Long before 1914, when the U.S. Congress officially designated the second Sunday in May as “Mother’s Day,” the month of May has been a time to celebrate women and mothers.
The month itself, in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars, is named after the Greek goddess of spring and fertility, Maia. The Roman Catholic Church has always dedicated the month of May to honoring the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, who the Catholic Church honors not only as the Mother of God but also as the Mother of the Church.
May in Maryland also means the Preakness and the Black-Eyed Susan. While the world turns its attention to the Preakness, Maryland horse people are increasingly turning their attention to the Black-Eyed Susan, the day of all distaff racing the Friday before the Preakness. The Black-Eyed Susan features quality horses and quality races, with Pimlico turned out in its spring finery, and all the bells and whistles of the Preakness without the hassles, traffic and frat boys. It’s a civilized day…a day at the races to which you can take your mother!
In 2010, the Maryland Jockey Club (which owns both stakes days) partnered with the Susan G. Komen For The Cure® to create the “Lady Legends Luncheon” at the Black-Eyed Susan. (Hey, the tent was already up for the Preakness, why shouldn’t we enjoy it for ourselves?!) In 2010, MJC celebrated the women of this sport by inviting retired female jocks back to the saddle for the “Lady Legends For the Cure Race.”
Not in the saddle that day, but towering above all was the Lady Legend of Lady Legends…Kathy Kusner. Many will remember her groundbreaking lawsuit against the Maryland Racing Commission in 1968, which resulted in Kathy becoming the first female licensed jockey in the U.S. She was also the first female to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup and also rode on the US Equestrian Team for Show Jumping, representing the US in three Olympics and two Pan American Games.
The Equiery partnered with the Maryland Jockey Club to create “Stable Table” pricing in the tent designed specifically for the equestrian community, and hundreds of Maryland women came out to meet Kathy Kusner and the other lady jocks, including, but limited to, Barbara Jo Rubin, the first woman to win against a man at a recognized racetrack; Mary Russ Tortora, the first woman to win a Grade 1 stakes race; and Cheryl White, the first African-American female rider.
Under the leadership of MJC marketing and de facto community relations specialist, Karin De Francis, the “Lady Legends” is now becoming a permanent part of Black-Eyed Susan Day.
The Lady Legends program has been expanded to honor five women from the Maryland equestrian community who can unequivocably be considered “Local Lady Legends.” These five women will be guests of honor at the Black-Eyed Susan, will receive a private tour of the Preakness Stakes barns with Kathy Kusner and other VIPs, enjoy lunch in the tent, and will serve as judges for the “best turned out” groom’s award for the featured stakes race.
These five women have overcome obstacles that the vast majority of American women today will never face: war, sexism, debilitating injury. And yet through it all, they have not only perservered, they have risen above, and with their lives and their dedication to teaching and mentoring, they have inspired and nurtured thousands of young minds and generations of equestrians.
From Kitty Hoffman, World War II Red Cross volunteer and beloved riding instructor for Garrison Forest, to Jane Toal, scientist and Girl Scout leader; from Ingrid Gentry, WWII refugee and well-respected dressage judge and instructor, to Louise Hollyday, revered lesson stable owner and pony breeder who overcame prejudices about what girls can and cannot do, to Brenda Herzog, who overcame an injury so debilitating that she would never walk again, but which did not stop her from having children and continuing to teach others. The Equiery, the Maryland Jockey Club and the Maryland equestrian community are proud to salute these Local Lady Legends!
Ingrid Prawitt Gentry
Unlike our other Lady Legends, Ingrid Gentry did not grow up in Maryland.
Ingrid Prawitt was born in the 1930s on a working farm in East Prussia, and her earliest memories are of horses…all she cared about was horses. When she was four years old, her mother promised her a sister, but Ingrid told her she would prefer a foal. She got the sister anyway.
Of course, at that time, all the farm work was done by horses. Ingrid longed to help rake the hay, but she was too small and could not reach the rake’s foot pedal. Like many children in Europe at the time, she had the German author Karl May’s illustrated books about the American “Wild West” and Ingrid longed to ride “like the Indians,” bareback on spotted, bridleless horses…but it remained a dream without the critical component: the spotted pony. Still she dreamed, and when the workhorses were being ridden through the village to their pasture, she would ride them too, with their hooves clattering on the cobblestones music to her little girl ears, and more so at the trot, and especially at the canter! Despite the complaints of the villagers about the noise, still Ingrid would clatter through the village because it was “her music!”
