(first appeared in the October 2018 issue of The Equiery)
Polo in Ireland
by Cindy Halle
When most horse people in Maryland think of traveling to Ireland, they think of fox hunting over the challenging (read, insane) ditches and banks or pony trekking on Connemara ponies near Galway. But this August, Kylie Sheehan and her mom Liz Sheehan joined me to travel to Ireland for polo! The occasion was the International Ladies Polo Tournament, played at the All-Ireland Polo Club at Phoenix Park, Dublin on August 18. The event serves as a fundraiser for the Irish Injured Jockey’s Fund.
Kylie and I paired up with two Irish lady players to field the team for the USA playing against an all-Ireland squad, and Liz served as our cheering squad from the sidelines. We came up short on the 5-3 score but played well on the borrowed horses and made some new friends in our teammates. Kylie, a former Garrison Forrest School and University of Virginia polo standout, as well as National Champion, is now making her living training, teaching and playing polo in Aiken, SC. I was lucky enough to coach Kylie during her high school polo career and really enjoy getting to be her teammate on the field in Ireland. Liz is an avid foxhunter with Green Spring Valley Hounds.
I played in this same tournament in 2017, but just flew in and out for the game and vowed that this year I was going to spend some time traveling around this magical island and see some sights. Liz and Kylie were up for it all! We flew into Shannon, arriving on Tuesday, August 14, after being delayed by 12 or so hours due to the plane having a radio problem. Undeterred by our delay, we just changed a few of our plans. We stayed the first night in Adare at the storied Dunraven Arms hotel, where the owner Louis Murphy entertained us with many stories about Maryland foxhunters who have visited and stayed there and become fast friends. We took the morning to explore the charming village of Adare with its thatched roof houses, had coffee at the very fancy Adare Manor and then headed off in our rented car to see the famed Cliffs of Moher.
We arrived to the very popular cliffs to be told there was no parking left but spied a sign nearby for parking and access to the Cliff Trail. The parking involved driving through a friendly farmer’s fields and scrambling over an electric wire fence to gain access to the trail along the cliffs. Way more fun than parking in the lot! The cliffs are breathtaking in scope and dramatic views. Even with crowds of people, the views are fantastic and the cliffs absolutely amazing! We only had a limited time at the cliffs as we wanted to make it to the races that evening at Gowran Park Racecourse outside of Kilkenny.
We caught the last three races on an undulating and huge turf track. Much of it all looked the same as any track with a tree-lined paddock and well-conditioned and turned out horses. The cards were all very full with 16 to 18 horses entered in each race, running clockwise around the racecourse, which looked to be 1 ½ miles at least. This is the home racetrack of popular now Maryland steeplechase trainer Willie Dowling. We chatted with racegoers in the stands and in the paddock proving that it’s Ireland’s people who make the country so special.
A night in a friendly B&B in Kilkenny, some sampling of Irish whiskeys at a local bar and a visit to Kilkenny Castle and the Kilkenny Crafts Center the next morning rounded out the stay there. Off to Wicklow we drove, where we would stay in a guesthouse at the Herbst farm overlooking the Irish Sea.
We took the longer scenic route to Wicklow, driving through the Wicklow mountains, avoiding range sheep on the road and taking in the views, with the purple heather contrasting with the yellow, green and tan rocks and grasses. In the heart of the mountains are the 7th century monastic ruins Glendolough where we stopped to see the amazing rock buildings that have stood the test of time. The Herbst family (who owns Wicklow Polo Club) greeted us with a wonderful dinner outside on their veranda where we celebrated Liz’s birthday.
The next day, Friday, we had a practice game to try out the borrowed ponies we would be playing on Saturday. Local players generously loaned ponies for the cause practicing just north of Wicklow in Ashford at a lovely field. We were able to work out the kinks from traveling and get a sense of the ponies we would play in Saturday’s match. Following the practice, the Herbsts again spoiled us with a BBQ dinner with many of the players.
Game day Saturday was actually sunny and hot enough that I got sunburned! Not something you usually worry about when going to Ireland. The field in Phoenix Park, the All-Ireland Polo Club boasts that it is the oldest polo field in Europe. It was fun to be in the huge park in the middle of Dublin with joggers and cyclists stopping by to view the game. There were even some travelers from the States!
The day started with a preliminary match between two teams of local lady polo players, a luncheon and silent auction, and then an exhibition match featuring some of the best trainers vs. jump jockeys in Ireland. Finally, it was time to play our game. The Irish team was on their best horses and had played together quite a bit but Kylie and I, along with our two Irish teammates (who were American for the day!) were holding our own and keeping the pressure on. It was tied up at halftime, 2-2, and we felt that we had a good chance.
The third chukkar was our downfall, with some horse issues on our side and some great runs by the Irish team putting them ahead 4-2 after three periods of play. We played evenly last chukkar but were unable to make up the score differential and fell by a score of 5-3, final. I was happy with how we both played. Kylie had some challenging horses to play and she got a lot done on them, being smart with her play choices. I ended up playing a very steady palomino gelding first and fourth and one I hadn’t played in practice, a grey mare named Sangria, who ended up being my best horse in the second period on whom I had some great runs to goal. Our teammates, Julie Kavanagh and Naomi Zwier (who was playing in her first tournament) worked hard and were positive and fun teammates. We toasted each other with champagne at our good game and new friendships.
