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Posted in Music and horses

Training Wheels

…Picture a boy.
A skinney, pre adolescent boy with dark hair and eyes, jogging his first horse.

Jubilee Tina was not a great Racehorse by any means. Tina was sired by Tuxedo Hanover, when everyone hoped he would make a successful sire. The game Curly Smart champion Protégé unfortunately would not distinguish himself in the breeding ranks.

Tina had a 2:09 record at the age of ten, finishing last in $2500 claimers.
One thing about Tina, she was a “free-legged” pacer.
-There were getting to be fewer and fewer free-legged pacers around, and Jubilee Tina was one of them.

Most horsemen know the term free-legged describes a pacer who wears no hobbles.

There just happens to be a few pacers who are so steady that hobbles weren’t necessary. Some would actually perform better without them. Frequently, this tendency ran in families. Steady Star frequently begat “Free-leggers”.
For those new to the sport, here’s a nice article from Scarborough Raceway http://www.scarboroughdowns.com/HarnessRacingHistory.php

The Lisi Stables were fortunate enough to have a few Free legged racehorses. Starry Night, one colt Tommy Cugle and I broke ourselves, Passing Zone, … and Tina.

The Lisi Family Stables leased Tina from Paul Ruffino, who had to go into the hospital for a hernia operation. Paul was a holdover from the old days of racing…representing those who trained at the long defunct Pillsbury Driving club, near Elkridge Maryland. The track was active before pari mutuel racing was legal in Maryland. Billy Hubbard was running around in knickers at Pillsbury. George Warthen and many others enjoyed harness racing there as a hobby, caring for their horses, learning about harness racing from the older trainers, and participating in amateur racing. The Pillsbury Drivers sparred against other driving clubs, such as the ones in Parole, Brightwood or Oxon Hill on Sundays, trading locations with them, and sharing potluck meals spread out by the womenfolk.

Paul, like a lot of the old timers, competed because of his love of the sport. He sure wasn’t winning anything. Over 80 years old, He drove his own, still using a conventional sulky. Tina was a tallish plain looking bay mare. She was lazy, not particularly friendly, with a matter of fact, “don’t care” attitude.
…“Sure Paul I’ll take her for you, you can have her back end of the summer”

But that’s just background.

…Picture a boy.
A boy sitting in his mother’s lap, who’s feet can’t reach the stirrups yet, but braces them against the crossbar.

The boy had been sitting on her lap a lot since the springtime at Rosecroft Raceway, starting with a trotter named Carrie Dill. He’d have his hands in the hand holds, she above them on the lines ahead, on the metal buckle where the lines attached to the hand holds, actually holding the horse. Each time they jogged, she was holding the trotter less and less…until she was not really putting any pressure on the lines at all, but only there in case the son’s grip slipped. Sometimes telling him “wow you’re holding her completely now” or some such encouragement. She could tell he had a nice touch for driving.

Next was Freestate Raceway. Frank DeFrancis had revived the old Laurel Raceway (not to be confused with the Thoroughbred track Laurel Racecourse still existing today as Laurel Park) in a big way, with big time advertising, special events, and revamped barns. Meanwhile Rosecroft’s owner Mark Vogel was converting that half mile oval into a five-eighths, so all the Rosecroft folks moved their stables up to Freestate during the summer time construction.

…Picture the boy.
In the the summer sun, just getting over the trees at Freestate Raceway’s back jogging track.
Getting a little lanky fast. Now he’s sitting on the seat in front of his mom, who’s hanging off the edge of the seat. Jubilee Tina swinging along on the pace.

“You got her Art”

…She slips off the back, running so as not to fall when she hits the soft sand of Freestate’s back track.

She watches him jog away, the image forever, like a slo-mo video, engraved permanently in her mind…in her heart.

His training wheels were off.

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Two Afterthoughts:
1: Jubilee Tina won for the Lisi’s, a trophy race for the Wigginton Birthday pace in 203.2 lowering her record at the age of 10 years. Paul was just able to get back around after his surgery, and his eyes were quite wide as he was given a beautiful silver trophy.
Arthur Lisi Sr also cashed a nice across the board ticket on Tina, as she went off at 77 To one.

2: Arthur Lisi Jr after driving a few schooling races, made the decision to become a blacksmith and attended Oklahoma Shoeing School. He has developed ground breaking Horseshoeing techniques and is a top blacksmith of all breeds.

3: Nowadays with many backstretches having discontinued stable areas, trending to Ship in racing, there’s an option for young people to learn about participating in harness racing through the Harness Horse Youth Foundation. (HHYF) Check it out!

http://www.hhyf.org/page/Default.aspx

Jubilee Tina Free Legged Pacer
Jubilee Tina Win photo Freestate Raceway

Pictured left to right: Shirley Warthen, George Warthen, Paul Ruffino, Arthur Lisi in back, Arthur Lisi Junior, Trainer Nancy Lisi holding Jubilee Tina, driver Walter Callahan, and race sponsors the Wiggintons.

Posted in Music and horses

David Collyer Receives Excellence In Giving Award

Randy Barrett DCBU president presents excellence award to Dave Collyer

David Collyer celebrated his birthday with many of the bluegrass community at The Mixing Bowl (formerly JW and friends) in Springfield Virginia. He was going to support a fundraiser for the disadvantaged.

