PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA

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Last weekend, with boyfriend (and conveniently, amateur photographer) in tow, I made the trip to the Kentucky Horse Park. I haven’t been there in probably 10 years or so, but have many fond memories of family and 4-H trips there as a youth, and later, going to attend the Rolex as an adult. There have been several changes and additions since I was last there, but in general, it’s exactly as I remember it, the center of all things horse.

If you’ve never been, put it on your bucket list right now. Really, I’ll wait… If you have been, then you’re probably due for another visit. The grounds have heard the muffled thud of hooves for over 200 years, and has changed hands a number of times through the decades, until it’s now over 1,200 acres finally being sold to the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1972, and later opening as the Kentucky Horse Park in 1978, as the world’s only park, dedicated to the relationship between man and horse.

Prepare for a lot of walking. The expansive property offers a large, modern show facility, a training racetrack for the Standardbreds who used to exclusively inhabit the former farm’s grounds, countless barns, paddocks, museums, and artistic displays. What’s great about the park, are all the opportunities available, assuring nobody walks away feeling like they didn’t get something out of their visit.

Upon entry to the visitor’s center, you’re greeted by three bronzes. The first you’ll come to, “Frisky Filly, and The Promise,” a tribute to the innocence and energy of weanling colts and fillies, sculpted into one lying peacefully, hooves drawn in, and another kicking up it’s tiny heels. To your right, a life-size Secretariat on a pedestal, with jockey, Ron Turcotte, and groom, Eddie Sweat. To your left, down a paved path, the tomb and memorial to Man O’ War, surrounded by some of his famous offspring, including War Admiral.

Once inside, you’ll find the gift shop, and the short film, “Rein of Nobility,” playing at 15 minute intervals. For folks who aren’t as horse savvy, it’s a great learning tool, and even if you thought you were knowledgeable, you’re still going to enjoy the film, narrated by William Shatner, an Arabian fan and owner. It served as a great reminder to me, of how we came to have horses in our country. They were on North America as they evolved, then for some reason, disappeared, and didn’t reappear again until the Spanish settlers brought their newly-discovered beasts of burden with them to the new world in the early 1500’s. Horse and man have been inseparable ever since.

You enter the park from the visitors center, and are immediately met with rolling blue-green fields, miles of white fence, and barns in all directions. The park is paved, so it’s fairly handicap-friendly, but there are some low hills which could make foot or non-motorized wheelchair travel a challenge. If you want a casual tour of the park, without all the walking, catch a horse-drawn trolley tour. There are teams of draft horses, representing the five most common draft breeds seen in America (Clydesdale, Shire, Percheron, Belgian, and Suffolk Punch) pulling trolleys at regular intervals through the park. You can get a closer look at them during their downtime, when you visit “The Big Barn.” No, not THAT big barn, nobody has to die here! The original structure was destroyed by fire in the 1920’s, then rebuilt to it’s current glory at 463 feet in length and 74 feet in width, making it one of, if not the, largest horse barns in America.

The variety of attractions include museums dedicated to horses in general, Arabians, and Saddlebreds, as well as memorials and bronze sculptures throughout the park, celebrating legends of the breeds like; Saddlebred, Supreme Sultan, Standardbred, Bret Hanover, Arabian, Bask++, US Olympic team Bruce Davidson and Eagle Lion, Chincoteague pony, Misty, and several others.

Visit the Horses of the World pavilion for a peek at some of the 27 different recognized breeds who call the horse park, home. During mid-March through October, enjoy two daily shows, each featuring a small collection of breeds. Meet the horses and handlers in person, ask questions, and pose for photos with them. Memorial Day through July 31st, meet the next generation of horse park representatives in the daily mare & foal shows.

If you find yourself wondering “whatever happened to that horse…” You might find an answer in the Hall of Champions barn and pavilion. After their illustrious careers come to a close, famous horses can retire here, to continue sharing their stories and greeting their loyal fans. In season, during three daily shows, take the time to meet Quarter Horse; Be a Bono, Thoroughbreds; Cigar, Da Hoss, Funny Cide, and Go for Gin, or Standardbreds; Mr. Muscleman, Staying Together, Western Dreamer and Won the West. A narrator will share their personal stories of triumph with video clips of their races, then the champions themselves will greet you and pose for photos. I spent some time here in our visit, talking with Equine Operations Director, Wes Lanter, and even got to meet Cigar in person! Human celebrities, they don’t thrill me, but give me a famous horse, and I’ll swoon!