East Prussia was part of Germany, but as it was further east than the main part of Germany, East Prussia became part of the front of World War II. The war destroyed Ingrid’s bucolic childhood, like it destroyed everything else in Eastern Europe. Eventually, the Red Army (Russia) invaded, forcing the largest exodus of a group of people in human history (according to Antony Beevor’s Berlin: The Downfall 1945, which records the reduction of the German population in East Prussia from 2.2 million in 1940 to 193,000 at the end of 1945). It would be several years before Ingrid and her family joined that exodus, as they were trapped and held inside East Prussia by the Russians, unaware that the war was officially over. Eventually, family members escaped and made their way to a pre-agreed-upon reunion location in West Germany. The painful rebuilding of their lives began.
The war stole so many things from so many people, not the least of which was the opportunity for an education. Now in the German state of Hessen, Ingrid worked on cobbling together a belated education and finding work, fantasies of riding spotted, bridleless ponies like an Indian far from her mind, with most of Europe’s horses lost to the war.
And then one day, she heard that music, the clatter-clop of hooves on cobblestones…a horse! “Where did you get that HORSE?!” Ingrid demanded of the rider, whom she knew. To her delight, the young man offered her his horse for the afternoon while he took care of some errands. And so in her dirndl dress, she climbed up on the horse and was off!
Shortly thereafter, Ingrid was invited by a group of like-minded equine enthusiasts to join a new riding club (Reitervereine) to help revive and support equestrian sport in Germany. She accepted the offer. Of course, her father was not happy about her decision, and he made it clear he would not support her involvement, so Ingrid took whatever extra work she could find after school in order to pay her new club dues. The club members scrounged up horses to borrow wherever they could, but it was particularly difficult for Ingrid to find a horse to borrow, as she was a girl and no one would lend a girl a horse. Finally, the owner of a furniture store loaned her his hauling horse.
Eventually, Germany reorganized itself, and with it, its riding clubs and schools were reorganized. In the 1950s, Ingrid moved to the city of Kassel. There she had the opportunity to receive lessons and to ride, riding–not workhorses. She competed at A & L Level and received the German silver medal.
In the late 1950s, standing in a barn aisle, Ingrid met her future husband, a Texas soldier named Edwin Gentry, and married him in 1962 with a four-in-hand providing the “music” to the church. Ingrid first came to the United States in 1963, when her husband was stationed at Fort Meade from 1963-1966. When he left for Vietnam in 1967, she moved in with the Rogers family in Leesburg, learned about Thoroughbred racehorses, helped out with Pony Club and became a U.S. citizen.
Then it was back to Germany for another four years, during which time Ingrid immersed herself in preparation for becoming a Reitwart (certified riding instructor) in 1968. She received permission from the national federation to take the amateur riding certification examination for the level just below the professional rider in 1969, got her license to teach in Bavaria (Uebungsleiter), earned her certification to be a judge, and also received the bronze medal in driving.
Ingrid committed herself to every opportunity to enrich her knowledge, like training horses and giving riding lessons. She spent almost a year substituting for the head of a large riding stable with approximately 50 horses; it was very demanding work, starting at 6:30 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m. seven days a week, and the only riding opportunities for the instructors were the green horses or the horses that needed “fixing” after having been ridden by club members. From there she moved to the Schwabach Riding Club, with only seven school horses and 12 private horses, and it was “like heaven!” She spent nine weeks at The Reitinstitut Egon von Neindorff in Karlsruhe, which was her only opportunity to ride upper-level horses.
In 1971, she and Ed relocated permanently back to Maryland. They first lived in Laurel, with Ingrid driving down to Chevy Chase to ride at Meadowbook and to the Potomac Horse Center to ride with Betty Howett. She quickly learned that the hunter ring was vastly different from anything she had known in Germany, and she was promptly told that she needed to learn how to ride.
However, not too long after she arrived, Ingrid had the good fortune to meet “Col. Ed” (Clarence Edmonds), one of the founders of the Potomac Valley Dressage Association (and one of the founders of dressage in the United States). Soon, Ingrid had found her way into Maryland’s nascent dressage community.
