Author: GEA (page 2 of 15)

Coming home to Gladstone

By Nancy Jaffer, originally posted on

“My life has been special because of what transpired here,” declared Michael Page, as he arrived at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation stables in Gladstone for a celebration with family and friends.

A month before his 81st birthday, the Olympic eventing multi-medalist arranged the Sunday gathering at a place he knew intimately.

The purpose was to salute Gladstone; Grasshopper and Foster, the horses who were his partners when he rode for the team during the 1950s and ‘60s, and his wife, Georgette, Foster’s groom, whose connections with the revered venue are as deep as his. The lower floor of the USET stables is where the couple’s love story began, and it has continued for more than a half-century.

During their party at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation stables, Michael and Georgette Page recreated their initial meeting. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

“Those of us who lived through this period of time owe a lot to what happened here at Gladstone,” said Michael.

Think “Chariots of Fire,” going back to a time when the strong bond among the athletes and with their sport was the focal point for those aspiring to international equestrian greatness.

The trip down memory lane was especially gratifying for Michael because the building and grounds have been refurbished.

“To see it the way it used to look 50 years ago is exciting. To be at this stage and have a bucket wish and see how it has come back to almost be like it was when you were young–how much better does it get?” he asked. Michael praised the USET Foundation’s management decision that led to extensive work on what can only be called a hallowed facility, which is more than 100 years old. It started as the home of horses and carriages belonging to Wall Street financier James Cox Brady, the master of Hamilton Farm, a vast estate that once spread over three New Jersey counties. In 1961, it became the home of the USET.

Speaking about the Foundation, Michael said, “They recognize the history, and we’re the history. I’m old enough now to appreciate what Gladstone has done for me over the years. This place supplied my horses; this place supplied my wife.”

Michael, who won the national hunt seat equitation championship at Madison Square Garden in 1956, only wanted to ride. He was encouraged and supported by his father, Homer, (someone he quoted often while speaking during the afternoon in Gladstone). Michael went abroad to train, first to England and then to the French cavalry school at Saumur, where the demands were rigorous, from sitting trot until he bled to trying to trying to stay on horses doing levades and caprioles between pillars.

The training served him well when he was given the ride on the notoriously difficult Grasshopper. At that time, riders were assigned to horses owned by the USET or that had been loaned to the organization. Grasshopper was a challenge, but Michael made the most of it and convinced the horse to see the wisdom of cooperating. Together, they took individual gold medals and team silvers at the 1959 and 1963 Pan American Games and team silver at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, the city where next year’s Olympics will be held.

With Foster, who at one time had a penchant for stopping on course, Michael claimed team gold and individual bronze at the 1967 Pan American Games, and individual bronze under extremely difficult conditions at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

There is now a plaque next to a stall at the Foundation stables commemorating both horses, and also the day that Michael met Georgette, Foster’s groom. “Best day of my life. Georgette Page. 12/15/66” reads the bottom line of the plaque.

The stall sign that says it all. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

After his time with Grasshopper, Michael had gone to work with his father in the family’s business, making hat and jewelry box liners. But the team called him back to ride Foster, and Michael eagerly accepted. When he arrived in Gladstone, coach Stefan von Visy told him to “go see George.” That turned out to be Georgette, Foster’s caretaker and Michael’s future wife, who was sitting on a tack trunk. The couple recreated the scene for their guests.

Georgette had answered a want ad for a groom from George Merck of the Essex Foxhounds, but when she applied, the position had been filled. He suggested she work at the USET, and that turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime. It was also an enormous amount of work. Michael was still involved with his family’s company in New York, which meant he had to ride at 4:30 a.m. every day.

“I was here at 3 o’clock every morning, because he had to get on the train,” recalled Georgette.

“My day was always early. Then he got a second horse, so he had something else to ride, so he would ride that horse after he got back from the city. At 6 o’clock at night, we’d be going around and around again. You lived and breathed it. It was everything about getting Foster to Mexico.”

The Pages’ son, Matthew, expressed his respect and admiration for his father’s “pretty remarkable life” as well as “what my mom and dad have both done. To see them here on the trunk where they met…it’s a good experience they can share and hold onto. It’s really nice.”

Michael Page and his son, Matthew. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Matthew dominated leadline and walk/trot/canter classes as a child before moving on to baseball and dirtbikes. Now 40, the NASDAQ employee never saw his father compete internationally, but he did accompany him to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. At that time, Michael was the team’s chef d’equipe, which meant Matthew got a glimpse of what it took to compete in the most important event in the world.

