Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Pattern Language...and Farewell

Paradise living is way too easy here in warm (77°F) Florida. Above is an untouched, no-filter snap of the typical sky and vivid colors captured at a random street fair that sprung up over night in an empty lot opposite our grocery store. Adding to the magic are the ever present dolphins and compulsory slow pace that comes when living and biking around a sleepy beach town with two draw bridges. You just can't be in a hurry - there is always a sailboat waiting for the bridge to open so they can dawdle through the pass. Dolphins and draw bridges - both a must in my perfect world.

The sun seems strange this trip - it is at a very different angle than our normal November visits, and that, combined with the Daylight Savings Time change on the exact hour we arrived, has happily encouraged us to ignore our clocks and wristwatches. They just don't agree with what our internal sundials are saying about time and daylight.

Today was rainy - pouring buckets and thundering as if it is already summer. For me it was a welcomed chance to write my promised après-riding post. Grab a cuppa or two if you can stand some horsey inspired daydreaming...

Actually, as promised (threatened) this post has turned into my manifesto. And, probably my Swan Song for the blog. Hopefully its sincere enthusiasm will keep it from being too tiresome! 

A daydream that actually manifested - Pie takes me out through the field during hay
 cutting, September 2013. My farmer's small, quiet machinery, off in the distance of this
photo, is the very thing for my future plans. Oh, no, Farmer Ron, I've got my eye
 on you - run for the hills!
In my previous incarnation as a Humanities professor (2004-2010), at the conclusion of the non-western art section and immediately before our architecture study, I'd encourage my students to buy A Pattern Language (Christopher Alexander, et al., 1977). As I explained to them, this book is important to the study of architecture, but its value reaches far beyond a short semester. Good design practices within any field, within any life, are essential in order to live with quality. I like to think of A Pattern Language, the book, as a psychological study of architecture - the why behind good design, and a pattern language, the concept, as the why behind good _______(fill in the blank) - good living, good riding, good horses...good.

Our copy of A Pattern Language was bought in 1987 and the well-worn cover and dog-eared pages tell the role it played in Brian's restoration of the little 1874 folk house we live in and call Nutmeg Cottage. I used it when designing the garden and quickly realized that this book held the key to much more than utilizing light and planning efficient traffic patterns.

Our garden in its last spring before three silly Thoroughbred
 horsey-boys took over my life.
In the seven years I lived without horses I spent many hours figuring out my own pattern language for the "problem" of how I wanted to work with and ride horses. I just now spent half a day recreating that journey on this post and then erased it because of its redundancy. It has all been said before on this blog and on my Found in the Fog  site.

Suffice to say that my new patterns with horses solved the problem of what the phrases "I love horses" "I ride horses" "I am an equestrian" meant to me. So often we repeat statements like "I love horses" until they become a mantra in our life, but we might allow the associated images, those accepted and understood by others, to change our own images and our own intentions. I wanted to eliminate the concepts and words that did not match my honest, true, essential image of "I ride horses" - ring, indoor, arena, show, lunge, lunge whip, round pen, clinic, spurs, crop, pinned, number, clock, calendar, points, ribbon, schooling area, worked down, he needs a job, mane pulling, clip, braid, adrenaline, off, issues, nails, bombproof, scopey, groceries, hurry, trainer, too windy - and replace them with words that did match - throaty nicker greeting, whiskers, fragrant muzzle, munching, hand-walk, hand-graze, calm, alert, bareback, bitless, barefoot, safe, woods, farm track, daily ride.

In no way am I saying that the former words and concepts were bad or wrong or that the two lists are mutually exclusive to other people. The first list is just not what I pictured when I thought about being with a horse therefore I replaced the former pattern language with the one I originally, in childhood, visualized. Then I devised a plan to make the image real.