At the age of 39, Ingrid purchased her first horse, a little grey Thoroughbred mare named Impatiens. Around this time, Ingrid also stumbled into a fascinating new sport called foxhunting: “Chasing the live fox was illegal in Germany!” explained Ingrid. In the 1970s, the horse world was not as segmented as it is today, in which most dressage riders would never dream of foxhunting. Ingrid’s German riding education including not just dressage but jumping and driving…and she still had the spirit inside her of “riding like an Indian!” Ingrid soon became a passionate member of the Iron Bridge Hounds and continued on as a member of the merged Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds.
Ingrid also managed, eventually, to get a version of a “spotted pony” (of sorts): an Art Deco baby.
Despite her silver medal and various German certifications (including those for judging), Ingrid had to start at the beginning in the United States, with the Learner Judge’s Program, finally earning her large R in 1981.
These days, at the age of 77, it is just Ingrid, her retired horse Papillon, and her dog Picasso on her tidy five-acre farm in Dayton, Ed having passed away in the early 1990s. She still teaches some and judges. Being “old school,” she doesn’t market herself on the internet; she doesn’t have a website; she doesn’t blog or Facebook, and she doesn’t name-drop. But what she has, and what she offers, is a solid foundation in classical dressage…for anyone who cares to unplug, silence the cell phone, turn off the hand-held, and just listen…ride and listen…listen to the music!
Brenda Bower Herzog
Brenda “Good To Go” Herzog
To anyone who knows Brenda Bower Herzog, she is a legendary lady…but not for reasons we would ever choose.
Brenda Bower was in her early 20s when she leased a bit of land up in Baltimore County on which to start her horse business. It was 1990 when she opened the doors to “Good To Go,” the same year that The Equiery was launched, and Good To Go Farm was an early client of The Equiery.
Up to that point, Brenda’s story had been that of your typical horse-crazy local girl. Much to her father’s dismay, she eschewed college, instead enrolling in and graduating from the now-defunct Morven Park International Equestrian Institute in Leesburg, Virginia. She had worked for Olympic rider Karen Lende O’Connor and at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg. She returned to the Baltimore area, leased her farm, and helped to make ends meet by working as a vet technician and galloping race horses for steeplechase trainers Bruce and Charlie Fenwick and Jennifer Small.
So far, Brenda’s life was that of an ordinary horse-crazy girl…until January 8, 1991. The day started like any other. She showed up at Sagamore Farm to gallop some horses for trainer John Pizzurro. “Little did I know the horses hadn’t been out of their stalls for days,” explained Brenda. Sagamore is famed for Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s clever galloping track inside the barns, circling the stalls. All an exercise rider had to do was to tack up in the stall, step out of the stall and they were on the track. But instead of stepping out of the stall, the now pent-up and fractious young horse bolted out of the stall, slamming into the wall and leaving Brenda in a crumpled heap.
“I tried, but I couldn’t sit up,” Brenda said. She had a punctured lung, five broken ribs, a fractured collarbone and a thoracic (T4-T5) spinal injury, which left her paralyzed at the chest level.
She was flown by helicopter to the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where she remained for a month, and then was moved to the Craigh Institute in Colorado to begin her rehabilitation.
“Right from the start, they didn’t cut you any slack,” Brenda recalled. “When I first got there, I wanted a glass of water. The nurse told me, ‘Get up and get it yourself.’ I did manage to get over to the sink, but then I threw up and barely made it back to bed.”
After three months of strenuous physical and occupational therapy, Brenda returned to Maryland. She drove with Sybil Dukehart and “Driving for the Disabled.” She also taught disabled riders at the Carroll County Agricultural Center.
Neighbors and friends rallied around her and a year after her accident, bought Brenda a fully-equipped handicapped-drivable van. “The first time I drove to the grocery store, I was nervous and scared,” Brenda said.
“I parked in the lot, pushed my buttons and thought, ‘Well, everybody is going to stare at the crip and think oh, that poor girl.’ The fact is, no one stared at all. That’s when I realized this doesn’t have to be that hard.”
“I’ve learned that people are really good,” Brenda explained. “They are easygoing about this situation. They offer to help, but don’t overdo it.”