In his time with the team, Michael was legendary.

“He was winning when none of the rest of the Americans could win,” Michael’s teammate, Jimmy Wofford, once noted. Jimmy couldn’t make the party, but he sent a note, propped against the USET eventing national championship challenge trophy, which stated, “No horses deserve this honor more than Grasshopper and Foster.”

The USET eventing national championship challenge trophy.(Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Michael had many other roles in horse sport as well as being a medal winner and chef d’equipe. At one point, he was head of the selection committee, and chairman of the federation’s equitation committee. With Georgette, he ran Old Salem Farm in North Salem, N.Y., and was a respected hunter/jumper/hunter seat equitation judge until retiring last year.

He continues as resident trainer at the Kent School in Connecticut, and still rides—often without stirrups.

Those who know him well always cite their admiration for his many special qualities; among them, integrity and generosity of spirit.

Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association founder Robert Cacchione recalled he was working as a ringmaster at a show when he met Michael.

“He gave me one of his red coats that he wore in the Olympics,” Robert said, and once he looked the part, that turned out to be the key in getting him more ringmaster jobs. Robert, the executive director of IHSA, appreciates the way Michael interacts with those he teaches and has judged.

“He listens to people and when he talks, he talks about them and for them, and what can help them going forward,” Robert said.

Michael is the only person to have judged the IHSA national championship show five times.

Bonnie Jenkins and Peter Cashman. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Peter Cashman, who with his wife, Sherry, coaches the West Point Equestrian Team, noted, “Michael to me is one of the very finest of his era. I like everything that he stands for. He recognizes it’s not all him, he always makes a point of that, the other people who contributed to make his abilities match up with reality.”

Bonnie Jenkins was judged many times by Michael when she was competing. Now she’s the executive director of the USET Foundation, and proud that Michael returned for his special day.

“He’s somebody who appreciates the sport and what it’s done for him. To see him come back to Gladstone and know how much it means to him, it’s pretty special. Everybody on the staff works together to make sure we can be good stewards of this building and this facility. We’re happy we can continue to do that for Michael and other riders who trained here, and for the next generation who will use it as well.”

This is a copy of an article that originally appeared on Nancy Jaffer Equestrian Sports and is reproduced here with permission. ©2019 On The Rail LLC and Nancy Jaffer. All rights reserved.

Monmouth at the Team: More than just a show

By Nancy Jaffer, originally posted on

The success of Monmouth at the Team is a testament to persistence, vision and risk-taking. Oh yes, and we can’t forget the organizers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty–but more on that later.

The last four years have marked an upswing in the 124-year history of the Monmouth County Horse Show, New Jersey’s oldest show. In 2016, the show’s new owners, cousins Tucker Ericson and Michael Dowling, moved it out of Monmouth County, where it was languishing, and took it north to the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation’s Gladstone facility.

Evelyn Smith won the 2-foot/2-6 Bobcat Derby, a highlight of Monmouth at the Team, riding C’est A Dire Z. The bobcat ears on her helmet were everyone’s favorite accessory. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

They weren’t discouraged by having to go from multiple rings to a single ring (albeit an iconic one) and being unable to hold A-rated classes because of a U.S. Equestrian Federation mileage conflict with the Fairfield, Conn., show. In addition, Monmouth runs at the same time as the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby and Green Hunter Incentive championships are headlining in Kentucky. While the horses in those big money competitions wouldn’t be the ones competing at Monmouth, that conflict means others in the barns of the trainers involved don’t come to New Jersey.

None of that stopped the innovative cousins. There is always moaning that B-rated shows are dying or dead, but Monmouth is doing fine, courtesy of a great location, excellent management (from Creigh Duncan), lots of hospitality and making competitors feel welcome. What a concept!

The hospitality tent offers a great view of the ring. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Entries have been so good at the show, which runs through Aug. 19, that “every night we’re battling the dark,” said Tucker, “and everyone’s having a good time in hospitality. There are a lot of smiles on a lot of faces.”

Bel of the Ball and Sophia Chimenti finished second in the 2-foot/2-6 Bobcat Derby. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

He gets some questioning looks “when I tell people these eight days are made up of four individual B shows, one unrecognized day, and a level 3 jumper show for three days, It’s probably the most unique show in the country for an eight-day span. But it seems to work. There’s something for everyone. It’s a schedule that was kind of forced upon us when we bought the show and moved it, but it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”

Sponsorship continues to grow. New sponsor Aon, which backed a riders’ lounge, brought people to the show from non-profits, including the battered women’s shelter and Make A Wish.

