enough proper temporary stabling at the venue.

This year all of the dressage horses were stabled at Gladstone and shipped to the venue on the morning of our show day. We had to load up and leave Gladstone at 3 a.m. in order to arrive at the park before 6, avoiding the early morning traffic jams. Our horses were stabled over the day in temporary tents near the baseball field, and we competed late that evening at the Ice Rink. We had to pack up and leave the stabling by midnight, which got the horses back to Gladstone at 2 a.m. To quote my old friend, Giuseppe Utili: “Poor my horse!” after 24 hours of traveling and competing.

This kind of schedule would have been impossible to keep for an FEI-sanctioned event. But it was just fine for a test event, and since we had only one competition day, the horses got to have their rest for a few days afterward.

Riding in Central Park with the skyscrapers as a backdrop has to be one of the all time highs of my competitive career. It could only be topped by one day winning there, so I will put that on my bucket list. In the meantime, have a look at Hotmail performing his freestyle in Central Park!

This freestyle was a culmination of good training on many fronts. I was able to practice a bit of Response Training with Hotmail in the Park before the event. He never looked twice at the traffic, skyscrapers, inline skaters and Big Bird (yes, Big Bird was in Central Park that evening), and for the most part I was able to keep him focused throughout the whole test. Also, I had planned to show very active, forward piaffe and passage and was able to pull that off. Our pirouettes felt great, and finally I have the flying changes right where I want them.

OK, OK. There were two little blips! The first one when Hotmail stared right at himself performing on the big screen next to the arena in the collected walk. He gawked.

And the second one when I looked down during my trot half-passes and discovered the towel I had tucked under my right thigh just before going in the arena was still there. I had wiped my face with it, and then tucked it away to take a drink of water.

Yes, I did throw the towel out of the arena in the middle of test. You are not seeing things. One could say that I literally “threw in the towel.” (But generally speaking I don’t usually do that until after I have seen the scores—this horse show being no exception.)

Several thoughts went through my head as I was riding that trot zigzag. When I first saw the towel: WTF? The towel is still under my leg. It hasn’t budged this whole ride? I have an incredible seat! ;)

And then: I can’t believe my groom missed that. She’s fired. Wait. You can’t fire her; you didn’t see it either. Nor did you feel it. No feell! Absolutely no feel!

And finally: It’s going to ruin all the really great pictures of riding in Central Park. Dammit. I have to get rid it. Viola!

Great Times, Rita, Great Times.

After the fun and excitement of Central Park and Devon, we have packed up the horses and the dogs and are on the road to Florida again. Let the winter season begin!

I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin it like it is from I-95 south—as the birds fly!

Training Tip of the Day: Keep the good times close. And when you aim for big goals, know that the target is often small and difficult to hit. Make sure you have the right tools in your tool box to get it done.



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