Posts Tagged ‘Horses’

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cabin Life: Horseshoes and History

I found an old set of horseshoes in the lower field the other day. It has been a nice addition to recreational life out here at the cabin. I had some friends over to play, and according to Adirondack rules, each participant had a beer in one hand. No setting it down to throw, no cheating with non-alcoholic “beer.” And of course, upgrading to whiskey or tequila gets a nod of approval from the fellow participants.

Even though I am very secluded out here, I’ve found so many pieces of evidence of the continued presence of humans that it’s hard not to think about how others have lived on this particular piece of land. I only found the horseshoes because one of the stakes had a faded orange flag on it. When I went to investigate, I found the shoes, and it took a little while to find the other stake because the field is overgrown.
» Continue Reading.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Franklin County Inventor Eliakim Briggs

In the 1830s, hundreds of inventors around the world focused on attempts at automating farm equipment. Reducing the drudgery, difficulty, and danger of farm jobs were the primary goals, accompanied by the potential of providing great wealth for the successful inventor. Among the North Country men tinkering with technology was Eliakim Briggs of Fort Covington in northern Franklin County.

Functional, power-driven machinery was the desired result of his work, and while some tried to harness steam, Briggs turned right to the source for providing horsepower: horses.

This particular branch of the Briggs family had many members across New England, descended from Irish ancestors who fought in America’s Revolutionary War. A number of them later moved to New York in southern Washington County, which is where Eliakim was born in 1795.

Dozens of Vermonters and eastern New York State residents were among the first to move farther north and settle along the border with Canada from Clinton County to western Franklin County. Several members of the Briggs clan, including Eliakim, made the journey around 1820.

With a background in foundry work, young Eli began experimenting with building a “traveling threshing machine.” Around this time, he married Chateaugay’s Russina Allen (a descendant of Vermont’s Ethan Allen), who had moved there from Ticonderoga. They settled in Fort Covington, and by 1827, Russina had given birth to five children. Only the fifth, Janette, survived infancy.

Eli’s inventive efforts proved successful, and he began patenting his creations. Unfortunately, a fire in December 1836 destroyed 80 percent of the Patent Office’s 10,000 records. Among the documents to survive were those covering Eliakim’s “Horse Power Machine” (patented July 12, 1834), and his machine for “mowing, thrashing, and cleaning grain,” patented February 5, 1836.

The 1834 machine was an improvement in design and function of the existing horse treadmill, which was subsequently used to power his threshing machine. Looking to the future, Briggs perceived all sorts of possibilities from harnessing the power of horse-driven treadmills.

In the following year, on the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad (one of New York’s very first rail lines) was a most unusual sight. Instead of the customary single rail car being towed along by a horse, the car was moving silently forward with no visible means of propulsion.

Gawkers could hardly believe their eyes, but the secret lay within, where a horse on a treadmill propelled the car forward at the then blazing speed of 15 miles per hour, prompting one reporter to observe, “This is indeed an age of wonders.” He was witnessing the handiwork of Eliakim Briggs of Fort Covington, whose remarkable invention was being manufactured and sold in Ogdensburg at the time.

Briggs felt that the greatest potential for financial success was in agriculture, and after a trip to the West (which was Indiana, since there were only 26 states at that time), he was convinced. The family pulled up stakes and relocated to Dayton, Ohio.

In 1839, Thomas Clegg, one of Dayton’s pioneer industrialists, operated the Washington Cotton Factory, which had an extensive machine shop. Clegg partnered with Briggs in producing his automatic threshing machine, to the great financial benefit of both men.

Eliakim became one of the leading entrepreneurs of Dayton, but after three years he moved on to Richmond, Indiana for a year. In 1841, the family settled in South Bend, and it was there where Eliakim really made his mark. The fledgling settlement of perhaps 700 citizens soon experienced rapid growth, driven in part by Briggs’ threshing manufactory (powered by windmills), one of the first industries in the town’s history.

