A View from Letter A – Pineland Farms – Carl Hester MBE

The woodlands and fields surrounding Pineland Farms Equestrian Center in New Gloucester Maine were shrouded in thick mist on Sunday morning. A young horse sculpture, Gwyneth McPherson fondly calls Rusty, watched as travelers drove through the entry gates and parked in the adjacent fields A select group of 14 horse and rider teams participated in a unique opportunity to advance their skills with one of the world’s best riders and trainers. The big red barn with two cupolas welcomed dressage riders, trainers and enthusiasts on October 14 – 15th for the New England Dressage Association’s (NEDA) Fall Symposium 2017 with Carl Hester MBE.

After checking in at the registration table, auditors entered into the large indoor arena fitted with stadium seating behind letter C, long side B and A. NEDA reported a total sale of 989 seats. The welcome packet included a glossy magazine with a biography for every team working with Hester. Everything was so carefully arranged, down to the announcer reminding the audience to be cautious about the chairs habit of flapping up when the sitter rose, “don’t let it slap the back and startle horses.” No photos, cameras or videotaping were allowed. The penalty would be the culprit finds themselves on the outside looking in.

Hester was dressed casually in a soft black sweater, jeans and barn boots. He was spare in his movement but his posture was tall and alert. He often commented on the most fundamental of movements and praised as much as cautioned riders. Whatever was presenting, Hester went with the block or tension that needed softening to bring out the best in horse and rider.

Your right hand, oh your right hand is open and not connected on the rein to the horse. It’s a habit of having the hand open when you ride. But it’s confusing the horse. Work on that. It’s a habit, you don’t know you’re doing it, you try to change but go back to it without thinking about it.

“Yutt, Yuutt that’s it, Yahutt” Whenever Hester made that sound, the rider could smile inside, “Yutt, that’s fine.”

There’s a Zen expression that says, every time you meet someone, they are different. So true with teams that participated on Saturday and Sunday. Hester told Emily Smith he was speechless after she rode the asked for uphill canter, and was that the same horse? Apparently, the nerves got to Dublin the previous day. Hester often informed Sunday participants on what happened Saturday. It was this attentiveness to the audience that was appreciated most. He commented to the trainers in the crowd on what was important here.

Breathing, you’ve got to breathe when you ride or it messes everything. Sit up straight, sit up when you ask for the transition, you are pitching forward and confusing the horse on what to do.

Jessica O’Donnell and her five-year old, Don Dreamer, received high praise with Hester talking about looking at a young horse and thinking someday Grand Prix. Yes, this horse, even when tired, kept giving something back. He had the cadence and calmness to get there.

Don’t move about like that when changing leads, it’s bouncing around upsetting the horse. It’s too much motion. Sit quiet.

Karin Persson and her beautiful Swedish horse Giuliano B surprised us all with his enthusiastic kick during a gallop around the arena. Hester had encouraged Persson to let him out a bit with a romp to settle down. Hester commented that it was a positive sign in the six-year old gelding. He hasn’t forgotten how to have fun along the way up the levels.

Your reins are too long, too long. They are long enough that you can scratch your belly already. After that, where are they going to go now.

The outstanding training moment in the day came when Hester became the center post for Molly Maloney and Fellissimo’s canter pirouettes. He was the anchor which they moved around in a lovely series of careful wide pirouettes. The cadence and impulsion were excellent. It was inventive and delightful all at once. Hester has a charming and grounding manner of teaching. When he asks, and how he asks enables the confidence to flow between trainer, horse and rider.

The horse is not so good in the corners. Well, let’s fix that now. Ride him straight into that corner and stop. Make him stop, turn around and trot back. Do this until he gets the idea, you are in charge. This horse wants to take over and tell you where to go.

What a surprise it was for this auditor to hear the same words heard in lessons, repeated and reinforced in the riders on Sunday. I had at first said no to this event, what would an amateur, returned to riding after a 25-year absence learn from this? A lot! It was all about position, clarity of the aids, being one-sided (horse and rider), straightness, inside eye, blocks in the body, tension, breathing, hands, etc… The thought was at this level, horses and riders are more advanced and complete in the training. The horse is athletic and responsive. The riders have dedicated years to cultivating their dressage skills. It’s still the attention to the ever-changing details that makes a skillful ride.