What he didn’t know, was that there was an award waiting for him from DC Bluegrass Union president (and ace banjoist and songwriter btw) Randy Barrett. He’s the go to player in DeeDee Wyland‘s festival quality ensemble, and his own band Big Howdy. Randy has a violin shop Greenway Violins and is heavily involved as a board member for the Foundation that purchased Bluegrass Country Radio from WAMU.

This was a big deal, because Dave has never expected any accolades for simply doing what he enjoyed. Whether working for LCAC to help the shut ins and senior community – or driving the health van to underprivileged areas of West Virginia each year, to help them get diagnosed properly with vision tests and checkups.

We knew Dave not for those works, but saw him in the audience at our shows, thumbs up to the player, and walking up again and again to throw tips in our jars at Tiffany Tavern (RIP) or JVs in Falls Church. Or paying a cover to get into a show at Lucketts Bluegrass Series, Jammin Java, Wolf Trap or the Birchmere over quite a few years. Last year attending a fundraiser at the church for Bluegrass Country radio last year. (Stay tuned for the next one Dave!)

He was there, clapping and mouthing the words to all the Bluegrass and old time songs, nailing the lyrics perfectly.

And for his birthday, he puts money in the tip jar for the charity Catjammers for Koinonia Inc., which ministers to the poor in the area.

What happened next was surprising. — Randy asked him to say a few words after the award was presented, and what he said let us all know how deeply he was steeped in the Bluegrass traditions of the area. Among many acts he spoke of seeing, Dave mentioned being a frequent guest at Ray Davis house for his radio broadcasts, which spawned the Bluegrass music broadcasting in the DC area. More about Ray here.

This guy knows something about Bluegrass.

A few among those who signed Dave’s Birthday card:

  1. Bill Farrar – Representative Reston-Herndon Folk Club
  2. Donnie Faulkner – Front man lead singer guitar
  3. Fred Nelson – mandolin vocals
  4. Elizabeth Nelson – accordion
  5. Robert Swain – baritone singer
  6. Arthur Lisi – sound
  7. Nancy Lisi – promo
  8. James Boberg – guitarist
  9. Bob Jenkins – guitarist and admins of Catjammers
  10. Shelley Burns – Fiddle
  11. Randy Barrett – banjo Singer
  12. Ginger Floyd Beecher – bass and vocalist
  13. Mark Skip Casale – mandolin

Congratulations Dave, and many more birthdays please, thumbs up!

Dave Collyer thumbs up at a Bluegrass show
Posted in Music and horses, pennsylvania coal country

The Bad Bus

In sixth grade, I ended up having to go to “extra“ math classes after school, always having trouble with that subject. Unfortunately the remedial classes and detention kids were all lumped into one class. As a result, to my utter shame, I found myself in with the “bad kids”.

Yes, they separated Junior High classes back then. According to IQ, or grades, or who knows what. The kids took tests as we completed the fifth grade, ready to go to junior high. Ending up in the “middle” class, we didn’t go to detention.

After school it was a miserable shuffle down the hall to “that class” …while the regular classmates merrily got on their buses to go home. You could hear the noise down the hall from the room. One girl was flirting with the boys up and down the aisle while they slapped her butt on her skin tight dress. She just laughed and skittered away. Of course paper was being thrown as well as pencils and rulers and anything else not nailed down.

The teacher looked to be the soul of patience, he sat at the front of the desk with half closed eyes, not seeming to watch the ruckus. Hard to tell if he was going to do anything at all, then he slowly walked up to the chalkboard and spoke. “I’m going to give out some remedial work for some of you to do that are here for that purpose.“ He had an odd involuntary grunt, which was a little disconcerting… He gave out some study sheets that were far below even what a 6th graders’ impaired math skills would be. They had to be filled in amongst the din.

Class lasted an hour, then everyone busted out of there and piled onto the single detention bus, which wound throughout the entire school district. The hooting, shenanigans and noise was just as bad on the bus as it was in the class.

It was now time to take a good look at the back side of coal country.

King Coal, that’s what it was all about in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

(Check out the superb historical articles about all things Southwestern Pennsylvania on the SW PA Rural Explorations site)

Riding north of the town, rolling through many fields and farmland, the scenes looked pastoral from a distance, even in the middle of the Peidmont winter.

They dropped off one of the toughest acting kids. His little sister ran to him and he swung her up in the air, and took the milk bucket from her hand. His mom with a naked baby waves to him from the doorstep. They didn’t run to the old farmhouse, they ran to the barn. I could see the cattle filing in for their evening milking.

Okay, That’s why he smelled like a barn in class. Makes sense.

Riding the after school detention bus looking out the window at boy being dropped off at farm
A quick “memory sketch”

One after another, the kids get off the Bad Bus. The one girl went straight to the pump to take water in…no running water in that house, and lots of outhouses outside. We’re talking about the 60’s here, long past the times when a home didn’t have indoor plumbing.

Some entered darkened shacks. Pop was off in the mines, and mom working somewhere.

There was a different story for each kid, it was even possible that one older kid lives alone, with both parents dead, he wouldn’t say. Lots of babies without pants or diapers, even in the cold weather. We swung by the Monongehela river then back towards the school, Fairdale was the last stop of the bus.

It was nearly dark walking down Schroyers Lane, and the wind would drive ice into the exposed part of your legs between the skirt and the knee-hi’s everyone wore. It would be years before they did away with the dress code for girls in that town.

