Posted in Animal Rescue, Horses

Speck: the Wrongly Accused Stallion

This story was inspired by champion rider, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, who has authored so many fascinating stories about special horses he remembers.

Year 1970: We never had boarders at Mr. Simms place on Beulah Road. Charlie Simms was a gentle 50-ish bachelor who lived in his grandmothers’ old home (which doubled as a country store in times past.) With a 5 stall shed row, a small round pen and an unfenced 16 acres field, we two girls got free board for taking care of his Thoroughbreds he’d occasionally bring home from Laurel Race Course. I had a little Poco Beuno type Quarter cross Carole named Charlie Hot Tuna.

Charlie Hot Tuna circa 1970

Mister Simms relayed strict orders from the owner that Carole and I were not to ride the arriving “Morgan stallion”, only to lunge him, put him in the pen or crosstie him while we cleaned his stall. We occasionally used leaves from the woods in the adjacent “Gravel Pits” to bed the stalls, a year round ample supply. (Warning: although we kids got away with that then, it’s not advisable to use leaves, because of the danger of botulism or various types of tree poisonings)

We couldn’t wait to check him out.

I generally cut my last class (Spanish) to go to the barn from Hayfield High, a short hike across the pits. Virginia Sand and Gravel Company had extensive land holdings across the area. Later sold off for housing projects, stores and the Lee District Park. So I hot-footed it there as soon as possible to meet my new charge.

Gazing regally over the stall door was a rugged handsome head on a plain rather furry unkempt bay. (Quite large I’m thinking, for a Morgan?) He barely acknowledged my existence as he entered the tiny pen, where he rolled. That’s when it became evident something was missing, he’s a gelding? Yet a crested neck, like a stallion. Now I’m really confused. Is this the right horse Mr. Simms said was coming? Then, upon turning my back, I heard two galloping strides, then quiet, then a landing “thump”! ….and Speck flashed by me, downhill across the field towards the nearby burgeoning suburban homes. Fortunately, he cut back and ran towards me. Somehow I was able to grab him.

Speck had just jumped a five and half foot fence with only two strides to get up momentum.

We crosstied him between the two old oak trees and looked Speck over. Over 17 hands, but couldn’t tell much else, he was filthy and covered with thick matted winter hair, and it was nearly June. When Carole and I got done with him there was a fuzzy pile a foot deep on the mat. Under Carole’s rubbing towel, he gleamed and shone like a new penny, with a beautiful muscular build, long strong black legs, and a wealth of curly black mane and tail. He looked like a Morgan on stilts. His thick dappled neck arched proudly where the spots of sun hit him from between the leaves.

Looking at Carole, I said: “let’s ride him!” She shook her head, “no way!” For some reason, for once our persona’s were reversed. She’s usually the adventurous one, where I always hung back. “You do it”, Carole says. We put a big western saddle on him with a nice long shanked curb, because we were told he was a cutting horse. I jumped up on his back and he rode fine, though not exactly sensitive in the mouth. Nothing we were told was matching up.

After that, I rode Speck everywhere. My poor little Charlie Hot Tuna went unridden, or lent to other riders on the trails as we’d go from dawn to dusk, some days across miles of gravel pit and power line trails from Springfield to South Alexandria. I rode him alone, or with the crew of horse folk we knew. With Mickey Calamarus, who had a stable across the street, or folks from the Huckleberry Stable on Telegraph. The area was full of horse people, with both private and boarding stables. One of the few left nearby presently is Tamarack Stables on Old Colchester Road, now passed on to the owner’s son, Timmy.

We had set up jumps in the Simms field, none were too high for him, though he did have a strange habit of bucking hard upon landing. More on this later.

At a full gallop, Speck took your breath away. We had a fellow who owned a speedy Appaloosa who loved to buzz by us girls, knowing we couldn’t catch him. On the path alongside the railroad tracks on Fleet Drive, Speck and I let them all get ahead of us, then we set after them. Speck knew what his job was. I’d never traveled that fast on a horse before. The feeling of the wind, the images by us becoming a blur, is forever ingrained in my mind. I rarely let him go full speed, as it would get him too wound up and overheated for the rest of the ride. But we sure did injure that Appy’s pride.

I began to think of him as mine.

At this point we took him to the blacksmith who would shoe under the tree a couple times a year next to what’s now called Lane Elementary School. After he shod him he eyed him up admiringly and quickly checked his teeth, and he said “he’s a smooth mouth,-over 20, likely closer to 30.

Who is this beast?

We found out more when Speck’s owner came to visit. A lovely, slight-built blonde, she drove through the grass right to the barn in a nice white car. When she got to us and rolled the window down, you could see the car was completely hand controlled, because she was paralyzed from the waist down.

At first, admiring Speck’s glowing good health, she turned suddenly and asked “you’re not riding him are you?” I lied through my teeth, and shook my head. She said “that’s good because he’s very dangerous. He is the horse responsible for paralyzing me.”

She further explained that he is a ridgeling, which Carole and I already knew would make a horse three times meaner than a stallion. We had prior experience with Carole’s Welsh pony, who terrorized everyone until he was gelded.

She continued, telling us of his exploits. Turns out Speck had many jobs. He was used at Hialeah as an outrider horse, and could outrun the thoroughbreds when they got loose. Upon buying him, he won countless ribbons, cups and trophies for this girl at rodeos, then later as an event horse, and open jumper. Half Morgan, half Thoroughbred, he seemed to be the ideal horse.

Except, for his habit of trying to throw the rider upon landing from a jump. We were told by her that she was thrown at a show and landed across the spread, breaking her back.

Unlike many ridgeling‘s, Speck never tried to bite, kick or strike. His habit of bucking after a jump was his only vice.

This paralyzed lady took a liking to me and showed me where she lived on Telegraph Road. One day, she took me to see the world Champion 3-gaited horse, he was living his life out peacefully after she had purchased him, the beautiful gray single-footed right up to her when she drove to his fence. Word had it that she had horses like this all over town.

Speck’s personality was never downright “friendly” or affectionate. He had a certain dignity, that champions frequently possess. He always seemed to be gazing off into the distance, like everything else was below him. I respected that, and did not fawn over, hug or pet a lot on him. Speck was a serious sort of guy who loved his work. Lord knows I loved him dearly, and looked forward to seeing him each day after school.

One day his stall was empty. Mister Simms was there, waiting for me. “She died of kidney failure, and her brother took Speck for the funeral. He continued, informing me that he rode Speck across a field and spread her ashes at the end of the field, where he shot him dead. “It was her last request I’m told, so he would never hurt anyone. I’m so sorry Nancy, I know much you liked him”

Any tears, any statements, that I would’ve taken him, that he wasn’t mean, that she should’ve had a better seat so as to avoid being thrown…whatever…would do absolutely no good. I simply stood there mutely, then turned away to clean the stalls.

Looking back, Charlie Hot Tuna did get his attention back, but I’ll never forget Speck. It’s a feeling that stays with you all your life, when you come in contact with an exceptional individual, whether it be human, or animal.

Thank you Speck, for giving me the privilege of being a part of your life. It was your life’s sunset, but only my sunrise, my first truly high quality horse, in a lifetime of working with great equines. Yet, never mine, only in my heart.

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Posted in food, hunting, pennsylvania coal country

Memory Foods


What is a “memory food”? Something you still eat that reminds you of loved ones, happy events or a special item.