To feel what you are doing, ride the transitions with eyes closed.

Everything about the day was wonderful. The horses were spit spot in almost ready for the show ring turnout with brilliantly white NEDA saddle pads. Several of the riders presented a uniform appearance in white breeches and gloves with a fitted dark blue long-sleeved shirt. Even the boxed lunches were fresh and filling. The mist was just starting to lift when we sat down to eat on the hillside in back of the big red barn. The horses were out in their paddocks munching on hay. The warm gray Maine skies were quiet above us. This was a day to remember. Thank you NEDA staff for the two years of hard work organizing this event. Thank you Carl Hester for encouraging all with kindness and sincerity.



Celebrate Each Day with a Song ~ La Gatta

In May, I took a second trip to Italy staying for two weeks in Lucca old town. Lucca is in Tuscany Province near Pisa and about an hour from Florence. The Tuscan hills can been seen all around the city and bring cooling breezes every afternoon. The aromas of roasting coffee and jasmine in bloom will forever remind me of this spectacular region in Italy.

During the first week in Lucca, I took Italian lessons and we learned the “imperfetto” verb tense. This is used to express things that happened many years ago. This song by Gino Paoli, was used to teach this tense. Cats are a favorite companion and what fun it was to bring this “souvenir” back home. Here are the lyrics with English translation below.

La Gatta (Italian)

C’era una volta una gatta
che aveva una macchia nera sul muso e una vecchia
soffitta vicino al mare con una finestra
a un passo dal cielo blu.
Se la chitarra suonavo
la gatta faceva le fusa ed una stellina
scendeva vicina vicina
poi mi sorrideva e se ne tornava su.

Ora non abito più là tutto è cambiato,
non abito più là ho una casa bellissima
bellissima come vuoi tu.
Ma io ripenso a una gatta
che aveva una macchia nera sul muso a una vecchia
soffitta vicino al mare con una stellina
che ora non vedo più.

La Gatta (English)

Once upon a time there was a cat
with a black spot on her muzzle and an old
attic by the sea with a window
steps away from the blue sky.
If I would play my guitar
the cat would purr and a little star
would come down really close
then it would smile and go back up again.

Now I don’t live there anymore everything has changed,
I don’t live there anymore, I have a beautiful house,
beautiful, as you want.
But I think back to a cat with a black spot on her muzzle, to an old
attic by the sea with a little star
That I don’t see anymore.

Apollo with Lyre

The small New England town of West Brookfield MA is blessed with a well-preserved and beautiful public common. The land for the common was made possible by the generosity of David Hitchcock and Dwight Foster. In 1791, they both agreed to set aside this space for the benefit of the town and its inhabitants. J. Henry Stickney, in 1874, provided a fund toward the beautification of the space that included planting trees and creating walkways. In 1884, George Rice provided the funding for the construction of a reservoir for fountains installed on the common. Today, the two fountains are in excellent condition. Every day during the warm weather months, the woman with the jar pours out water into the basins. The two thinkers below her ponder the day. And, a little cherub above a public water fountain stands by the road waiting to quench the thirst of anyone walking by.  This is an imaginative story of what the spirits in the statues may have to say about their experiences living among us.

Apollo with Lyre

“My Song, My Song,” finally, it’s in the air. Dear Iris gifted me this lyre on my last birthday. After praying for an age, a way to let out my itch to sing is in my hands. “My Song, My Song!” My fingers sting as I pluck the strings. The tone does sound like the air. The card that came with the present said it all, “better than dry words, better than lonely wind swirls, the lyre will free your spirit to become merry in song. Play your best,” Goddess Iris

My sister Artemis is jealous; all she got was a quiver of arrows and a long bow. The last time I saw her, she was crossing the bridge into Siracusa. She likes to walk under a starry sky with moon shadows all around. “My Song, My Song!” Oh, bliss!