After three years of success, the company outgrew its quarters. Briggs built a large new factory, providing employment for many residents, some of whom later became leading businessmen themselves (the famed Studebakers are one example).

Briggs’ traveling threshing machine was a big success, and not only because of the inventor’s great abilities. Eliakim’s charisma was evident in his open, friendly treatment of customers who came from Indianapolis, Lafayette, Richmond, and other western locations. He opened his expansive home to visitors and customers alike, earning a reputation far and wide as the most hospitable and generous of businessmen.

He also remained a family man to a brood that had grown to nine by 1844, including sons John, George, and Charles, who eventually followed business pursuits as aggressively as their father had. John caught gold fever and ventured to California in 1849. As his brothers became old enough, they joined him in several business exploits, including mining. One part of their legacy, still producing gold today, is the Briggs Mine, about 20 miles north of Denver.

Successful in business, Eliakim combined his personal beliefs with financial profits in pursuit of a personal passion: the anti-slavery movement. He was a fervent abolitionist who sought freedom for all. Briggs abhorred slavery and was a longtime, ardent supporter of the Underground Railroad, despite the inherent dangers.

In early 1861, at the age of 66, Eli was still securing patents on new devices, while his horse-driven machines remained very popular. That same year, previous failures in the effort to process sugar cane in the West finally met with success when new equipment was introduced: “…a horizontal, three-roller, horse-power press for expressing the juice, manufactured by E. Briggs of South Bend, capable of pressing out sixty gallons per hour …”

Eventually, the development of steam and other power sources would replace Eliakim’s creation, but during his lifetime, it remained an important component of industry.

Briggs died in September 1861, still successful in industry, and still battling for the abolition of slavery. A year later, in September 1862, his wife, Russina, passed away as well. Much of the family fortune was placed in the hands of daughter Janette, a widow whose husband had also done quite well for himself.

Janette became very well known for philanthropy in South Bend. When she died in 1916, several bequests were included in her will, including $15,000 to an orphanage and $12,000 to the YWCA. Those two bequests alone were equal to approximately $500,000 in 2011, reminiscent of the generosity her father exhibited throughout his life.

Photo: Patent drawing of Eliakim Briggs’ horse treadmill (1834).

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seeing the Adirondacks on Horseback

What follows is a guest essay from the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership (AFPEP).

Looking for a Challenge? Try riding some of the Adirondack horse trails. There is something for everyone, from horse camping to mountain tops or lake shores – whatever scenery you are looking for can be found. If you don’t have your own horse, check with area Chambers of Commerce for names and contact information of stables that take people on public trail horseback rides.

Trail riding is an excellent way for you and your horse to enjoy and deepen the bond of partnership, trusting in one another to negotiate the many obstacles that appear on the trail. A jaunt down the trail can refresh the show veteran, season the young horse or invigorate an old trail hand. Just be sure to choose terrain and distance suitable to your equine friend’s condition and enjoy the view between your friend’s ears!

From your horses back you will see, hear and smell things you would otherwise miss from a motor vehicle. There will be the sound of the babbling brook, the song of a bird, the breath taking view that appears around the bend, glorious fall foilage and the wonderful aroma of pine needles, moss and wildflowers. Your horse can carry you on adventures you’ll remember for a lifetime. So pack a lunch, some horse treats and your camera and get out there!!

Before your go here are a few tips:

Know Where You are Going

* Obtain and study maps of the area.
* Familiarize yourself with the trails and terrain.
* Research parking area sizes to make sure your rig will fit.
* Check to see if mounting blocks and hitching rails are available

Prepare Your Horse

* Check your horse’s shoes to make sure they are tight.
* Ensure your horse is conditioned for rugged terrain.
* Bring insect repellent for yourself and horse.
* Rabies shot and negative coggins are required.

Carry and Use Proper Equipment

* Use of safety helmet is strongly recommended.
* Pack a first aid kit with the basics for you and your horse.
* Weather can be changeable, prepare for rain or cold.
* Carry a cell phone on you, not your horse – that way if you part company with your horse, you have the phone.