Sometimes when you’re lost in thought, you don’t feel the icy wind.

The greeting from Aunt Francie at the door was, “There’s cookies and fruit rolls after supper, why are you so late?” … The best answer was to say there’s extra classes for awhile. “Well, go clean out the furnace before it goes out”. She stroked my forehead and face, like she always did. Frans’ hands always smelled like one (or a combination) of four things, bleach, garlic, coffee or Luckys. Smelling those odors in the present can evoke strong emotions, as if it was yesterday. Unk would be home soon from Robena shaft, black and sooty as the coal he mined.

As the little shovel took out the gritty soot from the lower section of the furnace, and the fine ashes from above, the remaining coals made the furnace room feel warm, pleasant and homey.

Thoughts came to mind about the bus ride, about some of those shacks that didn’t look very airtight. The fresh coal went in, and next step was to go to get some tinder to stoke it, when Aunt Fran came in. “Want to see some magic?” …she threw her fingers suddenly out at the coals, and they blazed up in a sparkling pattern that was truly amazing. Fran left her little niece standing mouth agape as she merrily traipsed off to the kitchen. Was there no end to what she could do?

(Do you know how she did it?)

We had everything.

A plus was the new friendships made among those after school detention kids. Some did very well in life, some went into the mines and are now retired, some are gone.

It’s hard to finish this post, other than to say one never knows what a persons’ back story is, we shouldn’t judge by what is on the surface, and sometimes the way you think about folks is, very simply, incorrect.

It was time well spent, riding the Bad Bus. Not bad, not bad at all.

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Posted in Music and horses

Thumb on The Bug (or, Arriving at Rockingham Park)

I ran across an old friend on the side of the road, growing in the poor soil full of pebbles, like so many of the most powerful medicine plants do. It was a friend to me, because it was there when I needed it.

When in bloom, it has a funny little flower spike that looks somewhat like a ladies thumb, as pictured in this article. (coincidentally that picture is from a New Hampshire writing)

In the early 2000’s, many of us had gone up to Rockingham Park from Rosecroft Raceway to race in Salem, New Hampshire. My stable decided to go there. This would be the first year in a long time that this track had hosted Harness Racing. It was well known to be a thoroughbred track previously.

I got up there in the driving rain at about one in the morning, expecting my tack room and barn to be ready for me, just like the New Hampshire race office had told me it would.

The night guard at the gate knew nothing about it. I managed to unload four horses and get them bedded down in some stalls. Gates up, Feed, hay, water…

By then I was soaking wet, I dropped the trailer and drove back to the guard shack. “Is there any hotel that I can stay in?” … “aaaahh yaaahhh” he says in a very strange accent, “theaaahs tha manaaaahh down the street”

…I’m thinking in the Biblical sense… Manna from Heaven?!?! “What did you say” … The conversation went on from there, around and around. Finally I realized he meant the Manor Hotel. It didn’t take me long to learn and understand “New England – Eze” It was several “sets of lights” down the road, cheap and comfortable.

To explain something I found out awhile ago, is when you first get to a racetrack that has been shut down for a while, and you happen to be one of the first horses to arrive there before the meet, there are some challenges that one must deal with. First is that a lot of the services that make caring for racehorses easier haven’t arrived yet, such as tack supplies, hay and feed delivery etc.

Another challenge is that the flies will all attack your horses (and you) with long pointy teeth, accompanied by mosquitoes, gnats and other types of bugs… for the simple reason that there are no others around for them to bite. They center around your barn.

Fortunately, my son had begun his blacksmithing career by then. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring fly spray. Not even my holistic mix of vinegar and essential oils.

I watched my son struggle to shoe King Blue Chip. Having white socks made him even more sensitive to the biting flies. They were both blowing and sweating and he had not even gotten the shoes off yet. The 17.2 hand gelding would snatch his legs away, thrashing his tail, kicking and stomping. King was getting worse by the minute, even though he was generally a mild-mannered trotter. I was trying to brush the flies off using the old towel method, but I wasn’t having any luck trying to keep up with all of their blood-drawing bites.

A little weed caught my eye. I remembered something I had read, …I was having a mental picture of Native Americans, standing behind bushes, mounted and ready to ambush, at war or on a hunt. The book had said they would rub this plant on their horses backs, so that the horses would not swish the flies and give away their position.

We didn’t have smart phones yet, so I could not google to make sure this was indeed the plant, it had bloomed, and the small flower spike had the signature “ladies thumb” shape, but there are other plants that have similar blossom spikes.

Lucky for us, the marker for this plant was the leaf, which has a spot in the center that is a darker shade of green than the rest of the leaf.

I ripped a handful of plants out of the sandy dirt and squashed them in my hands, ran over to the by-now dueling adversaries and rubbed them all over King, especially his legs and pasterns. I really wasn’t sure if I was getting any of the plant juices or oils on him.

Suddenly King sighed once and stood stock still for the rest of his shoeing.

I never cease to wonder at what God gives us. If only we look, learn, and believe.

In about half an hour, I started to itch in between my fingers, where my calloused hands didn’t protect me. Turns out that it can be a slight skin irritant, but the itch disappeared quickly after washing.

We watched the other trailers coming in through the gate, Ingraham, Bruce Ranger from Florida, many others from all over the country. The shops, track kitchen and even a chapel opening up.

It was going to be a fun summer.

