My parents, Pete and Beverley Fields of El Ammal Farm in Charlotte Hall are officially retiring this month and headed south to sunny Florida after running a successful lesson, training and breeding business for over 50 years.
My parents met in 1965 on a blind date. They fell in love and were married just a year later in March of 1966. The newlyweds lived in Florida for about a year while Dad was working for the Martin Company. He then got a job as a civilian for the U.S. Navy and moved to Southern Maryland where they opened El Ammal Farm in 1968. The farm was first located closer to Waldorf but in 1979, they moved to the current location in Charlotte Hall.
Both my parents were natural teachers and loved imparting knowledge and encouragement to their students and horses. Together they embarked on a 53 year journey that included training horses, teaching lessons, breeding sport horses and becoming judges and U.S. team coaches.
Oh! And they also published Conditioning the Horse in the 1980s for U.S. Pony Club.
My mother Beverley Fields first sat on a horse when she lived in Texas and her father let her rent horses at a local stable. After riding there a few times, she got in trouble with the owner because she wanted to teach the horse to rear like Silver on The Lone Ranger. In a short amount of time, she got the horse to hop up on command!
After that, she just dreamed of horses and knew that someday she would ride and train horses. When Mom attended Mary Washington College in Virginia, she drove all the way to the Potomac Horse Center once a week for her lessons. She was definitely hooked, but being a very studious and serious French and Spanish Language major, she tended to her academic studies more than her riding at that time in her life.
Later on, while living in Florida, Mom met a Danish instructor who immediately saw her potential. He created an intensive training program for her and a friend. She his horses as well as her own horses, and he taught her a lot about horsemanship and classical methods.
My mother’s equestrian interests leaned towards the sport of Three-Day Eventing and she began competing in the 1970s. Her first event horse was a 16.2 hand Saddlebred/Thoroughbred cross named Santoman. He had no eventing experience, and in those days, everyone started at Training level as there was nothing lower. About two weeks before her first horse trial, which was at Great Falls in Virginia, Mom decided she should probably take a show jump lesson since she had never done a course before. She ended up taking a lesson with a very young Phyllis Dawson, who has since gone on to compete at the Olympics and runs her own training facility in Virginia.
It was at that first event that she met Henry Stuart Treviranus, who was a founding member of the U.S. Combined Training Association (now the U.S. Eventing Association). Treviranus suggested that she work with former Hungarian Cavalry Officer and Three-Day Event rider, Major Bela Buttykay. She evented several horses at Training level over the years, including another full Saddlebred, Red Storm Rising, and also competed in Competitive Trail Rides. But her real love was Dressage.
Mom gained her FEI Dressage experience on a small, homebred Arab stallion named El Ammal Shageya. He was the son of my father’s 100-mile national champion Endurance horse and was from a Texas Arabian stud farm. What he lacked in flash and talent, he made up in a high work ethic and kindness. Under the tutelage of the late Wendy Carlson, mom successfully competed the stallion through Intermediare II and they were on their way to Grand Prix when an injury ended his career. Shageya retired from competition and sired two lovely fillies.
… Becomes a Judge
My mother has always been a true student of training. She has always deeply understood the true sense of Dressage. We have a saying to our students, “Dressage isn’t A method for training, it is THE method.” She read many books written by such dressage greats as Podhajsky, de Kunffy, and Klimke. She believed she could help horses and riders by adhering to the classical principles, regardless of discipline, breed, or aspirations.
Because she came to riding late in life, Mom was studious, believing in reading, studying theory, and putting theory into practice. She was agnostic about a horse’s breeding, pedigree, and fanciness. She would always reward correct training.
Her love of Dressage led to a career as a licensed judge that lasted for more than 25 years. I have always admired her ability to get to the heart of a test and provide good feedback so that riders had direction, not just a score. She wanted riders to understand the connection between what they felt versus how they scored.
Mom judged classical Dressage shows, the dressage phase in Eventing, and also Para-Dressage, however, she loved judging event horses the most. She found that they could be entertaining, from the pair that just got through dressage because they had to, to horses that were a little frisky, to the few that really got it right. She loved the fact that eventers just get into the ring and go!
An Endurance Rider…
My father Pete Fields, was born in the Bronx, NY, and grew up on Long Island. He didn’t start riding until his late teens when he and his two brothers went out West a few times to camp, and started riding there. Dad fell in love with that type of open riding and ranch horses.