Calm yet alert, my Sovereign takes me out on a typical ramble,
bareback and in just his halter, August 2012.
Happily, and in an amazingly short amount of time, the new language developed. I am able to ride all three Thoroughbreds without fuss or fighting or fear - for me or, more importantly, for them. They remain calm and interested each day for an hour long ramble - even in winter's wind - always without a bit and usually bareback. I never lunge or do ring work first. I wallow in the joy of finding a good solution, a good design that works for me and my horses within our large and varied equestrian world.

Yet there is one pattern in the language that hasn't been resolved - venue. Because, as hoped, this style of riding strips away the non-essential elements (those time consuming peripheral tasks I wasn't interested in) and allows an abundance of quality hours spent actually riding a relaxed, happy horse, I find myself daydreaming about riding in a suitable equestrian park and gardens - full of bridle paths and relevant, horse-friendly amenities that actually cater to the type of riding we are doing.

I've "traversed" the globe many times in the last five years on the internet looking for THE equestrian park, municipal or private, that fully utilizes the benefits this style of riding affords, but I can say with certainty it doesn't exist. I've found snippets here and there - in fact, I've been fortunate enough to experience first hand a magical equestrian park in Florida that comes very, very close, but even there, the focus is on a different ideal.

What does exist in great numbers are venues catering to other equestrian visions - those of training, performance, showing, competition, or day-long/weekend trail riding. Googling "equestrian park" "equestrian center" "equestrian community" unearths fabulous locations with too many amenities to list. Some typical ones include:

Stadium jump arena w/competition level footing
Full size dressage arena w/competition level footing
Adjacent schooling arena area with grass footing and rolltop schooling jumps
80' x 200' bright mirrored indoor riding arena with sand/rubber flake mix riding surface.
2 official size outdoor dressage arenas with sand/rubber flake mix riding surface.
2 inside heated wash / grooming stalls with sink and central grooming vac.
Loft level fully furnished private club room with kitchen and arena viewing area.            
Over 6 acre fenced schooling area with natural footing designed to accommodate multiple disciplines. 
X-Country schooling complex designed by licensed FEI course designer.
Separately fenced area with improved footing for dressage and flat work training.

A search of "horse trails" or "horse campgrounds" elicits:
200 miles of trails, a large equestrian staging area with horse trailer parking, campsites, corrals, hitching posts, picnic shelter, fire rings, tables, water, electricity and toilets.

While these popular equestrian centers and parks are surely amazing and well-designed (probably most horse people are drooling after reading) they do not align with my idea of what "state of the art" equestrian facilities means to the horse experience I am enjoying now. So, I thought for fun, I'd use this blog, a selfish platform anyway, to brainstorm my own vision. Although the design that follows is not new to me - it has been in my mind's eye since childhood as the idyllic location where people ride horses - it is still raw. Raw does not necessarily mean vague in this instance because, as you will see below, I am aware of, and full of intense passion for, the details. But, my presentation is in its raw form as in this is the first time I've tried to write the concept out, complete with photographs. (Usually I am fervently describing my plan in person to poor friends and family members who have to endure my enthusiastic arm waving and jubilant, half-finished sentences.) The photos and examples here are helpful to buoy my belief that every part of the whole actually exists somewhere. In other words, I am not talking about riding on the moon!

As I outline each pattern of my horse dream park/community/après-riding experience, I will give the background information, the psychology, the "why" behind my glee (total giddy thrill, really) for that specific piece of the puzzle and how its inclusion lends itself to this style of riding. The photos enlarge if you click on them - especially helpful for the horizontally aligned photos.

Ok, ready? Oh, boy, I'm nervous...this is quite a glimpse into my soul and I feel vulnerable! We all hear the call of our own siren's song. This is mine. (Siren's Song, Swan Song - wow, I'm doing lots of singing!) And, if you have a short attention span and get annoyed with my long-winded luxuriating in all the yummy minutia (Mom) then just scroll down to the Itchycoo Park heading for the short version.

