Still In The Saddle
Vivien Malloy’s book A Very Young Rider captivated a generation of horse-crazy girls. Learn what the author — and her daughter — are doing now. PLUS: Where to watch horse shows, take riding lessons, and go for a trail ride.
Still in the Saddle
The 70s classic A Very Young Rider captivated a generation of horse-crazy young girls. But now, some of your favorite characters from the book are indulging in some serious horse play right here in the Valley.
By Kathleen Ryan O’Connor
If one were to draw Vivien Malloy’s life on paper, the distinction between family and horses would be the faintest of pencil lines, a feather-light sweep of charcoal.
The Westchester resident recalls, as if it were yesterday, the luxurious swish of Triple Crown winner Whirlaway’s famously thick tail as she watched him race at the old Empire City Racetrack in Yonkers in 1941. She was a 10-year-old girl then, happily tucked next to her grandfather. She spent the next decades as chief show organizer, horse hauler, and procurer of ponies for the three of her five children who, like her, believed time was best spent in a saddle, head up, heels down.
But in the early 1970s, those two worlds came together in an entirely unprecedented way. New York City photographer Jill Krementz, looking for the perfect young rider to chronicle for a series of nonfiction books about children striving for big dreams, approached Malloy at a horse show after seeing her daughter, Vivi, then nine, working with her pony.
Malloy agreed to let Vivi be the focus of the book, never imagining that A Very Young Rider, published in 1977, would become a bible for a generation of horse-loving girls dreaming of blue ribbons and a smart little pony of their own. So enduring was the book’s appeal that a new publisher reissued A Very Young Rider in 2005, much to the delight of fans everywhere who could now share the book with their own children and perhaps not-so-secretly relive their own dreams of riding greatness.
The reissue naturally gave way to questions of “Where are they now?” Did Vivi, with her precocious competitive focus and adorable grin, ever make it to the top of the show-jumping world? Was her mother, Vivien Malloy, now happily carting grandkids to their own riding lessons?
Life, of course, rarely follows such a straightforward path. Sometimes a young girl’s dream of taking the horse world by storm gives way to something less glamorous but infinitely more meaningful. And sometimes you meet a 75-year-old who is far from knitting herself into retirement. What if Vivien Malloy has been hard at work all these years quietly turning a 180-acre Dutchess County farm into a player in the rough-and-tumble, male-dominated, $26 billion-a-year world of Thoroughbred horse racing? What if Vivi discovered her love of horses could give confidence and strength to those struggling mightily against profound developmental and emotional disabilities?
In both cases, that’s exactly what happened.
Breeding to win
Vivien Malloy, a patrician-looking woman with close-cropped white hair, is rail thin; the kind of elegant woman who would seem at home at a charity gala or on the sidelines of a polo match. But on a snowy Saturday in mid-February, thermal leggings peek out from her wash-and-wear pants and her heavy barn boots clomp a slushy path to the stables. She knows every detail about the approximately 30 Thoroughbred broodmares and foals who call Edition Farm in Hyde Park home — and one of them nickers in recognition as she walks into the barn. She follows their racing careers so closely that she’s been known to buy them back if they hit a rough patch.
That’s not to say she’s a softy when it comes to the breeding game; Edition Farm isn’t a vanity operation. One colt sold for the tidy sum of $200,000 in 2007 — he was the sale topper at Saratoga that year and that’s before a saddle ever touched his back. That commitment to developing great racehorses earned Malloy the 2006 New York Breeder of the Year award by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. “It takes the same amount of money to keep a lower quality mare, to bring her along,” Malloy says. “Why not have quality?”
Cited in Malloy’s award was her commitment to education, which she says was inspired by the reaction of young people to A Very Young Rider. She has developed an internship program at Edition Farm that draws students from as far away as France and is also involved with charity, including Race for Education, which raises money for students interested in joining the industry, or for the sons and daughters of those who labor behind the scenes.
Malloy bought Edition Farm in Hyde Park with her husband Henry, a retired insurance executive, in 1986 and started breeding seriously in 1999. She now serves as secretary/treasurer of Saratoga Springs-based New York Thoroughbred Breeders. Getting the acreage back into the horse business has no doubt been a boost to Dutchess County’s ongoing efforts to preserve its rural character — not to mention New York’s Thoroughbred breeding industry. Despite the watershed Kentucky Derby win of Funny Cide in 2003 — the first New York-bred horse to win the Run for the Roses — the state still labors in the shadow of Kentucky’s bluegrass legacy and is always keen to raise its profile. But there are plenty of bright spots to celebrate: according to the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund Corporation, the number of active farms dedicated to breeding racehorses in New York was up to 403 in 2006, from 348 in 1994.