Yesterday was my Grandma Tworzydlo’s Birthday. No she wasn’t my biological Grandparent… I stayed from a 9 month babe until high school in Western Pennsylvania with my mother’s brother, an carpenter, coal miner and artist with Croatian parents, Pete Bartholovich. He was married to a jolly Polish woman, my Aunt Fran. Fran’s mom Martha Tworzydlo frequently stayed with us once her husband Andy passed in ‘61, she took turns staying with her kids. They actually quarreled over who got to keep her the longest. “You had her for 6 months, it’s my turn!!”

Not knowing any biological grandparents in my life, how lucky it was for me to have the fantastic experience of being in a household with extended family.

I’m getting to the food part.

Martha Tworzydlo

Martha Tworzydlo was from a Polish mill town bordering Lithuania, and arrived in the USA about 1913. Aunt Fran told me she scrubbed floors to help raise her 10 children while her husband worked the mines. A multilingual woman and very intelligent, she became a naturalized citizen. An incredible story comes to mind about how Martha was told by the doctors to take her two pound premature newborn home, that she wouldn’t make it. She put her in a shoebox surrounded by hot water bottles, and fed her around the clock every half hour. My Aunt Jay was strong, and has some wonderful children. So much for those doctors…

Anyhow this article is about foods that spark the memories. But it’s also about the people who made them. Let’s talk about them.

Wild harvested dishes:

Eggs and Mushrooms:

Grandma Tworzydlo would go mushroom picking with us in the early mornings, while the dew was sprinkling the pastures of the neighboring Trumpka farm, if the name looks familiar to you, his brother was the United Mine Workers Association president. In any case, I’d put my foot on the bottom strand of the barb wire fence to push it down and pull up the top one… she’d nimbly slip right between! Fran scrambled them with eggs the next morning, her strong arms wielding her heavy iron frying pan, and voilà, a great memory food. These were the standard white button field mushrooms that are domestically raised as well, easily distinguishable from poisonous ones. Here’s an article about field mushrooms.

Black Walnut fudge:

This was harder work. Toting them in buckets was not an easy task… If memory serves, we used a wheelbarrow to bring them back from neighboring woodlands to our home. They were picked green from the ground, carried back to the garage and left until the husk turned black. A certain little girl was tasked with tediously cracking and picking one heaping cup full, for a single batch. Heaven forbid there was a last minute request for a double recipe. Back to the chilly garage… it was beaten by hand until the fudge turned to a hard to describe matte gloss, or as Fran would say, it “loses its shine”. Fran’s strong-arms rhythmically going through the thick brown liquid. “Try it” ~she says to the certain little girl watching… then laughing as she couldn’t even get through one stroke. But ohhhh, licking the wooden spoon made it all worthwhile! Here’s a lovely recipe from a fellow who found his dad‘s, handwritten.

Blackberry jelly

Nothing but sublime. Adding that uncle Pete and aunt Fran would boldly preserve entire blackberries. Blackberry pie in the winter was a real tour treat and worth the stickers that we got picking 5 gallon buckets full of them!

Quince – quince crabapple jelly

Nothing finer than quince jelly on a saltine cracker. most of the family preferred it with crabapple, but I liked it straight. Quince is a strange fruit with a lumpy texture. Made by the right hands, the flavor of the jelly is delightfully unique, rather musky and unmistakable, with a light rose color. They grew plentifully along Stringtown Road where we picked them off the ground along with the crabapples. More about quince here.

Elderberry Jelly

It was good, dark with a strong taste. Never knew until lately about the health benefits of elderberry. It boosts the immune system! Here’s an article on the benefits of elderberry. (Made wine with it too!)


Poke is poisonous unless picked at the right time. We had it in salads along with homegrown lettuce and dandelion leaf. It didn’t ring my bell but I thought I would mention it. Sometimes you can go back and try a memory food later and enjoy it.

Garden raised food:

Uncle Pete and Aunt Fran had a big garden covering over a third of an acre. Being no stranger to a shovel, having loaded coal from the time he was 12 years old, he would spade by the hour, turning the soil over in neat rows. In the potent piedmont sun and foggy mornings vegetables grew unbelievably well there. It didn’t hurt any that we would get black woods dirt to add to the mix, With the big compost pile spread upon it, the soil was very nutritious. There was such an abundance, it’s hard to tell where to start. Below is a very partial list:

Oxheart Tomato Sandwiches

This is one memory food that can’t be found, but the rich taste of the huge purple tomatoes that would cover a piece of Italian bread with one slice is hard to forget. They truly looked like an ox’s heart! If anyone knows where to get some please message me. (With mayonnaise and pepper of course)

Pickle Group:

This should actually be a food group! Fran pickled so many things… Of course the original “Kiszone Ogórki” (the way Grandma Tworzydlo said it) ~ using the younger cucumbers and dill from her dill patch. This recipe looks close to what she would have done.

Then there’s the pickled green tomatoes, which was a great way to salvage the leftover tomatoes, before the freezing Western Pa late autumn temperatures at night would have ruined them. The store-bought ones just don’t match up to Fran’s, but they’ll do in a pinch. Thankfully my daughter Anna-Maria who is the chef of my family may be able to come up with a good recipe. She fries them. And notes that if you pick them green, and put them in a brown paper bag they eventually ripen! Anna further tips us off to put an apple slice in the bag.

Pickled watermelon rinds. We would watch Lawrence Welk late at night and polish off a whole jar. Again, the store-bought ones do not match Fran’s, but it’s a decent substitute.

Pickled onions, usually mixed with other vegetables to make a savory “chow chow“

Canning – preserving

Aunt Fran and Uncle Pete canned or froze about everything in their garden. Certain things like green beans required the use of a pressure cooker while they used hot water canning for things like tomatoes and sauce. One of the most plentiful things we had was Swiss chard. It was fantastic fresh, always with some garlic from the garlic patch.

Stuffed Cabbage: halupkis, or “Gołąbki [ɡɔˈwɔmpki]

A favorite story comes to mind of a lonely cabbage patch that they had left untended. The weeds had grown around it, and it was off in the corner of the garden. Taking it upon myself to “rescue“ the cabbages, I pulled the weeds, hoed the ground, and made little “moats” around each raggedy cabbage leaf. This was so when watering them that dirt wouldn’t be washed away around the fragile roots. ~ to everyone’s amazement, they grew to be larger than bowling balls. Fran exclaimed “YOY!!!” … And we merrily cut them up and canned them, of course the ones that we didn’t use for her superb stuffed cabbages “halupkis”. So, here’s a recipe for halupkis, or “Gołąbki [ɡɔˈwɔmpki] as Fran sometimes said. Most of my Polish learned from Granda Tworzydlo was food related.

Game dishes:


We ate very little fish, except when we went to the Adirondacks in New York each summer, Uncle Pete made his own trout lures and flies, although I can remember seining in the creek for minnows when we fished locally near Carmichaels Pennsylvania. At that time the Monongahela was not yielding good fish because of the mines that were pouring pollution into it. We would go to the Laurel Mountains which was not too far to fish. We had a hibachi which we would set out by the creek in the morning and fry the rainbow trout and “brookies” fresh out of the water. Occasionally there would be eggs or “roe” that we would have with eggs. A definite memory food!

As an aside I think Pete’s sportsmanlike nature is what led him to begin making so many beautiful stream and Brooke landscape paintings as an artist.