As Tucker observed, people love showing at the USET Foundation, where so many famous riders got their start.

“This is such a great area with lots of grass roots, high-quality people,” said Tucker, noting it’s a perfect time for a show, because people are returning from vacation. For the kids, “it’s their last hurrah before they go back to school.”

“On the weekend, it’s nice having the jumpers, because the sponsors and the community that doesn’t know a lot about horses necessarily can really enjoy the jumpers and understand it a little bit, because height and speed is easier to follow than the subjectivity of the hunters,” said Tucker.

During the week, however, the show’s focus is generally on the hunters and equitation. My favorite time at the show is the Thursday, Bobcat Derby Day. It’s unrecognized, but features two $5,000 derbies; one over 2-foot and 2-6 fences, and the other over 3-foot fences.

Bobcat ear headbands with little tufts on top are quite a “thing” at the show. Riders in the derbies wear them on their helmets and most in the hospitality tent sport them too. The derby winners got plush stuffed bobcats toys to add a flourish to the concept.

Barbara Brummer and Mary Conti of the Nature Conservancy present a toy bobcat to derby winner Evelyn Smith. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

The derbies are presented by The Nature Conservancy as a fundraiser for Bobcat Alley, an area on the border of Sussex and Warren counties. Buying more land will enable the endangered cats (whose mortal enemy is the automobile) to move safely between the New Jersey Highlands, the Kittatinny Ridge and part of the Appalachian Mountains.

“The good news is we’re protecting additional land, so they have the ability to roam. We’re making good progress against our goal of 3,500 acres,” said Barbara Brummer, the Nature Conservancy’s New Jersey state director. There are an estimated 300 bobcats in the state “up from almost nothing in the ‘80s,” she said, when some bobcats were imported from New England to add to the population.

“They’re recovering slowly; they need protected lands, so we just have to keep at it. It’s very rewarding to see everybody enjoying the bobcat ears and just thinking about the bobcat.”

The 2-foot/ 2-6 derby, which had 50 competing, went to Evelyn Smith of Morristown on C’est A Dire Z, a Zangersheide mare who usually does the equitation. As such, “I didn’t have too many expectations in terms of placing coming into this. She’s never won a class like this,” said Evelyn, a sophomore at Delaware Valley University who rides with Lindsay Mohr.

“I just came here to put in a good round and have fun. It came out a lot better than I thought it would. I love coming here every year, it’s such an incredible venue and they run it so well. Being in this ring, you feel like a million dollars,” noted Evelyn, who wants to do the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East there in October, so she had a good school for that in the derby.

The 3-foot class, which drew 32 entries, was won by Centenary University student Madison Myro riding Rock A Feller for only the second time in competition. The Hanoverian former show jumper did some grands prix but was “too slow for that,” according to Michael Meyers, who trains Madison along with Michael Dowling at Windham Hill in Long Valley.

Madison Myro won the 3-foot Bobcat Derby on Rock A Feller. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Madison, a working student for the Michaels, came up with a different path on the handy course designed by Skip Bailey, and while one person copied her complicated route, complete with the fancy turns that boosted her score, she did it better.

“It’s certainly very exciting to win here,” said Michael Dowling, “but we want people to come here and have a great time, so we’re really excited for everybody’s success.”

Barbara Brummer and Mary Conti of The Nature Conservancy with Madison Myro on Rock A Feller and winning trainers Michael Meyers and Michael Dowling. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

The excitement over, he started collecting the garbage from cans around the ring. After that, it was going to be a tour of duty cleaning the restrooms to the degree of perfection he expects. Earlier in the day, Tucker—who often bartends—did his share of dirty work by kneeling in the ring and throwing footing in the air during the ribbon presentations so the horses would get their ears up. That’s what I meant about the cousins not being afraid to get their hands dirty, which obviously is part of the secret of their success.

Tucker Ericson made it his business to throw footing in the airto get the horses to prick their ears for ribbons presentations. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

“The organizers live and breathe this. They’re so committed to this,” said Guy Torsilieri, a board member of the Gladstone Equestrian Association, which helps promote the show and other equestrian events in the Somerset Hills.

Hospitality is a big deal in the ringside tent at the show, where a band plays during the afternoons and three meals a day are served, plus ice cream socials during the afternoons.

