Thank You.

Sometimes the good die old.  I have always dreaded the day that I would walk by Homer’s stall and he would be gone.  It is impossible to run away from the fact that he will no longer be the #1 Breckenridge Farm Ambassador.  There is no more hiding behind his cute smile.  The first thing that I must do as I step up to the “face” is say, “thank you!”

Life is all about counting blessings.  I have been showered with the best of family, friends and animals.  So many blessings to count, and if I need to keep tally, then Noble’s Trim (Homer) holds several counts!  His heart and mind gave miles beyond his physique.  No matter what I asked of him, from carrying a frightened child to leading the N.U. Cavalry Troop in an Alumni Parade, he gave all he could, and more.

Thank you, Homer, for making my job so much easier! It was always amazing to watch you begin a movement that I was teaching someone before they even gave you the aids.

I thank you for:

  • Your sense of humor — pushing us over with your nose when we were least expecting it, biting your son Barney’s butt when he didn’t move fast enough in the drill team pinwheel, following the lessons when you were let out to free graze and loading yourself onto students trailers
  • Being the fearless leader — like a metronome in drill team, like a true soldier on campus, and a gentle friend in kid’s camp~
  • Winning all those Blues — for me, for students, and for our Lindsay (she will never forget the “clean sweep” at the 3 day 4-H show!)~
  • Helping introduce our son Josh to our now daughter-in-law Chery when she rode you so beautifully in Event Camp.
  • Sharing the trails with me on our solitary exploration rides~
  • The recognition you brought the farm — by being featured in Jane Savoie’s Cross training book, on the cover of Linda Tellington Jones’ newsletter, in ads for feed stores and local businesses, in dressage articles and in Norwich University photos.  You had such wonderful performance presence!

This tribute is a thank you, not a good-bye.  Homer was wise and honest.  He wore his heart on his sleeve — never a question about his opinion of something.

Before he left, I tried to memorize his markings.  His “spots” were special;  he actually had a chestnut-colored heart on his right hip leading to that handsome Appy blanket.  I know I won’t always remember exactly how he looked, but his heart marking will forever remind me to live passionately and honestly.

Today, I will plant wildflowers under the apple tree where my friend is buried.

It won’t surprise me if they bloom on demand.

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Times Argus Article 10/16/10

At Norwich University, the cavalry tradition continues

Norwich University senior Michael DelBello performs a backflip off a horse during cavalry training at the school. Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo

By Linda Freeman Correspondent – Published: October 17, 2010

The evening news of October 6 covered the story of Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller, U.S. Army, receiving posthumously the Medal of Honor for his heroism and valor in combat in Afghanistan.

On January 25, 2008, SSG Miller lost his life while providing cover for his men and drawing fire from the enemy saving his fellow soldiers and 15 local Afghan National Army soldiers. As the story unfolded, photos were flashed on the television screen. One showed Miller, a Special Forces weapons sergeant, on horseback in Afghanistan.

When you think of cavalry, do you think John Wayne, the Civil War or the Wild West? Do you trace the history back to King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table or do you go even farther to the use of chariots in Central Asia, Egypt, Assyria and Babylon?

Perhaps you think of early Olympic equestrian teams made up primarily of military riders or you jump directly to the modern-day Army in which cav troops are made up of highly mobile, technical machinery?

Heavy cavalry operates in track vehicles while light cavalry refers to humvees, towed artillery, unmanned surveillance drones and ground sensors, among others.

The mission of cavalry, however, has not changed from the days of soldiers mounted on horseback: Reconnaissance, surveillance, sometimes movement to contact and minimal offensive operations.

Doug Stanton, author of “Horse Soldiers, The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan,” (Scribner 2009) surprised many readers with new stories of special forces and their modern day use of horses in warfare.

At Norwich University in Northfield, the legacy of cavalry is being kept alive. Begun in 1909, cavalry training reached its zenith prior to World War II when every Norwich cadet rode. Horses were stabled and training took place on the grounds of Norwich. Today the Cavalry Troop has returned and is growing, with as many as 30 entering freshmen each year.

At Breckenridge Farm, a picturesque horse farm in Plainfield, Judi Whipple brings her vast background and abilities in teaching and riding to literally and figuratively hold the reins of the cavalry program.

Recognizing the need for horses in the military, Whipple said: “Horses can get to places where tanks can’t. Special forces in Afghanistan find the only way to get up into the terrain is on horseback.”

Here at home, however, the cavalry program is designed to teach the cadets basic riding technique (few have ever been on a horse before), how to manage and care for horses and how to ride drills or precision work. Each year, depending on the interests of the cadets, a variety of equine activities are offered: dressage, Western (including barrel racing), jumping and vaulting.

Individual efforts combine to become a functioning unit. Cadets learn ceremonial drills, ride in parades, perform musical rides and participate as both individuals and a team in intercollegiate activities.