Behind the Hall of Champions, lies the expansive show facility, where there’s always a buzz of activity, and the show arena is open for spectators. It’s home to a number of well-known show events, but probably the largest jewel in it’s crown is the Rolex Three Day event, held every April. One of only a handful of FEI four-star events in the world, and serving as a benchmark during Olympic qualifying years, it’s a must-see for all horse enthusiasts. Plan on spending the weekend in Lexington to watch the Dressage and Show Jumping events held in the arena, then lace up your hiking boots, and get a close up look at the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of the Cross Country competition. All large shows usually include a trade show, in case you need to pick up any supplies or souvenirs during your visit.

But wait! There’s MORE! Catering to the 13 and under crowd, is the Kid’s Barn, opened in 2012. Daily live exhibits and lots of fun interactive features are available for the young and young at heart. Guests can learn about grooming and care, they can color and see videos, try their skills at a jump course (scaled down to two-legged size), and even see how they “measure up” in hands!

You’ll be able to tour working tack and farrier shops, and even see the inner-workings of their own mounted police department. Also on site are pony rides, and guided trail rides. You didn’t really think you’d spend the whole day at a horse park and NOT be able ride SOMETHING, right? You can tour the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, and when it’s time to tie on the feed bag, choose from one of four restaurants; Bit & Bridle Restaurant, The Farmhouse Café, Paddock Café & Patio Bar (catering to horse show attendees, but open to all), and The Tack Room Bar & Grille (also catering to the show crowd).

Everything you need to know, to plan your trip to the Kentucky Horse Park, can be found on their website, http://www.kyhorsepark.com. There are lots of hotels nearby, as well as the ability to check out some of the well-known farms in Lexington, if you have more time to spend. Better yet, gather your barn-mates and plan an outing, the park welcomes bus tours and groups of all sizes. They also offer options for birthday parties and even weddings!

From personal experience, for those of us who live within easy driving distance, the horse park makes a great weekend getaway, especially in the Spring and Fall. So, the next time you’re wondering what to do on a free weekend, here’s the place to go!

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CELEBRITY INTERVIEW: MEET SPARKY, WORLD FAMOUS BUDWEISER CLYDESDALE

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Due to his busy travel schedule, I wasn’t able to sit down with Sparky for our interview in person, though I’m hoping for a meet up later in his tour this fall. Luckily, one of the team’s handlers, who’s much handier typing anyway, was able to help Sparky answer some questions for me, to give you an insider’s perspective on the celebrity lifestyle of a Budweiser Clydesdale. (I bet you thought they just showed up at parades once in a while, and spent the rest of the time filming their heartwarming, and often hilarious commercials, didn’t you?)

Sparky began with the basics. He’s six, and “got the call, up to the big leagues” two years ago. Making the hitch not only requires strength, but a uniform appearance of all the team members. Standing at 18 hands (an equine unit of measurement equal to 4″. That’s six feet tall y’all, just at the highest point of his shoulder, called the withers!), and a beautiful coppery bay coat, black mane and tail, thick white feathers (those long hairs on his legs), with a big blaze of white on his handsome face, meant he was a perfect fit. Sparky recalled, “I was then loaded into the most incredible horse limo. I could smell the stardom ahead as we headed down the highway from Warm Springs Ranch, to St. Louis, MO, wind in my mane, riding in my new 18-wheeler.”

I asked Sparky, to describe a typical “day in the life” for me, and to talk a little about some of his friends on the team. He began, “It’s not easy being a superstar. My day starts off bright and early with my wonderful caretakers coming to greet me. Sometimes I neigh at them, just to tell them “Hurry up, I’m hungry.” But those two legged animals can only go so fast. My handlers carefully measure out my breakfast, ensuring it’s exactly how I like it. They bring me a big red bucket full of an oat mixture, called Omolene, made by Purina feed, the top of the line horse feed. Just like our brewmasters at Anheuser-Busch, my handlers are among the most talented and highly trained in the industry, so I think I can trust them with the most important part of my morning, feeding time. Next they come around and give me a fresh cool bucket of water. My stall is cleaned to perfection and bedded thick with shavings. After filling my belly with high quality Timothy Hay, it’s time to enjoy my morning nap.

