Friday, June 21, 2013

The love of horses

Every year during Memorial Day weekend Sandy Saunders, who farms 150 acres in Garrison, New York, invites Leona Dushin, seen here on the right, to bring her horses and young riders to spend two days and nights in the ring, jumping and dressage in the fields, and sleeping in the hayloft of the stable barn. The photograph is of Caroline and others watching a demonstration, given by Hope Turino of Equine Assisted Growth Learning Association, of how we can overcome troubles and develop skills through studying a horse's reaction to our behaviour with them.

Leona is 88 years old, and many of her horses are Morgans which she has bred herself. "When I started these pony camps just after World War II we were all boys. Then the boys became interested in masculine sports like lacrosse, and now I do not have a single boy."

I was a boy who had always ridden and who never took to masculine sports. As a child in England, I was first taught by Miss Rogers in Crockham Hill, Kent. She had all of the discipline and loud voice of Leona without her humour and gentleness. When I was in my early teens I was taught by Sam Marsh, a former Olympic rider.

Then, for a number of years in the 50s and 60s, I rode in the early mornings in Richmond Park in London, exercising polo ponies with my friends Tatyana and Marina Orloff, who were sisters and also half Russian. It cost nothing — you went out once with the head lad of the stable and if he saw you were all right with his ponies, you could come as often as you liked at 7:30 in the morning and walk and canter for an hour across the rough grass and bracken in the park.

Sandy Saunders more or less runs the farm single-handed. For ten years he has had help from Shelley Scott, a 28 year-old recently qualified nurse. She loves the farm and the work, lives over one of Sandy's barns, and arranges her nursing schedule so that she can still be there for the horses and haymaking. Now that she has steady work as a nurse she wants to buy a horse herself. "You can buy a racehorse for a dollar. If they don't win races they are useless to their owners."

I am filming Sandy and his life on the farm. Here is a sequence I made last autumn.

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