Friday, August 5, 2016

A Mendocino state of mind

A long, long time ago, the summer I was 9, I spent a week at my grandparents’ large white clapboard house in Woodbury, New Jersey, the town where my mother grew up. To escape her small town roots, she joined the Women’s Army Corps, and although she never left the country, being in the military fulfilled some of her wanderlust. That summer I was visiting, I couldn’t know that within a few years she would move us back to that town to open a business, or that I would attend high school there. That summer I was 9 I only knew I was to accompany my grandparents to their swim club a few hours a day where they hoped I’d make some new friends, and shuck sweet corn and shell peas on the back porch with my grandmother an hour before dinner after which I retreated to my room upstairs that had at one time been my mother’s, bored to tears, lonely, and missing my Pekingese dog, Dolly, who my grandparents didn’t want in their house. The sole thing of interest in that stripped down room was the bookshelf, which held copies of novels by Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud and Leon Uris, authors I was too young to read. The one book that grabbed my attention and that I read all the way through was John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley. “
“Travels With Charley” is a travelogue accounting of the then-58 year old Steinbeck, who in 1960 embarked on a road trip in the company of his wife’s standard Poodle, Charley. To make the trip, he purchased a new GMC pickup which he named Rocinante, outfitting it with a custom camper shell so he and Charley could sleep in the outdoors. But roughing it wasn’t really in Steinbeck’s picture. Throughout the trip, he kept ducking into motels and truck stops and trailer courts, or parked his camper on the properties of his friends. When his wife joined him they stayed in nice resorts. They spent two weeks at the Steinbeck family cottage in California in Pacific Grove, and a week at a Texas cattle ranch resort designed for millionaires.
Last week Mr. Sax and I embarked on a similar journey as we traveled with our Miniature Pinscher pup, Lucy, to Mendocino, CA. It was not our first trip. We visited Mendocino in 1990 while we were living in L.A. A film production company had taken over the town that summer to make “Dying Young” starring Campbell Scott and Julia Roberts. Incredibly, the crew built a 7,000-square-foot house to shoot in on a bluff overlooking the ocean.
In 2016, Mendocino is still as arresting and cinematic as ever. Its winding streets, the view of the sea, the rocks, and bluffs, the extra-oxygenated air, the Boho vibe are all hopelessly alluring. The air is cool. In the morning the entire town is enveloped in a sweet fog. Nothing is too spiffy but it’s not too dilapidated either. There’s quite a lot of Victorian architecture and beautiful flowers everywhere.
Because we had Lucy, the dog dictated our plans. Instead of dashing off to a winery, we walked the bluffs. We got coffee. We lunched where we could outdoors. To accommodate the dog, we rented a tiny cottage with a high fenced in yard. Out back there was a deck and a fully operative hot tub. There was a miniscule kitchen and two organic food stores in town, but we never used the kitchen for anything but refrigerating our wine and olives and feeding and watering the dog.
In the mornings, we arose early and walked Lucy to Moody’s Organic Coffee Bar. Clearly it was the place to be. In addition to the tourists, all the people who worked in town went there, and the arty, possibly homeless hippies, too. One young man in his early 30’s who looked like a scruffy Brad Pitt drank his coffee outside of Moody’s sitting in his 1970’s era Mercedes in the company of his Boxer mix. He had a very pretty girlfriend who appeared to be in her teens. Her light brown hair was hopelessly frazzled in dreads. I saw her sitting on the ground one day along the ocean front road selling handmade brooches she’d fashioned from found objects.
Traveling with a dog is very different than traveling without one. The last time I was in Mendocino we had a small child with us, and the truth is, I prefer traveling with a dog. When you’re with a dog, you walk a lot. While they sniff, you stop and look at things you might not have ordinarily looked at, including clouds. You happily engage in conversations with strangers who want to know more about your dog.
It so happened the management of our rental left reading material on the nightstand. There was only the one book, “The Divinity of Dogs” by Jennifer Skiff. The book is a compilation of true stories of miracles inspired by man’s best friend. To be honest, it wasn’t a book I’d naturally pick up, but it turned out to be perfect. I laughed, I wept. These stories of love, tolerance, comfort, compassion, loyalty, joy, even death were just what I needed. Every night, throughout the entire Democratic National Convention which we had on TV, our one connection to the rest of the world from far flung Mendocino perched on a cliff on the west coast, I lay in bed and read the book, our darling dog Lucy, nestled beside me.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

