“You can’t see, but I’m smiling and laughing as I talk about all this,” said Celeste “Cissy” Mohlman Webb as we chatted about her days showing Daily Nip back in the 1960s.
Webb hasn’t ridden much in the last few decades, but when I called her to ask about the great photo of her that originally ran in the Chronicle in 1965, she was thrilled to talk about her wonderful off-the-track Thoroughbred Daily Nip.
Cissy Mohlman Webb and Daily Nip were the regular working hunter champions at the 1965 Detroit Horse Show. Photo by Budd
I had unearthed the photo in a search for images to accompany a 2013 George H. Morris column in the Chronicle, and Webb and “Nipper’s” classic form was eye-catching. That’s the fun of Throwback Thursday columns—to reveal the story behind some of the lesser known but still inspiring moments of the past.
For Webb, Daily Nip was a huge part of her life as a teenager, and remains a part of her heart today. An oil painting of them showing together hangs in Webb’s Sperryville, Va., home, along with Nipper’s old leather halter. “He still lives with me, in my memories and my mind,” she said. “He was full of hell and a wonderful horse. He was without a doubt a joy. I loved him; he had a great personality and he was a wonderful fellow. I was terribly lucky to have him.”
It was the early ‘60s and Webb was a young teenager when she first came across Nipper, who had been bought off the track in St. Louis and had been retrained as a hunter. He was sent from St. Louis to Oak Brook, [Ill.], which is where I lived. Hugh Gentry, who was a professional rider for Eddie Bywaters of Waverly Farm here in our area, asked me to ride him, so I showed him for a year,” Webb recalled.
Nipper was then sold to Si Jayne and kept showing. But a year later, Webb’s father bought Nipper back and brought him home for Webb. She went on to show him for three more years.
“He was an absolute cat. He was the most talented horse I ever had the joy to ride,” Webb said. “He could get out of trouble in a thrice. He was little, only about 15.3 hands, but he did the big working hunter classes. Back then, in the ‘60s, I was only a junior, 17, and I showed him in the open working hunter, which back then was a huge division represented largely by professionals.
“We showed in the Midwest, in Michigan, and did the Washington International and the [National Horse Show at] Madison Square Garden. I did try him in the hunt field—my father was a Master at Oak Brook for 25 years. We tried hunting him, but he bucked and got wild.
“Also, he was a fantastic jumper, be he could not hack to save his soul. We hacked off for reserve champion at Washington against Cap And Gown, and of course lost mightily.”
For three years, Webb and Nipper went up against the best names in the business in the regular working hunter division, and held their own. They were frequent winners in the Midwest and picked up ribbons at the big East Coast shows too.
“He allowed me to play with the big kids and do well against them,” Webb recalled. “We showed against Navy Commander and Betty Oare, who is a wonderful friend. Betty and Bucky were just north of us in Michigan and Navy Commander was Nipper’s big competition in the day.
“For a kid from the Midwest, to come east and show at the Garden and in Washington, it was like dying and going to heaven. Everything Virginia was sacred ground to us kids from the Midwest. I remember the first time I went to Middleburg, and seeing the Chronicle building, after all the years of getting the Chronicle and reading it. It was a marvelous time in my life,” Webb continued.
“I was very fortunate to have had him for the years that I did. Still to this day, I dream of showing up for the Corinthian class without my sandwich case or string gloves. Or getting to the show too late to braid,” she said. “This was back in the day when we did it on a shoestring, and we did all our own grooming and braiding. We’d go as kids down to the barn and be there all day. We did everything. We took care of the horses, cleaned the tack.
“Of course, it was also in the day that there were no such thing as counting strides. You could take off from 10 feet away, and you were rewarded for boldness and going quickly.”
But when Webb transitioned from her junior years, Nipper got sold on to another rider as Webb started college. “In that day and age, there weren’t many avenues for girls, or women, to actually compete out of the juniors,” she said.
After brief careers as a biology teacher and an intensive care nurse in Chicago, but then she moved to Washington, D.C. “I started a do-it-yourself and custom picture framing shop, which has been in existence for 33 years. It’s on Capitol Hill, and I’ve lived in Sperryville for four years. I go into D.C. every other week or so for a few days to work and see to the business,” Webb said.
She goes out to see the local hunt meet, and for years she attended the Washington International Show Show as a spectator, but horses aren’t much a part of Webb’s life now. Except for Nipper, whose memory is strong in her mind.
Imagine Webb’s surprise when in 2013 a friend sent her an issue of The Chronicle of the Horse with her and Nipper’s photo published with a column by Morris. “George Morris had written an article about the old days of riding, and there as a picture of Nipper and me. I was astounded. Kathy Kusner was in that article and everything!” she said with delight.
“I was very lucky to have had Nipper. I spoke with [the woman who got him off the track and trained him] a while ago and I let her know how very important Daily Nip was to me and that he still lives in my dreams. She was very gratified to hear that,” she continued.