Ever the horse person, Brenda just kicked on, figuring out a way to continue to run her stables, mucking stalls and feeding out of her wheelchair. Like many barns, this one had an apartment attached, but unlike many barns, this apartment was on ground level, enabling Brenda to continue living on the farm while running the operation from her wheelchair.
She married her long-time boyfriend, Mike Herzog, in 1996, and had the first of her two daughters the following year. What was the most challenging thing about having a baby in a wheelchair? “She kept getting away from me!” laughs Brenda. “I had to use a harness and a leash on Maggie, or she would just disappear!” Apparently, daughter number two, Heidi (now 9), went a little easier on mom.
However, daughter number one’s courage and drive has not died, as Maggie Herzog has been a regular on the Maryland Steeplechase Association’s junior racing circuit since the small ponies, earning a foxchasing scholarship in 2006, Medium Pony Rider and Junior Horse Rider of the Year in 2009, and Junior Horse Rider of the Year in 2010. This year she is riding out on Irv Naylor’s homebred “Sweet Buns.”*
In the early double-aughts, Brenda and Mike purchased some land in Upperco and began building their own facility, custom designed for Brenda’s needs. “I can now wheel all around the barn, get to the hay and back to the stalls.” The house is likewise fitted to accommodate Brenda, and the family of four moved into their new home in March of 2002. A Ford F350 with a rotating and vertically descending/elevating driver’s seat and a wheelchair lift in the bed means Brenda can travel independently, something she values.
Brenda still teaches, and her roster has grown to about 15 students. They keep about 12 horses on the 14+ acre farm, most of them client horses. Brenda no longer mucks or feeds; hired help now mucks and the girls handle the feeding and turning in and out before and after school.
Mike has retired from his job as a heavy equipment operator for Baltimore County Department of Roads and Highways and now works for the Baltimore Country Club.
Despite the promise of stem cell research and a cure being just around the corner, Brenda’s prognosis remains the same. But her overall health is good. She still rides her special execise bike twice a week, which keeps her muscles toned and her heart rate up. Like everyone else in her situation, she is prone to infections and is experiencing more rapid bone density loss than the average person.
It has been 20 years, but the administrative battles never seem to end. Despite Maryland law, the trainer for whom Brenda was riding did not carry workman’s compensation insurance. As a result of Brenda’s accident, he has lost his trainer’s license.
Brenda, meanwhile, had to endure a five-year battle to get the workman’s comp she deserved. Now, Social Security is challenging her disability payments, and is demanding a lump-sum return payment from Brenda’s family. With no money in the kitty for legal help, Brenda and her brother are patiently working their way through the Social Security system of appeals on their own, but there is no guarantee.
Nevertheless, with her infectious smile and a vivacious tenacity, Brenda Herzog is still “good to go” and one of our extraordinary lady legends of 2011!
In March of 1999, The Equiery published a profile on Brenda Herzog and two other Maryland riders who had endured different levels of spinal trauma and paralysis (see equiery.com/archives). The following month, Irv Naylor suffered a fall in the Grand National and is likewise confined to a wheelchair. Thus, Brenda and Irv have, over the years since, come to know each other, and Irv has been very supportive of Maggie’s racing goals.
Science, Sailing & Horses
It is safe to say that you don’t know that you are unusual if everyone around you is just like you.
Thus, Jane Toal did not realize she was unusual.
For a woman born in 1921, it was extraordinary for women to enter into any of the scientific fields (except perhaps nursing), so when one learns that Jane Toal had a 30-year career as a research scientist at the National Institutes of Health, beginning in the late 1940s, one invariably wants to learn where and how this pioneering spirit emerged.
But there is no mystery!
Jane Toal grew up surrounded by male and female doctors, scientists and atheletes.
Jane’s father, Benjamin H. Nicolet, received his PhD from Yale at age 21, served on the faculty for the Chemistry Department at the University of Chicago, and then accepted a position as a researcher studying the chemistry of milk at the United Stated Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Research Facility in Beltsville. The USDA Beltsville Facility had become the largest agricultural research center in the world, and was quickly attracting all the best and the brightest in all fields of agriculture.
Nicolet settled his family in nearby Riverdale, and here Jane grew up surrounded by research scientists and medical doctors–and animals.