13 Hands Horse Rescue arrives in Bedford Hills

When longtime Pound Ridge resident Marylou Tortorello took it into her head to rescue horses, it was a mindful decision as well as a heartfelt one. “I’d been donating, seriously donating, to other rescues for many years,” Ms. Tortorello, a horse lover and professional bookkeeper said. “We don’t have children. I make a good living. We have funds. If I don’t get a penny in donations, I can still do this. I’ve planned it this way, that if I have to, I can do this myself.”
Tortorello founded 13 Hands because she couldn’t stand the deluge of heartbreaking horse and dog rescue material flooding her mailbox. “I told myself I needed to do something more than write checks. I wanted to do something more hands on to help these terrible situations. I’d been thinking about rescue for a long time.”
To that end, she founded 13 Hands Equine Rescue, a Not for Profit 501c3 Animal Rescue based in Bedford Hills.  “We specialize in the rescue of unwanted, abused and slaughter bound horses,” Tororella said. “Most of our horses are rescued from kill pens and auction houses where we are their last chance. The slaughter of horses is a highly profitable business and most of the horses are ill-treated, underfed, and scared. Before we bring them to Bedford Hills, they are sent to a quarantine facility for 30 days to rest, receive medical attention and regain their health and strength.” After the health status of each horse is approved by a licensed veterinarian, the horses come to Bedford Hills to begin the next leg of their journey. “Some will be trained and evaluated to see how they can might be used in our therapeutic human-equine connection program,” Tortorello said. “Others eventually will be adopted out to loving homes. Some won’t go anywhere and will be 13 Hands full-time residents.”  
A few weeks ago 13 Hands held its first fundraiser at Courtyard Farm. Some of the 10 rescued horses presently in Tortorello’s care reside at Courtyard Farm where the rescue has leased stalls. “Marylou is my book keeper,” said Kristen Corollo, owner of Courtyard Farm. “I've known her for a long time. She used to ride and take lessons with me. Marylou is definitely an animal lover and wants what is best for her horses. We are hoping to be able to train one of them to be in our school program. He is very sweet but needs education.” The first annual Family Fun Celebration to benefit horse rescue, sanctuary, and education did get rained on, but a good time was still had by all. There were pony rides, live music, specialty foods, face painting and a silent auction.
The event was really nice,” Ms. Tortorella said. “It was blowing rain, but the rain gave us a break long enough to have the pony rides and the petting zoo before the skies opened up again. On the whole it was a great day and we met some really great people.”
Ms. Tortorella has been riding since the age of 5. As a child she attended horseback camps and as a young woman rode at Fox Hill Farms. When she started college, she thought her life’s work would be with horses. “I went to Pace University for Equine Studies,” she said. “But that was a long time ago.”  
A trip upstate to the well-established and highly regarded sanctuary, Equine Advocates, was a game-changer. “Susan Wagner, the president and founder, told me she started her entire operation with about $3,000,” Ms. Tortorello said. “I knew I had more than that.” Her next step was establishing her nonprofit status. “I went to an attorney who helped me expedite the process. There is a horse rescue in Vermont that I support; at their silent auction I won a photo shoot. I asked the Vermont rescue what else I could do to help and they said, ‘Adopt some of our horses,’ so I did. I found a temporary situation in Lewisboro where I knew I could rent stalls.”
Ms. Tortorello knows she is a novice running a rescue organization and is eagerly learning from more established rescues. She mentioned as mentors Dorset Equine Rescue and Lucky Orphans in Dover Plains. Her operation exists at Courtyard Farm and Willow Walker Farm, the latter located on Succabone Road. “I have 11 horses now,” she said. “All of them were rescued from a Pennsylvania kill pen.”
So who are the rescued horses under her care? There’s Pike, a 4 year old paint gelding; Sassy, a 12 year old paint mare; Eyeliner, a 15 year old paint mare; Grandma, 15 year old paint mare; Spirit, a paint mare and former Amish cart horse; Finnegan, 12 year paint gelding and also former Amish cart horse; a 12 year old Bay Pony whose name is, simply Bay Pony; Carmen Mary, a 12 year old Arabian mare; Johnny Handsome or Guapo, a 15 year old Arab gelding; and Poco Harry or Dirty Harry, a 12 year old Arab gelding.
Spirit, she said, was rescued from the PA Kill Pen in Shippensburg, January 2016.
“She was very skinny and just trying to survive,” Ms. Tortorello said. “She is very sweet and not an alpha horse, so she was very beat up trying to get to the food and water which is on both sides of the pen. The horses in the pen are all frightened and some become aggressive fighting for their food and lives. The women working at the pen try to help network these horses to homes before they ship on the trucks to slaughter in Canada or Mexico,” she said. “When I saw the situation with this particular horse I knew it was extremely desperate.”
Spirit, she said, was emaciated, and bleeding with cuts above her eyes. “She had huge bite marks on her body. The other horses were running her up against the walls to move her out of the way.  It was heart wrenching to watch. We discussed that she would not make it through the night if she did not get to a safe place.  The safe place would be 13 Hands Equine Rescue.”
She said funds to rescue Spirit were made possible thanks to a woman named Jennifer who was trying to rescue a horse that did not make it out of the kill pen. Jennifer had paid for the horse and they were going to return her money, but she said give it someone else trying to rescue another desperate horse.  So they gave the money to me, what an honor. I rescued Spirit and Finnegan with the money.  Both horses were former Amish cart horses who gave 100 percent to their masters but were thrown away without regret.  They both are beautiful horses now and greatly loved by all our volunteers.”
  Ms. Tortorello said she feels really good about what she’s doing. “I want people to know what we’ve done.  I feel like I’m putting good out into the world. When the horses arrive, they’re scared. But after awhile you see the changes. They’re happy now. They whinny when they see my car coming up the driveway. They understand they were given a chance.”
13 Hands Equine Rescue invites people to come and visit. They’re also seeking volunteers and have an active wishlist. Most needed are buckets, blankets, halters, wheel barrows and horse treats. When you keep horses, there’s never enough treats.