1. The Golf Course Pattern for Equestrian Gardens

I've mentioned on other posts that I believe golf courses are absolutely the most perfect place to ride a horse. Obviously, I have no interest in riding on an operational golf course where people are actually playing golf because of the inherent danger of getting hit by a golf ball. In addition, I've been told the chemicals are horrific so the framework of the golf course design is my main focus as a starting point. Cart paths and fairways scream for riders and runners and cross-country skiers. The gently rolling hills, groves of trees, ponds, bridges, stone walls and flowering shrubs are unique. There are few other sports that take the time to flower and beautify large expanses of land that are completely incidental to the actual action. These very typical scenes, above and below, are only for golfers to enjoy. Why is that? Given the opportunity to stroll on my barefoot horse around the groves of trees and fairways, circling the ponds and walking over the bridges of Augusta, or any golf course really, I can promise I would look around and enjoy the beauty with just as much awe and grateful wonder as a golfer.

When I look at that cart path to the right of the Redbud below, I long to run there or ride there. And the autumn trees, in the photo above with large areas of open land carved out, is to be enjoyed by equestrians and runners alike, surely. Obviously the tightly manicured grass, silly bunkers, and fake green color is over-the-top and not to be emulated, but the space and traffic pattern and woodland borders and paths - all a good starting framework. 

Truly what I am after has nothing to do with golfing or golf courses. I am all about the idea of a community equestrian space, much like a village or community green but on a larger scale. The fact that we do not really have village greens (or villages for that matter) in this country makes discussion of them difficult. England and Europe both boast public bridle paths and foot paths that converge in villages. Although tempting, I am not going to move the boys across the pond.

New York's Central Park of today is a mediocre example although I think it was probably very close to my ideal sometime during the last century. Here, just for fun, are four stills from my favorite scene in the movie Hair. I fell in love with the idea of riding in Central Park when I saw this in the theater in 1979. When Claremont closed in April of 2007 it was all over for that park in my opinion - not that Manhattan is good for a horse-lover's soul anyway. If you click the top photo you can watch the video. Warning: Not for children!!!!

Locally back home in Pennsylvania, most suburban community and municipal parks are full to the hilt with soccer fields and portable toilets. They are either too large to be quaint or completely devoid of flowering trees and small groves set among rolling hills.

Linear parks like many "Rails to Trails" that allow equestrians, runners, and bikers are excellent. This sign above, is the type displayed on one of our family's favorite bike trails, The York Heritage Trail. (As an aside, I totally LOVE that this sign tells everyone to yield to horses. I like it not because I am some power hungry control freak who likes to boss people around while riding, but it makes me smile because the people who designed these park signs understand that horses are the least predictable of the group. So funny and true!) Anyway, while linear parks are fabulous and important, I think they need to be adjacent to, or terminate into, a larger equestrian/running/skiing park space.

Riding and running over the same out and back course, even if trailering to different trail heads, gets monotonous. I know. I run small sections of a twelve-mile stretch of the scenic Appalachian Trail daily. And while I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have such a gem in my backyard, the linear nature of the AT does not provide the open green space that allows for a village hub of horse-related, non-competitive recreation and the associated après-activities.

The Appalachian Trail (horses not allowed anyway) and other linear rails to trails systems do not promote gathering because they are a point A to point B design scheme. Bridle path networks and happy jumbles of linear trails gone circular like those found in our national parks and in pockets of horse communities like Tryon, Asheville/Biltmore, Wellington, and of course the Bedford Riding Lanes in New York, among others, are very close to perfect. However, there still is a lack of the kernel space that caters to my type of riding.

Again, without golfers present, golf courses look exactly like a space where strolling should occur. Strolling. This is the thing. Walking, jogging, or running quietly among the trees, not racing. Biking with a basket and flowers, not aerodynamic helmets and sponsored jerseys. Cross-country skiing for fresh air and exercise. And riding a horse around the grounds. Not to a ring, after the show, outside the arena, for twenty miles, or for a cool down, but as the intended destination - the hour long stroll in a large, lovely, park full of horse friendly amenities. Amenities that are not typical in equestrian circles (yet) but oh, so, desirable. More on them in a bit...