Yesterday was grand. The wind was kind and blew the fountain spray my way. I felt it tickle my wings. I can just about see them over my left shoulder. The naiad, Delfina, and her two friends Tilda and Pastora from Cyprus. I pray the zephyr takes my splendid voice to her tender ears. “My Song, My Song!” Pastora has the garland of marguerites around her neck.

Years ago, I was closer to the women and shared the same water reservoir. When town water lines were dug in, I was moved to give passersby a fresh drink of clean water. I like watching the street and seeing all the humans strolling along. The little kids cool their thirst at the water fountain below. The guy with the beagle always stops and gives his pooch a drink. The bikers fill their bottles. The birds love to fly through the water spray at the women’s fountain. They land on my shoulder and preen a bit.

Temple of Apollo Photo taken at Ortigia May 2015

People call me a chubby angel but that’s not my name. I am the young Apollo with Lyre by Vernetto. My twin sister Artemis and I were born on the islet of Ortigia near the ancient town of Siracusa on the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. The remains of my temple are still standing near the gateway to Ortigia. The proper name for it is The Apollonion, built in the 6th century B.C. during the Age of the Greeks.  My temple survived the Byzantine Age, Arab Age, and Norman Age and made it to the Spanish conquest of the island in the 1800s. The blocks and columns were taken apart and used to construct other buildings and churches. What stands today is the foundation and a few of the mighty walls to show how grand a place it was.

Artemis has a fantastic fountain built in her honor a few feet away in Archimedes Square. It is a glorious, large tribute to the transformation of the nymph Arethuse into spring water. The mermen ride the sea creatures in the basin pool showing passersby the days of glory when the Greek gods and goddesses ruled the day.

Some of this glory is carved into the base holding me up. Everybody admires the swans and cattails on the plate. You know that is Poseidon’s trident. He gave it to me as a going away present, he said if I am ever homesick and want to visit Mom, just strike the tongs, dive into the sea and it would carry me back to Ortigia. It is studded with pearls and bronze, the tips were made in the furnace at Aetna. It is so special, no one else has one, I am sure.

The little peeps around the foot of the pedestal are my echoes. When I sing, “My Song, My Song” they chime in giving it a little dash of cherub sweetness. I am Apollo, the son of Zeus and Leto. Seekers come to me for healing, truth and prophecy. I am the sun. I am the light. I will help form community. I will protect flocks of animals. I am the god of song and music.

The fountain with the naiad pouring out the water into the basins below is beautiful. The two women sitting underneath are called Meditation. I’ll share a little secret, that pensive air they create with the chin in their hands is really a put on. They just act all serious and calm. Delfina who stands above it all, is watching and they never break their silence with her there. You see, they cannot find the book. They put it down and it “walked away.” It was “stuck” in my hands when I arrived and is now under my left hip. It is my book now. It has the answer to the riddle Delfina asked them. They cannot answer her and are stuck on what to do next. When they answer it right, the jug will finally be empty of water. “My Song, My Song” Oh I love to sing “My Song, My Song”. My joy will never end!

The Fountain of a Naiad with two figures in meditation

Oh my stars! That imp is doing it again! All these years and he has only one tune one simple tune. Why can’t he move it along now? What a bimbotto? (A fat baby.)

My story is ancient. I hear the townspeople talking below and some have said I remind them of Rebekah at the well in the Old Testament. I am a naiad; a water spirit. The spray around the fountain creates water music. I wear a laurel wreath to signify my affinity with Apollo. The Greeks called me a Crinaeae; the spirit of a fountain. My destiny is to pour water from this jar to make the way easy for fertility and wealth. Every morning, Apollo pulls his chariot across the sky and brings us the light. At night, I bathe in sacred moonlight cast by Selene, Artemis and Hecate, the goddesses of the Moon. The stars align and tell me a story. Many creatures come to the fountain in the night. The play of the water lulls us into a transcendental state of being.