Posted in Music and horses

Musical Horseman Mike Pratt: Everyone always wants more

Video: My Advice to you
Video: You Gotta know
——————🌺—————-

Update; Mike is recovering! Go to the bottom of the post for the update!

I first met Kerry Michael Pratt by reading his name in the Rockingham racing program. I may have seen Mike checking up the horse as they walked out of the Paddock for the post parade, but to tell you the truth, I was watching the race on a tv monitor, and probably didn’t even see that. I was only interested in his HORSE -as a business opportunity.

In the early 2000’s for four years or so, Rockingham Park, generally a Thoroughbred track in New Hampshire, hosted a three-month summer harness meet. A lot of us from Rosecroft packed up and went, including the Lisi stables, which by then was pared down to ten horses. What a great time. The Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Jersey and New York horsemen made many lifelong friends with the New Englanders.

While I was stabled there in 2003, an owner of mine decided that he wanted to claim a horse.

My client preferred trotters, but would consider a pacer. He wanted to spend ten or twelve thousand bucks, and I agreed. We both felt it was a perfect time and place to claim one for racing in the autumn at Colonial Downs, and if the horse stepped up, we could go in the winter to race for big money at The Meadowlands…We had come up with several choices.

Enter my sons’ input:

“Ma there’s only one horse here to claim, a four year old pacer. He can’t leave a lick, but he’s been flying home. – a late bloomer”

~By this time, my son had worked as a Paddock blacksmith under Larry Ward at Rosecroft Raceway coming out of Oklahoma Shoeing School. He had done his share of gambling while on the job, and really knew how to watch a horse race. He knew how a race would shake out, and saw things that many people didn’t. Because of this, I put a lot of stock in his opinion.

… He was in for $12,000 “Claim him TONIGHT Ma” … My owner wanted me to watch the horse race first.

The blocky medium sized black gelding got away last, but came home in 26 and a piece to finish in the money, but did not win. We figured he’d go right back in that class. It was the first time he’d ever been in a claimer.

Next week he was in for $15,000… My owner almost decided to do it…he was on the fence. That very week, he bought an unraced seven year old Pine Chip stallion from the Amish cheap, and shipped him to us. He and I preferred trotters anyway. My son threw up his hands in frustration as I turned my attention to our new charge. He had a hitch from a suspensory, continually irritated by the callous of an old broken splint bone. Not a bad horse.

Of course, Hero’s Cavalcade won for 15, and was removed from the claiming ranks. He was learning to leave, and wasn’t losing anything coming home. It was a killer combination which made him very hard to beat. He kept winning his way up to the top classes by the time the Rockingham meet was over. Basically, Junior and I tried not to notice.

We went directly from “The Rock” to stable for the fall Colonial Downs harness meet in New Kent, Va. At that point Colonial was very welcoming to out-of-state Horsemen, and we all urged our new friends in New England to come and race. We could stay in the dorms there, and there were many late closers, and good purses, not far from Richmond.

Arthur Jr. was shoeing on the side, and got to know Mike Pratt. “Ma I’m so glad we didn’t claim that horse. It’s his only horse, and he really loves him.” I started to notice the two of them, jogging on the track, taking long walks together, grazing him by the hour in between the barns. I struck up a conversation with him, not mentioning our desire to claim his horse this past summer.

We didn’t talk about horses.

We talked about music. He had seen me playing guitar at my Rockingham barn with Angus, another bluegrasser horseman, and Mike and I started talking… chatting about guitars, songs we liked, favorite recording artists. Angus had sold me a cheap Alvarez which I had with me at Colonial.

Musicians have a unique bond, very similar to the one that fellow horsemen have. It is different than merely having a “common interest“. It is the sharing of a passion, or even an obsession as some might call it. It is it’s own world, and the people who are inside it know how the others feel, think, and express themselves.

“Hey Nancy, they’re having a fish fry at the back dorms tonight, I don’t have my guitar with me, why don’t you bring yours and play?”

~ Turns out, Mike was a pro.

At some point he had played the club circuit. Like me though, once he got bitten by the Harness bug he did not look back, except to play very occasionally for himself. He knew a boatload of classic rock and pop songs that he had adapted to his solo acoustic style. He was also a songwriter, which I didn’t find out until later.

At sunset, the fish fry was rolling. Some of the guys had been fishing at a nearby lake, and caught a bunch of rockfish. The coals were hot on the grill, and it was a free-for-all, with plenty of beer and wine to go around. We all hung out in the space of about three dorms, on picnic benches and chairs, under a canopy of bright stars, with filet after filet served up endlessly from the grille.

We played.

I’d do one, then hand the Alvarez over to him and he would do one. If one knew the others’ song, we would sing along. Mike was a huge hit. He selected songs that were familiar to most of the folks there, they were singing along, clapping, and generally having just a great time. He was a very complementary and gracious fellow. With an easy smile and likable manner, he did not seem to need the abundant applause and admiration he got from the listeners. Mike was just doing what came naturally and what he enjoyed.

Playing music at this point was only a temporary interlude for Mike, his time was centered on his buddy, Hero.

We met up a few more times at subsequent meets at Colonial. Great singing, playing and jamming times.

He was excited when he bought his Martin guitar, and of course it was nice to be able to not have to share one guitar but to actually play together.

