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Any memories of Alexander Zivulovic? Sunnyfield Farm, Bedford, NY?

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  • Any memories of Alexander Zivulovic? Sunnyfield Farm, Bedford, NY?

    I was wondering if any of you had the chance to meet Alexander, who unfortunately passed away in NY in 2009. He was a fascinating man to talk to, full of stories that seemed like they couldn't possibly be true but I always hoped that they were. He was Serbian born and fought in the mounted cavalry in WWII. He was a classical dressage rider of the old, old school and taught a very traditional lesson. I hope it was the case in the past too but at least when I met him, he always always put the horse first.

    I know that he taught at Sunnyfield Farm in Bedford at one point and also in Wilton and New Canaan, CT.

    He was such an interesting man who certainly seemed to have traveled far and wide and I would love to hear any recollections that any of you might have if you had the pleasure of meeting him.

  • #2
    I rode at Sunnyfield Farm in the mid-1960's and took lessons from him. He was strict and traditional. So sorry to hear he has passed. Thank you for posting this.


    • #3
      gosh, I am very sorry to hear that he has passed. I knew him pretty well when I lived in CT in the 80's.

      He had many amazing qualities-
      1. ALL his horses stabled at his farm pooped and pee'd in a corner, or a corner bucket. Thus mucking was a cinch, and even in those days. Alex was pretty old and frail. First thing he did was train any horse who came in to do this. I recall he had about 30 maybe 45 horses.

      2. He had a pet rooster who walked around with him on his shoulder and cuddled with him like a dog

      3. He favored lighter horses and put on an
      exhibition ride with an arab for his students- a typical straight crouped arab of those years- at FEI level. Somehow he got this horse to sit, even though nature had never intended it.

      4. He was a wonderful instructor- and had very interesting and unusual exercises, which I still use today. One was to hook a lunge line on the students stirrup to teach them to keep on the 20M circle and make it round. With your eyes closed of course!

      I have ancient video from those days- there's Alex, slender, ram rod straight, correct, polite and firm. We LOVED him, just loved him. His wife was a warm, welcoming woman, but not involved with the horses, that was his domain. I believe she died in the late 80's, so wasn't that well when I knew him.

      I always spelled his last name Vukoloft, but who knows?

      Great memories to a fine man, a wonderful trainer of animals and riders, a consumate horseman.
      Last edited by HSS; Jul. 13, 2012, 05:14 PM. Reason: added more


      • Original Poster

        Thank you for sharing your memories of him!

        He was such an irrepressible stickler for proper technique, whether you were interested in hearing it or not . I remember one afternoon when I was feeling really in over my head with my young mare, he started in on my longeing skills and I just wasn't in the right head space to hear it and take it constructively. I started tearing up because I knew he was right and I was frustrated and feeling defeated when he noticed I was upset and immediately changed gears and offered me encouragement instead.

        He didn't always come across as warm and fuzzy but he was more empathetic than he let on. He was certainly a wealth of knowledge. Thank you again for sharing your stories.


        • #5
          Capt. Aleksej Vukolov, RIP!

          I believe this is the name you are looking for. Capt. Vukolov was my first dressage trainer, back when some friends and I who were involved with the Gold's Dragoons drill team (akin to the Governor's Horse Guard (CT), in which Alex was a Captain and trainer), took lessons obsessively with him for about five years from 1984 through '89 or so.

          At that time he was based in Bethany, CT and what you describe about the fastidious habits of his horses was absolutely true. In the summer he'd come to us in Fairfield, and work with us on our own horses, but in the winter we'd throw our tack in the back of my Saab, zoom up the Merritt an hour and climb the mountain to his place which seemed to be in another weather zone altogether--coldest arena, bar none, I've ever ridden in. Ice would let go and slide off the roof, and you'd better have your heels down then! He taught us to warm our hands beneath his horses' long manes, like they did on bivouac in the war, when our fingers froze.

          We'd be met in the driveway by a horde of very pushy geese and a couple of muttley dogs, who escorted us into his old wooden barn and arena for some of the most rigorously, exactingly classical lessons known to mankind. No WB's (officers didn't ride those!), Alex taught dressage with a string of firecracker Arabs and TB's who tended to express their occasional opinion of us, and the sliding ice-sheets, with Airs Above the Ground!