That night, after the adrenaline of the game had worn off, Liz, Kylie and I had dinner in Dublin with another Green Spring Valley hunt friend, Lucy Goelet, who had been in London and came over to cheer us on. Very fun to have her there!
Our last day in Ireland, Sunday, we took in the famous Book of Kells at Trinity College Library, caught some Irish music around town, and quickly learned the rules of hurling at a pub as we watched the Ireland Hurling Championship, It’s a game that makes lacrosse look slow!
We had a great trip—fit in a lot of sightseeing, made some new friends, played a good game and had some good fun and adventures together. I managed to only trim a few hedges on the left side of the rental car on the narrow roads. The warmth and friendliness of the Irish people everywhere we went was what I will remember long after the score of the game has faded. Ireland’s people are its most precious natural resource!
MDA Irish Trade Mission
by Ross Peddicord, Maryland Horse Industry Board Executive Director
The Maryland Department of Agriculture received a grant from US Livestock Genetics Export to embark on an equine trade mission for Maryland Standardbred and Thoroughbred breeders and industry officials in June 2018. Those attending the trip from MDA were Steve Connelly, assistant secretary of agriculture; Theresa Brophy, international marketing director, and Ross Peddicord, executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board. Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association also attended, as did Thoroughbred breeder Jim Steele and Standardbred breeder Garrett Bell of Winbak Farm in Chesapeake City.
Steele manages Shamrock Farm in Woodbine for the Art Rooney family, which also owns and operates Eyrefield Stud at The Curragh in County Kildare, Ireland. Naturally the group visited Eyrefield as well the Curragh racecourse. Other stops included visiting the Punchestown Race Course and going to the races at Leopardstown and Fairy House. Visits to the Irish National Stud Farm, the Godolphin and Aga Khan Studs, as well as the famous Coolmore Stud Farm of the Vincent O’Brien family in County Tipperary were also part of the trip. We were able to see and inspect some of the world’s top stallions, such as Galileo and his son Highland Reel.
Winbak sells horses as well as genetics to owners and breeders of the Irish harness racing industry. In Cork, the group took in a day of harness racing during which a Winbak-bred competed in the feature race. Most harness racing in Ireland is conducted on the turf. Many owner/breeders attend the Harrisburg, PA, sales and expressed interest in purchasing Winbak’s offerings.
The group also visited the Fernhill sales stable of Carol Gee, who buys and sells three-day event and show jumping horses on a global scale. On the day of the visit, US Olympian Philip Dutton was there trying as many as 20 horses.
Next, Irishmen David Burns, from the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Board, and Patrick Diamond from the Irish National Stud will visit Maryland in October. In addition to visiting breeding farms, they will also tour the Fair Hill Training Center and attend the Maryland Million races and Fair Hill International 3-Day Event.
Dressage in England
by Tori Belles
This summer I traveled to England through the Lendon Grey Dressage for Kids Program to watch the European Dressage Pony Finals. While in England, I also went to Windsor Castle and into the Cathedral where the Royal Wedding was held. There we learned what it is like to live and be a royal person.
We met British Olympic dressage riders Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester. Carl let us see two of his young horses and see how they train every day and what young horses should actually look like. Some of the things Carl said that stuck with me the most were that the canter is the most important gait, the trot can be developed, and you can’t make anything supple by holding in the same place. He stressed the ideas of stretch, bend, step, sideways, bigger strides, smaller strides, etc. He added some tips about how with a hot horse the rider’s legs should stay closer to the horse’s sides but for a lazy horse, the rider’s legs stays away more. For young horses, always stick to three tracks in the shoulder-in because you never want to lose the horse’s rhythm.
After watching Carl’s two amazing young horses, Carl and Charlotte surprised us by letting us watch Charlotte ride the Olympic gold medalist Valegro, nicknamed Blueberry. After Charlotte rode him, we got to take pictures with them.
Then we went to see Phoebe Peters at Bromson Stud, and watched her school Lucci. Phoebe, the 2015 Pony European Champion, gave on how pointers as riders go up the levels riding ponies. Closer to the end of the ride we asked her if we could see her do one of the FEI Pony Tests. It was amazing! After not doing the tests in a long time, she still remembered them. As she was doing the team test, she was giving us pointers, such as when going over centerline, give your reins for a couple of strides. After she was finished riding, we got take pictures with Lucci and got a chance to wear Phoebe’s gold medals.
After watching these great riders train their horses and ponies, we watched the European Dressage Pony Championship. Moritz Treffinger of Germany won gold with a 77%. We were able to take pictures with him and Jana Lang. It was amazing to see how 44 top pony riders rode the tests and to see that even if you make a mistake, you can still receive good scores and go on to win.
It was such a pleasure to be able to go on this trip. I learned so much that I was able to take home and try on my horses.