Mike often spoke of his kids and his wife Lisa, whom he first met at a horsemans’ picnic at Foxboro Raceway in 1993. Being a racing official herself, she has supported his endeavors, both musical and equine, all the way, one hundred percent.

I would go up and race the Meadowlands, and I could see Hero in the program, winning the top classes, no easy feat in those days to race at that level at that particular track. He was amassing big earnings, that maybe could have been ours? A question never to be answered. I pride myself on my care and knowledge of horses, but Mike comes from a racing family and had as much as I did or more. Only recently I have heard of his father “Snuffy”” a savvy trainer.

Mike retired Hero, when he still could have raced him at a lower level, and continued to make money.

Typical… Mike has always left us wanting more.

Enter the age of the Internet, cell phones, …social media! It was easier for everyone to keep up with friends and family. I was so pleased to see that they still had Hero’s Cavalcade, and he relaxes in luxury settings with another equine buddy Rastus on their New England farm. I think folks who malign racing would be surprised to know how many trainers and owners provide homes for their horses when the racing days are over.

Mike made a comeback to racing competition. After making sure he could still win a race, he once again retired to the farm. I would see his multiple posts and was amazed at the variety of genres that he likes. From Jazz to Country to rock ‘n’ roll. He never seemed to limit himself.

Mike writes songs. Lots of them. I’ve only heard a couple.

Like it always is with Mike, he leaves us all wanting more.

Mike amazingly has survived multiple health crisis, including liver and kidney failure. While in the hospital, he wrote a super bunch of songs, he videotaped himself doing theee of them, Lisa had me upload these two:

The first is entitled frankly: “My Advice to You

The second we have is a song written to and for his wife Lisa. “You Gotta Know

…As usual, Mike always leaves us wanting more.

As I write this, Michael Pratt is struggling for his life from some strange infection which has spread over his body and into his blood. He is way too young to go, and we are all hoping that the inevitable which comes for all of us will not visit him yet. I hope that I will be able to update this blog by writing and tell you that he has pulled through once again, to sing for us and play his guitars.

I’m so glad we never claimed that little Black horse.

Mike. We want more.

Update: from Wife Lisa:

Good news to share: After 51+Days, Mike is home! Kidney is functional again and blood is normal. The Drs have no explanation as to the cause of this nightmare. In true “Mike” fashion he said, “I should be good to paddock in a few weeks” Let’s hope!! I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support. I truly believe all the positive energy helped him heal.”

———————🌸-————————-

Harness Jargon & terms:

[1] Most harness horses in America wear an overcheck bit which supports the head during the race. Before going out for the post parade, as the driver gets on the seat, that is when the overcheck strap is attached to a hook on top of the harness. Thus “Checking up”
[2] An owner is a person who pays a professional racehorse trainer to train their horse. They may also have training and driving capabilities.
[3] Meaning: to start quickly in a race with the ability to get “on top”, or to lead the race
[4] Meaning: last quarter a few fifths over 26 seconds. In 2000 that was top-flight speed
[6] Hind-end uneven gait: from lameness, a neurological problem or shoeing imbalance.
[7] We patched the Pine Chip trotter up to win a race in a respectable 1:57 at Colonial Downs, then sent him to the owner to fool with up near his home in Jersey. He eventually ended up back with the Amishman who used him to breed. I wonder if any of his offspring are around?

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Posted in Music and horses

Lady Prunella (or: Friends in your Pasture)

It is springtime finally, and if you have “properly maintained” your yard or pasture, you may not see this little gal. After all, Who would want a pesky weed messing up their fields?

Like many weeds, you may find her popping up her shaggy head and blooming along roadsides, or on construction sites.

Lady Prunella stays under cover of taller grasses in pastures, accompanied by her buddies chickweed, dandelion, and another interesting springtime plant, shepherd’s purse, which burns off at the first hint of the sun’s heat.

Have you ever just plain hung out with your horses in a mixed pasture? It’s surprising that many busy horse owners have never done that. One may have to spend a little time at it initially. Everyone knows that if your horses have an established relationship with you as their “person”, so to speak, they will tend to come over looking for treats or affection. Once they have resigned themselves to the fact that you were indeed only hanging out, and not focusing on them (oh the indignity of not being the center of attraction, they are thinking!)…you then become merely part of the scenery, and you can truly watch their grazing habits.

First, it should go without saying to be careful of suddenly turning a horse out come springtime from a winter in the barn on a heavy pasture, no one wants colic.

You’ll notice for the most part, a grazing Equine will pass these aforementioned weeds by, preferring the grasses, clover varieties and nipping off the green grain tops on the taller rye and orchard grass. They wisely avoid the poisonous buttercup. (They’re pretty, but that’s one that’s better off on the roadsides rather than in your pasture)

There’s one time when you will see a horse crave the diminutive prunella. And that is a mare in the weeks following foaling.

I have watched a post-partum mare pick a stand of prunella clean, with her non grazing suckling comically trying out his new legs by her side. Foals are funny to watch, as they “pretend” to graze, the plants dropping out of their little mouth as they mock-chew the grass.

The broodmare’s sudden craving makes sense, because the low-growing Prunella is a healer…sometimes called “Self heal”, “Wound wort”, or “Heal all”. It was used by Native Americans in their medicine bag to cure a variety of injuries, and as a fever reducer because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

One can only figure that the plant is being used in the mares’ system to help her internal parts recover from the rigors of having her foal, and to help her “clean out”.