How Large? Urban golf courses average 110-120 acres and courses at resorts are generally 170-190 acres.
Most golfers walk 4-6 miles in an average round of golf. Riding at the walk on a perimeter trail or through winding paths for one to two hours would be optimal to promote healthy (for horse) rides for both the daily rider or for riders who can only get out to the barn on weekends. No more lameness from sporadic overwork - hooray!

2. The Theme Park Pattern 

Like most people I've been to a zillion different amusement parks over the years and I guess they are ok, but I do not find them to be super thrilling. Loud and gaudy, they aren't exactly my thing. Comically, the last time I was to Walt Disney World was when I was five years old (1972) and Maizie has never been, although we vacation each year in Florida.

But, the design - well, that is something altogether different. I have always been very much inspired by the layout and design of a good theme park. Obviously, Disney offers an over-the-top flashy aesthetic in its colors and characters, but at the core, there is something to be learned and admired.

Walt Disney visited Tivoli Gardens in Denmark to get ideas for his original (160 acre) Disneyland concept. Tivoli holds many secrets to the pattern of a horse friendly garden/equestrian park. Specifically, Tivoli and the Pleasure Garden model, primarily a European concept, is almost exactly what my ideal riding venue would offer.

Ignore the "rides" - it is the paths and gardens and bistros that are important.
I know you are thoroughly confused. No, I am not advocating riding a horse around an amusement park!!! The design, the paths, the bistros, the gardens (albeit much less tidy) are just another pattern I'm drawn to as the skeleton, the backbone of my ideal equestrian park.

I've mentioned on past posts that I rarely do anything without thinking about riding. I do not know if that sentence conveys what I mean. Literally, I am always thinking about riding. As I go about my day, in suburban areas, country, or urban, I often see interesting places to ride or run. I want to ride or run where I am looking. I do not picture myself riding in a ring. I do not think about riding in an indoor arena. Ever. Neither place comes to my mind as in "I wish I was riding a ring" - neither makes my heart race with anticipation. When I think about riding a horse, I think of riding...through a garden. I am not being affected or dramatic. I do. When I am at an amusement park, or golf course, or cemetery, or city park or any open place that is well designed with paths and flowering trees, I imagine riding there or running there or cross-country skiing there. Landscaping can be tight and neat or wild and prairie-like, but the time and design ideas that are thrown at beautifying these types of spaces scream for running and riding and skiing to take place there - in my opinion. I get all adrenaline-y just thinking about it!

That said, I am totally NOT interested in riding in any of these spaces that are not designated for horses or animals. I do not like when people bring animals into non-animal safe venues to be showy. Hellishly hot street fairs where people bring dogs or boa constrictors(!) to get attention drive me insane. Beaches where pets are not permitted and therefore do not have proper watering stations makes me worry and fret - (oh, they don't have shade, oh, it is too hot, oh, poor puppy only has salt water). Riding through our local cemetery is sub-par, even though I have permission, because I do not enjoy being showy. If I knew no one was around, I would love it. So I would not enjoy riding in an amusement park or other public place if it was specifically not set up for horses.

Lovely landscaped areas and bridle paths are everywhere I look except in an "equestrian center" or in an "equestrian park" - why?

I would like to ride here if permitted.
And here.
Why not here too?

3. Castles and Estates Grounds Pattern

Only in France...right?
The grounds and bridle paths through gardens and hedgerows of castles in Europe and grand estates here in the U.S. are obviously superb! Shriek! How much fun would this be? Answer: VERY!!!!!!! Especially if riding was permitted around all spaces - gardens, walkways, bridges, mazes, woods and groves. lucky.

Silly American "castle" back at Disney, German inspired, but how about those lighted walkways with the tiny little Mary Poppins Cherry Tree Lane fences? Sigh. I want to ride on those walkways.

