They will be missed

An honor roll of the equestrians we lost in 2014

 

As we move forward into 2015, let’s take a final glance back through the looking glass and remember some of the wonderful horse people that the Old Dominion lost last year. They will be missed.

JOE AICHESON, JR: Steeplechase rider

 

A Racing Hall of Fame inductee and one of America’s most successful steeplechase riders, Joe Aicheson of Laurel, Md., died at age 85. Considered a ‘master tactician’ Aicheson rode for some of the country’s leading trainers, winning a total of 440 races—seven North American championships, eight Virginia Gold Cups, seven Carolina Cups and six International Gold Cups. But success came at a price. Sportswriter Red Smith once quipped to the Washington Post that “Mr. Aitcheson was held together with baling wire and tape.” Still, the gritty jockey prevailed, riding and winning nearly into his fifties when an accident took him out of the irons for good.

 

RAYMOND FEDERWISCH: Horseman

 

His was the smiling face that young riders looked forward to seeing whenever they competed at the Virginia Intermont College Horse Shows. Federwisch possessed a genuine knack for seeing the best in people and shared his gift with everyone who came to the concession he so enjoyed working. An avid supporter of Savannah College of Art and Design Equestrian Program, he was an avid golfer and an animal lover. A resident of Kingsport, Va., he was 83.

 

W. GARY BAKER: Horseman

 

The Virginia sport horse world lost a valued member of its community following the death of W. Gary Baker at 71. Throughout his life, Baker lent his skill and influence to many state and national equestrian organizations and events. He was chairman of the Virginia Fall Races and the Piedmont Point-to-Point, secretary/treasurer of the Virginia Steeplechase Association, president of the National Hunter/Jumper Association and a member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation National Hunter Committee. For his commitment to showing, he received the United States Equestrian Federation’s Pegasus Medal of Honor in 2007. A show manager, judge and breeder of Thoroughbreds, Welsh show ponies and dogs, Baker passed away at his home in Middleburg, Va.

 

Dr. JOSEPH M. ROGERS: Huntsman

 

The life of Virginia horseman Joseph M. Rogers seems to have been scripted in a bygone era. The Washington Post wrote that Rogers was deeply committed to the rural lifestyle and all that it offered, an ardent land conservationist who placed more than 900 acres of his 1,2000 acre farm under easement. One of the guiding founders of Virginia’s Goose Creek Historic District, he was quietly effective in all that he touched and did. “Dr. Joe”, as he was called, raced and bred Thoroughbreds, three times winning the Virginia Gold Cup. He raised Angus cattle, was MFH of the Loudoun Hunt, co-founded the newspaper Leesburg Today and through it all, remained chief of staff at Loudoun Memorial Hospital and a country doctor who still made house calls. Rogers lived to age 90. Photo by Douglas Lees.

 

HERBERT HOWARD, JR: Veterinarian

 

Herbert Howard Jr., DVM, of Leesburg, Va., spent much of his life administering to everything from “a rattlesnake to an elephant, but his love and specialty was equine medicine,” according to Leesburg Today. Growing up in Loudoun County, Howard, who died at 94, practiced veterinary medicine at a time when country vets were scarce and the demands for their services unrelenting. Having chosen to follow in his father’s footsteps, Howard found himself catapulted early on into a world immersed in turmoil. During WWII, he set up a veterinary hospital in Italy to treat the more than 5,000 horses and mules captured from the Germans. Upon returning to Virginia, he picked up the threads of his practice. But whether advising General Patton on his horse, or President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy on their pets, or delivering a foal at a nearby farm, the affable Virginia vet was referred to simply as “Jack”. A founding member of the Isaac Walton League in Loudoun, Howard established the Leesburg Veterinary Hospital and remained a strong supporter of the Virginia Tech Equine School of Medicine.