[As a personal aside, while stabled at Colonial Downs, I made a hot tea from dried prunella, and took it myself with honey. I won’t go into details, but I felt better very quickly, within an hour.]

Note Prunella’s two close buddies, which grow along with her in the spring. Dandelion and chickweed often intertwine between the purple flowering heads of the springtime weed. Herbalists often say that the plants that grow together should be taken together. That is food for thought. Shepherds purse will grow a respectful distance away, solitary. An herb to stay bleeding, only used when needed.

Horses can be smart. They seem to know that more is not always better when it comes to a plant with medicinal properties, and will only delicately nip at the more powerful dandelion, and take very little of the chickweed. They know the proportions better then a studied human herbalist.

In any case, welcome that little Lady Prunella and her pals in the springtime, and allow them to grow among your more “acceptable” grasses. Put away your weed killers and uprooting tools. Someone up there knows just a little bit more than we do, and has let the horses in on the secret.

Posted in Music and horses

Top 10 ways to Chase Away the “Winter Blues” Horsemen vs Artists

2018, the number seemed so far in the future at one time for many of us. Yet here we are.

It’s cold, ice – ridden, and the days just don’t seem to last long enough. Seasonal depression is a known human dynamic acknowledged by the medical community,

Harness Horsemen have a real advantage, as they work outside all day, and just being around the Equine species in general has a wonderful effect on the brain. Most modern Horsemen have adopted the skiers / snowboarders garb (if you haven’t get some!) To properly dress for the weather. Big Dees has great outerwear. So does Chick’s Saddlery.

Musicians, Artists, and those doing indoor jobs have a whole set of physical and mental problems to deal with. Inactivity, mental stress, over focusing among many other factors can set a person up for seasonal depression.

Holistic folk have been aware of it since Og was sitting in a cave in Lascaux France creating gorgeous art during the Ice age. Was monsieur Og painting for hunting luck, or ceremony? Or was he just cheering himself up through self expression?

Here’s some ideas and tips for making the most out of the winter months. Feel free to add to the list in the comments!

I:

Get outside: any which way you can. Walk the dog, rake the yard, go window shopping, walk the cat! REI might be always trying to make a buck selling clothes, but I love their journal (After all they want folks to be healthy so they’ll buy more of their product right?)

II:

Have a room with natural light in it. That’s right open up those shades.

III:

Supplements that strengthen your nervous system: I’m not a physician so always ask them first before taking anything because it might interact with your issues or meds you’re taking.

I take small doses of anything and don’t believe in mega-doses. Don’t espouse to the notion that “more is better” ..go more by “a little goes a long way.” Trader Joe’s is where I get mine or Moms Market I Also order American loose herbs online, and for Chinese I go to a spot in DC.

  1. D3 is the “sunshine vitamin”. If you drink organic milk it is not added.
  2. vitamin C to ward off colds
  3. Turmeric to ease inflammation
  4. ginger is good to heat you up or for upset stomach
  5. Bach Rescue Drops – Keep on hand for emergency anxiety. Anxiety frequently accompanies depression
  6. Green Oatstraw. This works over a period of time to build up your nervous system.
  7. Grapeseed Extract is a nerve strengthener and improves concentration- it also helps with food intolerances and allergies.

IV:

Actually, doing arts, crafts, or hobbies is indeed one way to combat the blues. Self expression. Doing this for fun is the key. If it becomes too stressful, competitive, or burdensome, it’s only adding to the blues and becomes a source of depression instead of the remedy. Sure you want to excel at anything you’re doing, but keep it light, and get in touch with the enjoyable aspect of your activity, even if you do it for a living!

V:

Helping others:

Depression is frequently self centered and a person must guard against becoming totally obsessed with their own state of affairs. Working in a soup kitchen, donating to and sharing about a charity that speaks to you, or helping out a needy friend will get you centering on the rest of the earth instead of just you.

VI:

Meditative disciplines:

Yoga, Tai Chi, Tapping and many more! your choice of meditation types can be an awesome and effective tool to achieve balance through the winter.

VII:

Food:

We’re like bears sometimes in the winter. We need calories to stay the course, in short you gotta eat!

Celery – one of the absolute most powerful vegetables to help brain and mood function. Juice a whole stalk each day and drink it. It’s also a source of natural sodium and electrolytes, so you can get rid of the sugary and salty sports drinks.

Garlic & Onions:

These will heat you up on the inside and help keep up your immune system.

Eggs:

Huge source of selenium which helps your immune system. I buy organic eggs. Non organic eggs have been laid by chickens fed by the large Ag companies only interested in the bottom line. If you’re a farmer and make your living doing this I understand, but I’m not buying your eggs.

Some tend to follow the Chinese way and eat less raw foods and more cooked in the winter.

VIII:

Smile

A sense of humor never hurts. Mock that wintertime dark horse and find something funny to say, do or think about. Watch a comedy. Tell a joke. Tickle your funny bone!

IX:

Stay on your meds,

Withdrawal from prescription medicines can cause serious mental and physical issues. If you are under a doctors care and don’t feel you’re being helped, switch doctors. If you switch medications also do it gradually.