On another day at Edition Farm — this one a warm and breezy April afternoon, Malloy stands outside as Vivaling, a solid and unassumingly beautiful chestnut, grazes with two other broodmares. She’s a beloved horse whose name is a term of endearment for Malloy’s daughter Vivi, and one with quite the auspicious beginning. Her mother, Legal Streak, was having problems getting pregnant with the stallion they chose. He was perhaps a bit old and it just wasn’t working. So Malloy and the stallion’s people put their heads together and came up with a novel — and decidedly human — solution.
“Let’s make this a romance,” they all agreed. So they brought in candles, flowers, the works.
“Bingo, she’s in foal,” Malloy laughs.
Vivaling’s round belly is a reminder of the tantalizing promise that drives all Thoroughbred breeders. Could this be one of the greats? It’s a bit of a pipe dream — fewer than half of the horses will ever step foot on a track, let alone ever prance proudly into the winner’s circle — but it’s also what keeps breeders in the game. Each season is a new story to tell, a crop of new babies to nurture, a new shot at greatness.
“No stakes winners yet,” she says of Vivaling’s progeny. “But they have such desire. She’s always in high idle they say.”
Just a few moments before, Malloy had been busy tempting a stunning chestnut yearling with a treat. The colt is friendly but full of himself, just as any finely bred Thoroughbred should be. Decades of experience coaxing show horses to show their best side doesn’t just evaporate, so she and a stable hand are trying to get his ears pricked forward for a photo.
He doesn’t have a name yet; she’s planning on selling him at the high profile sales at Saratoga this year. She notes his near-perfect conformation and impressive Northern Dancer and Secretariat pedigree, her voice a rush of enthusiasm. Then she pauses for a moment. “I can’t do better than this.”
Mothers and daughters
“I get it now,” Vivi says over the phone from Chicago, where she lives with her husband, attorney Rich Hanson, and their two children, seven-year-old Owen and four-year-old Julia. She gets what her mom meant all those years ago when she said Vivi would appreciate A Very Young Rider when she was older. “She was absolutely right.”
Not only do her kids love the book, it has become a irreplaceable record of her youth, a beautifully arranged reminder of how the serious pursuit of something you love can be its own reward. Now, Owen is the horse-crazy one, much to Vivi’s and her mother’s surprise, and unafraid of even the biggest horse — he loves to ride one named Cinnamon, for which he needs to use two mounting blocks, one on top of the other.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Vivi says. “He is happiest at the stable. Of course, my mother is thrilled.”
Even now, at 42, Vivi still gets the occasional fan letter forwarded from her mother, or a request for a signed copy of the book. “It really stood the test of time,” she says.
Horses remain a central part of her life, just not exactly in the way she imagined at nine or 10.
She stopped riding to pursue her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan.
After working in the publishing industry, Vivi returned to school to study social work and then began working with children with developmental delays and other special needs. It was through that work that she began to volunteer at Equitherapy in Morton Grove, Illinois, and became certified as a therapeutic riding instructor. She worked with the organization until taking a break to have Owen and Julia. “It’s an amazing field,” she says, and one she fully plans to get back into. “A wonderful, full circle,” she says.
And horses have stayed in the family in other ways. Malloy’s oldest daughter Debby, an accomplished rider in her own right and also featured in the book, went on to marry Hans Gunther Winkler, the legendary German rider and five-time Olympic gold medalist.
The next generation
I was one of those young fans myself; certain one day I’d get a call from the Chef d’Equipe of the United States Equestrian Team, begging me to ride with them, their only shot at the gold.
I found my original copy of A Very Young Rider in the closet of my childhood bedroom on a trip back home a few years ago, in the same box as my dusty show ribbons and keepsake horseshoes. Paging through the book, I waited for the expected rush of nostalgia to hit me, and it did not disappoint. My older two children, six and four, raised like most kids these days on a sophisticated media diet of elaborate Pixar movies and digitally perfect pictures, can’t get enough of the black and white photos, those real-not-retro bell bottoms, and simple text told from Vivi’s perspective.
I used to think the beauty of A Very Young Rider was that Vivi always had just the right pony as well as access to the best trainers and top horse shows. But now, having read it again (and again) to my children, I think the appeal is something deeper. Maybe it’s the kid’s-eye view of the world as a place of limitless dreams, where a sweet girl can imagine a future as an Olympic champion. That dream resonates just as much in 2008 as it did in 1977.