Rabbit and pheasant:

During the mine strikes:

Aunt Fran and Unclr Pete fed us and themselves by hunting in addition to the garden food. We lived through the murder of Joe Yablonski and my uncle dared not cross the picket lines to work. The UMWA union strikes did help mine safety, although a little too late for Pete, and Fran’s Dad, who both had black lung. In addition Pete was injured by a coal shard striking his temple, a poorly protected area with the old style helmets. He truly had a “coal tattoo” as the famous Billy Edd Wheeler song recites. That song was made famous by the Kingston Trio and covered by many Artists.

Rabbit was generally fried in the covered iron frying pan. I only recall eating the legs, which were tough. (Watch out for those shotgun pellets!) Haven’t had them since, though it brings back memories of training his beagles for him. They were great dogs, especially my own, Cecil. Too fast & tall for hunting, he was my pet, and we had many adventures together.

Pheasant was a different story, plentiful and easy to hunt, Aunt Fran made Pheasant Pot Pie. Tender, with potatoes, carrots, onion & peas (which I picked out, being mildly allergic) with a perfect flaky crust. We felt like royalty.


Uncle Pete always hunted with a group of friends or relatives, and never shot a deer as far as I know. Later in his last years, saying “I no longer kill animals for my own pleasure” … but his buddies always did, and the hunting groups evenly split up the cuts of meat. We had deer ground sausage, patties, and roasts, which were treated like beef. An important part of our diet in the leaner times. Aunt Fran treated venison as if it were beef. Although I love to see and draw these beautiful creatures, I’m still partial to venison dishes. My Croatian ancestors were definitely meat centered in their diets.

Venison recipe:

This is my personal recipe, a derivative of a lamb recipe found in the original “Mama Leone’s” cookbook, by Gene Leone, which Arthur got me at the fabled restaurant in New York City, on my birthday, definitely a great memory. What a shame the place is no longer there. The book is a rare treasure, you can buy it here


  • 2 lbs venison lion roast
  • Two large onions to throw away
  • Garlic powder
  • 1 onion
  • Olive oil
  • One 4 oz can tomatoe paste
  • 2- 4 oz red wine
  • Rice

Parboil the cut of deer in shallow water for 20 minutes (and this is where I deviate from the lamb recipe) when parboiling, cut two onions in half and place them flat side down on the meat. They will turn dark as they absorb the “wild” taste. Throw away in the compost pile!

Meanwhile, make your sauce. in a pan sauté a large onion or two until tender, then throw in your tomato paste with equal amounts of water. Bring to a boil, then stir and simmer until the venison is done. lastly, stir in the red wine without boiling it. As Mr. Leone states “if it’s not good enough for you to drink it’s not good enough to cook with!”

Take the venison out of the shallow water, and carefully place on a cutting board and slice into thin slices. You may have to wait for it to cool down a bit to do this successfully. Use a sharp serrated knife.

Arrange your sliced venison into a baking dish or any pan that you can cover in the oven. Pour the sauce over and bake for 45 minutes on 350 heat or until the edges of the sauce brown a bit. Serve over rice. Mangia!


We did not grow potatoes, don’t ask me why… But we sure ate a lot of them. Although the word for potato in Polish is different, my grandma Tworzydlo and aunt Fran taught me kartofel” which is actually Russian!

Potatoes are the main ingredient in her stellar “perogas” I still have the recipe Fran sent, with “take SOME flour, a couple eggs, salt and make a dough that’s sticky but not too sticky” adding that she was “so happy you aren’t giving up that baby” …wasn’t going to, but okay! Love that letter and still love perogies!

Grandma Tworzydlo let me try her boiled potatoes with butter, parsley and cottage cheese… “it’s for your stomach, old people eat it” she says. I wasn’t old then but loved it.

Other memory treats

Aunt Fran used to always give me a chunk of Philadelphia cream cheese. I liked it better than candy! Still do!

During the holidays Fran would make huge batches of her rolled cookies, or Kolaczi, more of a Slovak dessert. She used a walnut filling for one, apricot pie filling for the next batch, and poppy seed pie filling for the final batch. The dough was rolled out and the pie filling spread upon it, then rolled up and sliced into cookies. Sprinkled over with sugar, and baked. Here’s a fine recipe for rolled cookies.

What’s your best “Memory food”?

Let me know in the comments or privately here

Posted in Eating out, Help The Homeless, holiday wishes, robot, Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day in the robotic era

Yesterday after a show, our jazz trio had ordered a post-gig meal at Denny’s, this robot casually rolls over to gives us the food. “Enjoy!” It says cheerfully in a faintly sexy feminine voice, as we took the dishes off. …blink blink… We looked at each other.

Denny’s robot

Yea, yea… it’s one of those old-people-what-will-they-think-of-next writings.

A friend upon returning from a trip to China in 2000, incredulously telling us “did you know almost everyone over there has their OWN cellphone!? …blink blink… sitting in the track kitchen, we are like, “no way!”

To those of us who have lived through the switch from the morning newspaper to internet news, podcasts and apps. Instead of shouting out your window, like Howard Beale “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” in the 1975 film classic Network scene, we’re now able to gripe on the internet! We can write anything our heart desires for all to see… Throw up a video, or create a poster of sorts… a meme… to tell your views to the world. Livestream in the moment instantaneously… Blink blink…

It’s been an unbelievable ride.

Instead of visiting, writing a letter, or calling them on the phone, we may now “check in” on our friends, family or even distant acquaintances on Instagram. (We’re so used to doing it that it doesn’t even get a blink)

Weirdly enough, in their quest to keep everyone engaged on the platform, the algorithms seem to quite readily pick up sorrow and misery. Frequently a prayer request, sickness or death announcement is the first post we see when we login. Our connections are mourning losses, maybe in the ER themselves, or just plain sad.

Admittedly, it comes in handy. A good jolt to come to reality, that all those shiny rosy posts aren’t what everyone’s life is.

Point being, Valentine’s Day isn’t always such a happy day for everyone. 

This is a really letter of comfort, to all those folks whose Valentine is no longer with them. Or for those who never found one. Or for the ones who are in pain from injury, sickness or health issues, young or old… or those who are living in a car, or on the street, lost their job or in a bad situation. You are a most wonderful awesome miraculous being. Please don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise, tries to diminish you or take away the uniqueness that defines you.

And for those who have one of those fabulous lives that you see on social media, a gorgeous home and family, a healthy lifestyle and prosperity. Truly hoping that you can take a moment out and lend a hand to someone, give them a ring, a text, a friendly Facebook message.

Or maybe just a few bucks to someone on the side of the road.

Or take them to the Denny’s on route one in Alexandria, They have a robot there!


Posted in Music and horses

The Great Pocomoke Fair 2021

When you go to a fair to race, you’re really reminded of what harness racing is all about.

The old men in easy chairs chatting as you enter. A grandmother in a wheelchair greeted with such deference and respect by everyone.

Stephanie Smith DuBrel one of the stalwart horsewomen at the fairs

…Regular drivers, many who are silent competitors on the bigger tracks, become once again old friends, with much teasing, handshakes and laughter.

Little tykes, scooting quickly about as horses go in and out to race. Kittens sparring by the stalls.

No one young or old minded the torrential rains that poured down, the esteemed judges urging “safety first”, then…as the rain grew ever harder, dispensing with the starting car altogether, and declaring a “gentleman’s start”!

Judge declares “Gentleman’s Start!”

Nervous young drivers, getting valuable experience and tutelage from older mentors, leaning closer to whisper to them, before each race.

I drank it all in… as I sat with Rocky, and savored it.

It was something we thought we would always have, but now realizing how it may be fleeting, and come to an end one day. The Horse Himself was their center without question, each one taken care of, as a prized companion.