Once I am done with my beauty sleep, I go out and stretch my legs. My handlers put my bright red halter on me and lead me out of my stall. Some days they take me for a brisk walk, while other days I get to play with my friends. I travel with nine other Clydesdales; they are like family to me. I would say my closest friend is Levi; he has been here since before I started. Levi is in his mid-teens. He is a well-traveled majestic horse, who has many stories to tell. Then there is Fire and Charlie (those are the biggest horses on my team.) Those two are always together pulling the wagon or playing out in the field. I work with a lot of “newbies”, Princeton, Rascal and Jack, to name a few. And then there is Rock, he is very rambunctious. He is a lead horse and I helped train him when he first came “on the road” with my hitch. Rock always wants to go; he is a very proud Clydesdale, a true definition of team spirit.

I probably should also talk about the one four legged animal I know everyone loves: our Budweiser Dalmatian named Clyde. Clyde is a year old and is quite full of himself, but when it’s time for him to “go to work” (sit on the wagon) he is a true professional. Although he doesn’t quite work as hard as the horses, Clyde does an amazing job interacting with each and every person he can throughout the day. The original purpose of the Dalmatian was to guard the wagon, horses and beer when the driver was making deliveries.

Now that I have had a chance to run around and limber up for the day, it’s time for some pampering. My handlers will choose the eight horses that will be hitched for the day and start grooming them. First, my feathers (the long hair on my lower legs) are washed with a mixture of special shampoos and conditioners, followed by a massage with some curry combs, to scratch all those places I can’t reach, then I am brushed and combed smooth. As I am getting pampered, there are several more of my handlers polishing away at my attire that I will wear later.

I am then braided up with a red and white cloth ribbon with roses placed in my mane. We all get loaded into the meticulously cleaned tractor trailers and off to the show we go – three tractor trailers, eight horses, and of course our Dalmatian, Clyde. Once we arrive, our handlers pull us out one by one, doing a final groom and detail check on every horse. Then comes our time to shine. My solid brass and patent leather collar and harness are carefully carried out from the equipment semi and placed on me. They ensure everything is adjusted to fit me. I am usually the last horse to be hitched to the wagon, this means I am in the lead. We work as teams when we are in harness, starting from the back by the wagon and working our way to the front. Our drivers, now dressed in their traditional drivers green attire, climb up on the wagon, give a loud “kiss” noise, and off we go!”

We then discussed what a Budweiser Clydesdale, and their hitch team, brings to their audience… “Every appearance we make is very unique. We are ambassadors of Budweiser, helping introduce tradition, heritage and quality to a new generation of beer drinkers. It’s an honor to be able to do what my great, great ancestors did over 80 years ago. In 1933, August Busch Jr., gave his father, August Busch Sr., a team of six Clydesdale horses to celebrate the repeal of prohibition. The team was used to deliver one of the first cases of post-Prohibition beer, ice cold Budweiser, to the White House!

And here I am today. We’ve upgraded to an eight horse hitch since then, but still delivering smiling faces to people everywhere! The quality and care that is given to me and all of my four legged friends is a reflection of the same quality that our brewmasters put into each and every Budweiser that is made.

We are true rockstars and live an exceptional life. We couldn’t do it all without our trained handlers. There are always six handlers traveling with us; they do it all. They are professional truck drivers, groomers, horse trainers and oversee the daily health and care for my team.”

That, is one classy guy. He may be a younger member of the team, but he clearly was well-raised and handled by real pros. Speaking of, I owe a debt of gratitude to someone else who’s a celebrity in her own right…

Many thanks to Kat Metzger (and the rest of the PR team, who helped arrange this interview)! Kat has been an important member of the traveling team for about three years. She grew up in the horse industry, showing in 4-H with her Foundation Quarter Horses, before moving on to competitive vaulting (gymnastics and dance on moving horseback). She added, “that’s where my love of draft horses developed.” I would think so! If I were going to be standing on the back of a horse, dancing or performing gymnastic moves, I’d want the safety and stability of that broad back too! She later attended Michigan State University, graduating with a degree in Equine Management.

Kat spent seven years working in Colorado, for various trainers and stables, before deciding it was time for a change. Taking a shot in the dark, she mailed her resume to the Budweiser Clydesdale Operations. Much to her surprise, she got a phone call shortly after from the General Manager of the Clydesdales, followed by an interview, and eventually a job offer that, as she said, “changed her life!”