The two figures below are indeed from Cyprus. This fountain represents the element of air, water and earth. The water tinkles in the air while the women below ground us. They were very fond of practical jokes and mischief before I gave them something to do. I would not be surprised to discover where Tilda’s missing garland ended up. Our work here is to be beneficial as well as beautiful. The human visitor can look upon us and wonder what are they thinking?

The riddle is: What is always on its way but never arrives?

So, what is the answer?

Every day, we are here. I am as hypnotized as anyone watching and listening to the waters flow. This place gives us something important to do. We were made to be pleasing and so we do. We love sharing our waters with the dogs as they pass by. We love to cool the senses on a hot day. We love to be here and be admired.

I am the naiad of this water fountain. Apollo calls me Delfina. Oh stella! I hope my water jar is never empty. My joy will never end!

by Frances Ann Wychorski

Some of the facts for this story were provided by an article in the Quaboag Historical Society Newsletter, Bringing the Ladies Home: A Brief History of the fountains on the West Brookfield Common by William Jenkins. The full text can be reached by clicking on the link.

Some of the facts for this story were provided by Ortigia: The heart of Syracuse Tourist Guide,  OGB Officina Grafica Bolognese June 2013

The photograph of the Temple of Apollo was taken by the writer on the Island of Ortigia in May 2015. Here is a photo of the magnificent statue of Artemis in Archimedes Square. Sicily is a great vacation destination for those curious about Greek mythology. The ruins and sites are well preserved and numerous on the island. Go for the sun, food and history.

Artemis Photo taken in Ortigia May 2015

Destination St. Lawrence Market Toronto

IMG_2288 The St Lawrence Market on the corner of Front Street East and Jarvis in downtown Toronto is a must stop for foodies. Whatever the weather is outside, it’s warm and wonderful in the old building. A public market has been on this spot since 1803 with farmers and vendors bringing in the freshest foods and products for sale.

There are cheese purveyors with hard and soft varieties. The French counter features Camembert, Brie de Meaux, Roquefort, Reblochon , Muenster, Pont l’Évêque, and Époisses. There are wheels of Swiss Formaggini, Appenzeller, Scharfe Maxx, Emmentaler and Sbrinz. And, many more from England and Italy.

Vendors offer produce from all over Canada and USA. How beautiful to walk down the aisles with mountains of fresh table ready fruit and vegetables. The fragrance of fresh berries, citrus and mushroom opens the senses. The day may be blustery and cold outside, but the chocolate dipped strawberries will soon chase away the blues.

IMG_2300The people of Toronto seem to be especially keen on olives. The fragrance of many varieties scented  the air. There were three large olive bars with sampling encouraged. Alongside were luscious mounds of stuffed grape leaves and prosciutto wrapped around soft cheeses.

The meats and fish markets are well stocked offering so many choices for dinner. A taste for the exotic? No problem. One vendor offered packaged wild boar, kangaroo, ostrich and other game meats from Australia. How inspiring to the weekend chef. Imagine having this lovely market to walk into on Saturday afternoons, strolling around the aisles, really perks up the possibilities. Need a gadget? Not to worry, if there’s a tool for cooking, that could be found too.

The breads are fresh from the oven. Take home what you like be it brioche, boules, challah, focaccia or chapati.  It’s also convenient to buy fresh roast chicken, pizza, or the local favorite, a pea meal bacon sandwich! Everything is market ready. Nothing sits around here very long.

IMG_2312Of course, be sure to go downstairs and feast the eyes and palate with the beautiful pastry display. Try the rumble crumble tart, I highly recommend this lovely treat. Stop at the Ukraine market in the back. Look at the vendor offering so many varieties of fresh ground flour! All the choices in coffee and tea.

Stop in Inti Taita Impressions and meet Silvia. She sells the loveliest garments from Peru. The fabrics are 100% organic pima cotton and baby alpaca. Gorgeous dresses, shirts, and scarfs for women and children.

There is so much to see and enjoy with musicians entertaining the crowd from every corner. The market is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Stop in and plan to stay for several hours. It’s unique and a lot of fun.IMG_2307