ELCR?s Award Rewards A Passion For Preservation

Since I’m a member of the Board of Directors of the Equine Land Conservation Resource, the other day I received an email from our CEO, Deb Balliet. She was in New England to present our lifetime achievement award, the Anson W. Taylor Award, posthumously to Marge Kittredge, a grand lady who did so many wonderful things, and she was touring around equestrian sites in Massachusetts, visiting with other people who are deeply involved in equine land preservation. Before I continue, I have to offer thanks to people like Marge Kittredge, Natasha Grigg and Susanna Colleredo-Mansfield, and many, many others, for their efforts in trying to preserve a part of the country that was once at the heart of American horse country, in the English disciplines. (Deb visited the latter two women on her trip.) they’ve been up against it, living in an area squished between New York City and Boston and blessed (and cursed) by a surplus of transportation, on the highway, on trains and in the air. The mushrooming population and commerce of the last half-century has simply overwhelmed most of what once were green fields and lovely forests, many of which people on horseback enjoyed. Last night, I was on a conference call with the two other people on the committee selected to choose future Anson Taylor Award winners. Nancy Winter and Georgiana McCabe are each former ELCR presidents, and, like me, their primary equestrian interests have been eventing and foxhunting, the primary equestrian interests of Anson Taylor, one of the founders of the ELCR in 1997. Georgiana, Nancy and I are on this committee because we’re the only board members who knew Anson well, and so our mission is to choose recipients who have his vision and his ability to accomplish the mission of land preservation to which he devoted himself. That morning, I’d been thinking about how the geographical center of English horse sports has moved south and west in the 30 years since I’ve been writing about them. In the first 10 or so years of my working for The Chronicle of the Horse, I went to Massachusetts (or Connecticut or upstate New York) several times a year to cover major competitions, but the last time I can recall going to Massachusetts to cover a horse trial was in 1990, when Ledyard Farm, in South Hamilton, hosted the biggest USEA Adult Team Championships ever held. When I mentioned that memory to Georgiana and Nancy, we became quite nostalgic what it used to be like around South Hamilton, Mass. In the ?70s and early ?80s, Ledyard Farm, owned by Neil Ayer, the USEA?s president for more than a decade and the man who designed the cross-country course for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, was to eventing what Rolex Kentucky is now. Ledyard, in South Hamilton, was the biggest, best event, the only event that drew foreign competitors. But now, if you said ?Ledyard? to current eventers, I’ll bet 90 percent would look at you blankly. Even my wife, Heather, who grew up eventing in California in the late ?80 and early ?90s, said she would have known about Ledyard if not for me. Neal?s vision was to create a great event, one that would sell the then little known sport of eventing, and that’s exactly what he did. One of my most cherished photos (I’m looking at it right now, perched on my bookshelf) is of Neil driving me around Ledyard in a golf cart at those Adult Team Championships, even though he was gaunt with cancer. He was so proud to see lower-level riders competing at his farm, as proud as he had been to see World Champions and Olympic gold medalists competing there. He would leave us just a few months later. That may be just as well, because Neil was also an ardent foxhunter. And I suspect that, despite the passionate work of people like the ones I named above to preserve farms and trails, Neil would have been dismayed by the loss of so much of his dear countryside. He would have been horrified to discover that, aboard his hunter, he couldn?t follow hounds wherever they went or to discover that eventers in the South Hamilton area were hard-pressed to find places to gallop their horses today. Anson Taylor, who left us in early 2006, was a similar man of vision and action. Each could see things the rest of us couldn?t, and then they?d create structures (of various kinds, from organizations to buildings) to make them happen. Preserving open space to keep, ride and compete horses was among their life?s priorities, and their determination should be an inspiration to all of us who ride horses. Nancy, Georgiana and I look forward to honoring others who have that passion with the ELCR?s award. Do you know anyone to nominate’ Go to our website, ELCR.org, to download a nomination form.

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