As we ate bbq and brats in the gritty mud, we felt like royalty. This is how harness racing started, and how at least this part of harness racing was meant to be. Lord, please keep the fair racing around!!

**this was originally posted on Facebook, permission granted for photos.

Read all about the history of the Pocomoke fair here

Posted in Celebrity Concert, Event Organizing, Help The Homeless

July 18th – The Storm that Never Happened (or, thank God for Brandon Lee Adams)

One does not frivolously invite someone of Brandon Lee Adams’ stature to take a train north from Danville. We surely were itching for a show in May, which was the time we agreed on the date. We were cautiously emerging from Covid, smarting from all our own music dates cancelled. It turned out Brandon also had also lost performance dates due to Covid restrictions.

Music makers, famous like Brandon or local like our bands, were all reeling, basically sitting in the same boat. Between festivals, concerts and shows getting canceled, and some music venues just plain closing down, we all had to content ourselves in 2020 and early 2021 with live streaming, internet jams and interviews from a distance. It was high time for us to schedule a mini fest!

We also invited selected artists to show their work, and they were eager to get out as well! Our skateboard people were ready to join in with a demo, and the Lions Club agreed to provide food service for us, Perfect!

What could go wrong?

Timing: We found out a lot of our family and friends were out of town, to the beaches, visiting family and lots of other traveling happening. Why?,. well,,, because they now could!

Another event – Several weeks out, we discovered that the Lucketts Bluegrass Foundation in Leesburg would start back live with two big acts there, Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass and Shannon Beilsky and Moonlight Drive. Our musician friends in the bluegrass world would be very excited by this. We love Lucketts and would have been there ourselves. I did my due diligence as a social media Director and board member for Bluegrass Country Radio and posted as directed.

We decided to rely on our closer fans for our event, who were more generally music fans of all genres.

• New project: It suddenly became necessary to take over the training of Rocky Bomber ourselves. The Lisi Stables was no longer set up to train our own, we had to completely update all the harness racing equipment and supplies. We worked hard and Rocky is in Waldorf now, running in the fields and jogging each day.

Russell Swenton. Jogging Rocky Bomber

Medical issues: Oh yes…there is this thing where they “boost”(?) the proton radiation at the end of the 5 week course. The fatigue that came with this was… literally staggering. Added to this that Stroke survivor Robert Swain, who owns Dogue Cottage had collapsed two weeks prior to the event from heat stroke. The ambulance took him for a two-day stay at Alexandria Hospital, thanks to the Lions Club members quick action, who had gone to check on him him at home.

What should have been an enjoyable job readying Dogue Cottage to receive guests, now appeared impossible. …Lead singer Donnie Faulkner to the rescue, as he trimmed the perimeter of Dogue Cottage and all the overgrown brush in time for the show! Let’s not talk about the big fat doe who ate my prize begonias bordering the stage. (Bill Farrar and his friend had the “VIP” seats at the show, up on the shaded back porch. He’s a high end landscaper, and advised us to use both Bobbex and Deer Fence, which can be procured at Merrifield Garden Center or Meadows Farms)

Donnie Faulkner brush cutting Dogue Cottage

In spite of everything, the attendance was building nicely, and looked very hopeful. Except: The Weather.

The weather: ohhh that changeable Northern Virginia weather! BOTH Saturday and Sunday were forecasted with heavy storms, flash flooding and high winds. Truly a nightmare for an outdoor concert. The night before the show, the phone was buzzing alerts off the hook about dangerous weather. By the morning of the show 4AM, the situation looked even more dire for the original date, but now much nicer for Sunday, the 18th. We chose to move it to the next day, and spent the wee hours updating everything online, and getting the word out!!

It never rained here. Not one drop!

Downpours in Rockville and elsewhere. (Well there were two drops on the windshield at 3pm) ~ Though it was oppressively hot on July 17th. 98° in the shade ~ Heat index over 105°. We felt grateful for the postponement.

Signage: The mailman ran over our sign informing would-be visitors that the show was postponed until the next day! …Ah well…

Sadly, we lost one artist who had to work the next day. Check Malek’s Turkish art out at her Etsy shop .

Unpredictable train schedules: It turns out that nowadays Amtrak shares the train tracks between passenger trains and freight trains. What was a set schedule has become fraught with frequent delays and stoppages. Our star performer didn’t dare to get any shuteye. His train was three hours late arriving! We were all worried about Brandon’s stress level and need to rest. Luckily he is such a chilled out person that he rolls with the punches!

What went right:

The pre show jam session Friday was a blast! Brandon was awakened from his post-train extended nap to music in the living room. He quickly joined in! We shared dinner, music and (perhaps a few) libations! Video below

Show Time:

First, a big thanks to the Mason Meck Lions Club for providing the hot dogs, brats & burgers fresh grilled with sides and drinks. Every bit of what they raise goes to the needy.

Lions grill for Charity
Lions grill for Charity

The Artists arrive:

Throughout the afternoon, displays by selected superb artists including:

• Renowned artist Heather Levy sent prints of her abstract expressionist artwork~ here is one titled “Song of the Blue Falcon”

Wearable art & design by Chandra Clark JAZEAZ! She arrived with full regalia, including mannequins showing off her colorful dresses, swimwear, on the tables shoes of her own design and jewelry! Check out her video with Brandon covering a cool Jerry Reed song in the background! From her Instagram follow her!

Chandra Clark listens to the Concert while showing off her beautiful fashion items!
Brandon Lee Adams posing with fashion designer Chandra Clark of Jazeaz Designs

• Creative works by Cindy A Smith, including her “abandoned” collection! Cindy has been a lifelong rescuer of horses from slaughter, with the Central Virginia Horse Rescue, which she has handed over to her daughter to run, to give her more time to paint!

Brandon’s wife Mindy Scott Adams sent a gorgeous display of her fascinating photography

Creative Photography by Mindy Scott Adams

Arthur Lisi as soundman had set up his sound system beforehand, and had everything “tuned in” – it was easily heard by those watching the skate demo in the cul-de-sac. Everyone enjoyed the demo by skateboard wizard Arthur Lisi Jr and his brother Tony Lisi. Some little tykes and the kids at heart as well! Here’s a short of the Lisi Brothers taking a slide on the Dogue Cottage YouTube!

Arthur Lisi Jr
Lisi Brothers

The Music begins:

King Street Bluegrass served as opener. Of course, after a private jam with Brandon the night before, Donnie Faulkner could not resist inviting him up to sing. His tenor matched with Donnie‘s lead perfectly, not to mention raised eyebrows from the band on any guitar break that was thrown at him. Here’s one of Brandon playing multiple solos on Foggy Mountain Breakdown with that band, fearless!

Brandon Lee Adams with King Street Bluegrass

While King Street Bluegrass was clearing the stage for Brandon, Jay Herriot, president of The 25th Project, which ministers to the Homeless, spoke gratefully about the cooperation between Mason Neck Lions Club and his charity.

Jay Herriot speaks in between sets about his homeless charity

The main attraction: Brandon Lee Adams

Then at last, Brandon began to capture the audience. Chit chat ceased and applause began. That is when everyone discovered why he’s appeared with such luminaries as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and won a coveted IBMA Momentum Award. Adams has a true gift. His formidable guitar skills wow’d the audience, his voice was unforgettable.

All our troubles simply melted away at the sound of his voice and the rich tones of Brandon’s guitar…

Brandon had a train to catch at 5pm. Of course, there were calls for encores. He obliged with one, and disappeared into the house to pack, barely in time to get to the station in DC.