Act Properly on the Trail

* Ride on designated horse trails only.
* Sign in at trail registers.
* Slow horses to a walk if you meet other users, i.e. hikers, bikers and other horses.
* Ask people to speak to you and horse – horses have different eyesight and may not recognize people with packs or on bikes as people.
* Do not tie horses to live trees.
* Be prepared to encounter wildlife – deer, bear, turkeys, grouse, etc.

If you spend a little time on preparation, training and research, you will both be richly rewarded with a great outdoor experience!

Photo courtesy Old Forge Camping Resort.

This guest essay was contributed by the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership, a coalition of Adirondack organizations building on the Leave No Trace philosophy. Their goal is to provide public education about the Forest Preserve and Conservation Easements with an emphasis on how to safely enjoy, share, and protect these unique lands. To learn more about AFPEP visit www.adirondackoutdoors.org.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Book: Sport of Kings, Kings of Crime

A new book, The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913 by Steven A. Riess, fills a long-neglected gap in sports history, offering a detailed and fascinating chronicle of thoroughbred racing’s heyday and its connections with politics and organized crime.

Thoroughbred racing was one of the first major sports in early America. Horse racing thrived because it was a high-status sport that attracted the interest of both old and new money. It grew because spectators enjoyed the pageantry, the exciting races, and, most of all, the gambling.

As the sport became a national industry, the New York metropolitan area, along with the resort towns of Saratoga Springs and Long Branch (New Jersey), remained at the center of horse racing with the most outstanding race courses, the largest purses, and the finest thoroughbreds.

Riess narrates the history of horse racing, detailing how and why New York became the national capital of the sport from the mid-1860s until the early twentieth century. The sport’s survival depended upon the racetrack being the nexus between politicians and organized crime.

The powerful alliance between urban machine politics and track owners enabled racing in New York to flourish. Gambling, the heart of racing’s appeal, made the sport morally suspect. Yet democratic politicians protected the sport, helping to establish the State Racing Commission, the first state agency to regulate sport in the United States.

At the same time, racetracks became a key connection between the underworld and Tammany Hall, enabling illegal poolrooms and off-course bookies to operate. Organized crime worked in close cooperation with machine politicians and local police officers to protect these illegal operations.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Horse Racing Legends: Eddie "Peg Leg" Jones

Inspiring stories of success are often rooted in the lives of people widely perceived as being handicapped, yet have somehow managed to overcome daunting obstacles. A fine North Country example is Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones, who narrowly escaped death as a young boy but lost a leg in the process. For most people, the loss of a limb might well be the focus of the remainder of their lives. But Eddie’s story is one where outstanding achievements offered no hint on the surface that great physical impairment had been overcome.

Edward Jones was born in January, 1890, in New Haven, New York, southwest of Pulaski and just a few miles from the shores of Lake Ontario. Life on the family farm included hunting, and just a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday, Eddie suffered a terrible accident. While crossing a stone wall, he was struck by the accidental discharge of his shotgun. The injuries were severe, and amputation above the knee was necessary.

When he entered adulthood, Eddie engaged in the horse trade, buying and selling farm stock along the western foothills of the Adirondacks. Harness racing had long been a mainstay of North Country life, and dozens of communities hosted half-mile tracks. Through his love of working with horses, Eddie was drawn to the sport, so he jumped in with one foot.

The physical activity involved in training horses was challenging, but Eddie had no intentions of stopping there. He wanted to drive. Granted, it could be rough and rigorous, but it seemed a plus that this was a sport where the participant sat while competing.

That was true, of course, but without a second leg to provide balance and body control while racing, Eddie would have to improvise. A thick leather pad between his body and the sulky frame was all he used for support. He learned to balance by trial and error.

