The Antiquity Of It All
Five top American breeders discuss their devotion to a handful of ancient, elegant breeds with smooth gaits and amazing style
Diana Stuart Jones
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99
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Bettina was then living in Portugal. Her mother, a prominent horsewoman, was the Countess de Flers, the former Phyllis Field, daughter of department store magnate Marshall Field III. Bettina had always received skilled instruction. To train with Oliveira, however, was an unexpected privilege.
Her progress was dramatic. By the time she was 12, Bettina had performed a ballotade, a difficult movement in which the horse trots in place and leaps into the air; its origin stems from military battles. At 16, she was presented with a coveted pair of spurs awarded only to instructors, and she became Oliveira's exhibition rider. At 19, she earned a license to train horses and, at 21, she earned her degree as a master horse trainer.
"It was because of Mr. Oliveira that I became fascinated with dressage as an art form and with how things fit together," says Drummond. "Thanks to him, I became absolutely devoted to Iberian horses." Her partners in the experience were the Iberian horses in his barn; a few of them were Andalusians from nearby Spain, but usually they were Lusitanos, which are native to Portugal.
Iberian horses are known for their spectacular movement, balance, suppleness and agility, not to mention a courageous, spirited and gentle disposition. Their facial profile is convex, their eyes are almond-shaped, and they have sloped croups (top hindquarters), which make their hind legs flexible and allow them to move in a collected, or restrained, gait. In Spain, these horses are most often used for ceremonial duties in the bullring and for high-level dressage, a process of putting horses through a series of precise maneuvers using very little in the way of discernable commands.
The origins of the Iberian horse are closely linked with the history of that region--a saga of invasion and occupation by different African sects during the fifteenth century. It can only be surmised that the Iberian horse resulted from crossbreeding of indigenous stock and the North African Barb.
Iberian stallions generally stand from 15.2 to 16.2 hands high at the shoulder and have a commanding presence and lofty and spectacular paces. They are compact and strong, limber and powerful in the hindquarters and neck. Most important is their docile temperament, which makes them easy to teach and happy to submit to dressage disciplines without loss of spirit. Drummond's Pruyn Stud at Auden Field sits high on a hill overlooking the Newtown, Connecticut, countryside. Years before she started the farm, her mother had dreamed of establishing an American dressage center. In 1991, at age 28, her daughter fulfilled that dream by buying the Newtown property with a partner. In 1994, shortly after her grandmother, Ruth Pruyn Field, died, Bettina established Pruyn Stud. "I named the stud after my grandmother because she is responsible for my having it," she says. "She left me some money to do something with horses, and it enabled me to buy my Iberian breeding stock."
Admittedly ambitious about training horses in the classical mode, Drummond says she is "not particularly competitive" when it comes to riding. Her goal these days, she says, is "to produce some wonderful dressage horses that go on to do what I was taught, so that I may, in turn, pass on what I have learned." Toward that end, she has been importing Lusitanos for training and showing along with a few French horses (a breed called Selle Francais), which Drummond feels are more suited to the "look" required by contemporary dressage tests.
It is the Lusitanos, however, that are her first love, and she hopes to introduce more of them into American dressage competition. "Right now, I'm trying to tone down the anxiety quota," she adds. "Lusitanos are often very hot and reactive because they're bred to look for the bull in the bullring. At the same time, they have this marvelous forward nature from the leg because they're always ready to charge. Some people see their natural suspension as taking away from the forward nature. I believe this is because few people will ride them on the edge of their nature. When you ride them with your hair on fire, boy, it's like martial arts. And once you get ready to roll, you can't back off. They have fine, sensitive personalities, and once you get their engines stoked, they're magnificent."
Nancy Burr stands barely five foot, two inches. When she's dressed in her riding clothes, she resembles a jockey. "Please don't tell me I look like National Velvet," she says with a smile as she puts a brush to the glistening bay coat of Ballywhim Ardan Mor, one of her prized Connemara stallions. "People are always saying that. I competed a lot when I was a girl in Westport [Connecticut] and there was a time I actually did want to win the Grand National or some other great competition, but I'm through with that now. I'm a serious horse breeder."
Recognized by the American Connemara Pony Society as one of the nation's top breeders, Burr, who is in her mid-40s, knew a lot about horses before she decided to breed these ancient ponies.
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