Jane’s mother, Kathryn Hasley Nicolet, grew up outside of Pittsburgh, and trips home to the family farm on Squirrel Hill meant hours and hours of riding in the rolling hillsides.
Jane was an active Girl Scout, earning her Golden Eaglet in 1938, the last year it was offered and the highest award a Girl Scout could earn. According to Jane, the award, which was modeled after the Boy Scouts’ award, was discontinued precisely because it was too much like the boy’s program (with a high level of camping and outdoor skill requirements) and organizers thought that the girl’s program should not be quite as rugged. Jane’s troop was led by the legendary (in Girl Scout circles) Lucy Knox, who came from a family of accomplished female athletes, including her sister, Irene Knox, the Athletic Hall of Fame member of the University of Maryland’s Women’s Rifle Team, who never missed a bull’s-eye in individual competition, earning her perfect score of 600 that has never broken, and helping her Terps team, nicknamed the “Maryland Gun Girls,” earn national titles. This level of can-do athleticism became an integral part of Jane’s character.
Two friends of her parents, Wilton and Emogene Earl, became very influential in Jane’s life. Emogene Earl had her PhD in animal nutrition and worked with Jane’s father at the USDA Dairy Research facility. Her husband, Dr. Wilton Earl, was a tissue researcher for NIH. Emogene Earl would invite young Jane to visit her horse, which was boarded with the Aitcheson family’s original stable on Gunpowder Road in Laurel (before they established their famed stables on what became Riding Stable Road in Laurel). And when Whitney Aitcheson starting taking groups of riders out when he took out his hounds, Jane was right there with him.
Soon, two of Aitcheson’s boarders, Drs. Sy and Kate Karpeles, a husband and wife physician team who practiced in Washington, decided that the riders at the Aitcheson stables should pool their funds and help feed the hounds, and Iron Bridge Hunt Club was formalized in 1937.
Meanwhile, via street car from Riverdale into Washington, DC, Jane attended McKinley Tech High School, the country’s premier science and technology public school built in 1926 with a $26 million dollar grant from Congress. From there, she attended Oberlin College of Arts & Science in Ohio, a small, private progressive liberal arts school known both for its coeducation and its chemistry department. At Oberlin, Jane majored in chemistry and pre-med, with the idea of becoming a veterinarian. However, when she was unable to put ointment on a horse’s ear, that idea went out the window and she went on to earn her Masters in biochemistry from Cornell University in New York City in 1946.
Although away during the school year, Jane came home every summer, usually free-leasing a horse and riding as much as she could. After Cornell, it was off to work at Rutgers University in New Jersey…yet she longed to be home and with the horses. So, in 1948, when her father’s old friend, Dr. Wilton Earl, needed a research assistant at the National Institutes of Health, Jane eagerly accepted the position, and it was back home to Riverdale, with long days in the lab and long days in the hunt field!
Jane worked in tissue cultures, the science of growing cells, a science that ended up lending itself well to the schedule of foxhunting, as the cells needed intensive care for three days (regardless of what days of the week they might be), so Jane was able to arrange her schedule so that she could usually hunt on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
By this point, the Iron Bridge Hounds were in full swing, fully ensconced in kennels with a clubhouse off of Riding Stable Road and rollicking through the hills of Burtonsville, Savage, Scaggsville and what would eventually become Columbia, Jane whipping-in to Whitney or Leiter Aitcheson every chance she got (and occasionally having to pull huntsman duties herself).
In the summertime, with no foxhunting, Jane decided to take up sailing, taking lessons on Wednesday and Saturdays at the Buzzard Point Boat Yard in Washington with Archie and Cora Mason.
Meanwhile, she met and married Vince Toal. A veteran of the Omaha Beach offensive in the Battle of Normandy during World War II, Vince suffered from extreme shell shock, or combat fatigue (what would today be called post-traumatic stress disorder), and the couple divorced after two years. Distraught, Jane did what any sensible woman would do: she bought a sailboat.
Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout, and Jane soon found herself teaching sailing lessons to Girl Scouts, and then found herself leading a troop out of Bethesda for the next 15 years.
