Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

History Blog

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Riding is an empirical art. When we witness that rare round or freestyle, we know that we’re watching something beautiful. But how do we know?

“One of the most dramatic demonstrations of concern and affection for GMHA took place following the flood of 1973,” wrote former Green Mountain Horse Association President Eileene Wilmot in Green Mountain Horse Association, 1926-1990s. “We all met to view the disaster and destruction, some of us with faint hearts. I never will forget Wilson Haubrich, who quietly said, ‘We have 120 children arriving in two days; we must get this fixed.’ Friends and members came down from the hills and up the valleys… In two days we were ready to receive the children.”

In London, 1961, authorities announced the discovery of a clandestine Soviet spy ring. In Liverpool, little-known skiffle group the Beatles first gigged in the Cavern Club’s cellar. And in Leeds, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease left sportsmen dismayed that the annual three-day event at Harewood House, home to the Earl of Harewood, would likely be canceled.

Stand beside the finish line of any racetrack in the world and dare yourself to remain unflapped. I’ve tried; it’s futile. The pack rounds the turn, and involuntarily your pulse quickens, eyes darting from hooves to outstretched necks to flying manes and tails as the hijinks of the bettors beside you intensify, the final moments igniting in a blaze of speed so fast it almost takes your breath away. You ask yourself: horsepower? Have I just felt the physical effects?

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In 1226, Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein set out on an epic quest: To win the affections of the woman he loved, he rode from Venice to Vienna, lancing 307 adversaries in tournaments along the way. Fast forward 785 years, and notions of chivalry have changed; affections are conveyed via quick text messages and adversaries unfriended with the subtle click of a mouse. Just what remains for a modern knight to do?

In 1806, Henry Clay, the Kentucky senator and fabled “Great Compromiser” best known for delaying the Civil War, made an investment most horsemen would quickly impugn: he and four friends went in on the purchase of a lame, one-eyed, 18-year-old Thoroughbred stallion for the whopping sum of $5,500 (about $75,500 today).

Imagine waking up in the dorms of the U.S. Equestrian Team’s Gladstone, N.J., headquarters in the 1960s. In the room next door is your teammate, Frank Chapot, a legend in the making. Waiting for you in the aisle way of the adjacent barn is your coach, the venerable Bertalan de Némethy, eager to steal your stirrups away.

Women’s History Month is coming to a close, and as I looked through my blog archives, I realized I hadn’t done a thorough job of featuring women in all disciplines. There are just so many impressive women out there who have paved the way for us that I got caught up in the process.

Just as the public has taken to saying we should celebrate our love for our significant others every day—not just on February 14—we should constantly be giving credit to our fore-equestrians (women and men) when it’s due; not just during a month that they’re in the spotlight.

I was home in Kentucky this weekend for my sister’s baby shower. Twenty women together, celebrating the birth of another female (yes, I’m going to have a little niece!). As I gazed around the room, which was decorated appropriately in pink, pink, pink, I thought about what kind of world my niece will be living in. She will be free to do as she pleases and nurtured by my sister and my family to be exactly who she wants to be.

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