Minding the Manor

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Fun weekend in Monkton. My Lady’s Manor, like going back in time, 3 miles over timber, they never jump the same fence twice. Mark Beecher and Connor Hankin conducting riding clinics for free. Great to see Bethany Baumgardner win her first race, a local celebration, a breath of fresh air, a twinkle in the eye of a girl who had her day.

If I could make a wish, I’d teach every amateur and every apprentice to open up their hands and let their reins slide. Is there a clinic for this? I’d ask the National Steeplechase Foundation for a grant, fly over AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh for it…drop your heel, grip with your calf not your knee, go with the motion, shift your body but not your shoulders before take-off, open your hands, let your reins slide if the horse’s head deviates, land and gather your cross, rise and look for the next jump.

Comforting to see another generation of the Fisher/Street clan present the trophy for the little race. Split this year, there is enthusiasm for our game.

When I rode professionally, the Maryland timber scene escaped me. I’ve been to the Maryland Hunt Cup three times (Dosdi, Uncle Merlin, Guts For Garters), the Grand National once (taking photos of Charlie Fenwick Jr. on Pick A Repeater and George Strawbridge Jr. on Hawaiki) and the Manor…I’m not sure I had ever been there, maybe with Toinette and Paddy Neilson and horses like Talon, Probon and The Guinea Man in the 80s, but I can’t recall.

Maybe the Maryland timber purists have it right, three weekends (four if you count Elkridge-Harford) matter, keep your horse in training for four, five, six months, bring him home for the summer, leg him up yourself, hunt him a little. No mystery, it’s all about April. If something goes wrong, you wait for next year. If it goes right, you have another page for the family photo album. 

Saturday evening, Ladew Gardens hosted a charming party, with a toast to the winner, replays of the races, friends and family. Sunday morning, a lone pick-up truck sat at the top of the ridge, race director Turney McKnight cleaning up the party. Here’s to the volunteers who make this sport go.

The first steeplechase sale and symposium held the next day, decent turn out, pleasant setting, something to grow on, lots of critiques, some criticisms, but ultimately a good first step. Keep your foot on the floor, don’t let up, build it, grow it, tweak it, embellish it, don’t give up on it. Not a lot of money bandied about – yet – but maybe next year and the year after that and the year after that…

Local this weekend, with a trip up Foxcroft Road to Glenwood Park for the Middleburg Spring Races. Stellar card, watching from the rocks…like going back in time again…funny thing about our game.