 

RACHAEL LAMBERT MELLON: Philanthropist

 

Few of us live to be 103, fewer still care to. Yet despite the infirmities, “Bunny”, as her friends called her, never lost her youthful enthusiasm for a life so long lived, or for the closely-bound ties of family. Nor did her lifelong appreciation for the sheer aesthetic of beauty ever pale in her eyes, despite her near blindness. There was no surface upon which her taste did not play, though, perhaps none revealed such artistry as her beloved Oak Spring farm in Upperville, Va., a 2,000-acre haven of pastures, gardens and trees whose subtle integrated designs belie the grand passion for horticulture that captured her heart since childhood. The widow of Virginia philanthropist Paul Mellon who owned the 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, Bunny brought a sense of refinement to everything she touched. Private and impeccably mannered, she embodied a sense of antebellum Virginia to a broader audience that can’t seem to get enough of her today. The woman who once claimed that “nothing should be noticed,” offered in death a glimpse of herself that fetched prices well beyond the reserves and estimates set by Sotheby’s in New York.

Proceeds from the auction of her collections and objets d’art will benefit the Oak Spring Garden Library in Upperville. Photo from Architectural Digest.

 

ROSANNE S. BERKENSTOCK: Journalist

 

By the time of her death, at 62, journalist Rosanne S. Berkenstock, of Culpepper, Va., had succeeded in garnering more than 70 journalism and photography awards from the Virginia Press Association, the Virginia Press Women and the National Federation of Press Women, among others. She was also a recipient of the Virginia Horse Council Media Award. Growing up in Haymarket, Va., on a farm that produced Angus cattle, Berkenstock developed an early love for horses, which she translated first into 4-H, then later, into equestrian journalism. A former equestrian sports editor of the Fauquier Democrat in Warrenton, Va., (now the Fauquier Times) Berkenstock remained a strong advocate of community journalism throughout her career.

The White Turf Races at St. Moritz

Founded in 1907, the White Turf races have long been a part of the cultural fabric of St. Moritz, Switzerland, drawing Europeans from across the continent to the chic, pricey Swiss hamlet to kick off the winter leg of the fragile, but oh so beautiful life. For three consecutive Sundays in February, it’s a horse race, both on and off the track. Which Russian oil tycoon is charging for the lead? Is that a former Hollywood A list actress lagging slightly behind? Who’s running with whom? Look at that pampered, young socialite making her move onto the field. See who’s bought their title or had to sell their family jewels. Who’s sporting the most prized designer purse?

 

All jockeying is done amid a series of exciting, international sport horse events staged on frozen Lake St. Moritz on Feb. 8, 15 and 22—dates that mingle flat racing with steeplechasing and trotting with a sport called skikjöring, all events underscored by enough air kissing to blow away the snow lying dreamlike on the mountains.

 

What better way to usher in 2015 than by subscribing to equestrian sports, Alpine style. It’s pure and intoxicating fantasy; it makes me want to don a pair of oversized sunglasses, bundle myself in fake fur, wrap a scarf around my neck and get myself back on track by joining the 35,000 well-heeled attendees in the grandstands, Or better still, join the 11,000 beautiful people strolling the promenade of white hospitality tents, everyone sipping the bubbly, cheering on the field of European Thoroughbreds thundering across the frozen oval track, snow flying in all directions—their drama in sharp contrast to the tranquil, snow-capped backdrop of the Engadine Alps.

 

The top race in the card is the Gübelin Grand Prix. This year, 20 horses—12 from Switzerland, two from Germany, three from France and three from England—will battle it out on the lake’s 2,000 meter oval, the Thoroughbreds equipped with the latest in innovative horseshoe studs, their jockeys dressed in colorful silks, protective snow masks and goggles covering their faces and heads as they vie for the more than 100,000 Swiss francs in prize money, equivalent to about 100,000 U.S. dollars.