Some things will never get old.
A girl. A dream. Her pony.
A woman. A dream. Her racehorse.
HITS Heats Up
“The horse people are coming.” This odd phrase can be heard whispered with tempered glee in restaurant kitchens and store stockrooms throughout Ulster County when Memorial Day is just around the corner. These highly anticipated “horse people” are the thousands of equestrians — Olympians, Olympic hopefuls, professionals, trainers, riders, owners, appreciators, etc. — who pour into Saugerties between May and September for HITS-on-the-Hudson. HITS (which stands for Horse Shows in the Sun) is a sports management company focusing on hunter-jumper horse shows. Their dramatic equestrian competitions and showing events attract an average of 2,000 horses per week and bring roughly $50,000,000 to the economy of Saugerties and its surrounding areas. All those people have to eat, right?
Founded in 1982 in Gainesville, Florida, HITS holds shows year-round at five venues across the country. While events take place in California, Virginia, Arizona, and Florida, these days the company’s headquarters are right here in the Hudson Valley. The Saugerties event series takes its name from the state-of-the-art HITS-on-the-Hudson equestrian center; completed in 2004, the 200-acre property boasts 10 world-class competition rings, boarding, on-site shopping, and dining. Given the accoutrements,
HITS attracts the who’s who of the equestrian world — and everyone else, too. “There’s something for everyone,” says Chris Mayone from the HITS office. “Here you’ll find little Susie who is 10 and riding her first pony, to Olympian Todd Minikis.” Mayone confirms that at least four potential 2008 U.S. Olympic team members will be in attendance this year, and at least seven past participants. So what is it all these horse people do anyway?
HITS’ competitions are broken into two categories: hunters and jumpers (jumping, you may be surprised to know, is not a horse’s natural inclination). Hunters are judged on style in performance while jumpers are timed, with points lost for knocking obstacles over. Each week of the seven-week circuit has 250 classes and divisions, the highlight being the top level Grand Prix Sport Jumping classes. “These are the big spectator classes,” Mayone says. And it’s easy to understand why: a Grand Prix purse is $50,000. The high stake contests, held every Sunday through the season, highlight the unique athleticism of riders and their horses, competing in classes not designated by age or sex.
While following the Grand Prix classes are enough to keep thrill-seeking spectators occupied through September, HITS hosts a number of alternative family-friendly events.
Some late summer highlights include the first ever HITS-on-the-Hudson Classic Car Showcase (Sat., July 26). The most popular car (as decided by the public) will take home the HITS Horsepower Trophy to be given out before the following day’s Grand Prix. In keeping with HITS’ commitment to the community, all proceeds from the car show will go to Family of Woodstock, Inc. Also a first this year is the World of the Horse, a special presentation featuring a parade of breeds (Sun., August 10).
For more information, visit www.hitshows.com — Shannon Gallagher
This August, if they’re not in Hong Kong, the East Coast’s top equestrians will most likely be in Millbrook competing in the Millbrook Horse Trials. The Horse Trials, which started over 30 years ago, expect to host 500 horses and riders this year as they compete in six classes from novice to advanced. “The most special thing about the Horse Trials is the caliber and breadth of riders we attract,” says Nancy Hathaway, the principal organizer. “A local may be competing in dressage riding next to, say, Phillip Dutton, a top American rider.” While Hathaway is pretty sure Dutton will be in Hong Kong this time around, she guarantees a top-notch advanced class that will be spectacular to observe.
On the picturesque grounds of Coole Park Farm — a piece of land protected by the Dutchess Land Conservancy, for which the event is a benefit — Millbrook Horse Trial participants compete in three different phases over four days. The three phases all require a different kind of ride and a different relationship between horse and rider, making the competition a unique showcase in talent and conditioning. The first phase, dressage, is oft likened to the compulsories in figure skating; horse and rider must demonstrate certain choreographed figures across the flat ground. The team is judged on the quality and ease of movement, the obedience of the horse, and its responsiveness to the rider.
The second phase of competition is cross-country. As its name suggests, this phase involves traveling across open terrain and jumping fixed obstacles at speed. Unlike the rails used in stadium jumping, the cross-country obstacles are more organic. Tables, logs, and a newly constructed water jump dot the wandering course which is delightfully spectator-friendly. To excel at cross-country, a horse must be brave, bold, and of course, a good jumper. The final phase, stadium jumping, is a similar exercise in speed, bravery, and precision; the horse must clear a number of colored rails in an enclosed arena, much like a sprinter leaping hurdles around a track.