          Alex indeed fought mounted with a Serbian Cavalry unit in WWII, but he was actually a White Russian by birth, from a long line of Cossacks, and would regale us with stories his father told him that sounded like something right out of Tolstoy. His unit was captured early on, and he sat out most of the war in a German POW camp where he learned what became his primary career--dentistry.

          After emigrating to the USA and establishing his dental practice, he became a disciple of Karl Mikolka and traveled to Maine to train with him for many years. Alex could be a bit doctrinaire as a result of this training; he believed that one who is serious about dressage should not use that horse for anything else---he'd get positively ballistic about it if he heard we were foxhunting or stick 'n balling with our "dressage" mounts. I also could never, ever, sit up straight enough to suit him!

          I have 2 videos, which I need to have put on DVD from VHS, of him riding his Arabian stallion, the chestnut "Twin Peaks Shatez" in a Grand Prix musical freestyle of his own design that he performed two years in a row at our Field Days; unlike so many competition rides, you absolutely CAN NOT see his hands or heels move throughout the entire thing; he almost disappeared into the horse, whose expressive performance, so brilliant, had everyone there spellbound. I first met him at the WFDA regional championship show held at Fairfield in 1984, where he was riding in uniform with another member of the Guard. He did the Grand Prix on the same stallion, and we were mesmerized . . . that such an ethereal creature was even willing to talk to us seemed incredible at the time, back when we were just starting out with the Troop. But since we were keeping the Cavalry tradition alive, he agreed to help us out--admitting to his wife some early trepidation once he saw the motley crew he had to work with!

          After lessons, we'd repair to his wife Galena's Russian kitchen, knock back the several obligatory shots of Slivowitz, which is a Serbian white-lightning that must be about 190 proof, and spoon steaming borscht out of a barrel that always seemed to be bubbling on the stove, mopped up with Galena's homemade bread. The dogs would beg for crusts with bright, expectant eyes, and that's when Alex would start telling his cavalry tales . . . somtimes until close to midnight.

          Alex's favorite expression, when he wanted to emphasize the kind of desperate effort he expected from his students, was:

          "You must VORK zee horse in zee ARENA, JAAAAA!"

          I still repeat that today to folks who think all this just gets dropped on you by some magic wand. Hard vork, everyone, HARD VORK!!! If you can walk when your feet hit the ground, you need to push yourself HARDER!

          We were all very privileged to train with Alex, and remember him and Galena, his farm & his horses very fondly.


          • #6
            Wow, that dude would have been my hero.

            This part is especially important:

            Originally posted by HSS View Post
            1. ALL his horses stabled at his farm pooped and pee'd in a corner, or a corner bucket. Thus mucking was a cinch, and even in those days. Alex was pretty old and frail. First thing he did was train any horse who came in to do this. I recall he had about 30 maybe 45 horses.
            How did he teach that?

            A much less elegant old horsewoman taught me that this could be done. She did it pretty well with the horses on her farm.

            So many people laugh at me when I say I'd like to try to teach them "not to sh!t in the living room or the kitchen of the stall."

            I'd love to have the credibility and technique of teaching horses to be neat in their stall revived.
            The armchair saddler
            Politically Pro-Cat


            • #7
              This might provide more info
              Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.
              Alfred A. Montapert


              • #8
                Yes, I knew Alex Zivulovic at Sunnyfield. His name DEFINITELY started with a Z.

                I think "Vukolov" must be a DIFFERENT, though probably equally impressive, horseman.

                In fact, after reading the link, I am SURE it is a different person. "Zule" as we called him, but not to his face, had already been at Sunnyfield for many years in 1965. I am pretty sure he remained at Sunnyfield until Mrs MacIntosh died.

                We bought two horses (Golden Rocket and Meadowlark) from Sunnyfield in 1965 and 1966. It was the strangest horse buying/selling process I have ever heard of, but it worked.

                We were only, in each case, offered one specific horse. If we didn't want the one offered, we could not even look at any others.

                As it turned out, Rocket was a great match for me- he took me form my Pony Club D1 to my B.

                But Meadow really wasn't a good match for Gillian. Meadow becme my mother's hrse, the "visitor" horse, and a lesson horse again (both my sister and i gave lessons in our teens). When AHSA first ibtroduced the Children's Hunters Meadow (who had been a dressage specialist at Sunnyfield) won several tricolors with Gillian's students.