By the time he was 22, Eddie had proven he could drive. Using three main horses and racing at venues from Watertown to Batavia, he gained experience and earned several wins. Three years later (1915), behind five main mounts, Jones’ skills as both trainer and driver were unquestioned.

At Gouverneur, Canton, Watertown, Fulton, Rome, and Cortland, he was a multiple winner. More success came at Batavia, Elmira, and De Ruyter, and at Brockport, Ontario, Canada as well. Other forays outside of New York to Mount Holly, New Jersey and Hagerstown, Maryland led to more wins. In 120 heats, races, and free-for-alls, Eddie took first place 64 times, finishing outside of the top three on only 26 occasions.

While training and racing horses could be lucrative, it was also expensive. Eddie was married by then and needed a steady income, some of which was earned from bootlegging during Prohibition. He routinely smuggled booze in the Thousand Islands area until he and several others were arrested shortly before Prohibition was repealed.

After that, Eddie assumed a more legitimate lifestyle, managing hotels and other establishments while continuing on the racing circuit from Buffalo to Ogdensburg. In the winter he competed in ice races, which were often as well attended as the summer races. Heuvelton, one of the smaller venues, once drew more than 600 for an event held in February.

Through the 1930s, Jones continued to win regularly on tracks from Ormstown, Quebec to Syracuse, Elmira, and Buffalo, and many stops in between. The nickname “Easy Pickins” followed him, based on two things—his initials (for Edward Parkington Jones), and his uncanny use of pre-race strategies that helped him rise to the occasion at the end of a race.

In 1936, Jones took over as manager of the Edwards Hotel in Edwards, midway between Ogdensburg and Watertown. While working there, Eddie dominated the regional racing circuit and increased his stable of horses to 16.

He also began competing in Maine, but in the late 1930s, like so many others during the Depression, Jones fell on hard times. Though he was winning regularly, Eddie was forced to auction his horses, and in 1939, he filed bankruptcy. Life had taken another tough turn, and it looked like Jones, now 49, would end his career on a low note.

But “Peg Leg” Jones, as he was widely known in the media, was far from average. If losing a leg at age 12 hadn’t stopped him, why would he give up now?

And he didn’t. Eddie frequented the same tracks where he had raced over the years, now driving for other horse owners who were happy to have him. Eventually, Syracuse horseman Charles Terpening hired Jones to train and drive for him. Relieved of day-to-day money worries, Eddie flourished. In the early 1940s, despite his age, he began winning more and more races, particularly behind a famous horse, The Widower.

Soon Eddie was a big name in harness racing across the state, winning at Saratoga and many other venues, and competing on the Maine circuit as well. But the best was yet to come.

At the end of the 1944 season, Peg Leg Jones was the winningest racer in the US Trotting Association (covering the US and the eastern Canadian provinces). No one else was even close to Eddie’s total of 152 victories (86 with pacers and 65 with trotters).

Such a heavy schedule surely took a toll, and in the following year, Eddie (what did you expect?) took on even more work. Driving in 437 races across the Northeast, Jones, now 55, once again led the nation in wins with 118. His blue and red-trimmed silks became famous at northern tracks as he finished in the money in 78 percent of his races.

Jones had another excellent year in 1946, and continued racing and winning for several more years. In 1948, at the age of 58, Eddie set the track record at Booneville, just as he had done at Gouverneur in 1934 and Sandy Creek in 1942.

In the early 1950s, Jones began entering horses at Dufferin Park in Toronto. After an illness for which he was treated in the hospital at Oswego in fall, 1952, he went once again to Toronto in January. It was there that Eddie’s journey came to a sudden, tragic end.

On January 7, his lifeless body was found in the tack room. A razor lay nearby, and Eddie’s throat had been cut. More than $2,500 was found on him, and with no apparent motive for murder (like robbery), his death was officially ruled a suicide.

No one knew for sure the reason, and the truth will be clouded forever. As one report said, “The ‘backstretch telegraph’ laid it to a jealous husband or a money deal gone bad.” On the other hand, the suicide angle was supported by the money found on his person, and the fact that he had recently been ill. It was suspected that he may have had a serious disease or was in a lot of pain.