On a rainy October afternoon, two horse trailers pulled onto the field at Norwich and unloaded the four horses to be used for training that day. Cadets in ACUs and combat boots saddled and bridled their mounts. With part of the company nearby doing jumping jacks and in the midst of cacophony from shouting,drilling and running cadets all around, the horses and riders ignored the distractions, endured the 52-degree wet weather, and went on with their riding lessons.

Cadet Master Sergeant Ryan Thompson, a junior from Rockland, Mass., said: “The most rewarding experience is to come here knowing nothing and this year I’m the NCO teaching candidates, which helps to hone my leadership skills.”

Cadet Captain Josh Szakal, a senior from Westbrook, Conn., had never ridden before either. Both Thompson and Szakal had “checked the box” for Calvary Troop.

“Freshman year we were getting thrown right at it,” Szakal said. “It’s my turn now to get more interested and show people what it’s all about.”

You’ve seen circus riders perform tricks, or vault, on the backs of their horses. Thompson and Szakal vault. When he first watched vaulting, Szakal said: “That’s cool but it’s not for me. Now I love it and wish I had done it sooner.”

Thompson, too, saw vaulting in a spring cavalry demonstration and thought it looked like fun.

“Vaulting requires some degree of athleticism,” he said.

Yes, athleticism and mental discipline are required to mount at the trot, to kneel, stand, or even perform a headstand while your horse is trotting or cantering or to maneuver an “around the world” with your horse in constant motion.

“We’re a lot closer group than some of the companies,” Thompson said. “We’re what stands out as different. We represent the legacy of horsemanship that Norwich holds.”

Leadership is a word used frequently.

“Riding a well-trained horse demonstrates that there is no better leadership experience than effectively communicating with a non-verbal animal,” Thompson said.

Whipple speaks with respect of the military.

“They are a different breed of people. They are dedicated. They defend what we enjoy every single day.”

Their dedication, discipline, rigorous training and attention to detail make the cadets coachable. They learn quickly and bravely undertake challenges that might take others far longer to embrace. Most of all, they put their leadership training to the test while working with each other and with their equine partners.

“There is nothing like putting a student on the back of a 1,200-pound animal that can’t talk to teach benevolent leadership,” Whipple said.

Whipple has a dream: the cavalry’s return to the Norwich campus with facilities to stable horses as well as an indoor arena for training and competition. Once again Norwich would become the premier cavalry training facility in the United States.

Add to the relevancy of horses in today’s military the need for training for mounted law enforcement officers and the opportunities for intercollegiate competition and it is easy to envision the scope of Whipple’s dream which merely acts as a catalyst for other possibilities.

For example, Thompson and Szakal suggest that the Veteran’s Cemetery in Randolph would be an idea setting to involve horses, particularly the “Riderless Horse” during military funerals. Cadets or civilian students who own their own horses could bring them to college as the Norwich riding program grows. Norwich could provide an even more impressive ceremonial presence for parades and events.

Might this dream become a reality? With Whipple’s enthusiasm and expertise guiding the dedicated Cadets and their horses, anything is possible.

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National School Horse of the Year (written by Jane Bradley)

Over the past XX years that Tyme has been a school horse at Breckenridge Farm, in Plainfield, Vermont just about everything has been said about him. Like…”Tyme heals all wounds” and ”A Tyme for every matter under heaven”, ”Tyme and tide wait for no man” and ”Tyme is money” so, it’s “about Tyme” that I write this nomination for school horse of the year.

Tyme has taught me how to ride, but he’s also taught so much more. I did not start riding until six years ago. At the age of 50, I took my first horseback riding lesson on the same horse who taught my daughter when she was a young girl, (she’s now 30 years old), and literally hundreds of other students. Tyme is no spring chicken, but that does not stand in his way when it comes to caring for, and teaching riders. Like any new rider, I was pretty scared to get on a horse. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to try this adventure at an age when there’s more “break” than “bounce” in my bones. Urged on by my daughter, and my wonderful instructor, Judi Whipple, I stood on the mounting block and swung my leg over Tyme’s back. And our journey began.

Tyme carried this clumsy, scared, and totally unbalanced rider slowly around the ring with a gentle confidence that told me, “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing, even if you don’t.” Over “Tyme”, I learned to trust him and he learned that I was a kind and well-intentioned, albeit, novice rider.

A great school horse is a true teacher. There are many attributes of a good teacher and Tyme possesses all of them. To be a good teacher, you need to know when to slow down and adjust to the learner’s pace, and you need to know when to expect your student to rise to a challenge. When I was learning how to trot, it amazed me that Tyme was able to sense when I was beginning to get off balance even before I knew it. He would slow down, or stop, and wait for me to re-group. As I became a more confident rider, he moved me along, challenging me, but never once compromising my safety. As a clunky older rider, I have dragged my leg across his back while mounting him and slide right off and under him when dismounting. In every situation, he remained still and patient, kind and forgiving, and just looked at me as if to say, “Whenever, you’re ready, just let me know.”