A wonderful instagram friend from France rides her OTSB around the Chateau De La Batisse, above. Seriously, her photos always make me consider moving, but for me, it isn't about the castles - it's the grounds. She rides in sublime places.

In our own country we have estates like Biltmore, below, that offer lovely manicured grounds and miles of trails.

Walkers, human and puppy on a Biltmore farm track path.
North Carolina's Biltmore has 80 miles of estate trails to enjoy on foot or on horse. The day pass to ride your own horse is $25 and the annual pass is $220. Definitely a pattern to emulate. The grounds are lovely, the riding, by all accounts, amazing. The time, money, and focus on the estate's main house and tours tells me that equestrian activities are incidental. I am looking for a place where outdoor recreation is the primary use but not gigantic on a national park scale. Quaint. Village-y. Charming and manageable.

4. Resorts and Country Clubs - getting closer to the Equestrian Park Pattern?

Numerous resorts exist in our country where riding is offered as an outdoor recreational activity in addition to swimming, golf, and tennis. Totally great and fabulous if you wish to ride a rental horse and additionally can afford to live at the resort!!! So, clearly not in my future, but when I was younger, my mom and I rode horses for a week around the grounds of Pinehurst while my dad golfed. We had a fabulous time riding over the pine-covered trails, but, in my opinion, my father's views on the golf course with sunlight and long shadows, bridges and azaleas, were better than ours.

Country clubs are super interesting to me as a possible pattern, especially now, since I believe locally they are a groaning, over-stuffed sausage of an antiquated dinosaur in need of some serious re-thinking.

My mom's country club is a perfect example. There is a huge golf course with flowering trees and rarely used "roughs" and golf cart paths. There are tennis courts and a swimming pool. But, memberships are down because all the old people are dying off and the entire system is dated. They built a giant, new clubhouse and serve the typical country club dinners nightly created by award winning chefs, but it isn't a happening place. The building is new and big. Big lacks character. Big is never quaint or inviting. Honestly, the clubhouse looks like a retirement home from the outside. No one attends their events except for the oldest members. Young, active people want small, well-designed eating spaces where they can pop in for a fresh bite after one activity and on the way to another. They don't eat big, elaborate dinners anymore. The coolest little building is the "Tee Bar" out on the course - popular and very close to my ideal equestrian park après- outbuilding.

Maizie plays tennis out of Hershey Country Club. The space there is a little more attractive - I love the smaller pool house buildings, architecturally at least. But, there is no running or riding on the gorgeous perimeter. Why not? I happen to run on a public bike path around and through another golf course in Hershey and it is the very best. Streams, trees, shade, ducks - quaint. If only I could ride there too, but horses are not permitted.

5. Helen Howarth Equestrian Park Pattern

Helen Howarth Equestrian Park is the magical horse park in St. Petersburg, Florida that I mentioned at the beginning of this post and talked about at length on this post and in this Equitrekking Article. This park is close to perfect in its fit for the style of riding I am doing now. That area of Pinellas County is teeming with equestrians and the park is the center of the action.

Me on Appendix gelding, Chaunson, with my friend Barb on Titan (ears).
Every morning, a group of about 6-8 women and three men gather at the barn and together head out to ride to the Helen Howarth Park and to another equestrian friendly park that is adjacent. The group, which I join when visiting, is made up of riders who are age 16 - 76. The municipality supports and promotes equestrian activities by providing horse crossing zones, signs, flashing lights and manure pick-up.

Typical group ride to park using horse crossing, Black Friday, 2011.

Real estate in the vicinity draws in horse people and tack shops and boarding barns naturally follow and prosper around the park perimeter. This park is as close to my ideal as anything I've seen. It is a little small (60 acres) but when we add in the second private park and the time riding on horse-friendly sidewalks getting to the park, riding time is just about right - 1-2 hours for the entire loop.