The tall, slim form of Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones would be missed by many. He won hundreds of races and thrilled thousands of spectators, and for more than four decades, the man with one leg had stood tall in the world of harness racing.

Photo Top: Saratoga Trotting Track.

Photo Bottom: Trotting scene from 1915.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Lawrence Gooley: Love So Strong, It’s Criminal

(Warning: If your partner reads this, expectations for today may rise.) Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Chocolates, flowers, and special cards are a must. Maybe a family meal, or perhaps a romantic dinner for two. Jewelry? Diamonds? The sky’s the limit when it comes to making your sweetheart happy and showing true dedication. But it’s all pretty amateurish compared to real commitment. Which brings us to Fred Roderick and Agnes Austin.

Here’s the story as described in 1883 in a couple of newspapers. Without hard facts, I can’t account for all the details, but you gotta love the sense of purpose, focus, and ingenuity this couple used to achieve togetherness.

At Sageville (now Lake Pleasant, a few miles southeast of Speculator), Fred Roderick, about 25 years old, had been jailed for stealing a pair of horses, which had since been returned. In those days, a convicted horse thief could expect to do time in prison. Next to murder, it was one of the most serious crimes—horses were a key component to survival in the North Country.

In rural Hamilton County, it was no simple task to organize a trial, so for several months the county jail served as Roderick’s home. It was lonely at times, but he wasn’t entirely without company. Every Sunday, the local Methodist pastor brought a dozen or so members of his congregation to the jail, where they sang songs and held a prayer meeting.

For a couple of years, young Agnes Austin was among the church goers who participated. Shortly after Roderick’s incarceration, parish members noticed that, instead of lending her voice to the choir at all times, she seemed to have taken a personal interest in Fred’s salvation.

Soon Agnes gained special permission from the sheriff for weekday visits which, she assured him, would lead Roderick down the straight and narrow. But it seemed to work in the reverse. Agnes began showing up less often on Sundays and more frequently during the week. Imagine the whispers among her church brethren. Their pretty little friend was consorting with a criminal!

Or maybe her missionary efforts were sincere after all. Fred Roderick finally came forward and accepted religious salvation, owing it all, he said, to young Agnes. People being what they are, tongues wagged more frantically than ever about the supposed scandalous goings-on. Mr. Austin forbade (what was he thinking?) Agnes from making any further jail visits. Taking it one step further, he spoke to the sheriff, hoping to kill a tryst in the making.

It wasn’t long after that Agnes disappeared. With her supposed lover lingering hopelessly in jail, why would she run away? Well, as it turns out, she didn’t. Agnes and Fred had made plans. She was told to hide out at his father’s camp, where he would join her after his escape. (Country jails were often loosely kept, and escapes were common.)

After waiting more than a week, Agnes took matters into her own hands, which led to a sight that shocked the residents of Sageville. A constable rode into town, and behind him trailed Aggie Austin. The charge? That she was a horse thief. In broad daylight, she had taken not just any horse, but one of the very same horses Fred had stolen.

Because she was female, and because she made no effort to run when pursued, bail was set at $600—which Agnes immediately refused. To the puzzled bondsman and the sheriff, she explained: if Fred couldn’t be with her, then she would be with Fred. To that end, she left the camp, stole a horse, made sure she was caught, and now refused to be bailed out of jail.

It gets better. The next morning, Fred informed the sheriff that he wished to marry Miss Austin, and Agnes confirmed the same. Papa Austin most certainly would have objected, but Agnes was 19, of legal age to make her own choice. And that choice was Fred.

The judge was summoned, and the sheriff and his deputies stood witness to the joining. The district attorney weighed in as well, contributing what he could to the couple’s happiness.

Though they must be tried separately, he promised to “bring both cases before the same term of court, and thus allow the pair to make their bridal journey together to their future mountain home at Clinton Prison.”