**We’re awaiting some hi-def footage of Brandon from WERA radio host, JD and TV videographer Anders Thueson. Check back to view it and more!

Brandon Lee Adams

Post show jam:

As usual, the musicians ended up having a fun jam session afterwards. Surprisingly the listeners remained while the Lions packed up. Matt Slocum of DCBluegrass Union also showed up for some tunes!

Take Aways:

I got a few gifts, some pocket change, and a lot of good feelings watching the camaraderie between the music makers, artists, the charities and the skaters. Brandon was the focal point of all this.


There was a certain donation to the 25th Project for the homeless, by a certain performer, which he wouldn’t want to have called out… but he plays a guitar like ringin s bell.

Hands down, thank God the world has Brandon Lee Adams.

Posted in Music and horses

Control those Stable Flies and bugs, naturally!

It’s May, and soon proliferates the bane of a horseman or horsewomans’ life. Barn flies. They stomp, they fuss, they’ll even kick with irritable temper. The distraction can make it nearly impossible to train, shoe, bandage… forget bonding, that becomes a joke when you’re both swatting and fidgeting. As if the regular black flies aren’t bad enough, those green headed horseflies will put a hole right through the skin, drawing blood!

If you’ve committed to a more natural approach to horse (and your own) care, you are loath to resort to insecticides, toxic feed supplements or chemicals. But it’s so very tempting right now…as you sit at the doctors getting your cornea detachment treated, caused by a desperate tail switch…

Fear not, there’s relief to be had, against those pesky bugs!

Here’s a nice homemade fly wipe:

  • One cup raw apple cider vinegar or any vinegar
  • One cup plain Listerine
  • 1/4 cup Kyolic liquid garlic (a little garlic is not a bad feed additive, but racehorse folk, be alerted, it IS a blood thinner, perhaps not so good internally for race induced pulmonary hemorrhage. (“bleeders”)
  • 20 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 20 drops tea tree oil
  • 20 drops citronella (Don’t use cedar or pine oil as they may blister over time. (Leave out citronella after August, as it will draw yellow jackets though the autumn, although very effective at other times.)
  • 2 cups liquid coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon dish soap

Store in a cool place. Put enough in a can with a tight lid to fully soak a cloth and use this rag as a wipe.

To make this into an effective fly spray instead:

Use 2 cups vinegar and 2 cups listerine, and only 1 Tablespoon Coconut oil. Shake well before spraying.

Another interesting spray to try around the barn: Mix 1/3 each of Epsom salt, mouthwash, and beer, use a spray bottle or even easier, use a pump sprayer. (Drink leftover beer separately afterwards 😀)

Additional barn fly control tactics:

  • 1. Keep the flies, gnats and mosquitoes down by looking out for standing water, ivy which holds water, and keeping manure away from the barn.
  • 2. Of course equine and barn cleanliness goes without saying.
  • 3. Physical barriers. Fly masks, and fly sheets are super. and let’s not forget the good ole Sticky fly strips! (Keep them away from the spiders though) There’s also now cool livestock curtains sold at Chicks’ Saddlery Livestock Curtain: Chicks Discount Saddlery
  • 4. If you have barn swallows in your stables, you have a great way to trim your bug population. A single Barn Swallows can catch 60 insects per hour or about 850 daily. It’s so pleasing to watch them raise their chicks in the rafters and teach them to fly. Here’s how to encourage this migratory bird to return to your stable every year. Help the swallows by setting up nests They’re most welcome in May as you see them dart happily around the barn to and fro.
  • 5. Don’t underestimate bats in the evening. One quick hungry bat can eat 1,200 insects an hour and 6 to 8 thousand bugs in a night.

Your barn ecosystem:

Having written all this, Even when occasionally spraying with non toxic mixes, it seems our barn swallows and bats stuck around at Rosecroft. There’s always plenty of bugs to go around. If not, because you’ve completely killed any particular entity in your “barn ecosystem” with toxic chemicals, you’ve now disturbed the balance of nature in so many negative ways. Think of the predators such as eagles, foxes and the harmless black snakes that can suffer and die from eating contaminated prey such as pigeons, rats or mice. Think of the disturbing nighttime silence at creek side when the “peepers”…which are such a happy harbinger of warmer weather, are no longer heard.

That’s what horsetails are for…


Rosecroft Survivor keeps a might long tail

PS: Stay Tuned for an upcoming book on natural remedies, subscribe and follow along! …if you will…

Posted in Animal Rescue, Music and horses

Rosecroft Cat Rescue 2010

Success story: 110 cats received veterinary care and in new homes:

Cover photo: The young male was named Stubby, (aka "garbage disposal" because he loved to eat!) He was given to a DC couple.

How do you find homes for 110 barn cats in 5 weeks? Not easy… But Cat Tails Inc, and Alley Cat Rescue, teamed up with the DMV musical community and did their magic for an unparalelled success! The initial flyer, designed by singer and musician Sarah Rasmussen, precipitated a huge email and Facebook campaign, over 6 cat organizations and private entities banded together to save “Rosecroft’s cats”. The emails and networking exploded into action among the cat and animal loving community, beginning with a simple flyer about how cool it would be to get a racetrack cat.


The Rosecroft cats remained during the summer of 2010 when, on June 28th, Rosecroft Raceway’s owners at the time, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., closed the stable area where horsemen had stabled and trained harness horses since 1948. Although the horsemen who could took thier cats with them or found them homes, the cats who remained were the usual racetrack cats that lived in the barns, catching mice and making friends with the horses and horsemen, mostly belonging to non-farm owning trainers, or grooms. Frequently, the displaced horsemen had to go places where they could not take their cats.

Enter Sandy Braskett, a horsewoman and former mutuel clerk who had taken care of the cats for years, supported by occasional donations from grooms, trainers and owners of the harness racehorses. Even after the barns were emptied out, Sandy continued to go daily to the track, caring for those cats. Sandy initially asked the Lisi’s to help first because she had no internet capability, and secondly, she had promised the worried evicted horsemen that she would find them homes. She kept in touch with them, and they were sending money, medications and food. It was too big a job for her to do alone.

To compound the situation, Sandy was suddenly told that in four days, she could no longer come on to the racetrack grounds to care for the cats. They even helped her set out extra food, though she knew that wouldn’t last because it would soon be eaten up by the wildlife from the bordering Henson Creek Park. Sandy was very upset, but was told it was a bankruptcy court order. [the Lisi’s were in court as a Party In Interest and heard no such order] …We needed more time. After a visit to Senator Muse’ office by one of our animal advocate attorney friends who literally stuck his foot in the office door, and the Senator’s secretary’s immediate call to Rosecroft’s office, the situation changed. Management at the track relented, and gave Sandy 5 weeks, until October 7th, to continue feeding them, as long as she could show progress towards getting them adopted. With the extra time, it still was a maybe at best. Like Rumpelstiltskin, wanting straw spun into gold.

How it was done:

100 cats vetted and to new homes in only 5 weeks time was certainly going to be a challenge, what to do?

Publicity Flyer campaign!

How did we find all these homes? The biggest part was done by an email and flyer campaign planned by Sara Rasmussen and Kathy Sweeney, who were members of a large DMV musical community. The flyers were shared, and offers began to pour into my inbox! I was appointed the “point person” (there goes my privacy) ~ Fielding hundreds of email adoption offers was great, but what do we do now?