 

Steeplechasing, now called hurdling, will be making its re-appearance on the silver lake for the first time in 21 years as part of a three-race competition that’s being jointly organized as the new ‘World Snow Hurdle Championship’. Then there’s trotting, always popular with the crowds, though perhaps not so much as skikjöring—the spectacle of horses galloping across the snow, not with riders on their backs, but with skiers in tow. Originating in the Engadine valley in 1906, skikjöring once took place along the road from St. Moritz to Champfèr, with participants staggered at one-minute intervals. Since converting from cross-country to a racing oval, the sport has been run “in a group, horse against horse, skier against skier,” according to a press release from White Turf.

 

And arguably, I might add, fool against fool, as few people would attempt to steer a galloping horse from behind on skis over a 2,700-meter long course at speeds up to 50 kilometers an hour, often amid blinding sprays of snow. Efforts have been made in past years to standardize equipment and practices. Colored skis have been made compulsory so that horses can better avoid stepping on them. But in a sport where so much slips and slides and long lines regularly cross, some claim the race is won or lost on the first turn. Still, no one disputes the adrenaline rush that skikjöring continues to generate. Then as now, the competitor who earns the most points on all three race Sundays is awarded the title of ‘King of the Engadine’.

 

Staging a major equestrian event in the Alps can prove daunting. Mountain passes close, blizzard snows descend upon the valley and uneven temperatures can threaten the lake’s proper freezing. But somehow the games always go on, much as they have for more than 100 years and more often than not without mishap. The Racing Association of St. Moritz continues to incentivize horse owners, seeking to draw quality fields of competitors. This year, among other measures, free stalls are being offered, along with complementary hay and straw to anyone stabling their horse continuously in the Engadine for one week or longer.

 

Spectators need no such incentives. In St. Moritz, where nearly 20,000 private jets touch down each year, the White Turf remains the sporting event and social highlight of St. Moritz’s winter season, popular with equine connoisseurs, jet setters, secondary royals, pardoned billionaires and guide-packing tourists all seeking a winter playground where the sun is said to shine 322 days of the year, everyone looking to be dazzled at a rarefied altitude by gourmet catering from five-star hotels and opulent three-star restaurants all tucked inside a fairy-tale setting that’s part gastronomy, part fashion show, part music concert and all equestrian excitement.

 

Snow upon ice, light upon white—simply beautiful, if only in my mind.

                                                                                                                                                                            By Catherine Macaulay

On the Ground in Mongolia for the Mongel Derby

A few months back, a 32-year-old year old aerospace engineer from Culpepper, Va. named Rose Sandler took off from Dulles Airport heading East toward the longest horse race on earth, the 621-mile Mongol Derby—a grueling test of a rider’s physical fitness and mental toughness.

 

Set against the harsh, Mongolian landscape, the equestrian challenge is riding in the extreme, one that pits amateur and professional contestants from around the world against an elemental challenge of extreme heat, rugged territory and a sudden, fierce, upwelling of storms, each contestant struggling to recreate the unforgiving life of a 13th century Mongolian pony express rider aboard small, feisty horses that lend dimension to the word “go”.

BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE WASHINGTON INT'L HORSE SHOW

SCENES FROM THE 2014 INTERNATIONAL GOLD CUP

She’s Got a Ticket to Ride

I recently read an article detailing why women over 50 should take up horseback riding. Apart from being a healthy and enjoyable means of exercise, riding relieves stress and offers a great way to make new friends and meet up with people, to name a few.  

 

To be sure, riding offers countless rewards to people of all ages. But anyone who has ever spent much time around horses knows that however great the rational to ride, sometimes in practice, things turn out differently than what we might theorize. I offer the following:

Riding builds upper body strength

It’s cheaper than therapy

Forcing you to focus on what’s really important in life

Horses are beautiful to look at

They keep you grounded ...

... and limber

It's refreshing

A great way to make new friends ...

…and meet up with others

There’s no better way to reduce stress

Connecting with the eye of a horse relaxes me

You can ride anywhere ...

...any time

... any time

And it will always keep you in shape

It’s a sport the entire family can enjoy

These exquisite wind-driven gifts upon whose backs our dreams take flight

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