Now THAT’s commitment.

Photo: Clinton Prison at Dannemora, notorious North Country honeymoon site.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adirondack Ice Harness Racing

In the late nineteenth century, ice harness racing made its Adirondack debut, becoming a major winter sport which flourished well into the 1940s. Ice racing used to attract large crowds. Today, however, it seems that knowledge of it has quietly slipped from our historical grasp.

The Franklin Malone Gazette‘s “Horsemen’s’ Column” from January 29, 1897 captures the excitement surrounding these races in an article about Saranac Lake: “In spite of the cold weather last week the ice races were decidedly ‘hot’ in more senses than one. The bracing Adirondack air seemed to give the enthusiastic horsemen a tremendous appetite for – well, for refreshments of all kinds – and the many hotels of the town were thronged during the evening with hundreds of hungry and thirsty sports who seemed to enjoy themselves with a zest and vim seldom encountered at summer races.”

How did ice harness racing gain such popularity? In the late nineteenth century, most people owned one if not more horses which were muscular, accustomed to cold weather and used to hauling farm equipment, sleds and coaches. Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, bred primarily for racing and jumping, were expensive and of little value for the average Adirondacker who needed practical work horses for transportation and chores.

Frozen lakes offered perfect and easily accessible sites for racing. One need only plow the snow away to create a level track. No clearing of woods and rocks was needed.

A ten foot-wide track shaped like a kite was the most popular shape. This consisted of a large triangular kite-shaped loop, either a half- or full mile-long, on which the actual race was held. A smaller loop, attached where the kite track came to a point served for warming up and later slowing down the horses. The course looked something like a lopsided figure eight.

Judges sat on one side where the loops came together; the spectators stood or sat in grandstands on the other. From this vantage point, watchers could sit close to both the start and finish of the race.

Horses were sharp-shod, meaning they were outfitted with special studded shoes (already in use for ice harvesting) called calks. Horses pulled both sulkies and “Portland Cutters,” though eventually, when it was discovered that wheeled sulkies were slightly faster than sleds, the use of cutters declined.

Racing associations set rules and monitored the races. Purses ran from around 50 to 250 dollars per race, excellent money in the late nineteenth century. Was betting taking place as well? Indisputably. Clarence Petty, who attended the races as a child, recalled that a fair amount of gambling was part of the grownup scene.

For smaller events, most of the participants came from a distance of not much over twenty miles; for larger events, horses were shipped to the site by boxcar.

Encouraged by special reduced railroad rates, spectators flocked to these events from as far away as New York City. Crowd sizes were impressive, numbering anywhere from 400 to 4,000 spectators. To get a feel of the action, imagine standing on the ice, all bundled up, stamping your feet to keep warm, a frigid wind lashing your face as you listen to the drivers snap their whips and urge their horses on. Through icy eyelashes you try to focus on the action as the crowd’s roar reaches a fevered pitch. At the same time, no doubt, you may be looking forward to returning to the welcome warmth of both a hot stove and drink at the end of the day.

According to the New York Times, 14 December 1894, “[There] seems to be more dash and spirit to [harness racing on ice] than there is to the hauling of a bicycle sulky over a dirt track.”

Such was the excitement of this winter entertainment. Anybody for bringing it all back?

Caperton Tissot is the author of Adirondack Ice, a Cultural and Natural History, published by Snowy Owl Press.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Diane Chase Adirondack Family Activities: Adirondack Polo Club

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities

This weekend the Adirondack Polo Club will hold its Leslie Cup to raise funds and awareness for High Peaks Hospice and Palliative Care.

According to Lonnie Cross, Adirondack Polo Club member, the club is in its fifth season though for the last two years has made Westport its summer home. Previously the club traveled to destinations as far away as New Orleans to participate in matches. When Cross purchased land from a golf facility he did so with the purpose of providing a different local attraction for the community.