Finally, in the early 60s, Jane was ready to settle down, buy her own place. But what would it be? The small horse farm of which she had dreamed for years? But then, if she were taking care of a farm, what would happen to her sailing? The answer became clear when the Eastport cottage next door to her sailing mentors, Cora and Archie Mason, came on the market. Located just outside of Annapolis and on the water, Jane’s boat was virtually docked in her back yard. She would live with her boat and commute to her horse.
Jane spent 30 years at NIH, most of the time supporting the search for cures to cancer, mapping the structure of RNA and DNA and eventually working on hydrolyzing cells with chromatography, and had her work referenced in the 1996 Handbook of Chemistry. During those years, due to the arduous nature of the research, there were no vacations. After Jane retired in 1977, she threw herself into more hunting and into traveling, and she was particularly fond of riding trips in the west. In 1992 and in 1996, Dr. Mike Ellis gave her new hips (as he has done for oh-so-many foxhunters) and she continued to kick on for a few more years, finally hanging up her spurs in 1998.
But you won’t find her staying at home. Everyone knows Jane, because Jane is everywhere. Jane is ubiquitous! She stayed active with the merged Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds, regularly traveling all the way from Annapolis to the new kennels in Mount Airy to work the registration table at social functions. She is a fixture at Maryland Horse Council meetings and at TROT meetings. Whenever there are efforts to reestablish the trails along the Patuxent River watershed (the Howard/Montgomery border, the old Iron Bridge stomping grounds), she is there, supporting the efforts. For this, in 2005, Jane Toal was presented with the Maryland Horse Council’s Pumphrey Memorial Award for “behind the scenes” service to the Maryland equestrian community.
The Drs. Wilton and Emogene Earl, the Drs. Sy and Kate Karpeles, her father and her mother…the world in which Jane grew up was equally populated by men and women of science, so for Jane to have gone on to a career in science was not unusual. In her world, her career choice was ordinary. But for women of her era, Jane Toal led an extraordinary life, certainly making her a legendary lady in the Maryland horse world!
A Good Education is a Good Education
Louise Hollyday has spent over 60 years teaching beginners, children specifically, how to ride. Without instructors such as “Miss Louise” (as she has been known to generations of students), we would not have the robust equestrian community that we have today. Every rider has to start somewhere, and someone has to have the patience, good humor and wisdom to teach small children, to start them on a lifelong love affair with the horse, a lifetime in the saddle.
In 2005, we wrote in The Equiery:
“Miss Louise’s story is her own, the tale of one hardworking woman, but it is a tale that is representative of all riding schools everywhere, that very first gate that would-be riders pass through on their way to becoming “riders” and “horsemen.” Like all trainers, camp counselors and riding instructors who hold the key to a child’s introduction to horses, Louise is an unsung hero in the equestrian business. Where would the horse world be without the Louises of the world? The Louises of the world ARE Columbia Horse Center, Wheaton Park, Potomac Horse Center, Woodmont, Tranquillity Manor,…the beginner lesson programs that steadily function without glory or attention.
“Beginner lesson programs do not specialize in the bright lights and the glossy stage of the show riders and their ribbons; they operate behind the scenes, far offstage. Louise’s decision to teach only beginning children (and neither adults nor teenagers) ensures that her work provides the foundation for many of today’s great instructors.”
As a Maryland Horse Person of the Year, and as a Local Lady Legend, we shine a bright light on the backstage, on all who work tirelessly to teach beginning riders. To this day, Louise remains a vital, unique personality whose life is entwined with her work.
Born in 1929, Miss Louise grew up in Roland Park surrounded by accomplished riders, including but not limited to her mother, a local teacher, and her grandmother’s chauffeur, who ended up being her first instructor. “Although she was a damn good horse woman, I didn’t learn from my mother,” explained Miss Louise. “It is almost impossible for mothers to teach their kids to ride. Always has been.” And in a nutshell we have Miss Louise’s business plan!
The second world war came, and it was off to Warrenton Country School, and it was here that Miss Louise discovered her knack for teaching beginners when she was pressed into serving as a substitute instructor for the school’s riding program. While in school, Louise aspired to be a vet, but as was typical of the time, Warrenton did not offer science classes, which Louise needed to get into a veterinary assistant training program. She also learned later that her mother’s vet, Dr. Gadd, actively thwarted Louise’s interest, as vet work “was not the place for a lady.”