A great teacher is also one that is continually willing to learn new things. Tyme is one of the school horses used to teach the Norwich University Calvary student cadets. Even though Tyme is a “been there, done that” school horse in many ways, Tyme still had one fear that he had not overcome; A fear of flags. Through his work with the cadets in the Calvary group, Tyme overcame his fear and is now able to participate in Calvary parades replete with flags and cannons. It is a remarkable tribute to his attitude that he accomplished this feat when many other horses would have remained stuck in their old ways.

A great teacher is one that greets the day, the student, and the learning situation with joy and enthusiasm. When you walk into the barn and call out to Tyme he responds with a happy nicker. When I sing to him he turns one ear back to listen and picks up his pace to the rhythm of the song. Like a great dance partner, Tyme has done all the moves, but he makes you feel like he’s doing them just for you. At the end of the lesson he nuzzles up to thank you and naturally he hopes you’ll have a little something for him in return! At the ripe old age of XX, we discovered that he loves pears. He eats them with such passion. He makes me laugh.

I call Tyme the “Sean Connery” of horses. He may be older, hasn’t lost his twinkle. I tell him all the time that teaching me how to ride may be the single most important thing he’s ever done. He’s given me confidence, he’s taught me to trust, and he’s helped me face my fears, and he’s done all of that while we’re having fun together. For all he’s done for me, and for all his done for the hundreds of riders before me, he is truly the most deserving horse to be recognized as “School Horse of the Year.”

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Our very own Student of the Year!

2009 Annual Awards

ARIA Student of the Year

I feel privileged to have Jane Bradley as a student, and to be able to nominate her for the ARIA student of the year award. Jane has brought joy to our farm for the past six years that she has been riding here. Jane appreciates every moment that she is mounted. The personal strength she brings to each lesson is incredible. In overcoming physical obstacles, Jane has become an example of courage and perseverance for all who know her. In her relationship with the horse she rides, Jane concentrates on what she can do rather then on what she cannot accomplish. For me, this work has illustrated that if we accept where we are right now, and do our best, then we may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Through calculated steps, Jane has made amazing progress. She has shown the meaning of true sportsmanship and enhanced the days of those around her, including the horse she rides.

Jane’s riding career began later in life after being diagnosed with a rare form of adult onset limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. The same condition caused the premature deaths of her father, grandmother, and great-grandfather. The disease gradually breaks down certain muscle groups, specifically, the hip flexors, quadriceps, shoulder girdle muscles and the intercostal (ribcage) muscles. The muscle groups that are not affected by Jane’s disease continue to function “normally” and it does not affect cognition or emotions. Exercise is important but not too much as fatigue will cause more pain. There is no cure for this disease and it worsens with age.

Jane was given a gift certificate for lessons by her horse- owning daughter and at first the idea terrified her. She had always been afraid of horses, even when she was younger and stronger. In spite of all this, she decided to give it a try and was hooked after one lesson. Now, when the school horse trots, the expression on Jane’s face mirrors the indescribable feeling that we all have when we experience a great riding moment. Every time she is here she reminds me of what a special gift horses are. Each day is an opportunity to be thankful for the ability to ride.

Jane is a perfect example of how knowing your weaknesses yet trusting your strengths can keep the progress coming. As Jane’s riding improved so did her confidence in her ability, and with that confidence, she has been able to do things she never thought possible. This renewed confidence, and Jane’s faith, gave her the determination not only to ride in the safety of our arena but also to venture out of that comfort zone and trail ride in Vermont, Texas and Wyoming. Last year she and her husband also participated in our farm’s musical celebration of spring. They stole the show dressed as Sonny & Cher and rode a beautiful pas de deux to tunes such as “I got you Babe.”

Jane’s attitude is infectious. She encourages fellow riders no matter what their age or ability. The beginner learning to post is valued as much as the rider demonstrating a first- rate flying change. There is no place for vanity.

The school horse that Jane rides is as excited to see her as she is to see him. He is an old veteran but steps up to Jane’s enthusiasm with gusto. We all delighted in his discovery of pears. One day after her lesson Jane offered him a taste of her pear. He took his initial bite hesitantly but after that first taste he was like a child tasting his first ice-cream. He was eating with such excitement that the fruit slobber was everywhere. Thanks to Jane, he is now most likely the only horse around who gets his own farm delivery of Harry & David Pears.

Jane is proof that riding can help us overcome both physical and mental limitations. Jane may not be able to walk in the woods on her own legs but she can still enjoy letting the horse take her there. She stated that sometimes she gets discouraged knowing that her strength and stamina are decreasing, but rather then let that take over, she works to focus on something she can do and she tries to do it the very best that she can. She told me once, “I believe that if I show up and put myself in the saddle, I’ll be blessed. And, I have been. I always feel better after I ride.” If she is chosen as the ARIA Student of the Year, I feel that Jane’s example will touch even more people in a very positive way.

Special Bond---2009 ARIA Student of the Year and 2009 ARIA School Horse of the Year---well deserved by both!!!

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