Catching Cats

Enter Joy Purnell, who saw the flyer from a friends’ email. With her experience, she knew exactly the steps that it would take to save them. Joy hired the ace cat trapper Susan Wolfe, who showed Sandy and the remaining racetrack employee how to trap the by-now wary and frightened cats.

Susan Wolfe cat trapper
Cat’s being transported photo: Sara Rassmussen

Veterinary Fix-up:

Meanwhile, reduced-cost Veterinary appointments were made and paid for by both Alley Cat Rescue, headed by Louise Holton who was able to procure the reduced veterinary costs, and Cat Tails Inc. Joy Purnells’ organization.

—Without Joy “cracking the whip” for us to produce cats in time for these appointments, it would not have been possible to make the deadline of October 7th.

Joy Purnell presenting Robert Swain with a certificate award for aiding in the rescue – he paid for the gasoline to transport.

The cats were then transported to the veterinary businesses that did the fine veterinary work for a reduced cost. Brentwood Animal Hospital, a few at Academy Veterinary clinic,, the third was an undisclosed private veterinarian. This work entailed spaying, neutering, shots updated, treatment for fleas and ear mites and any injuries addressed.

Brentwood Animal Hospital

This vet bill was paid for by Cat Tails Inc, and “ACR” Alley Cat Rescue, which the latter recouped much of the money they spent through their savvy fund raising efforts (if you prefer, Alley Cat Rescue is a fine organization which helped greatly in the rescue, and are always looking for homes and donations)


Because of Sandy “the Rosecroft Cat Lady” and the horseman’s good care over the years, they were surprisingly healthy! Of 110 cats, (far less than other racetracks, because Sandy had spearheaded an earlier spay/neuter drive) Only one had a sore leg, one had a cut on his back that Brentwood expertly operated on, and one had an eye infection which was treated and went to a special care place.

The Homes

A fancy B&B owner in Hagerstown Md built a large shed for quarantining his cats. Cat B&B!

After the visit to the clinic, it was off to the new homes found by the “Cat Cooperative”!. It wasn’t always easy to coordinate such a big job, instructing the adoptees on how to quarantine, picking up cats at the track and transporting them first to the clinics, then onward to new homes from DC and Virginia to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. Everyone was “all business” with each person doing their job and never letting the others down!

A few places that adopted numerous cats were dairy farms, racing training centers, B & B’s, show horse stables, you name it… but most were simply individuals, couples and families who wanted a cat or two to love.

Val from Justice Snowden riding stable


Each cat was unique and and had an individual personality. Here’s just a few. Sandy took most of these photos with her old school phone. Beautiful exotics got new homes. A Himalayan male mysteriously showed up at the track some 10 years before the rescue, and the gene definitely showed up in some of the cats!

Catjam Icing on the Kitteh Cake

CatTails Inc was left without funds after this effort, and the Catjammer Charity band was formed tasked with the impossible…Play for tips to pay Joy Purnell back her $9500. It took a solid year, but they did it! But that story is for another day…

Follow Up

We emailed occasionally over the next two years, and got replies from the adopters. A couple in Upper Marlboro who had taken the last 6 cats on their large property tickled us, saying “oh, they’re just hanging out, just being cats...” …Adding that they still love their quarantine shed that they’d built for them, filled with toys, plush padded shelves and automatic waterers! Others were hunting mice in barns, as they did at the track. A few lived in apartments, one slate grey kitten was growing up with his little girl in Georgetown.

What we learned:

Of course, we learned that even tame cats get “spooked” when their people disappeared from their lives, which necessitates having to trap them as if they were feral. The trappers were only able to pick up a very few without need of traps.

There were disturbing reports of a few left behind, that were seemingly released deliberately by unknown persons at night, before pickup time in the mornings. Once a cat has been trapped, it is nearly impossible to lure them in one again. Fortunately it suddenly stopped happening after only a few traps were opened.

At any racing facility that takes up a large amount of acreage, management should make sure all horsemen’s pets are accounted for, that any pets or animals that show up are dealt with in a responsible and humane way. Calling an animal control to send any wayward animals to a hi kill shelter, or animals simply left on their own is not the optimum way to handle it- We should all follow the Rosecroft Horsemen’s example and be responsible for our feline population.


I leave you with Sarah’s slogan when she put out her original flyer. At first, it was a plea for help…. Now, it tells the story of our success. The “catch line” of the flyer which got so many generous offers for homes…

“It could be kind of cool to have a cat from a racetrack -don’t you think?”

…They all do…. every one of them has a home. Give to the cat rescue of your choice.

Thank you all.

Because of changes to the nearly defunct Facebook “Notes” section of profiles, this post is a back up with updated info re: the Rosecroft Cat Rescue project. This all occurred in 2010. Thanks.

Posted in Music and horses

King Street Bluegrass Lights Up Gloria’s in Old Town Warrenton

Glad we were able to entertain the lovely folks at Gloria’s. A TALENTED photographer gives her take on the show:

Through the Artist's Lens

If you were one of the lucky ones, you were at Gloria’s on Main Street in Old Town Warrenton on Friday night. The outstanding quintet of King Street Bluegrass brought a great blend of cover songs mixed in with some of their original tunes. We watched their fingers light up the strings on banjo, guitar, and bass as they harmonized their voices on a range of country, rock, folk, gospel, and traditional bluegrass melodies.

Roger Hart’s harmonica added a unique sound to the band. I loved watching him coax sounds from an array of mouth harps. His deep voice channeled the iconic Johnny Cash “Get Rhythm” tune. On other songs, he brought some fun stories about finding love in the bottom of the glass, which is always a little risky!

Their original songs were fan favorites and brought many of us back to the day of the Dixie Pig, once…

View original post 285 more words

Posted in Harness Racing, Horses

Live Long & Prosper – Harness Racing & Second Careers

Just like the Vulcan saying, it looks like Standardbreds tend to live long happy lives after their racing days. …In case you’ve read the negative type of articles which have been recently going around, here’s a quick roll call after only one afternoon in overwhelming response to a Facebook Wanted Post in the Preserve Harness Racing group. Enjoy!

** cover photo: Crumb Hustler lived to be over 40 years old. Raced at Rosecroft Raceway. Omie Brown took care of her father’s horse up on the hill from the track, at the historic Miller farm. She lunged him gently each day to keep him fit.

Kirsi Bertolini:

Fulla Fire and Kirsti Bertolini

“Fulla Fire is now 16 and we have done so much!! He’s been at school exhibition. He’s been at the fair to be petted and fed carrots. He’s been in nursing homes Christmas caroling now 6 times. I ride him at the ocean. We recently joined bunch of quarterhorses for a 10 mile trail ride by Maine trail riders association. He will do anything you throw in front of him without any hesitation. He’s my rockstar! Fulla Fire has his own Facebook page There’s tons of photos!

Anita Rees:

Shag endurance horse

”This is my guy Shag. He’s been doing 50 mile endurance events for 4 years. He’s a homebred who was never on the track, but was used for speed racking for years.”

Teddy a Yard Ornament

“Teddy’s registered name is Inaugural Affair, in his mid 20’s, a Presidential Ball son. He just goes loose in the yard and gets into things mostly.”

Hula Lu – retired endurance horse

“Here’s Hula Lu, 13 yr old, retired sound after 320 starts. she made approximately 90K in 8 1/2 years.”

Brookview Charger trail horse

Anita also has Brookview Charger who had “a rather dismal racing career. He’s 20 now and a fantastic trail horse. he was a speed racking horse for years as well.”