The French Riding Vacation
by Lisa Trovillion (Cooksville)
An eventer, a hunter/jumper, and a dressage rider walk into a bar in France. This may sound like the beginning of a joke, but it’s really the start of an incredible adventure! This past August, I met two friends on an Equitrekking tour of the Loire Valley in France. The tour package comprised five days of riding, visits to castles, accommodations in historic chateaux, gourmet dinners and wine tastings. Horses, history, and wine… who could resist?
Perhaps like others considering a horseback touring vacation, however, I had some trepidation. Would the horses be deadheads? Or worse, crazy? Would I be up for riding four or five hours a day? So here is my first bit of advice: make sure the description of the tour meets your riding comfort and fitness level. I confess, I was the most timid of our group of ten riders, so when a canter rolled into a hand-gallop through the Boulogne Forest in Chambord, my comfort zone was tested. However, a foxhunter would think nothing of it! Overall, the horses were excellent: energetic, safe and level-headed.
Another bit of advice: riding tours are not vacations in the classic sense of the word. If you are looking for relaxation, book a cruise instead. We were up by 8 a.m. for breakfast and on the horses by 9 a.m. Each day we rode several hours to our first destination, lunched and toured, then were mounted again for the next leg of the trip. We often did not arrive back to our rooms much before 7 p.m., and had to dress for dinner at 8 p.m. It was rigorous, but fun. Despite eating gourmet food, chocolate croissants every morning, swilling lots of French wine, I lost weight. Perhaps I should invent a new diet regime called the French Cavalry Diet?
Lastly, you must be committed to the adventure. After all, once you swing your leg over the saddle, there’s no turning back! A hot day or raining, we rode. But the discoveries awaiting each day made everything… the sore muscles and bug bites… worthwhile.
The last day was magical as we rode through the old town of Amboise to a special arrival at the famous Chateau d’Amboise, once home to the King of France. We approached by crossing over a moat and riding through the medieval Lion’s Gate, an iron grill opened just for us so we could ride in on horseback. How else should one arrive at a castle? That evening we had a multi-course meal in a 15th century dining room, treated to some very unusual dishes. Our adventures were not all on horseback!
Mongol Derby 2018
by Stacey Wells, Equiery intern
This past August, Marylanders Carol Ferderighi and Jocelyn Pierce traveled to Mongolia to take part in the famed Mongol Derby. This Derby follows the path of Genghis Khan, who developed one of the longest distance postal services of his time. His riders would ride throughout the Mongolian wilderness—only stopping to swap out horses—to deliver messages on time. With advancements in technology, the postal route became unnecessary, but its spirit was reborn a decade ago in the form of the Mongol Derby.
The Mongol Derby allows riders to re-create the feeling of being alone in the wilderness with only a Mongolian horse as company. The Derby covers 1000 km (621 miles) of valleys, hills, rivers, and forests with twenty-five horse stations en route for changing mounts when necessary.
Ferderighi was no amateur in the realms of endurance racing, but even she had mixed feelings about applying for the race but declared she was “looking for a new challenge.” Pierce also saw the Derby as a challenge and adventure, and even though she spent about a year preparing for the race, she said, “It still wasn’t quite enough.” In preparation, she spoke with past competitors, traveled to Utah to work with world-renowned endurance rider Christoph Schrock, and spent hours in the saddle.
Ferderighi and Pierce were given a couple of days to acclimate themselves to their new environment, in which time they received training on different Mongolian horses, learned how to use the GPS, and listened to various lectures on rules, course details, medical information, and horse safety. Once the initial talks were over, they were on their way—just them, their horses, and the countryside for eight and a half days.
Reflecting on her adventure, Federighi recalls the surefootedness of her mounts. She had prepared herself for the crazy and untrained horses she had heard of but was pleasantly surprised to find her preconceptions false. “Most of them were like normal horses and were pretty reliable,” said Federighi, adding, “They were willing to cooperate with the riders.” Throughout her journey, Federighi rode over 26 different ponies, liking the fast ones best.
Similarly, Pierce rode 29 different horses, averaging about four to five different mounts a day. Pierce remarked, “I was expecting it to be incredibly physically difficult and mentally challenging, but it wasn’t as mentally challenging as I thought it would be.” Pierce rode with a group of five other riders who stuck together, which helped transform the race into an “adventure first, competition second” sort of situation. She also spoke about how hospitable and helpful the Mongolian people were and how grateful she was to get the opportunity to experience their culture.
After crossing the finish line 26th out of 38 riders, Federighi had varying feelings about her time in the saddle. “My experience oscillated wildly from ‘this is so much fun’ to other times when I hated being out there,” said Federighi. “It was terrifying, yet exhilarating like a rollercoaster.” Regardless, she hopes to do it again in the future and aims to cross the finish line a few places higher.
Pierce has mixed opinions about competing in another Derby, but was extremely happy with her placing of ninth. She was also proud of not receiving any vet penalties during the entire race.
It truly was an incredible adventure for both riders. The Equiery wants to know, who will be the next Marylanders to do this race?!
Ireland • Slovenia • Norway • Dominican Republic • Argentina • Bosnia • England • Austria • Mauritius • Kenya • Mediterranean • Puerto Rico • Russia • Scotland