Headmaster’s Thoughts August 2018

Since these are my August thoughts, and since we are on summer break, I am going to take the liberty of writing about a horse.

C.B. (this is the name we used for the horse), was originally picked out by Georgette Page for me.  She was the wife of Michael Page, the multiple Medal winner of the three-day event in both the Tokyo 1964, and Mexico 1968, Olympics.  Jayme and I were fortunate enough to take riding lessons with Michael.  So, with Georgette, we traveled down to Virginia to try this horse, and I got on him and rode to a fence.  I am not an elegant rider.  I did not take the fence as well as a good rider would have.  C.B. took it perfectly and kept me properly in the saddle.  I slowed him down, and he responded immediately.  I took the fence the other way and, again, he jumped it far better than I deserved.  We bought the horse on the spot.

In my defense, I am a “seat of the pants” rider.  I would, in those days, jump anything, and as Master of the Fairfield County Hounds, I lead about forty people over fences and fields following about 48 foxhounds.  Some people legitimately complained that I was too fast and jumped too high fences, and so we started a second flight for those who did not want to fly as quickly.  Anyway, this is how C.B. came to our home.  He was a large, gorgeous “grey” (white) thoroughbred who had raced on the track under the name of “Coffee Bean”.  He did not win a race; he did not mind other horses being in front.  Perfect for the hunt field but not for Belmont Downs.

Michael Page said that he would school C.B. for a few weeks for us so that he would be really ready when I took over.  After a few weeks, he phoned us up. “I have good news and bad news about C.B.  He is a great horse (the good news), and far too good for Ronnie who is not a fine enough rider to get the best out of him (the bad news).”  So who was the “fine enough rider?”  Michael decided that he wanted the horse to use for himself as he entered world class three day events.  Jayme said that she liked the horse too much, and that if anyone was going to ride C.B. at least she would start.  I should say that Jayme is the opposite type of rider to me. She rode as a child, has had lessons galore, and looks perfect on a horse since she rides in a classically correct position.

C.B. came home, and Jayme fell in love with the horse.  He did everything she asked of him and more. When we competed as a team of two, which we regularly did over various simulated hunt timed events called Hunter Paces, C.B. led when needed and never put a foot wrong, at least as far as I could see.  So once, at the Smithfield Hunter Pace in Long Island, when my horse was clearly tired from the previous days’ hunting, I asked Jayme if I could try riding C.B.  She agreed and off we went.  And at the first big fence, C.B. to my amazement ran around the fence without jumping it.  I was concerned. “What,” I asked Jayme, “did I do wrong?”  And she replied by asking me if I had steered C.B. to the fence. “Of course not, I never steer horses to fences; my horses love to jump and I just give them their heads and they always aim at the middle of the fence.”  She explained that C.B. was a higher class horse, and that you actually had to direct him to jump the fence otherwise he would take the more intelligent, and less exhausting, step of avoiding the thing.  I began to understand why, after we won events and people would congratulate us, Jayme would say of my horse; “Ronnie’s horse is a saint!”  Needless to say, thereafter I left the higher class horse, C.B. to Jayme, and happily rode my “saints.”

On the hunt field, Jayme, who was a joint master with me, rode about 6 inches behind me. I looked ahead and she cared for people behind us.  C.B. was the “Bumper” horse.  Excitable as horses are, they sometimes get so riled up when the entire field is galloping, that they run out of control.  Jayme would let everyone know that at such times they should aim at C.B.’s rear end.  He would not kick them or get upset, and this was a great safety horse to have at the front of all the riders.  They could literally run into him, and that would slow them down and save the rider from disappearing into the countryside.

One weekend, Captain Mark Phillips came to North Salem, where we lived, to give a clinic on event riding.  He was the husband (then) of Princess Anne, and one of the most famous event riders in the world.  Naturally, traveling from England, he did not have a horse, and so asked around if he could borrow one for the clinic. The people in the know suggested C.B.  He borrowed him.

The first thing I noticed was that Mark Phillips literally jumped on C.B.’s back from a standing position on the ground. To this day I do not know how he had the spring in his legs to do that.  C.B. was quite a big horse, but bang, one moment Phillips was standing next to the horse, and the next moment he was in the saddle.  Do not try this!  For us normal people, a mounting block, which could be a rock or a set of steps, or the slow process of putting your foot in the stirrup and hauling yourself up, is the only way I have ever seen anyone else get on a horse.  C.B. stayed perfectly still while he was jumped on in this circus like fashion. He also performed flawlessly for Captain Phillips.  After the two day clinic, Jayme got a letter and a subsequent call from Kensington Palace where Princess Anne and Captain Phillips lived. “Captain Phillips would like to buy C.B.”  Money was not the issue (the Royals are really quite rich), but Jayme did not consider the offer for one minute. This was her favorite horse of all time and she was not going to sell him.

When C.B. was 11, he developed melanoma. Cancer of the skin is quite common in “grey” horses like C.B.  Fortunately, our son was at the U of Penn Veterinary School, and when Jayme called to see what could be done, he went to the world’s expert who was a professor at the school. This professor was trying a very experimental technique which involved re-injecting, into the horse, treated cancer cells taken from the melanoma sites on the horse.  It worked.  The cancer disappeared and C.B. lived (and hunted and jumped) for another 11 years.  Eventually, at the age of 22, the cancer reappeared and metastasized all over his body.  When he lost his tail and began to show signs of real distress, it was clearly the right time to say goodbye and put the horse out of his pain.  Jayme hired an interfaith minister as well as the veterinarian for the euthanasia.  Prayers were said, Jayme said her goodbyes, gazing into his gorgeous brown eyes and kissing the horse repeatedly. The horse nuzzled her, and the vet quickly injected the horse which died a painless death.

C.B. was buried in our formal garden. There is a stone over his grave. It reads “To C.B. My Friend, my Guide, my once in a lifetime Horse.”

Jayme continued riding, but never with quite the same sense of joy as she had when riding C.B.  Pure white as he was, and much larger than most horses rode by women, she could not be missed as together, in perfect unison, they galloped across fields and over fences.

The end of this story occurred about four years after C.B. died.  The surgeon from the University of Pennsylvania rang up and asked to speak to Jayme.  He had done the procedure on exactly 12 horses, and wanted how it had worked in the long run and whether Jayme thought it had been worthwhile. Since we had 11 more years with C.B. because of this man’s pioneering work, you can imagine that Jayme glowingly told him how grateful she was, and how well the experimental program had worked. We wondered why he had made a call so out of the blue.  A few months later we sadly learned the reason; he, a much loved and admired professor, had been told that he had terminal cancer at the time of the phone call, and had since passed away.

So that is the story of C.B.  It is August, and I have written about a horse.

Ronald P. Stewart


York Prep