X:

Lastly,

It’s never hopeless and tomorrow is a new day, if you feel too hopeless call a friend or family, and no one’s around Call 911 or the Suicide Hotline. 1-800-273-8255

Enjoy the winter, it’s a time for the cold to kill off all the bugs, molds and the schmoo that’s in the air. The plants rest and come back with renewed vigor when the weather breaks. (It’s also a good time to re watch all those Star Trek episodes over a bit of bourbon)

Live Long And Prosper!

Backside Of Lee District Park, they’ve got lots of woods paths back there. Once owned by Virginia Sand and Gravel,

Posted in Music and horses

Bing Crosby look alike, A trotter born at Rosecroft 1970’s, a New Years Message

No, Bing wasn’t at Rosecroft that I’m aware of,,although I know Carol Channing was. As part of a 1960-ish promo, she had dinner with George Warthen, (not understanding Hollywood types, he said she about “talked me to death”)I also know that Bing Crosby did love the track on the Thoroughbred side, you can read more about that here 

This is about Calvin Gitcomb. 
In my previous blog I wrote about the barn where I landed in the mid 70’s. Pete Wathen put me to work rubbing Basil Hough’s horses, at $60 a week. Now Mr. Hough was tight. (Wayne Smullin “do I hear something squeak? Why it’s Mister Hough!” Mr. Hough – “Wayne Smullin!!” ..respect) For a guy approaching his 90’s, he was a sharp, hard working and capable horse trainer. His flame red chestnut JC’s Helen was a top flight local mare, and he had a number of other luminaries in his barn. He’d throw me up on Helen’s back and send me to Henson Creek to soak her for an hour in the cold water up past her knees and hocks. Mr. Hough trail rode JCs Helen himself in the off season. 

To continue, here comes Calvin in the barn on a gray winter day. Dead ringer for Crosby, down to the tipped Fedora hat. ..Except not.. 

He was full of double entendres, dirty remarks and “wink wink”… then a big laugh….I despised him immediately. I avoided him and kept working every day. Everyone else really seemed to like him. 

One night all that changed. Mr Hough decided he wanted 6 coats of Neatsfoot on all the equipment. So after dinner I came back to the tiny heated tack room to do it. It was a long job, the harness was getting pretty funky as the winter wore on. 

In comes Calvin. “Mind if I sit awhile?” Didn’t wait for my answer. He begins talking, talking about what it was like to land in Normandy on D-Day, how scared they were, how he had to save his “boys” that got in trouble, (yes, he had a medal) his adventures in Germany after the war was over. Talking about how he got his Honor Rodney trotting stallion, Drexel Steve, a stunning 17-2hand liver chestnut, with four white stockings past his knees and hocks, a big flashy blaze, plus flaxen mane and tail. He was an imposing and proud animal. The story Calvin told me was that he went up to a private room at Roosevelt Raceway to pay the owners to purchase him, and when he walked in there was a long table, the doors closed and there appeared two armed guards.. he paid them and left with Drexel Steve, no negotiating.. Calvin kept him for breeding, and really more as a pet, up on the Miller Farm overlooking the track. Bonnie and Sherwood had a good mare that they bred to him, and had two tall colts, Stevie Two and Captain Rock, the latter being Drexel Steve’s youthful mirror image, at this point a two year old. 

In any case, Calvin sat there and talked until I was done. It was nearly 10pm. He got up and stretched and says “well I got to go see the Red Headed Widder, she’ll be wondering where I am” -Calvin often spoke of her. 

The next day Mr. Hough told me that Calvin had fed the barn, and saw I was working late and thought he’d better “keep an eye on me” – back in those days there was no guard for the backstretch during the off season. 

After that Calvin was alright in my book- I often went with him up the hill to help with “big Steve” .. sometimes you can’t judge a person on first acquaintance. He always had a wink, a smile and a great open laugh. 

We used to watch Sherwood train those two trotting brothers. I used to help Bonnie get him ready, he was a good feeler and it was challenging to handle him. Calvin said “I like Captain Rock much better, he’s got fast legs!” ..And so he was right, Stevie Two became just an ordinary Racehorse, while Bonnie was able to sell Captain Rock for $33,000, which was an astounding price for a local Maryland harness racehorse. 

They are gone now, some tragically, some naturally. Rest In Peace Bonnie and Sherwood Haines, Basil Hough, Wayne Smullin. Pete Wathen and Darlene Heber.

For my friend Calvin, I leave you with a video of a horse, a tall beautiful liver chestnut with big white socks and blaze. Every Christmas for years this commercial was played on TV, it is, according to a few, Captain Rock, born at Rosecroft. I was told that after he was sold, he spent some time in New England before he was exported to Italy. In New England is where this commercial was filmed for the Miller Beer company.
I get tears in my eyes when I see this video, I hope they never take it off of YouTube. 

Miller Beer Commercial “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days of auld lang syne? 

And days of auld lang syne, my dear, And days of auld lang syne. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days of auld lang syne?”

Happy New Year.  

Posted in Music, Music, Music and horses

Keep The Music Playing: 

Above is an embarrasing moment that was caught on my Instagram. We’ve all done it..

What happens when we lose a radio station that carries “our music”? Disco is gone. Yet it and funk are still immensely popular musical forms among DC listeners, having a big resurgence with the Annual Funk Parade.Yet, there is no bandwidth on terrestrial radio where the many fans of this particular genre can tune in. No one to give interviews to the celebrities, or promote their shows or their recordings. What a loss. 