The only thing lacking in this little equestrian hamlet are amenities that promote an après-riding experience. We all just hop on and ride for an hour or so and laugh and talk, and then scramble to finish up because we are starving. Often, after our barn work, the horses get put away and we drive far from the barn to meet for lunch at a local restaurant. What if the restaurant was on the equestrian park perimeter and welcomed us to eat outside with our horses safely munching nearby?

6. Après-Pattern Defined

The French prefix après- means after - specifically the time period of socializing following an activity. Après-ski is the most common use of the popular custom of going out for dancing and drinks following skiing in the Alps.

Ok, so this is so me...fondue pot...1960's...totally want to climb into this photo!
The term is now frequently used in our country in ski circles, but the concept has long been understood in the world of golf as the 19th Hole.

My fixation with the après-riding, the après-run, après-anything experience is actually not about the food, but about the time spent discussing the activity in an attractive, aesthetically pleasing space.

Après-activity is the glue that holds the whole together. Sometimes I get tired of our nation being obsessed with food, but when I sit back and think about the time and aesthetic considerations thrown at eating spaces all over the world, it seems logical that food obsession happened. Quaint bistros are inviting. Outdoor dining is lovely. Spending time in attractive spaces is just as addictive as the food.

People are drawn to places like Aspen, Telluride, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc to ski, but the idea and experience of the après-ski in little cafes on the slopes is unique to their sport. Reliving the ski run and enjoying the gathering in an attractive setting is important.

Shopping mall developers know this and have created fake "village" spaces with outdoor dining and shopping centered around pretend "streets" and flower-bedecked lanes and alleys. Even shoppers get to relive their "sport" in an inviting après-setting.

I'd like to have little cafes on my riding "slopes"! I would enjoy riding in a park as beautiful as a golf course. It would be great to picnic with my horse - not at a campground that is brown and woodsy and miles away - but in a suburban/country horse park. I live to ride on flower-bedecked lanes and quaint bridges.

Even Anthropologie is getting into the horse picnic dream, above to right.

Sounds spoiled doesn't it?

Really? Didn't other equestrian sports want:
Stadium jump arena w/competition level footing, full size dressage arena w/competition level footing, adjacent schooling arena area with grass footing and rolltop schooling jumps, 80' x 200' bright mirrored indoor riding arena with sand/rubber flake mix riding surface, 2 official size outdoor dressage arenas with sand/rubber flake mix riding surface, 2 inside heated wash / grooming stalls with sink and central grooming vac, loft level fully furnished private club room with kitchen and arena viewing area, over 6 acre fenced schooling area with natural footing designed to accommodate multiple disciplines, X-Country schooling complex designed by licensed FEI course designer, separately fenced area with improved footing for dressage and flat work training?

My desired amenities are just different from current offerings in Equestrian Centers and planned Equestrian Communities. The type of riding I enjoy with a group of friends in Florida tells me that I am not alone. The money and time and effort to maintain arenas and rings and show grounds could be spent on relevant (to us) features in a garden-like facility.

7. Itchycoo Park - The Equestrian Garden Language
As a quick aside: I don't actually imagine calling my dream equestrian garden, Itchycoo Park. This is a temporary name for reference only. Itchycoo Park is a 1967 song by the Small Faces. When I was young and heard the lead singer, Steve Marriott's haunting voice describe a place so beautiful it would make you cry, I adopted the song as my all time favorite. Before moving to Nutmeg Cottage I owned a 1787 log farmhouse with a yard and garden so lovely that I called it Itchycoo Park. It's all too beautiful.

Ok - back to the plan:  By pulling all the previous patterns together you can imagine a language that celebrates the perfect symbiotic relationship of riding, running, walking, cross-country skiing, leisurely biking, and perhaps tennis and swimming all combined with their associated après-activities in one location. In addition, the open space (not used by a golf course or amusement park) encourages an orchard, a flower farm, and the raising of organic vegetables for farm-to-table produce in the on-site vegan luncheonette and French patisserie.