Sparky asked that I also pass along this message to my readers, “if you want to come meet me and any of my over 200 Budweiser Clydesdale friends, here’s some great links to help you find where we will be next:”

http://www.warmspringsranch.com
http://www.grantsfarm.com
http://www.budweiser.com

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I REMEMBER

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I’m taking a turn from my usual subject matter, for what I hope are obvious reasons today. Every year, I like to share the Budweiser tribute commercial. I think everyone has probably seen it by now, but if you weren’t aware, Budweiser only aired the commercial once, so as not to benefit financially from it. Their only goal was a show of respect. For a horse-person, and an American, it’s deeply touching ( I share it, but I don’t watch it unless I’m alone, because it still brings tears, even after seeing it so many times).

Every year I’m reminded of where I was, what I was doing, and the events of the day as they unfolded. I recall thinking, “I need to remember this. I need to record it, or find a way to keep the memory alive. These are the stories you share with your children and grandchildren.” This year, I started thinking about it last night a little, then this morning, or my drive into work, a bold reminder presented itself, not unlike that morning, now 13 years ago, as I drove to work. I pass Mott’s Military Museum in Groveport, OH, every morning on my way to the office. They’ve been able to collect a number of artifacts from 9/11, including a fire truck, known now as “Fort Pitts.” It was sitting at the base of the second WTC tower as it collapsed, and saved the lives of members of Engine Company 18, because they were able to crawl under it, and other trucks, using them as shields. Every Thursday at 10am, Warren Motts displays the truck. So, when I drove past on this drizzly, gloomy Thursday morning, around 7am, their parking lot was already overflowing, with more cars, and emergency response vehicles, waiting in the road to turn in. For more information about the Motts Military Museum, please go to their website, http://www.mottsmilitarymuseum.org/index.html.

In September of 2001, I was working for a local tack store. I was married at the time, to a state trooper, and I remember talking to him on the phone, as I drove to work around 9am that morning. Back then, I listened to a morning radio show on a top 40 station, with crazy dj’s who all had funny nicknames, and were known for their ridiculous stunts. When their news girl broke into their dialogue with the shocking news, it didn’t seem suspect at first. I don’t know that it seemed real to anyone at first. The initial plane, crashing into the first tower, could have easily been a one-off accident, or some crazy fake news story… But it wasn’t. She usually had humor in her voice when she would read something silly or fake, but her voice was notably more serious that morning. The show ground to a halt as she went to the internet to look for more information, as the second plane struck the second tower. In shock she went on to describe the events, all along questioning if it was real and why it was happening.

By the time I reached the tack store, everyone’s attention was focused on the radio news. It was eerily still inside, dark in some corners where florescent lights hadn’t warmed up yet, the owner and few other employees who’d arrived early all gathered beneath a speaker, mouths agape. As our day began, the additional planes crashed in Pennsylvania and Washington DC. The towers crumbled under the stress of the blows they’d received, and America came to the realization that we were under attack.

We did our best to carry on as usual, only stopping when new information was shared on the radio, to listen. Customers came and went; we talked about what we’d heard, and how they were dealing with the news. Parents talked about how their children came home to them, asking questions they’d never thought they’d have to answer in their lifetime. “Mommy, Daddy, are we at war?” To say that the day was overwhelming, is a tremendous understatement, and it didn’t even affect me directly (not knowing anyone injured or lost personally, and not having been near any of the crash sites). How the people who were affected, did get through that day, and the days after, I can’t even begin to imagine. I know when tragedy strikes, as humans, we often shift unknowingly, into an auto-pilot function. We find the will and the way to do what needs to be done, to help who needs to be helped, and to get through whatever adversity until it’s behind us. It is unfathomable. Yet, here we are, 13 years after, and we’re still standing. Dirty, bruised, and beaten, but not broken.

There was a television in the house behind the tack store, which I think we tried to watch, but couldn’t really get a picture on, so I didn’t actually see what had happened until I got to my parents’ house that night. It occurs to me now, going there, instead of home. Maybe my (then) husband was working, I’m not sure. Maybe I just wanted to be around my family. I sat on the sofa in the living room, in stunned silence, tears running down my cheeks, and watched the replay of the attacks for the first time. Thinking about it now still makes my chest tight. If you’ve never had to witness a tragedy before, the first time it happens, you feel compelled to watch it over and over, to allow your mind the chance to absorb everything it’s experiencing, and put it all in some kind of identifiable order.