For more information contact Marylou Tortorello at 914-325-4941,, their Facebook page, or visit the rescue’s website at

Friday, September 13, 2013

The American Gold Cup @Old Salem

The main thing you need to know about the Gold Cup, a top drawer, multi-tiered equestrian event to be held September 11-15 at Old Salem Farm in North Salem, is that it is a spectacle worth watching even if you’re not particularly enamored of all things equestrian. Featuring 600 horses and 300 riders from Europe, South America, Canada and across the United States, the American Gold Cup is an important qualifying event for riders and their horses aspiring to compete in the 2014 World Cup Finals to take place next April in Lyon, France. The Gold Cup at Old Salem Farm has been designated as a CSI-4 qualifying competition by the world governing body of equestrian sport, the Federation Equestre Internationale, of FEI. Only a handful of such events can lay claim to that importance in the United States. The Grand Prix, the epic qualifying event of the five day extravaganza, will take place at Old Salem at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 15, with a $200,000 prize package for the winners. That event will be broadcast live on NBC Sports.
It’s tricky to describe the sheer star-quality glamour and sex appeal surrounding top ranked equestrians and their horses to Americans; in Europe, show jumpers enjoy the celebrity of rock stars. Even if you’re not savvy about ranking riders and qualifying competitions, if nothing else, the Gold Cup at Old Salem Farm can be viewed as a golden opportunity to ogle the athleticism and pizazz of some of the world’s most talented riders and their mounts.
A bit of history about the Gold Cup. Founded in 1970, the show is considered one of the most prestigious and iconic sporting events of International Show Jumping. The first Gold Cup took place in Cleveland, Ohio; since then, the show has enjoyed success in Tampa, Philadelphia, and, for more than 20 years, Devon. Last year, the Gold Cup moved to Old Salem Farm, where it set records for show entries, spectators, and prizes. It’s quite a feather in Old Salem Farm’s cap that for its 34th year, the Gold Cup is returning to Old Salem.
Frank Madden, Old Salem Farm head trainer and American Gold Cup organizer, said the farm recently completed a $30 million renovation, which further established the property as a first-class show facility, highlighted by its pristine Grand Prix field. 
The five day event is estimated to garner more than $6 million dollars in revenues from attendance. Over five days, $465,000 will be awarded in prize money.
Judy Richter, esteemed equestrian, long time trainer and owner of Bedford’s Coker Farm, said she is “delighted” the Gold Cup is at Old Salem. “It’s a fabulous facility, a worthy venue for that prestigious competition,” Richter said. Heather Ward, head trainer and manager of Sunnyfield, said, “I am thrilled that such an event is being held locally. Our community is so involved in horses, it makes sense to hold a big Grand Prix here. We live in horse country and it’s exciting to have a top sport competition like this, especially since our area is home to so many equestrian Olympians, including McLain Ward , Leslie Howard, and Peter Leone.”
Kristen Kissel Carollo, owner of Courtyard Farm, said, “I think it’s great; we are such a major horse community, to have something so big in the equestrian world come to our area is not only huge for us, but an honor.” Carolla said the owners and managers of Old Salem Farm have done an amazing job making it a world-class facility. “These big competitions are so coveted; we’re incredibly lucky to have this in our back yard,” Carollo said. “Kudos to Old Salem Farm. I’m totally looking forward to having the Gold Cup here for a long time.” 