I borrowed then altered this flower garden map to use as an example for discussion.

Unlike a resort, traditional equestrian center, or historic estate, there is zero focus or expenditure in maintaining an estate building, resort hotel, golf course or show grounds/indoor arena. Instead, like a suburban amusement park, this "garden/park" is focused on the use of the land - and yes, in all weather. My rambles on my horses in winter may be shorter, but they are just as beautiful and could do with a quick stop for a cup of hot chocolate and an apple for my horse just as easily as on a summer day. Tennis, swimming, and x-country skiing are seasonal, but running, walking, riding, and nearby post-sport gathering are fun activities all year round.

8. Details:
 - A perimeter fence around the entire equestrian garden park will keep horses from straying in cases when a rider falls off.
 - Small parking area outside fence. Ideally, like in St. Petersburg, the majority of riders will live and ride from private farms and boarding barns located near the park. The equestrian park draws the supporting businesses and riders choose to live nearby. Access can be gained through horse-safe perimeter gates.
 - No motorized vehicles inside except for maintenance.
 - A day pass or season's pass allows access and ensures proper equine health certificates for all horses.
127 acres (arbitrary for discussion) partially wooded and preferably with hills and a stream or pond. The various paths need to allow for a six mile, non-repetitive run to ensure a 1-2 hour ride. Using the golf course pattern of switchbacks, that mileage is fairly easy to get in a relatively small space.
 - Adjacent to a linear Rail Trail where equestrians are permitted to ride.

Three free standing, independently leased (tiny shops) i.e. bistro, vegan luncheonette, and/or patisserie located on the perimeter fence and open on the inside for visitors and outside of the park to the public for business sustainability during the off-season.

Like the horse-friendly (human) restroom in Helen Howarth Equestrian Park, all eating shops, restrooms, and picnic areas will be flanked by small, shaded turnout spaces for horses. These outdoor "stalls" will have pea gravel for drainage and offer water and hay. It will be the rider's responsibility to remove manure from the space after using. Muck buckets and forks provided at each station. Four or more horse holding stalls per restaurant. This system works super well in the horse park in St. Petersburg.

Public access from outside the park keeps the restaurants in business all year round.

Al fresco dining with your horse in a Public House garden is nothing new in England. Even now I see threads on the UK Horse and Hound site with people asking other equestrians which pubs in their county allow riders to tie up and grab a shandy or sandwich.

Mahogany all-weather tables hold hot chocolate for the intrepid winter rider!

Picnics, rest, and reflection can take place anywhere along the paths - not just at the luncheonettes.

The property will be posted with no hunting signs!

And outbuildings and bathrooms will be kept quaint, crisp and clean with...

Riding through the orchard will be encouraged.

Riding in and around cutting flowers will also be allowed. Hopefully, manure gathered from paths and composted into well-rotted (Black Gold) soil  can be  used on flowers, orchard, and vegetables.

My idol in the Skagit Valley, Floret Flower Farm! Oh, to have her as our flower farmer!

Definitely riding is permitted here!

The open land that is not planted can be left wild as free hand-grazing areas and for meandering farm tracks (below) for riding and running. I have had a lot of success with allowing large areas of land to grow wild (above) and then my farmer, Ron, uses his small equipment to cut the weedy grass into cattle hay twice a year. His equipment is old fashioned and tiny and gets into little spaces and around trees and groves of trees which would be perfect to keep the park setting without getting too tidy.

Farm tracks for running, riding...

and skiing!

Inside the park there can be a horse friendly snack bar - with treats for humans and horses.

Naturalized bluebells on the woodland trails, above and below. Small and manageable spaces allow for some whimsy - especially when show grounds and their accompanying structures are not needed to be built or maintained.

Riding through the woods and popping out at the...

Horse-welcoming general store that sells...

...for thirsty boys like Sovereign! Slurp!

Organic produce grown on site by someone like the insanely talented Laura...

to keep us healthy with all this après-ing we'd be doing! Her vegan creations are just amazing!