“Novice and beginner levels are easier and slower, with smaller obstacles and fewer combinations,” Hathaway says. “As you move up through the classes, the degree of difficulty increases.” The novice class is Millbrook’s largest, with approximately 100 horses competing, and they aren’t necessarily as wet behind the ears as their designation might suggest to non-equestrians. Most novices have been riding for two or three years, while some have been riding for ages. “Class really depends on the horse-rider training,” Hathaway emphasizes. “[The rider] might be an Olympian bringing a new horse along, or someone doing their first ever [competition].”
As a member of the Gold Cup Series, riders participating at the higher levels can earn points towards a year-end award given by the U.S. Eventing Association. Such an opportunity “attracts the very best people.” While it is too early to tell which equestrian superstars will be present at Millbrook this year (the U.S. Olympic team has yet to be confirmed), Hathaway predicts there will be more than a few world class riders in attendance.
Riding & Ranches
We tipped our hats to some of our local farms and ranches, where farmhands and city-slickers alike can saddle up their horses to explore the Valley’s terrain, host a pony-party, go on a trail ride, take a lesson, and even buy a steed or two. Yippie-ki-yay!
Tree-shaded pastures and natural cross-country jump courses and trails are abundant; balanced seat English instruction for students of all ages and boarding available.
460 Krumkill Rd., Albany. 518-482-8704 or http://krumkillstable.tripod.com
Licensed instructor Robin Parow’s year-round programs range from one-on-one lessons, pony rides (for all ages), and bareback balanced seat riding, to vaulting and horse care and management. Spooked? The Riding Without Fear program for teens and adults
offers ground work, riding, and reflection. Spencertown. 518-392-1955
Boarding, lessons, training, and children’s summer riding program. Reservations
Crazy Acres Farm
Experienced in both English and Western riding techniques, instructors provide
training and boarding, as well as help in buying, showing, and selling your horse.
Rascal The Pony & Friends
Wendy Lawrence offers customized trail riding, Western riding sessions, and summer day camp; or “have the zoo (and pony) come to you” with discount pony rides and
petting zoo — right in your own backyard.
Western Riding Stables
Over 5,000 acres in the foothills of the Berkshires to explore; with summer camp,
trail riding, lessons, hayrides, pony parties, weddings, and more.
Bailiwick Ranch & Catskill Equestrian Center
Hudson River Valley artist Everett Shinn’s Scottish castle overlooks these Catskill riding grounds; mountain excursions, riding instruction, overnight camping, shows, and pony rides all complement the awe-inspiring scenery.
Host of the first American polocrosse tournament, this farm specializes in training
and dressage shows. Reservations recommended.
845-986-1704 or www.borderlandfarm.com
Dorian Equestrian Center
Facility offers boarding, training, lessons, sale and lease horses, summer program,
and birthday parties. 173 Sarah Wells Trail, Campbell Hall. 845-496-2858 or
Hollybush Dressage Center
Preserves the art of Classical Dressage; also lessons in modern dressage, eventing,
and hunt seat jumping. Rte. 94, Salisbury Mills. 845-534-0365 or www.centerlinestudios.com/ivyrockfarm/hollybush.html
From riding lessons to birthday parties with your favorite ponies — this ranch has it all. 100 Union School Rd., Montgomery. 845-361-4433
Nestled on 117 acres of Orange County’s sprawling hills, sun-soaked pastures, and trails winding into lush forests, Juckas Stables is one of few remaining gems in our region that offers safe, year-round, trail riding. “In most places, it’s too seasonal to offer all year,” says owner Karen Juckas. “Most people think winter means skiing and skating. But we keep it going year-round — we open it to everyone in any riding level, and our guests just love it. It’s really gratifying.” The stables also offer birthday parties, gift certificates, therapeutic riding, and personalized lessons. From the most enthusiastic equestrians, to curious, first-time cowpokes, a visit to these stables is sure to be rewarding. Rte. 302, Bullville. 845-361-1429 or www.juckasstables.com
New Hope Farms
Home to one of the largest indoor equestion venues in the nation; instruction and boarding, horse shows, Deerpark Family Festival, clinics, summer camps, and trade shows.
845-856-8384 or www.newhopefarms.com
Schunnemink Shadow Stables
120 open-air acres of pastures and trails
offer plenty of riding space; a heated indoor arena with the county’s first “dust-free” footing, holistic training for your horse, riding camp, and trail riding lessons.
Rte. 94, New