While she tried to figure out “what she wanted to be when she grew up,” Miss Louise began teaching lessons from the family farm on Cowpens Road in Towson, and soon one thing led to another. She and her mother began collecting more crossbreds to use in Louise’s lesson program, but after a while decided that they would have better luck breeding their own mounts for the program. In 1950, they acquired the good pony stallion Severn Chief. Chief was such a good, reliable sire that they soon had a breeding business in addition to the lesson program, and Ponies for Children, Inc. was founded.
With a thriving business breeding and showing Welsh ponies (under the Cylynnen prefix) and English-style Shetlands, Miss Louise and a friend, Pat Archer, recognized the need for a unifying influence on the pony breeding business and, with the help of Humphrey Finney from the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, founded the Maryland Pony Breeders, Inc. in 1953.
Despite the fact that for 10 years Miss Louise had been operating two successful horse businesses (the riding program and the breeding operation), Louise’s father believed that that his daughter’s career would be more legitimate with “a piece of paper that actually said I was an instructor,” she laughs. So off she went to England to earn her British Horse Society Association Instructor certificate–and she was one of the first from the States to do so.
Back home, in addition to the extensive health care stable owners give their own horses, Miss Louise was able to fulfill a bit of the “vet” dream by serving as a vet tech every Tuesday to Dr. I. W. Frock, one of the area’s most prominent veterinarians, and the regular farm vet for Alfred Gwyn Vanderbilt’s famed Sagamore Farm, home of Native Dancer and other such illustrious Thoroughbreds (see equiery.com/archives for Ross Peddicord’s wonderful article on “The Grey Ghost.”)
Miss Louise continued to grow her businesses, and continued to produce accomplished and well-prepared young riders and horsemen and women, including (but not limited to) Betsy Firey, Streett Moore, Sally Shirley, and many others.
After the deaths of her parents, Miss Louise relocated her business to Upper Beckleysville Road in Hampstead. In the 1990s, deciding that it was time for her to scale back the size of her program, she made an arrangement with another former student, Sharon Schilling. The Schillings took over the main house and Miss Louise moved into the cottage. Louise maintained her ponies in the older barn, while Sharon built a bigger barn on another part of the farm for her horses.
And last year, after 62 years of teaching beginner riders, at the age of 83, Miss Louise retired. But Miss Louise’s legacy will endure, in the thousands of students she taught, and in their students and their children…because “a good education is a good education.”
Kitty McLane Hoffman
Esse Quam Videri
To Be Rather Than To Seem
When the Green Spring Valley Hounds meet, it may look as if the field is following Master Sheila Jackson Brown, but they are riding behind Miss Kitty Hoffman just as assuredly as they are riding behind Sheila. Do not pass the Master!
Katharine McLane Hoffman, or Kitty as she is known, is “of the Valley” and is “the Valley.” Her mother was the accomplished horsewoman Ethel McLane Lee, so accomplished, in fact, that Frank A. “Downey” Bonsal and others lobbied the Maryland Hunt Cup committee to break with the prohibition against lady riders to allow Ethel to race (Frank A. Bonsal won the Hunt Cup in 1927 and 1928 aboard Bon Master). Their request was denied, but verdict was clear: Ethel was an extraordinary rider.
Born in 1920, Kitty, along with her brother Dick and her sister Ethel, spent their early childhood in the Baltimore countryside of Owings Mills. After the crash of Wall Street in 1929, their father, R. Curzon Hoffman, gained a reputation for helping businesses reorganize back into solvency. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Hoffman specialized in public utility companies and insurance companies. Thus, the family began relocating to different cities, including New York, Atlanta and Chicago, sometimes spending less than a school year in a location. Finally, their mother decided that the children needed stability in their living environment and consistency in their education, and so they returned to Maryland. Dick was sent to The Gilman School, and the girls were re-enrolled in The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. “And we hated it!,” declared Kitty, “absolutely hated it!”
Around that time, the co-headmistresses of the still relatively new Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills began to lobby the girls’ mother, assuring her that Kitty and Ethel would receive a proper college preparatory education. Their mother consented, and the girls were enrolled at Garrison. And was it a good school? “Oh, the best!” exclaimed Kitty. “We had fabulous teachers, very well-educated women who knew people. It was small. We loved it! My sister and I both became strong supporters.”