Linda Laudeman Taylor:

Bad Company Grand champion roadster

“BAD COMPANY—-Went on to become Grand Champion Roadster Class winner at PA. National Horse Show in 1984. Lived to 32.”

Micheal DI Gati:

Birthday Toy – pleasure horse

“Birthday Toy!! She’s my Pride and Joy!! My Favorite Toy!❤️❤️❤️ Raced her until she was 6 … and now my Riding Partner!”

Brielle Roman:

Witch Hazel show jumper

“Witch Hazel is a 3yr standardbred filly. Never made it to races, but I got her for $400 and she’s been to Devon and other high ranked horse shows, where she holds her own against warmbloods and the like, that cost more than 20 times what she did!”

Pacific Western now a police horse

“And here’s Pacific Western on his way to Newark PD for Police horse training!!”

Russell Swenton:

Russell Swenton & Laagendazz pacing stallion
Russell Swenton & Laagendazz pacing stallion

“I am an ex race horse trainer. When I got out of the business, I found my broodmares homes, and I still have my stallion, Laagendazz, that I couldn’t find a home for! He was 4 when he couldn’t race anymore. So I have fed and cared for him for the last 20 years knowing he would do nothing but look nice in the field! Most horse owners care deeply about their horses!”

Vicki Brenneman:

”We have one now, Winbak Red, who was 13 when he retired, he now is at a farm down the road from our house. We rent the field and go everyday to care for him. Justin calls him our lawn ornament!”

Katherine Smith

“ I have two retirees; one 20 and the other 17 at home. And we have retired/adopted many ex-racers through New Vocations. All our horses are listed with Full Circle, and can be returned to us any time during their lives, no questions asked. Ending racing will deal a blow to the equine population in the US, and perhaps Canada.”

Sally Hinckley:

“I have Armbro Brando and Stelerbration, they’re a joy! Stelerbration is 24 and Brando is 18.”

Standardbred Retirement Foundation SRF

Standardbred as mounted police
Standardbred as mounted police horses

”The”Brainiac Breed” is very popular with Mounted Police units!

Check this out…SRF Standardbreds adopted to just one unit in NY, Nuke Suave, Dodge Ball, Cheyenne Michael, Justatravelingcam, Mowtown Express, Park City, Victory Glider K and Passerby!

Did you know that SRF has 55 Standardbreds adopted to mounted patrol units such as Sheriffs’ Departments in Texas, Philadelphia Police, Morris County Parks, Newark Police, NYC and many more! SO proud of these fuzzy noses! Super temperament-adopt one, get your application in today at

S Baker & Dana West:

Santa & Mrs. Clause visiting the kids with Colonel Barnes

“Dana and I bred Colonel Barnes ‘Oscar’ He wasn’t fast enough and he has now found a good home and a new job. A business owner was delivering a prefab shed to us, and he and Dana were talking about our horses. The next thing I know, he said he would give Oscar a home pulling a carriage. No funds were exchanged only ONE STIPULATION: If or when they should not be able to keep him for any reason, he is to come back to us. It was hard to let him go, as we usually keep them till they pass away, but he now has been rehomed for a second job!

Cheri Collisen:

Cammie – Pet

“Cammie, a 20year old. Homes are found or they stay with me.”

B’Lynn Powers:

Blue an Off the track thoroughbred 

The thoroughbred people are doing similarly-

“I have a 27 year old OTTB from Charles Town that enjoyed a 2nd career as a hunter jumper, a 3rd as dressage and eventing at VA Intermont college and then at 19 years old, we found him, and he helped my daughter through the loss of her big brother – so 4th career is family – forever.”

Greg Trotto:

Jacob’s Money a lesson horse

“Jacob’s Money retired due to a breathing problem, and at a farm near Vernon. They love him. Trail rides and giving riding lessons!”

Susan Greenberg Merryman:

Majestic – dressage & aspiring Endurance horse

About her aspiring endurance horse- “My boy came from a mutual friend! His owner on the track was Katherine Smith and his trainer was Brooke Nickells! Majestic now 10, by Mach Three with a lifetime mark of 1:51, we adopted him in 2016 when he was coming seven. We trail ride him a lot and are working on dressage.”

Shannon Schlotzhauer Stafford:

Portrait therapeutic horse

“This is Portrait, now 12, a well loved race horse making a difference as a therapy horse. He has such a gentle soul. From the time our son could walk, Portrait let him do anything, he would even hold up his back feet so our son could paint them. When he was no longer competitive, we knew he could make a difference in someone’s life. Now he reaches many people.”

Ginger Keeler:

Indian Hill Mojoe Trail horse

“Here’s Indian Hill Mojoe, born at my place, my husband and I broke and raced him, now he’s my number one trail horse. He’s as tough as they come, an I love him to death.”

Leslie Moore:

Keystone Alexis therapy horse

“Our little Lexi (Keystone Alexis) raced at Ocean Downs and Rosecroft. She went on to Starting Gaits Transition where she was discovered by Agape as a therapy horse. She was recently highlighted and enjoys support from the Indiana harness Racing industry.”

Stephanie L Gray:

Art by Keane – Stallion And halter champion

“Art By Keene. Racing, showing and just plain retired. He was 2014 National SPHO In Hand Champion. I had big plans for him, he made other plans. We do have a 2yo colt and 3yo filly he sired. They are not turning out to be much as race horses, however, I love them both dearly. At least they’re pretty.”

Stallion Art By Keene with owner’s son Caiden

Below: “His 3yo filly, Sterling The Pot aka Ena and His 2yo colt, Kickstart My Art aka Junior.”

3yo filly, Sterling The Pot
Two-year-old colt My Art

Katy Reynolds Bradford:

That’s Hall Folks – family horse

“Here’s That’s Hall Folks, a fifteen year old gelding who raced for nine years. He’s a sweet trail and family horse, with so much personality. I think the best way to describe him is an uncomplicated gentleman,” below a shadow shot of this horse riding bareback and bitless!

That’s Hall Folks riding bareback and bitless

Patricia Clark:

East Meets West Endurance Champion

“East Meets West. We started endurance in 2009. Eli has over 1000 endurance miles and over 500 ld miles. He was the 2011 USTA Endurance Horse of the Year. He has also completed two 75 mile rides.”

Jessica Massey:

Artdotcam – pleasure and show horse
Artdotcam At Aasateague

“I adopted Artdotcam (AKA “Bubba”) in the spring of 2012 from his owners. Bubba was a successful harness racer before he was retired from the track and started under saddle. I’m not a “trainer” by any means; I was just a lady who was looking for her first “very own horse”.

After many, many hours and miles in the saddle, he has become an awesome trail horse that even my non-horsey husband rides! Bubba even occasionally goes with me to work in the State Forests (I work for the Maryland Forest Service) to do trail work & maintenance.

I have posted about our many adventures, including pictures, over the years. I stay connected with his owners and they follow his life and care closely. “

Nena Winand:

Winners Only – companion

“My love. Winners Only, retired from both racing and breeding ❤ because even when they are no longer breedable they still have a purpose, even if it’s only to be our companions.”

Julie Tougas:

Wally Dragon – multi talented

“This is Wally Dragon. He’s 13 years old and retired from the track when he was 5 years old. I have only recently become his human partner, before me, Wally spent his off track years doing single and double harness, some gymkhana and pleasure riding. This photos is Wally and I, taken at our very first long distance riding event. I am now training Wally to be an endurance horse.”