Julie Berman, who runs the hospitality tent, calls it “great fun. There’s so much energy, so much history, people want to come out and show in this beautiful arena.”

The history is part of Monmouth’s fabric. On a table in the tent are many of Monmouth’s historic sterling silver trophies, and three ribbons from the first show in 1895.

They came from a Californian, Felicia Tracy. She reported, “I believe they were won by horses of my grandparents, Robert S. McCreery and his wife, Madelon.”

Ribbons from the first Monmouth County show. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Also on the table are several vintage photos from Monmouth of Sally Ike, now the USEF’s managing director of licensed officials.

“Monmouth was the first show I ever rode in. I was nine, I did walk-trot. The show was at the Monmouth Park track.

“To see this show come back to Gladstone, it’s drop dead gorgeous; the ambience. It makes me so proud to have been a part of it at the very beginning,” said Sally, whose father, Joseph Lord, was the show’s president in the 1960s. She cited the “community feel” at Gladstone, noting, “that’s the way it was back in the day.”

Sally Ike with a picture of herself getting a ribbon at the Monmouth show when it was at Wolf Hill Farm. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

The hospitality tent is busy–and crowded–all the time, which promotes that sense of community.

“Now in the morning, we have different families and barns sponsoring breakfast and they’re all trying to outdo each other, and people are trying to outdo each other for lunch, and we have themed parties in the evening,” said Tucker.

Cuban, Louisiana, Greek and barbeque are among the different nightly offerings.

All in all, Monmouth at the Team is quite a package. As Tucker observed, “It’s hard to say whether it’s primarily an event or a horse show.” Most of all, though, it’s a destination.

This is a copy of an article that originally appeared on Nancy Jaffer Equestrian Sports and is reproduced here with permission. ©2019 On The Rail LLC and Nancy Jaffer. All rights reserved.

The Dressage Days of Summer

By Nancy Jaffer, originally posted on

The terms “relaxed” and “horse show” would seem contradictory, but they meshed well in this week’s Summer Days dressage competition at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation in Gladstone. Presented by the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association, it had something for everyone, from Grand Prix down to Training Level.

After the weekend heatwave broke, the temperature cooperated, enabling riders (with jackets waived) to try qualifying for regionals, practice for the Festival of Champions in Illinois next month or just enjoy getting mileage at a special venue. It also offered a convenient opportunity for local riders, who didn’t have to ship far for the experience.

One of those in that group, Alice Tarjan, rode 9-year-old Candescent to victory yesterday in the FEI Freestyle class with an impressive 75.450 in the Grand Prix. Candescent means “glowing or dazzling,” and this mare lives up to her billing. It’s a better name than her first two monikers, Celina and Curly Sue (huh?), neither of which were official. She needed to have a name starting with “C” and Alice found the perfect one for a mare whose trot extensions are stunning.

Alice Tarjan and Candescent. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Alice, an amateur who lives in Oldwick, was using Summer Days as a qualifier for Regionals. Candescent already qualified for the Festival of Champions in the Developing Grand Prix; she was reserve champion last year in the USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Dressage National Championship.

The mare came from the Hanoverian auction as a 4-year-old. Alice bought her because she was looking for something she could jump.

“It didn’t go so well. She was really sour in quarantine, I was scared to death,” Alice recalled.

“By the time I finally got her to the point where I could ride her, I was like, `This horse is actually pretty decent, I should probably keep her as a dressage horse,’ ” Alice recalled.

Candescent is black with white socks, reminiscent of Alice’s first pony, the similarly marked Licorice, who was a brat but obviously meant a lot to his owner–she has had several horses with that coloring over the years.

Her other mount, Hester, was in her first show at Summer Days, earning 66.125 percent in Third Level, Test 3, as Alice was in the process of qualifying her for Regionals.

Hester debuted at Third Level with Alice Tarjan. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Second in the FEI Freestyle, riding Intermediate I (it was a test of choice) Betsy Steiner earned 73.500 percent with Swiss W. The mare is very special to Steiner, a professional based at George Morris’ former Hunterdon Inc. in Pittstown.

“She’s so good,” said Betsy. “She’s good-hearted, good from the inside out, she’s kind, she’s super-intelligent, she’s teaching me all the time. She’s made me a more intelligent and thoughtful trainer for horses and riders. She’s a very special soul.”