                Before we were allowed to buy a horse, Zivulivic came our to inspect our farm (we lived about 2 miles from Sunnyfield). We were also required to take lessons on our new horses, at Sunnyfield, from Zule and the other instructors, before we were allowed to bring the hores home.

                Luckily both we, and the farm, passed muster.

                There was another instructor at Sunnyfield with whom I had more interaction. Werner Platzer (sp?) was my Pony Club dressage instructir for many years. He was quite marvelous in being able to handle a mied lesson, in whihc some were still working on getting the correct lead, and others were doing much more advaced work. he wasn't harsh, but he was very stingy with his praise. A "yavolle" (sp?) from Werner would have me walking on air.

                If it hasn't been removed, there is at least one earlier thread about Zivulovic.

                chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


                • #9
                  I rode at Sunnyfield Farm throughout the 1960's and I remember Alex "Zule" well. He often used to teach us pony clubbers, including going on trail rides with us. In the summer when it was too hot to really work, we would go on trail rides, at the walk only.

                  One winter, I remember that we had to remove our stirrups from the saddles and we rode that way all winter, my legs got stronger due to all that stirrup-less posting!

                  I am sorry to hear that Alex passed away.

                  I remember Werner Platzer. He was such a friendly and pleasant man, and what a rider!

                  I remember as a Sunnyfield pony clubber taking lessons also from George Tossic (not sure if that is the right spelling).

                  It's great to read these recollections. Riding at Sunnyfield was the best part of my childhood!



                  • #10
                    Did you know the Goldfinger twins, who rode there in the same timeframe.

                    chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


                    • #11
                      Yes, I knew Nancy and Carol Goldfinger! I have had no contact with either of them since the late '60's. Small world, huh?



                      • #12
                        I also remember Meadowlark when she was at Sunnyfield!


                        • #13
                          I wish there were more instructors like that today! They teach you how to ride, really ride.
                          "My treasures do not chink or gleam, they glitter in the sun and neigh at night."


                          • #14
                            Wow, I couldn't remember his name. I remember him being very strict and I could hardly understand him. I rode a horse called Top Hat. Fond memories at Sunnyfield!


                            • #15
                              So this gets me thinking of the names of horses I rode at Sunnyfield. Here are some, complete with nicknames if they had them/I remember them:

                              High Hopes (Wally)
                              Kingswood (Woo). I really learned to jump on him. He liked to race up to the jumps. I remember George Tossic (sp) saying, "Don't let him running!"
                              Red Pepper
                              Black Pepper
                              Gina - she has a perfect, white heart on her forehead.
                              Miss Chip

                              I remember one time riding through the woods to a show at Penrose Farms. It rained and we had no shelter while there. The mud in the ring slowed down Red Pepper (another one who wanted to rush the fences) in the ring enough to not have to struggle with him.


                              • #16
                                A slight diversion, but my sister took lessons at Sunnyfield in the early/mid 50s with a European dressage master who had Lippizaners, worked for MacIntoshes. Anyone know his name? I was really little but watched the lessons with fascination.
                                Form follows function, or does function follow form?




                                • #17
                                  It may have been Werner Platzer.


                                  • #18
                                    Was Fritz Stecken ever there, also?
                                    Form follows function, or does function follow form?




                                    • #19
                                      [QUOTE=jillcarlsen;7241631]So this gets me thinking of the names of horses I rode at Sunnyfield. Here are some, complete with nicknames if they had them/I remember them:

                                      High Hopes (Wally)
                                      Kingswood (Woo). I really learned to jump on him. He liked to race up to the jumps. I remember George Tossic (sp) saying, "Don't let him running!"
                                      Red Pepper
                                      Black Pepper
                                      Gina - she has a perfect, white heart on her forehead.
                                      Miss Chip

                                      What brought me to this forum was to research old Sunnyfield. I'm getting a Weimaraner puppy next month and have decided to name him High Hopes, call name Wally.
                                      I remember everyone on your list, people and horses.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Trakhannah View Post
                                        What brought me to this forum was to research old Sunnyfield. I'm getting a Weimaraner puppy next month and have decided to name him High Hopes, call name Wally.

                                        My family bought High Hope from Sunnyfield.

                                        Trakhannah - I sent you a private message.