Purple Durple – parade horse

“This is Purple Durple. Shes 15 years old. Retired when she was 7 years old. After a short try in the sport of endurance, Purple made it clear that she didn’t want to go fast anymore, so now she is living her life as a steady trail horse . This picture is of Purple and her other human Odile taken during a parade.”

Katherine Smith

Always Virginia teaches youngsters to groom

“Always Virginia now living in Texas and being driven and ridden for fun, and teaching young kids how to groom and care for horses. There are so many more….”

“My first two Standardbreds now living their retirement here at home Virginia. One is 21 the other 18. They do no work other than keep us happy.”

That’s all for now folks! From endurance riding to the Police force to the show ring, or treasured companions, Standardbreds are quite talented and versatile. In addition, it looks like the harness horsemen have a great passion and respect for the star of the show, the Standardbred horse. Check out more at the USTrotting Association’s Life After Racing page.

Posted in Music and horses

Very Superstitious

Horsemen have their own set of superstitions and jinxes. I’ll list a few, feel free to add more in the comments, we’d love to hear about them!

Before we start, we all know the well known song by Stevie Wonder, here’s a “tongue in cheek” bluegrass parody version of Superstition by a group of superb studio musicians, Run C&W, including Bernie Leadon of Eagles fame on the banjo. Get that whole album for a good laugh, but great music as well! /

Here’s the list

• Everyone has heard of keeping a horseshoe displayed in a doorway for good luck. Be sure it’s facing upwards so the luck won’t “fall out”!

• Don’t ever clip your horse’s foretop on race day, it’s bad juju! Some say don’t clip them anywhere?!

• It’s supposed to be bad luck to change a colt or filly’s name after you buy it from a sale, from what the breeders named the foal.

• If you hang your pitchforks and rakes up at day’s end, leaving even as much as a sprig of hay or straw in the tines can conjure up an ill wind for your stable…

• When you’re training a young horse down, harness legend Ralph N Baldwin says in his chapter on Training the two year old in the Care and Training of the Trotter and Pacer – that he never goes for a young horse’s fastest time in exactly 2:20. Why? Because he was told by Fred Egan that half of them will stop right there and not go any faster if you do. He advised a trainer to “pass 20” – Looks like even the big time champion trainers had their notions~

Some “superstitions” are just good life lessons, don’t speak ill of the dead, [or anyone for that matter] don’t feign illness to get off work [it’ll really happen!] and do unto others as you would want to be done to yourself.

Winding up, here’s wishing everyone many fine Friday 13’s to come. Do something extra nice for someone on that day, it may come back to you in the form of an extra nice feeling. Try it…

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 often begat “Free-leggers”.
For those new to the sport, here’s a nice article from Scarborough Raceway

The Lisi Stables were fortunate enough to have a few free legged racehorses. Starry Night, and 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 of the seat, 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.

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 able to get around after his surgery and was in the winners circle, his eyes 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!

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

When sixth graders in modern schools end up having to go to “extra“ math classes after school, they wouldn’t, as remedial students, be lumped into one class with the detention kids. Not so in many rural areas in the late 60’s.

Students at Carmicheals were keenly aware that Junior High classes were “seeded” back then. According to IQ, prior grades, or who knows.

The “middle” class was B-average students, and we didn’t go to detention, but we all knew the ones who did. They rode the Bad Bus home.

Bus bay

Having trouble with mathematics to a point where the teacher decided extra after-school tutoring was needed, The dreaded slip of paper was placed in my hand.

To my utter shame, I found myself condemned to four weeks of detention. 

After school, it was a miserable shuffle down the hall to “that class”, glancing ruefully as my regular classmates merrily boarded their buses to go home. The raucous noise drifted down the hall from room 8, labeled with the sign “remedial”. Inside was an expected scene: 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, pencils and rulers shot through the air, as well as anything else not nailed down.

Mr. Gray (fictional name) was watching the clock with half closed eyes, ignoring the ruckus. Hard to tell if he was going to do anything at all, then he suddenly jumped to the chalkboard and said dryly. “I’m going to give out some remedial work for each of you to do, that are here for that purpose“ His speech was punctuated regularly with a disconcerting, involuntary grunt. The math study sheets given me were far below even what a 6th graders’ impaired math skills would be, and 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. This bus wound throughout the entire school district which was an expansive rural area to the north of Nemacolin, then circling that mining town and returning along the Monongahela River, Stringtown Road, finally returning via the Fairdale Cash Market, my stop, and the last one. Because of the cold, I had opted for the bus when actually, I’m within walking distance of the school. Henceforth during my detention, I did walk home instead to save time.

This story is really about that particular ride. It was now time to take a good, long look at the back side of coal country. And at the schoolmates that so many of us derided, behind their backs.

I got on the Bad Bus. The hooting, shenanigans and noise was even more deafening on the bus than it was in the class.

Carmichaels, Pa. -King Coal, that’s what it was all about in South West Pennsylvania. The vast majority of the residents in this district were coal miners, many being subsistence farmers on the side. My mother’s brother, 100% Croatian, Pete Bartolovich and his Polish wife Fran raised my sister and I with privileges we weren’t really aware of. Unk had tremendous carpentry skills which added to his income during the mine strikes, and these skills helped him to design and build his own cozy home.

Back to the ride.

The Bus rolled north of the town, through hilly fields and farmland, From a distance, the scenes looked pastoral, even bucolic, in this icy Piedmont winter. A closer look revealed old vehicles, rusted farm equipment and tools jutting out of the snow.

The toughest-acting boy jumped off first. His little sister ran to him and he swung her up in the air, taking the metal 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. The cattle were 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 girl with the tight dress went straight to the pump in her heels to haul pails of water in, no running water in that lantern lit house, and an outhouse outside. Dreams of glamour? We’re talking about the 60’s here, long past the times when a home didn’t have indoor plumbing.

Each stop held a different untold story. Some entered darkened shacks. Pop was off in the mines, and mom working somewhere. Or gone. Lots of babies without pants or diapers, even in the cold weather.

Trumpka farm. His brother was UMWA president

We swung by the Monongehela River and the old Buckeye Shaft, past the monstrous slag pile in Nemacolin, then swinging back towards the school. Fairdale Cash Market was the last stop of the bus at the top of Schroyers Lane.

The Bad Bus was quiet by then, as I jumped off into the thin layer of snow.

It was nearly dark, walking the half mile down Schroyers lane, and the ever present wind would drive ice into the exposed part of your legs between the skirt and the knee-hi’s.

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

Breathlessly entering the world handmade by Uncle Pete and Aunt Fran. The delicious smelling kitchen of the beautiful rambler. 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. Unk would be home soon from Robena shaft, as black and sooty as the coal he mined.

In the furnace room, grabbing the tiny iron hand-shovel, you 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 returned about the Bad 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 niece standing mouth agape as she merrily traipsed off to the kitchen, heel to toe, like a swing dancer. Was there no end to what she could do? (Do you know how she did it?)

We had everything.

A plus from the Bad Bus ride 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, including Fran and Pete.

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.

Riding the Bad Bus was not so bad, not bad at all.

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

Addition: a slideshow of a recent trip back. Song Penned by yours truly: 
Lookin’ Back by King Street Bluegrass

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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!


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?)


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


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.


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!


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.


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.



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.


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.



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!


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.



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 Gidcumb. 
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 medals) -his adventures in Germany after the war was over. Talking about how he got his Regal Pick 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.

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 trotting mare that they bred to him, and she 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 when 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 at that time. 

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. 

We’ll take a cup of kindness dear, for 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




•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