Monday, March 31, 2014

Nice Guys Do Finish First - Tom Brennan, Horseperson Extraordinaire

 (Chronicle of the Horse photo)
I am simply amazed by the efforts of Virginia-based hunter rider Tom Brennan who trains out of Winter Hill Farm in northern Virginia (near Harpers Ferry, WV).  He's the real thing that's for sure.  Not only is Tom a top rider and an incredibly nice guy, he also gives back to our sport in ways that most only dream about. I would want my junior rider showing with this guy, that's for sure.

His latest effort is to set up a new scholarship for competing junior riders who also go to traditional schools, that is do not get their education on-line or through tutors as many top junior riders do.  He's worked to establish the Claire Mawdsley Scholarship and Rider Recognition Program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.

The first scholarships will be awarded at this year’s Pennsylvania National Horse Show which runs from Oct. 9-18 in Harrisburg, to the top placing eligible exhibitors in each of the four junior hunter sections. Winners will receive a scholarship award that will be held in trust by the horse show until they enroll in college. The top three eligible students in each section will also receive special ribbons and sponsored prizes.

The program is free to enter and only requires the junior indicates his or her intention to participate on the Pennsylvania National entry and sends a letter from school indicating good academic standing.
Brennan has been working on developing the program for two years. “What set this off is that about two or three years ago, I had a kid in the large juniors that jogged, and I said, ‘You just won. You have one horse that you can show once a month, and you got here, and you held your own.’ ”

Brennan thought it important to recognize juniors who don’t get to spend as much time in the saddle as those who participate in online programs and have access to private tutors.

“It was startling to me at indoors that you have 25 to 30 riders who qualify and only 15 to 18 showing,” he said. “I’ve certainly had students who have said, ‘I’d love to go, but I don’t really have a chance.’ It’s like, you qualified for Harrisburg; you have a chance!”

The scholarship was named for Virginia Intermont College student Claire Mawdsley who was killed in an automobile accident while driving back to school after grooming at the Middleburg Classic (Va.) for Winter Hill Farm on Sept. 26, 2011. You can also help donate to the scholarship, as it's being funded by private donations.

Brennan's other recent claim to fame is the way he handled an event that started when someone posted a photo of Tom riding a top hunter on the Chronicle of the Horse's Facebook page with a link to other photos from one of the Gulf Coast's Horse Shows.  People began critiquing the photo and the criticism was very unsportsmanlike to say the least. It got very nasty. 

According to an article in the COTH  Brennan headed to Walmart at 6 a.m. to buy posterboard and markers. Before his first rides he got to work, attaching a printout of the Facebook photo and another three pages of comments and writing a note to his students underneath. He hung up the poster in the Winter Hill Farm tackroom alongside the circuit champion coolers, so it was there when his junior customers arrived.

It reads:
“Attention Kids of Winter Hill. This is what some people thought of a round that scored an 88 this week…You will meet many ‘experts’ in life…most of them sit on the sidelines where it is safe to say, ‘They are not good enough.’ The only one who can tell you ‘You Can’t’ is you—and you don’t have to listen! No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. We do not let anyone else make this sport unfun for us. The only expert opinion that matters when you ride is right underneath you. Listen to your horses and treat them with tact and kindness today, and I will be proud of you. Good luck and have fun.”

Brennan and Tony Workman have a full slate of junior and amateur clients at their Winter Hill Farm in Hillsboro, Va. Talking to their customers, it's easy to see that their appeal extends beyond their success in the ring. One parent told me how Brennan turned a tough day for her daughter into a great one with his positive attitude, and his teenage clients explained how he regularly inspires confidence in riding lessons and beyond.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to show the kids how you persevere through other people’s bad behavior,” he told me. “I think in school right now a lot of kids have to deal with online bullying. I wanted to turn lemons into lemonade, to show the kids that we can smile about it and laugh about it and have a lot of fun and be good at what we do.”

In a day when there are too many arm-chair quarterbacks and kids often seem entitled to say the least isn't it refreshing to find someone as down-to-earth and full of good old fashioned values as Tom Brennan?  My mother would say that someone raised this man very well. Indeed they did!

(Thank you Chronicle of the Horse for highlighting this wonderful story)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Monogram Mania at FIgure Eight Monograms

Spring is just about here, right?  Well.............maybe.....but these cute monograms from Figure Eight Monograms will surely put you in a warm weather state of mind.

This is my favorite:

You can see more photos and get additional information here.

Happy Spring, maybe?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"50 to 1" - The Movie

We all love a rags to riches story and "50 to 1" is just that - the story of the racehorse that was never expected to be a player, but who won the biggest race of all, the Kentucky Derby. We all recall Mine That Bird's phenomenal run that day and Calvin Borel's ride that catapulted him into the spotlight.  

(Wall Street Journal photo)

He was a 50-1 longshot in May 2009 and filmaker Jim Wilson (who was shunned by the Hollywood elite much like trainer Chip Woolley was ostracized by the Kentucky horse racing elite) went out on his own and raised millions to make this film.

