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Hobby Horse Inc.

  • Changing Leads

    November 29, 2017

    Dear Hobby Horse Customers, Fans, and Friends,

    Hobby Horse is changing leads!

    After more than 40 years in the lead here, I’m retiring at the end of 2017. I am delighted, however, to hand over the reins of Hobby Horse to a new leader who loves this business as much as I do: Kristin Darnall-Titov. Continue reading

  • The Red Thread

    by
    Suzanne Vlietstra

    Man o' War, affectionately called "Big Red," touched many lives, long after he was gone. Read how one little girl's wish about this legendary horse turns into a grown woman's poignant memory.

    There's a strong, fine thread that runs through my life. It's bright red in color, and binds together memories as old as my childhood and as new as today, as I write this. Part flame, part myth, a little bit of magic that holds the heart and stitches past, present, and future into a thing called 'legend' - the thread is called Man o' War.

    I was eight years old in the summer of 1969, and as horse crazy as they come. A summer holiday, driving from California to Florida, was sweetened with the big bribe: a trip to Kentucky. My father, famous for letting us kids choose each day's route on the map- with an emphasis on tiny blue highways and a strong dose of 'serendippin'- let me plot our path in the bluegrass state.

    I wasn't interested in architecture, unless it was the graceful cupolas on Churchill Downs’ clubhouse, or history, unless it was Calumet Farms' leggy weanlings sired by the great ones who claimed their right to procreate in stretch duels at Aqueduct, Santa Anita, and Hialeah. But there was only one real shrine for me: tucked away in an overgrown pasture in Fayette County, Kentucky, was Man o' War's grave.

    It was hard to find: the famous horse, though still known throughout the world, was in death not the tourist draw he'd been in his prime when the world watched him celebrate birthdays on the front page of the sports section and perhaps half a million fans came to call at Faraway Farm each year. But he lives on in Lexington, and the inquiries of a curious girl finally guided us to Big Red's remains, buried beneath a larger than life metal likeness.

    We approached the holy place and I narrated from memory, in my best Walter Farley style, the big horse's accomplishments: "Man o' War won 20 out of 21 races, and set or equaled eight track or American records at distances from a mile to a mile and five-eighths as a three-year-old, carrying as much as 32 pounds more than his rivals. Bred to what most horsemen consider average mares, he sired Triple Crown champion War Admiral, English Grand National winner Battleship, three-time winner of the grueling Maryland Hunt Cup timber race Blockade, and daughters that produced 128 stakes winners. He caught the public's imagination, and never let them down."

    The visit was splendid for a kid who'd rather ride than walk, and I can recall the smells of the limestone-rich grass as we circled and admired the statue. Dad took my picture standing on the base of the memorial, dwarfed by the 20-hand statue that, perhaps, was a little prettier than the horse himself. Summer sun filters through the shady arms of the oaks and onto my radiant smile, dappling my face and the huge bronze horse above me in the photo.

    I still have that black and white picture, tucked into the frame of another Man o' War memory. A few years ago, I stopped, serendippin', in a junky antique shop on the road to Las Vegas. On a back wall, dusty and faded, was a small framed photo of a horse. I scrambled over heaps of old magazines and boxes of geodes to reach the picture, a photo of a handsome Thoroughbred.

    I turned over the simple oak frame to find, tattered and yellowed, an advertisement for Man o' War standing at stud for the year 1923. His stud fee was $2,500. As the final line of the advertisement, the copywriter had boasted "The first of Man o' War's get, foals of 1922, are uniformly grand looking youngsters."

    There's something else tucked in that old frame. A few years ago, with friends, I visited the Kentucky Horse Park where Man o' War's remains and monument were relocated in 1976. Moving around the base of the statue, reading the bronze tablets highlighting the winnings and sire record of this horse born almost a hundred years before, I read with glassy eyes and tried to keep my emotions from brimming over. 

    At the last plaque, standing just where I'd had my photo taken almost 50 years ago, a single oak leaf drifted down and landed on my shoulder. It's tucked in that frame now, along with the photo. The leaf is vivid chestnut red.

    Writing or riding, Suzanne Vlietstra enjoys horses and their people. Vlietstra is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and runs a boarding stable in southern California.

    All materials are copyright 2017 © Suzanne Vlietstra and cannot be reprinted or used in any way without express written permission.

  • The Jennifers

    by
    Suzanne Vlietstra

    I watch a new crop of them each year on my drive to work: impossibly long-legged, beautiful in a coltish way, hair shimmering over tawny muscles, prancing and clowning in small groups as they make their way towards tomorrow. I call them the Jennifers, these yearling Thoroughbred fillies in a five acre paddock. Whether chestnut, bay, or blackish, these young mares seem a natural mirror of the other group of young girls I pass each morning, on their way to junior high school.

    It's been about six years now that I've observed the equine Jennifers, simply enjoying their sinewy beauty, the way the early sun makes their hair shine in a way no grooming, no potion, will ever duplicate. They swirl and twist in little cliques as they dance around their realm, striding out as if they were stepping onto the track, owning the land under their feet and all the world.
    Continue reading

  • Let's Get Loaded: Horses and Trailers

    by
    Suzanne Vlietstra

    There's nothing like loading a reluctant horse into a trailer to draw a crowd. The dramatic combination of a wild-eyed horse, a frustrated handler, and a small dark box-on-wheels induces ordinary folks to step up to watch the horse vs. trailer circus with morbid fascination. Loading a resistant horse in public view can be a frustrating, embarrassing event--unless you're Clinton Anderson, of course.