Geocaching with horses in the gardens and riding through the wildflower fields...all permitted and encouraged. Horses are permitted everywhere you would want to ride actually - hooray!

9. The Plantation Inn 

My grand scheme is a little daunting. Certainly, I would much prefer to find out that a similar model exists in this country so I wouldn't have to pine and plan for a possible future dream equestrian garden. I am inspired and driven to move forward by two separate forces, however.

First, my original plan to ride horses using a new, unorthodox style was amazingly easy to realize. In a relatively short amount of time the goal was attained which inspires me to keep moving forward and establish the appropriate venue.

My grandfather holding Chaplain.

Second, my grandfather, a Renaissance Man - (architect, pilot, businessman, visionary) followed his own siren's song and built an unusual (for the time) project, The Plantation Inn. After successfully establishing local Drive-In restaurants in the 1950's complete with "curb service" my grandfather decided to change directions and built a Best Western motel on land near our turnpike exit.

And then he added the amenities.

He designed a Par 3, pitch and putt golf course on site. Pitch and putt is not miniature golf. The fairways are long enough to use irons to "drive" which actually is just really long chipping, but still, at 100 yards, it is quite a distance from tee to green. Without the benefit of the internet my grandfather had to travel, photograph, research and teach himself how to build a fully operational 18 hole golf course on a smaller scale.

My dad in red putting on 18th hole, circa 1969.
But the beauty of the project was in his details. He added a pool, picnic gazebo, coffee shoppe and tennis court. The golf course, which was open to motel guests and to the public, had organic shaped bunkers, a stream, two bridges, flowering trees and adorable hand-painted signs at every tee.

People would come from all over to stay at the motel, returning year after year to this modest "resort" - a "country club" for the common man. My grandfather never joined our local country club. He felt at peace, so alive in his own small golf course. You could just tell how much he loved his creation. He would walk around the property replacing divots and picking up trash, whistling and smiling all the time.

I spent many hours in a huge tree that was planted beside the stream. Golfers would cross a bridge right under me and never know I was there. My friends and I would swim and play tennis all day and when we were tired of that we would head to the golf course - a huge, open landscaped playland. So many hours we "cantered" our imaginary horses all over the grounds. We circled around shrubbery and "had picnics" with our "horses" under the trees and by the stream. I am certain my current affinity for riding around trees and landscaped areas comes directly from this time.

There are photos he took of the project as it was being built, complete with his shadow. I wonder, was his heart racing? Was he nervous about what he was creating? It really was just this side of folly for that time period.

My grandfather passed away in 1990 but I think he would like my vision for an equestrian park. He never had horses at the motel - our farm is two miles away - but on our farm he carved out groves and small vistas of fruit trees like he was redesigning a golf course over there. We always had beautiful places to ride our real horses because of his designs in the woods.

A Farewell

So now it is time for me to say so long. I am going to give the blog a rest. Writing (400 posts!) about Pie, Sovey, and Foggy over the years has been rewarding on so many levels. I've "met" all of you and your sweet horses which has been the very best part. I learned so much about horses and horsekeeping from you, my friends. Thank you!

I did finally finish "the book" and had a practice copy sent to me for my birthday in January. I am sad to report that it was a complete flop! It sounded so preachy and annoying - I couldn't read it myself. What a good lesson I learned. I love horses and riding and blogging in little snippets is pleasantly uplifting, but writing a bigger essay can lead to too much soapbox preaching. Yuck.

So, now I will finally tackle the trails in my woods that have been in need of trimming and I will dream daily of forging new paths - perhaps in a magical equestrian garden.

Maybe someday I will return to tell you that we moved into a little gatekeeper's house plopped down in the middle of an equestrian park...

With a bright and airy tack room that overlooks the pastures. 

You can stop by for an espresso...

or an Izze's...

...or a ride with me and the boys through the hayfields and gardens!

Take care! Love you all!