The film premiered March 19th in Albuquerque, NM and a bus tour ensued, taking the cast and crew to various locations to help get the word out about the film.  Mine That Bird even made a few appearances (he now lives in New Mexico).  

There's a good article in the recent Wall Street Journal, you can read it here.

Mr. Wilson is indeed a player, he produced "Dances With Wolves" and "The Bodyguard"  so he's no slouch in the movie business. I can't wait to see the movie and I am hoping the bus comes somewhere near where I live.  Keep your eyes and ears open, let us know if you see the movie. We all know it's a great story.  Great ones need to be remembered and told over and over again!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Central Park Celebration of the Horse

The Central Park Celebration of the Horse Presented by Rolex
Is Coming to New York City

Mark Bellissimo announced today, March 25, that The Central Park Celebration of the Horse presented by Rolex and produced by The Chronicle of the Horse, will be held on Sept. 18-21, 2014, at the Trump Rink (Wollman Rink) in New York City's Central Park. This event will feature the best equestrian sport in the world along with daily exhibitions featuring different breeds and disciplines.

Remember the glory of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden? The Celebration of the Horse will be a spectacular return for equestrian sport to New York City, showcasing the horses and riders against a backdrop of skyscrapers in one of the world's most iconic venues.

The Celebration of the Horse will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 18, with a $200,000 Central Park Grand Prix featuring some of the best show jumpers in the world as they vie for top prize money in this unique setting. The grand prix will be televised live on NBC Sports from 7:30-9:00 p.m., giving even greater exposure to these Olympic-level athletes.

Friday night will host a celebrity charity equestrian event, while a world-class dressage musical freestyle will run on Saturday night featuring six of the world's top dressage riders.

"This brings the national spotlight to equestrian sport, allowing an unprecedented audience to appreciate the horse in the world's greatest city," said Bellissimo, who owns The Chronicle of the Horse. "This will be the first live prime time TV event for equestrian sports on a major sports network and an unbelievable time slot for Thursday night on NBC Sports."

Along with these exciting nighttime events, there will be a full daytime matinee schedule of interesting, diverse, and educational exhibitions centered around horses and their place in our history and culture. The Sunday matinee will present an arena polo competition featuring some of the world's top players.

Limited seating is available for both the evening and matinee events, so make your plans soon to be a part of this one-of-a-kind event! For more information and to be on our news list, please send an email to

To become a sponsor, please contact Jim Wolf at


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Go British with Boden

I like Boden's clothes and if I worked in an office every day, I'd likely be a big shopper.  The clothes are fresh, easy, not expensive, stylish but not trendy.  They have great sales too (right now everything is on sale).

Here are a few of my picks:

This is my favorite dress and it comes in two other colors:

Love this skirt!

Are you a Boden shopper?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Repurposed Life

In an age where excess has become normal, it's nice to take a step back and reuse things.  Brand new is not always the best, in some cases quite the contrary and in our world of "instant gratification" where every want and need is often met, regardless of price, free or almost free is refreshing.  Be creative!  Like using the galvanized water tub as a cocktail table.  Paint it any color you want!

Make your own bench out of salvaged Queen Ann chairs. Paint these babies a bright color for more punch and panache.

Who would have thought to add wrought iron to the kitchen?

A new dog bed anyone?

This makes a great "shield" for a lot less than what the landscape guy will come up with!

"Fake" books made from bricks are an inexpensive way to fill your bookshelves.

Make your own doormat from old pallets.

And an old fence quickly becomes a great architectural element to brighten your house.    Who knew?

Use your old horse models and turn them into hooks for your tack room.  Love it!

Have a great day.  Don't throw it away, recycle it!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Italians Have Arrived, Again - Cavalleria Toscana

Italian fashion, well, there's nothing quite like it.  The Italians just know how to dress.  And isn't it refreshing to see this luxury enter the equestrian world in a big way.  I came across Cavalleria Toscana while in Ocala a few weeks ago.  It's just gorgeous, the pictures don't show how lovely this brand is....

This is from an advertisement:

And I picked up this little number on sale, half price.  It will look great this spring once the thaw hits.
Those damn Italians.  My pocketbook is going to suffer because of you but won't we all look a bit more beautiful in these Italian clothes?

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Epicurean Equestrian

Maybe it's an oxymoron, but I am an equestrian and I also love to cook. Perhaps that road warrior life that competitive equestrians regularly endure makes it sound far fetched, but for some of us, cooking and riding, well, it's part of our routine.

And behold, there are a few cookbooks out there that cater to the epicurean equestrian. This cookbook can be found on Amazon and it's not expensive in the least.  Some good reviews out there as well....

If you like "southern" then try these two books with a Kentucky Derby theme.  Both are available through Amazon:

I have not seen this one in the flesh but I'd love to try it out.  This one is available through an upscale retailer in Lexington, KY.  You can buy it here.

Here is a newer edition of the cookbook above, available through the gift shop at Keeneland, also in Lexington, KY. 

And the Junior League cookbooks are the best. This one is also available through the Keeneland Gift Shop.

Are there others out there that I should add to my list?

Have a great Monday!

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