His love of riding out in the open led to a competitive career as an Endurance rider starting in the 1960s. Dad began with limited distance, and with judged one- and multi-day rides. He rode bareback at his first 25-mile ride.
He also loved to play games on horseback and was able to run with the horse and swing up at a gallop. He could grab another person and help him swing up and around on the back, as well. He was a natural horseman, with a kind and easy nature. He was at peace while on a horse and on the trail.
His sense of adventure and joy on the trail rubbed off on me as a little girl. Starting from when I was about four years old, he took me out with him on training rides. I held onto his waist while riding on the back of his champion mare El Ammal Shoho, sometimes for 20 miles. When I was older, I would go out by myself for HOURS on my horses just enjoying nature.
Both my parents were founding members of the Old Dominion Ride, which is one of the hardest rides in the country. Dad competed in it many times finishing in the top 10 several times and winning it a few times too. His horse was named Best Conditioned several times and won the prestigious Old Dominion Award.
My father was also the founder of the Cavalry Award, where the horse and rider must be completely independent. Only the veterinarians were allowed to touch the horse at exam checks. And yes, he won that award as well.
He completed the Tevis Cup once. The veterinarians were extremely impressed with the quality and fitness of Dad’s horse, El Ammal Shoho. They debriefed the riders and staff by holding her as the standard for the endurance horse. I was told that the two people he went out West with were having so many problems on the trails that they were very far behind; but he refused to leave them. The vets were annoyed at him for holding back because he should have been the winner. But my Dad has no regrets – helping friends and having fun were just as important, often more so, than winning.
Dad has also traveled all up and down the East Coast, competing in rides such as the Vermont 100-Mile, and rides in New Jersey, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
He took a long hiatus from Endurance riding due to work and family commitments but when he retired from being a rocket scientist for the U.S. Navy, he bought another horse to get back into riding. As a side note, Dad holds several patents for rocket propulsion and for a sonobuoy program design. He served as a civilian in the U.S. Navy for nearly 40 years.
Dad went through several horses trying to find the right fit before he found the little Arab from Colorado that got him back to the 100-mile rides. That horse, Surefire (sometimes called Misfire or Crossfire,) bucked him off A LOT. Keep in mind, my father was in his late 60s, so getting bucked off was not so fun. After an attempt at the Old Dominion, he had to withdraw due to the horse feeling a bit off after losing a shoe.
He was a little deflated but my mother, his staunch supporter and crew, encouraged him to find another competition. He was invited by some friends up in Canada to do the Canadian Championship 100-miler. He completed the ride easily. It was a huge confidence booster. Dad knew the next year he’d be ready for the Old Dominion again, so at age 71, he got back to where he started in his Endurance career: completing the Old Dominion 100-miler and finishing 12th!
… Becomes a Chef d’Equipe & Commander
My father well established himself within the Endurance community for being a natural diplomat, fair, a good logistician, and always having the horses’ welfare in mind. People trusted him and in the 1990s, he was asked by the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) to be part of the US team’s coaching staff. He served AERC as a member of the selection committee, as Chef d’Equipe, and as assistant Chef d’Equipe.
Dad was the U.S. Endurance team Chef d’Equipe for the North American Championships in 1991 and 1993. He then served as assistant Chef d’Equipe for the 1996 and 1998 teams that competed in the World Championships in Holland and Dubai, UAE. My mother also served as part of the organizing committees and even helped translate for the French and Spanish teams.
Dad joined Trail Rider of Today Search and Rescue (TROTSAR) team in 2005 and is currently the Commander of the organization at 83 years old. He continues to be someone people turn to for wisdom and logistical capability.
The Next Chapter
After 50+ years of running a successful horse business out of Southern Maryland, my parents Pete and Beverley Fields are ready to hang up their muck boots and head to a retirement community in Fort Myers, Florida. They have loved Maryland and will miss many friends but are looking forward to sunny Florida life!
As for El Ammal Farm, which is surrounded by farmers, the Amish community, and new residents, it remains a peaceful little farm. It has been home to many riders and horses who needed a pressure-free way to learn and succeed. As their daughter, it has been my anchor in all stages of my life and for my Navy brother David, it has been a place to always call home. We are immensely proud of our parents, and we just want to say Happy Trails!