“We are polo enthusiasts that are used to traveling. This year we have played matches on the other side of the lake with the Sugerbush Polo Club as well as in Saratoga. Our players come from different backgrounds,” says Cross. “We have careers beyond polo so this is mostly a hobby. We are a grassroots club but it is our decision to bring something different to the community. Our goal is to continue making a difference. I hope we can through our love of our horses.”

It may be a hobby but it is something the club is very willing to share. Though most of us may not have the means to own a thoroughbred polo pony, the Adirondack Polo Club’s events are usually free and open to the public. Those of us that enjoy a fast-paced match can enjoy the benefits of beautiful surroundings and gorgeous horses without the work involved in ownership. The added benefit is that the polo participants welcome questions about their chosen sport and want people to be able to not just watch but be actively involved.

The “polo ponies” aren’t really ponies but beautiful horses carefully selected for speed and stamina. In addition the horses have to be able to maneuver between other horses and riders and not be jittery when the mallet swings around their heads.

Cross would like to eliminate the misconception that polo is only about the high-heeled women replacing divots while holding glasses of champagne or that the animals are mistreated in any fashion.

“We treat our horses with kid gloves because they are the athletes. They are as, if not more, important than the players. We feed and bed our animals, provide grooms to exercise and make sure they get the rest they need. It is at great expense that we provide the best care. I think it’s terrible when other owners mistreat their animals, taking them on rides and then expecting the animal to perform at a match. Traditionally Monday is the day of rest for the horses.”

He does admit that these animals are bred to be fast and require vigorous exercise though he agrees that everything requires balance and the horse’s best interest is always at heart.

For those that may not know the rules here is bit of information. An outdoor polo field is larger than nine football fields (300 yards long and 160 yards wide). It is touted as the largest field in organized sports. A team is made of four players that are assigned positions based on each player’s strength and experience.

A polo match lasts about an hour and a half with six chukkers (periods) of seven minutes each. A bell is rung to announce that last 30 seconds remaining in the chukker while a horn sound indicates the chukker’s ending. There is a three-minute break between each chukker and a five-minute halftime. Halftime is used to replace any divots out in the field. Replacing the divots is just one time-honored tradition of polo.

Though most matches are free this August 21st at 1:00 p.m. The Adirondack Polo Club will play for High Peaks Hospice for an admission of $5 per person and $10 per car. That price certainly encourages you to want to lower your carbon footprint and car pool.

Newcomers and fans are encouraged to come early and bring their own seating (chairs or blankets) and relish a picnic-like setting. Hamburgers, hotdogs and other fare will be available for purchase starting at noon. There will also be miniature donkeys and alpacas for all to enjoy.

If you can’t make this weekend’s event, on September 4th another fundraising polo match will take place that benefits Ronald McDonald House in Burlington, VT.

The Polo Hotline is (518) 572-9391 with a rain date of Sunday, August 22. The polo field is located on Polo Club Way off of Stevenson Road (Route 44) in Westport.


Photo of the Adirondack Polo Club used with permission.


content © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™. Diane is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates) This is the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next three editions will cover Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga, Long Lake to Old Forge and Newcomb to Lake George. 


Monday, May 31, 2010

1963: A North Country Racehorse Makes Good

In honor of the Belmont Stakes being run this weekend, here’s an item from 1963, when a horse whose name had North Country ties nearly won the coveted Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont). Any idea what the horse’s name was?

The owner was John W. Galbreath, well known nationally, and a frequent visitor to the Adirondacks. While his wealth was notable, it was in the world of sports that Galbreath earned his greatest fame. He owned baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates from 1946–1985 (one of his partners was Bing Crosby), winning the World Series in 1960, 1971, and 1979. He was also a graduate of Ohio State and a longtime supporter of the school’s athletic program, one of the most successful in the nation.

Like Donald Trump did in more recent times, Galbreath became fabulously wealthy as a real estate developer, owning major properties in Columbus, Los Angeles, New York, and Pittsburgh. In 1986, the family fortune was estimated at $400 million.