Now DC Bluegrass Country And other Roots musical forms are facing this same possibility, although the intrepid group, Bluegrass Country Foundation is working hard to prevent that from happening. 

–The attendance at the huge Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival  shows the musical desires of our DC listeners quite clearly. It has been sold out, having to turn some away because the Island had reached capacity.

A second question that rises concurrently with the first question is; what about radio at all? Is it passé? Will that entire form of listening experience disappear and give way to podcasts, Sirius or apps such as Pandora, Spotify, ITunes, iHeartRadio? 

This is the age of the smartphone, yet a surprising number of our residents do realize that it’s not healthy, safe, or cool to have your head cocked down at your phone 24/7. Young people in DC do think about such things. (Note: REI’s mega-popular #opt outside ad campaigns) 

These days, much of AM/FM listening is done in the automobile. 

We all know there’s absolutely nothing that matches the gleeful turning up of your favorite music station, in traffic,,with the windows down to,,um..”share” it with everyone else. You’ve got James King cranked up in answer to the next guys’ OutKast. Or Beyoncé. Or Brett Young. It’s fun! 

–Seriously, One thing that local live radio gives you, is the sheer personality of your hometown radio host. They are the stars of their particular musical genre, experts in their field.

Podcasts are great, although they don’t have the immediacy of turning on the radio, and hearing someone local actually speak to you. This person wants to share music with you, and wants you to enjoy his selections. It’s his or her job after all. He is “your DJ” 

Although some predicted that drive time terrestrial radio was soon to be a dinosaur as in this 2013 article.~More than two years, and it hasn’t happened yet, in any appreciable amount. 

Well it’s 2016, soon to be 2017, and it appears that drive time advertisers are getting a big bang for their buck on radio, ranking #2 out of 71 media channels studied, according to Bob McCurdy 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the podcasts and stream frequently. It would just be a shame to lose another genre off my radio dial. It hurts the local musicians, who get shouted out about their performances around town. It hurts the celebrities, national acts who graciously offer radio interviews, eagerly anticipated by their enthusiastic fan base. It hurts the very genre: kids have been buying banjos, Dobros, mandolins after hearing Love Canon, the Gibson Brothers or Chris Thile. They’re starting up bands on every block. Look at Adams Morgans PorchFest

It will survive of course, but the kids force fed Bieber will have to dig into the apps for these rather hand hewn types of traditional music. Irish, Country, Piedmont Blues, Bluegrass, Old Time.. all types of roots music. 

For them, radio is free. No data plan, no technology, and no apps necessary. 

In order to keep it free for them, we should do what we can to support The Bluegrass Country Foundation. 501(c) 

•volunteer, sign up on the mailing list.

•Follow their social media sites

Facebook

Twitter 

Instagram 

•Lastly, endorse them with a mention, like or link. 
Let’s “Keep The Music Playing!”





Posted in Harness Racing

Catching the Harness Racing Bug

It was winter in the late 70s. I found myself with two children, and needing a job. Arthur had given up his teaching studio and had begun to work for Van McCoy, doing arranging and lead sheets and delivering the music to New York City. Van liked Arthur’s work and was starting to use him more, but it was not enough just yet to pay the bills. Living in Alexandria Va, Rosecroft Raceway was nearly within sight across the river, accessible by the Woodrow Wilson bridge. Having developed racehorse caretaking skills from working for Mr Sims on Beulah Road, then for Raymond B Archer Jr at Laurel Race Course, I went to Rosecroft in the dead of winter.

There was no racing there during that time of year. (everyone raced at Harrington)  it was gray, bitter cold, and the trees were bare, but somehow it was attractive, going down to an oasis of hillsides which looked rather bucolic, bordered by the Miller Farm  on one side and Henson Creek Park on the other. It is still configured that way to this day.

I saw my first Standardbred at that point at Pete Warthen’s barn. He was standing out  in the cold breeze on cross ties with hair hanging from his belly and a long beard…I was faintly shocked, I was unused to seeing any racehorses tied in such a manner after working with Thorougbreds. “That must be a pony” I thought to myself,  referring to the lead ponies used at running horse tracks. Nope, it was Skip B, one of Pete’s better pacers.  One came off the track, and I immediately began to wash it and scrape it off,… They saw that I knew what I was doing, and I was given a job.

That very first day, to Bonnie Haines consternation… I was allowed to jog a horse. The horse was a raw boned tall black mare name Mandy Crain.  They told me I could go anywhere I wanted with her, so I took her the long way and ended up on the main track. I was the only one there. I looked over at the empty grandstand,  The gray clouds were reflected in the glass windows on the top floor … To my right was the infield,  with brown grass.  Mandy’s hips were swaying to and fro, lazily,. first one hip bumping up, then the other, the lines leading back  from her mouth to me… I swung her around the half mile track one time and looked at that grandstand. I pictured the stands full, and people cheering as I went into the winners circle, clapping for my horse, clapping for me. “Yeah… This is me”

Little did I know  what I was in for,… But that is another story for another day. My point is that racing horses is part of the entertainment business. As Horsemen we would tend to get so wrapped up in the daily chores, the care, the rubbing, catching stall after stall, now miles on the road, that  we would forget, that we are putting on a show. It is a show for the public that they will judge and they will either come and enjoy, or reject.

But that too is for another day.  A lot has happened since I jogged that first horse.  

I hope you enjoy my blog, and journey with me through our travels with horses and music. Cheers, Nancy