    If you contemplate horses and trailers, you'll find there's no good reason any horse should ever step into a claustrophobic, dark closet that rocks and bounces. As prey animals, horses like to be where they can see clearly in a large area around them, and they don't like low roofs over their heads either. Hopping in a trailer probably sets off every evolutionary alarm a horse has. Yet, with patient training and preparation, horses do load into these boxes and jounce down the road at their owners' whims. Usually.
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  • The Wonder Years

    Our equine friends are part of our families, and it's tough to let one go when it's time. Here, one tried and true buckskin pony says good-bye to the family he loved and trained for many years.

    by
    Suzanne Vlietstra

    It's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved family pet when that animal no longer can live in dignity and comfort. Over the years, I've had the honor of helping several friends when it was time to make that heart-wrenching but ultimately responsible decision to ask the vet to end the life and suffering of a special horse or pony. I've also found that taking photos of the horse and its family, and sometimes writing a story about the characters, helps ease the passage.
    Continue reading

  • Bareback Summer

    Let’s go riding... like we did when we were kids.

    For some people, it's vacations and picnics, ballgames and fireflies. For me, summer is about riding. Even though I'm long past the age when the end of the school year heralds the beginning of summer fun, I still look forward to this time of year with eagerness that even the horses seem to sense.

    Finally, the days are long enough to fit almost all my duties and pleasures in before dark: work, family, and a little extra time to hop on a favorite mount and go for a spin--even if it's just a few minutes in the arena. As when I was a child, there's something delightful about coming in from the barn at dusk when I'm still warm and satisfied from a little equine therapy. The barn chores are done, the day draws to a close, and I feel and smell like summer. Continue reading

  • How Not to Sell Your Horse on the Internet

    Which horse would you rather own? These are the same horse, taken a few days apart. Make the effort to take good photos!

    14.5 Hand Gledling for Sale, Cheep!
    (Or, How Not to Sell Your Horse on the Internet)

    Caveat Emptor: That's Latin for 'Buyer Beware' and it takes on deep and serious new meaning to me as I cyber-search for a new horse on the Internet. With a hole in my barn and a chunk of cash in my pocket (from the sale of an investment horse), I've joined the legions of lookers trying to find Mr. Right--well, in my case, Ms. Right--from online horse advertising.
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  • Barn Blind


    What equestrian doesn’t dream of a tidy little stable filled with contented horses and good grass to graze on? Fancy or plain, we’re all a bit barn blind when it comes to our own horse housing.

    A phrase familiar to horsepeople throughout the centuries, 'barn blind' refers to someone's unreasoned pride in their own horse--regardless of actual condition or quality. I, however, use the term to refer to my single-minded focus that sets in when I am in the market for horse housing.

    When I was a kid, sans checkbook and income, barns were simply what we had available. For most of my childhood, that was a ramshackle collection of buildings that had been added to and ostensibly enhanced over the years. No box stalls, just a couple covered sheds attached to a garage with room to store a ton of hay and some tack.
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  • Choosing Showmanship Pants


    Your showmanship pants can add to--or subtract from--your overall winning look in the show ring. Here's how to choose wisely.

    Pant Picks
    In local open or 4-H shows, unfaded jeans with heavy starch and razor-edge creases down the leg fronts create a crisp look that's acceptable in showmanship. For breed-specific competition, however, where your goal is to project the ultimate picture of professionalism, fitted show pants are your best bet.

    Opt for show pants that hug your figure from waist to mid-thigh - without fitting skin tight- then fall close to your legs until they flare over your boot tops and end with a hem that just skims the ground. Also, look for simple designs, without pockets or yokes, and consider side zippers for a flatter fit across the tummy and a figure-flattering appearance.
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  • Light Horsekeeping

    “Fresh Powder”
    Dragging the arena after it rains is one of my favorite Light Horsekeeping chores.

    It's Sunday, my favorite day of the week. Instead of just a quick feed and clean for the citizens of the backyard, Sunday mornings are when I do my light horsekeeping.

    It starts in the garden, with shears and a cardboard box for the clippings. Then we move to the horse yard (we being little Joe in his stroller, and, recently, Hunter the kitten) and start with manure. All week, it's been collecting in my fleet of two plastic contractor wheelbarrows, and now, our barrows runneth over. Screened with landscape cloth to keep flies away, both containers make it out to the dumpster today, get a quick rinse with the hose, and return to duty.

    Then, we de-web and blow. With an old straw broom, I knock down the fresh spider webs that have been spun this week, always feeling a twinge of guilt: Charlotte's Web casts a big shadow from my childhood to the present. If the spiders would make their tapestries in trees, or in barns and buildings in the neighborhood that are never used, they would remain undisturbed. I apologize and sweep away their homes, then reach for the fabulously useful barn tool, the shop vac. Reversing the power so it blows, I use air power and the long nozzle to dust the barn's walls and floor, ending up with a spotless aisleway and just one small pile of hay and dust to pick up.
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