Despite his substantial fame in baseball and real estate, Galbreath’s favorite subject was horseracing. Perhaps the name of his birthplace (in 1897) was a good omen for a future in the sport: he was born in Derby, Ohio.

Among other things, Galbreath’s great wealth allowed him to indulge his passion. He became involved in horse racing in the 1930s, eventually serving as chairman of Churchill Downs in Louisville (where the Kentucky Derby is run). Near Columbus, Ohio, he developed the famed Darby Dan Farm into a 4,000-acre spread, producing many outstanding racehorses.

He had never won the Kentucky Derby, a goal of all major owners, and in 1963, none of Galbreath’s horses seemed particularly promising. Then, shortly before the Derby, one of his colts captured three straight races, including the Blue Grass Stakes. Suddenly, anything was possible.

The horse’s name was Chateaugay, and despite the sudden success, most of the hype went to several other competitors prior to the Triple Crown races. Never Bend was the leading money-winner, and Candy Spots and No Robbery were the first undefeated horses to face off in the Derby in 88 years. In front of 120,000 fans at the Kentucky Derby, Galbreath’s favorite horse went off at 9-1 odds. There appeared to be little chance for success.

After running at mid-pack for much of the race, Chateaugay moved up to fourth. Near the final stretch, future-hall-of-fame-jockey Braulio Baeza steered his horse through an opening to the inside, where Chateaugay strode to the front, topping all the pre-race stars to win by 1¼ lengths.

In race number two, the Preakness, the same strategy was employed. This time, Chateaugay came roaring to the front but fell just short, finishing 3½ lengths behind winner Candy Spots. In the Belmont, the results were very similar to the Preakness, but this time, Chateaugay’s charge to the lead was successful, overtaking Candy Spots to win by 2½ lengths.

Only a close loss at the Preakness prevented Chateaugay from winning the Triple Crown, but Galbreath’s colt had proven nevertheless to be a great racehorse.

During this time, the excitement in the North Country was fairly palpable, especially in the town of Chateaugay (in the northeast corner of Franklin County). Many were fervent supporters of Galbreath and his horse, and the famed owner expressed his appreciation in a letter that appeared in local newspapers:

Dear Mr. Peacock:

It was certainly nice of you to write me a letter about Chateaugay winning the Kentucky Derby. Several people have asked me how we happened to name this horse as we did.

As you perhaps know, we have some interest in Lyon Mountain and Mineville, New York [the iron mines], and while I was up there several years ago, I saw the name Chateaugay. I made the remark at the time that I thought it was a pretty name for a town, and also thought it would be a good name for a horse.

Since Chateaugay’s older sister, Primonetta, was our best filly to date, we naturally hoped this colt would be a good one, and for that reason, we applied the name to him.

It has been very gratifying indeed to have so many nice letters from people of your town, and I hope you will thank the members of the Chamber of Commerce for their nice telegram which they sent under your name last week. I am going to have some pictures made just as soon as we receive the proofs, and I will eventually send you a picture which you can use for publishing in the paper.

Thank you again for your nice letter and wire.

Sincerely yours,


John W. Galbreath

In honor of the victory, Galbreath named one of Darby Dan’s buildings “Gay Chateau” (well before a new meaning entered the vernacular).

A few years after winning the Derby, Chateaugay was retired to stud service, first at Darby Dan Farm, and later in Japan after his sale to racing interests there. He died in 1985.

Galbreath died in 1988 at the age of 90. Besides a grand legacy in the sporting world, he left behind the John W. Galbreath Company, America’s third-largest real estate developer. A second Darby Dan horse, Proud Clarion, won the Derby in 1967, but it was Chateaugay who first made Galbreath’s long-held dream a reality.

Photo Above: Chateaugay after winning the Kentucky Derby.

Photo Below: Chateaugay after winning the Belmont Stakes.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.



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