WEG in the rearview mirror

THE houndbloggers learned a few things at the recent World Equestrian Games. The two lessons that will stick with us longest are 1)  Dippin’ Dots are not to be touched with a ten-foot pole, let alone a spoon that you intend to put in your actual mouth and  2) the driving marathon is one of the most exciting, challenging, and cool-looking things you can do with a horse (or four).

Let’s jump right in with the driving marathon, because we know there are some readers out there who were curious to see what it looked like. The driving competition is modeled on three-day eventing, and, like eventing, has three basic components: dressage, cross-country, and stadium. Now, obviously, there’s no jumping when you have four horses pulling a carriage, so the cross-country and stadium phases are different from the eventing competition in that regard. Instead of cross-country fences, there are hazards that feature a number of gates the horses have to go through (and, as in cross-country riding competition, there’s more than one way through each obstacle). Instead of stadium fences, there is a set pattern of traffic cones through which the horses must go.

The houndbloggers attended only one of the driving events, but it was the one we most wanted to see: cross-country. Here’s a taste. This video was from the sidelines as a couple of competitors negotiated Obstacle 4, named Walnut Hill, where not everything went as planned. There were no injuries, we hasten to add, to horses or humans (or obstacles).

We particularly loved the noises of this competition: the navigators’ voices, the sounds the drivers made to encourage their horses, the squealing brakes, the thud of fast-moving hooves, and the clink and jingle of bits and harnesses.

Here, by the way, is the overhead diagram of Obstacle 4:

The Walnut Hill Obstacle (4)

The eighth and final hazard on the course (The Spring), was our favorite, partly because it had a good bit of water. Here is the driving competition’s eventual gold medalist, Australia’s Boyd Exell, negotiating that obstacle (the end of the video also shows a Dutch competitor taking it, so you can see a little difference in approach and style):

For reference again, here’s the diagram of The Spring:

For people who have been to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, it was interesting to see the Head of the Lake being used in a slightly different context:

Along with the thrills and chills of good competition, we also witnessed more of the lighter (and sometimes odder) bits of WEGiana. Like the manic-looking and slightly sinister Giant Leek that marked a gap in the hedge between the Spy Coast parking field and the Horse Park. He was an important landmark for those of us who walked from the parking area instead of taking the shuttle.

"This way, folks!" says the Scary Leek.

The parking lot was packed every day that we visited WEG, and we spotted license plates from nearly every state in the union. But we did see one state name we weren’t familiar with, although we applauded the enthusiasm behind this graffiti.

Kentyuky? Still, it looked like they were glad to be here, and we're glad they came!

If you’re allergic to horse hair, this fellow might be just the thing for you: a mechanical cutting horse (with calf)! In case you were as curious about that as we were, we’ve included a little video.

If you are not allergic to horse hair, here’s a chance to practice your braiding:

The last braider made it look simpler than it really is to braid a tail ...

The stands were packed on Oct. 9 for the Final Four showjumping competition:

The Canadian contingent was especially boisterous, and they had a lot to cheer about.

And remember the stadium jump sproutlets? By Oct. 9, they were all grown up!

WEG sparked all sorts of horsey artwork around town. At the Lexington Green shopping center, we saw this huge sand sculpture.

One side featured a vaulter, eventer, and dressage rider ...

... and the other side featured a race under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.

And, finally, there was this charming sculpture. This wooden horse has been on display for several weeks now in front of the entrance to Joseph-Beth Booksellers, and someone thoughtfully keeps replacing his apple.

Next up: back to the hunt field with the hounds!

The Middleburg Hunt’s Christmas parade (with video)

The snow made the Christmas in Middleburg celebration a white one on Saturday

WE woke up this morning in Middleburg, Virginia, to a white blanket of snow, perfect for the annual Christmas in Middleburg celebration that features the town’s Christmas parade. Or, rather, almost perfect. The snow hadn’t been forecast to start until noon, which would have been as the parade was ending, but instead it started early in the morning and had made roads slushy well before the parade–led by the Middleburg hounds every year–was due to start.

Traditionally, the hunt rides up a back road and into the parking lot behind Middleburg’s historic Red Fox Inn for a stirrup cup before moving off to lead the parade. We had chosen the lot to watch for the hunt, hoping for some good close-up video of the hunt’s tri-colored American hounds. There we waited. And waited. And waited, as the snowfall grew heavier. Eventually, it started sticking to our hats and coats until we resembled two houndblogging snowmen. Off in the distance, through the snowfall, we could dimly perceive horse shapes, but they seemed to be milling around rather than coming our way … and eventually, after about an hour, word came that the hunt, for safety’s sake, had decided to skip the ride up the slushy hill to the Red Fox stirrup cup and just start the parade from another point.

The houndbloggers sprang into action (okay, we more creaked stiffly into action, having been standing in the snow for quite some time, and sloshed off to find a new vantage point along the parade route) and were able to get a little video of the hounds as they passed by, looking a little chilly themselves. It was cheering to see how many spectators had come out to watch and how they enjoyed the view of the hounds, who are truly picturesque and quite different-looking from the largely English and crossbred pack at Iroquois.

The Middleburg Hunt has about 40 couple of American hounds, and the hunt itself has a very interesting history. The hunt was founded in 1906 after the Great Hound Match of 1905 drew significant attention (and hunting visitors from numerous other states) to the Middleburg area.

More on the Great Hound Match later this week! There is an ample supply of information on this curious event at the National Sporting Library, and we’ll touch on that here in a few days.

For now, we hope you enjoy the video and that it helps put you in the holiday spirit. The tail end of the video includes some caroling and a pretty four-in-hand carriage team.

Where's that flask? The houndbloggers needed one while waiting (fruitlessly) for the Middleburg Hunt behind the Red Fox Inn.

After the hounds had passed, we spent a pleasant hour warming up over lunch at the Salamander Market before heading out to do some shopping (free hot cider and rum at the Highcliffe Clothiers! Hooray!).

Happy Holidays everyone!

We understand that some snow fell in Lexington, too, so we hope you’re all safe and cozy by your fires tonight!