Betsy hopes to go to the Festival and is schooling Grand Prix with Swiss. “When she’s confident in it, then I’ll take her grand prix,” she said.

The mare, who belongs to Whitney Bailey, selected Betsy as her person. Shopping in Europe during 2015, Betsy saw Swiss staring at her intently.

Betsy Steiner and Swiss W. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

“Don’t look at me like that,” Betsy advised the Baden-Wurttemberger mare, but she already was hooked.

“I just enjoy every second being with her,” Betsy said. “She stole my heart.”

Veterinarian Wendy Furlong of Pittstown was all smiles showing home-bred Amazzing, a 19-year-old spotted former event horse, in the I-1 freestyle to earn a score of 65.850 percent.

“We’re just doing it for fun. It’s just a privilege to come and show at the USET. The fact that we can show here if we’re not trying to go to the Olympics is pretty cool,” said Wendy.

Former event horse Amazzing now specializes in dressage for Wendy Furlong (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

In 2011, she won the U.S. Eventing Association’s Preliminary Master Amateur Rider award with Amazzing and his half-sister, Jazzmine, 16, who also competed at the Gladstone show. Both are out of Wendy’s mare, Jazztime.

Wendy has done an informal pilot study with acupuncture (she’s a practitioner) on both horses. Neither has ever had a hock injection. “They’ve both been very, very sound horses,” she said.

Barbie Asplundh of West Amwell finished second in the I-1 yesterday with the aptly named Gorgeous on 69.412 percent.

Being gorgeous is only part of what her black gelding is about.

“He’s sweet, he’s a wonderful mover, he’s a very forgiving ride. I’ve had him for a year and a half and he’s done wonders for my riding. He’s fantastic. I can’t say enough about this horse,” said Barbie, who got him from Andreas Helgstrand, a Danish rider and horse dealer when he set up shop in Wellington, Fla.

The gorgeous Gorgeous and Barbie Asplundh competing at I-1. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Formerly a dressage professional who has been pursuing her discipline since 1979, Barbie took her amateur status back and is trained by Catherine Haddad-Staller. “It’s not about changing the horse; it’s about changing the rider and the horse follows,” she said of Catherine’s teaching style. Barbie generally practices without stirrups and shows in Catherine’s Stubben saddle that has neither knee rolls or leg blocks.

Gorgeous is qualified for the Festival of Champions in the Developing Prix St. Georges. Barbie has taken her time with him, since he only turned eight in June. Summer Days was his first time in the I-1. She’s also hoping to compete at Dressage at Devon this fall.

Califon-based Sara Schmitt was quite sick yesterday, but she fought through it, finishing third in the Grand Prix Freestyle to Abba music with the 15.2-hand German Riding Pony HB Dschafar on 67.250 percent. “He was good; I was not so good,” she said. “I did not ride well today. I was happy to remember everything.”

He’s qualified for regionals but after that, the professional trainer is probably going to sell him. “It’s a shame, but it’s business,” she explained.

Sara was fading later in the day but pulled out a 64.375 with another German Riding Pony, the flaxen mane and tailed First Date in Third Level Test 3. ”I take her out once a year and show her so she remembers what showing is. It was her first time at Third Level,” said Sara.

Sara Schmitt and First Date on the mare’s annual show ring outing. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

The show nicely put in a para-dressage test for Alanna Flax-Clark, who rode El Paso to a score of 68.788 percent and is shooting for next year’s Paralympics in Tokyo. She’s been struggling with some kind of bronchial infection for a month and hadn’t been able to ride until last Monday, but did a great job with her test, even though there were moments when she had trouble breathing.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to trust your horse completely,” she said.

Alanna rides with Sara, who said, “She inspires everyone in the barn. It’s amazing, her poise, and how focused she is.”

Alanna was a special education teacher from Los Angeles who got a life-threatening infection with a temperature that spiked at 106 degrees. Afterward, she couldn’t sit up unsupported, experienced trouble breathing and had no use of her hands.

Alanna Flax-Clark in the USET Foundation stables. (Photo©2019 by Nancy Jaffer)

Riding has made a huge difference in her life, and I’ll write more about her later this summer.

Alana was thrilled to be competing at the USET Foundation stables.

“I think it’s a beautiful building and just to be able to ride in such a historic place is an amazing feeling,” she said.

This is a copy of an article that originally appeared on Nancy Jaffer Equestrian Sports and is reproduced here with permission. ©2019 On The Rail LLC and Nancy Jaffer. All rights reserved.

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