Such strong supporters, in fact, that each would later return to Garrison–but not before life took some interesting turns.
Brother Dick graduated from Gilman and left for college, graduating from Princeton in 1936. Sister Ethel was sent to Paris for a year. Kitty and her sister, only a year apart, were so close that folks often thought that they were twins, so the separation was intentionally designed, with Kitty staying home and enjoying her debut.
Kitty graduated Garrison Forest in 1937, but at that time, a college education was not emphasized for the girls. So, lacking a specific plan but wanting to stay busy, Kitty took a job with an insurance company. World War II broke out and, following the motto of Garrison (“to be, rather than to seem”), rather than just “seem” supportive of the war effort, Kitty volunteered to do something: she signed on with the Red Cross.
Stationed in the Pacific theater, Kitty served three years in the Red Cross’ Recreation and Social Activities Division, which was sent in once a new military base had established. Kitty’s division brought comfort and distraction to exhausted and war-weary soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen. Her posts included New Guinea, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and eventually Japan. The Red Cross volunteers lived in jungles, dealt with snakes, bombs and more, slept in grass huts, and coped as best they could. Kitty rarely wrote letters home, and was called before her supervisor after her parents sent word seeking information about her. By the time she reached Japan to work with her last infantry division, she had already served with them two previous times and had gotten to know many of the soldiers well.
After three years, with the war over, it was time to return to Baltimore. Kitty spent her first year or so stateside schooling horses, eventually returning to the insurance company. From there, her knack for numbers led her into a 15-year partnership in an interior design company, but Kitty never quit schooling horses or foxhunting.
Meanwhile, in 1960, her sister Ethel became director of Garrison’s riding program. In 1964, Ethel was tragically killed, hit by a car while walking the school’s fence line to inspect where another car had run off the road. Stricken by her sister’s death, it was only natural that Kitty would step in and continue Ethel’s work with Garrison’s riding program for the next 15 years.
A key component of Garrison’s riding program in those days was foxhunting. Then, Green Spring Valley Hounds met on Thursdays at 2 p.m. Kitty would already have the horses loaded and sandwiches packed when class let out at 1:30, and Kitty and the girls would be off to the meet!
It was not unusual for the young riders to fly four-board fences with the first field, and even the occasional Hunt Cup fence. “Oh, we hunted those fences,” recalls Kitty; “if the damned fox goes that way, we go that way! One time, I had six kids behind me, and we came across Tufton Avenue, headed up towards the 18th fence and I hear, ‘Can we jump it?’ ‘Feel free!’ I said, and I took the fence myself. And you know what? They all jumped it. But…they were all on good, sound jumping horses.”
How many students does she think she has had over the years? “Oh, thousands!” Kitty declared, “Thousands!”
Sheila Jackson Brown, MFH for Green Spring Valley Hounds, tells us that she and her sister Cappy “were her girls, along with many of our friends. Hunting on Thursdays was our sport at Garrison, and Kitty spent many an afternoon coaching us at various venues before Hunter Trials and Pony Club rallies. I’m sure that every pony we ever had was scrutinized and had her stamp of approval. She and her sister Ethel were very close friends of our mother’s (they were both bridesmaids in her wedding). She was a terrific mentor, and was and still is our best cheerleader. ‘Aunt’ Kitty still comes to as many hunt club functions as she can, and we love having her there!” Editor’s note: Cappy and Sheila’s mother was also Sheila Jackson, and served as only the second female Master of GSV.
Caroline Worrall, who serves as the digital content manager for the Maryland Steeplechase Association website, was also a Miss Kitty student at the Green Spring pony camp: “Miss Kitty was always very encouraging, but very tough–old school all the way. But she was always fun! She made up great games for us to play that would teach us the fundamentals of riding without our even realizing it.…she taught me how much fun riding could be and how much joy I could gain from becoming a good horsewoman.”
After retiring from Garrison, Kitty has stayed involved, actively participating in all alumni activities, and dedicating herself to ensuring that all the girls who attend Garrison have direction and focus upon graduation.
Kitty Hoffman could have chosen to spend her life in a less rigorous manner, living a life of light responsibilities, social engagements and foxhunting. Instead, she dedicated her life to teaching, to sharing her passion and talent with generations of young riders. Kitty chose to “be” rather than to just “seem to be.”