Another piece of that day that stands out, is a photograph that was published in nearly every magazine and paper. You might remember it by description; it was of one of the towers, and a man, either falling from, leaping from, or being thrown from it. You couldn’t make out the man’s face, but you could see what he was wearing clearly enough. I remember thinking, “what a terrible photo to publish.” That man was someone’s husband/father/brother/son, and while I can’t see what he looks like, someone will see it, and know that he was their loved one, and that will be the last picture they have of him.

I’m reasonably certain, that as every family member, returned to every home that night, all over the world, people hugged tighter, said “I love you” more, or maybe for the first time even, and breathed collective sighs of relief, that they were together at the end of the day. Here we are now, 13 years later, possibly facing another war, just as we felt we might have been on the path to recovery from the last. War is inevitable I guess, destruction and recovery a part of life.

To every member of America’s front line, I applaud and appreciate you. The choices you have to make are often difficult, but I trust that they’re in the best interest of our country. To the families, friends, pets, and loved ones, waiting at home, I applaud and appreciate you, for your sacrifice. To those who’ve lost their lives, standing up for the country and beliefs they call their own, you have my appreciation and ultimate respect. God bless America ❤

WHEN DISASTERS STRIKE

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http://www.gohorseshow.com/article/Our_Community_News/Our_Community_News/Judges_Exhibitors_Share_Most_Memorable_Fashion_Disasters/39712

I remember once, arriving at a show, having mom follow in another car, only to discover she’s driven the wrong one, and all my clothes were still parked in our driveway at home. Oops! Or another time, at the first show of the season, it was still very cold. Trying to pull on tall boots that fit LAST YEAR, but I hadn’t checked to see if I could still stuff my legs into them before we left. Even after letting them warm up in the truck, it was to no avail.

Any time I read a story that reminds us we’re human, I feel compelled to share. If Joan Rivers taught us nothing else, we have to be able to laugh at ourselves.

PRO’s PERSPECTIVE: THE EQUINE STARTUP

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I’d seen posts on different social media sites for this company, and thought it looked adorable. Who doesn’t love to play dress up with their ponies? The owner is a connection of mine through LinkedIn, she reached out to me to talk about her business, and I’m so glad she did. These are the stories I love to share, and the kind of businesses I want to promote… thanks Michelle!

Michelle’s company, Equidivine (www.equidivine.com), was started just a year ago. She found inspiration in a mare she rescued from slaughter three years ago, who was in terrible condition. Michelle and her team created a variety of balms to soothe her unhealthy hooves. Her daughter, now seven, acted as a chief product consultant in her play with My Little Ponies. Michelle took the ideas of adding color and sparkle to their otherwise boring hoof balm, and the ideas started growing from there. The line now boasts hoof balm, glitter tattoos, pony paint, and plenty more items, all safe and non-toxic for people and their ponies.

With such a playful palette of products, the company is a great fit in the youth, special needs, and awareness markets. “It encourages children to bond with their horses, through the use of creative grooming, and it works wonders with riding for the disabled,” says Michelle. “We work with the breast cancer pink ribbon foundation, as we donate 5% of our RRP to their charity, and our ponies attend their events all covered in pink.”

I asked Michelle, how do the horses react to your products? What would they have to say? “Horses and ponies don’t react at all, other than the enjoyment of being groomed and fussed over. All products are holistic and as we all know, horses are used to wearing boots, rugs, and other accessories. The products are no different. As a vet in ITV said, horses have no sense of embarrassment, so it’s all for the pleasure of the owner.” Considering my boy made all his public appearances with his “hair done” and makeup on, it’s good to know he wasn’t nearly as embarrassed a I always thought he was! He probably figured all the other horses were as trussed up as him, so why fuss? When in Rome!

Michelle and her products were lucky to appear on ITV This Morning, a national UK television show, and have been in the national press. “We have over 20,000 Facebook likes, and it’s been a great experience, opening our own equestrian business.” Michelle was recently nominated for a South Wales business award, as well as Great British Entrepreneur of the Year awards. Congratulations, Michelle!

To anyone considering starting their own equine business, Michelle added,” do your research, and never let anyone tell you you can’t achieve your goals. It’s important to believe in yourself!”

That’s great advice for any endeavor, Michelle! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, and sharing your story, I can’t wait until I have my next horse, so I can try your products out! (Or maybe I’ll get some anyway, and sneak into a friends barn for a little “redecorating…”)

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