Lendon Gray, a two-time equestrian Olympian and trainer of Olympian and International Young Riders, as well as founder and president of Dressage4Kids, said, “To have one of the most respected established jumper competitions come to one of the most respected jumper show grounds is fabulous. And how lucky are we to have the opportunity to watch some of the best jumper riders in the world compete.”
“Last year it was an all-star cast,” said Michael Morrissey, president of Stadium Jumping and American Gold Cup organizer. “We wanted everybody to come here and have a good experience and go away thinking this was the climax of the season. We feel we really accomplished that. This year, we are particularly excited to share the American Gold Cup in this incredible venue with television viewers across the country.”
In 2012, the North American Riders Group voted both Old Salem Farm and the American Gold Cup as among the “Top 25” equestrian shows in North America.
Sponsored by Suncast, Ariat, Roberto Coin, Purina, Hermes, Danbury Porsche & Audi, Der Dau, Jeffrey Terreson Fine Art, and others, the Gold Cup will take place from September 11th through the 15th. During the week, admission is free and open to the public; Saturday & Sunday it’s $15 for adults; $10 per child 4-12 years; seniors 65+ and children 3 & under are free. Gates open at 8:00 a.m. weekdays; Saturday and Sunday, 12:00 noon.
For more information about the Gold Cup at Old Salem Farm, log on to Eve Marx.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

First day of school/Empty nesters

As I write this, it’s the first day of school for many kids. In some cases, it really is the first day, that is if you’ve got a kindergartener.
All morning my Facebook news feed has been filled with happy pictures of kids, the elementary school aged ones dressed in their “first day” clothes, proudly hoisting their backpacks. Every child’s proud, shining face filled with expectation is a poignant sight to me, as it seems only yesterday when my own son, now a man, first stepped on the school bus and drove away. I still remember ducking my head to hide my tears as he eagerly climbed aboard without so much as a look back, so eager was he to begin his new adventure. Little did I know or understand at the time it was the first of many big departures: his going away at ten for three weeks of sleep-a-way camp; his four years as an undergrad in Oregon; his six months of study in Oslo, Norway; his moving into his first solo-living apartment as an grad student in D.C. Each and every one of these leave takings has felt like a rip or a tear in the fabric of our family, and no matter how many departures there have been, I never, ever really get used to them.
In the past few weeks I haven’t been terribly surprised to see on Facebook a number of plaintive posts from saddened moms who had just packed their first (or last) child off to college. The first kid to leave the nest is, of course, the hardest; it’s even more tear-jerking when that child is your one and only. A few moms posting asked how bad would it be if they just happened to drop in on their college student, “just to say hello.” Pretty bad was the most common answer.
While other moms posted in commiseration about the difficulties of learning to grocery shop minus one, or how many nights they forgot and set a place for the missing child at the dinner table, I was thinking about my sort of step sister, Mary. A couple of weeks ago Mary’s son Will became a college freshman. She and her husband were driving Will to his college campus, 23 minutes away, a distance Mary knows by heart because she has timed it. This son is her first and only child to move out of the house to go away to college. Mary herself did not go, and her husband attended college part time while living at home with his parents. This is a proud moment for Mary, but strange territory, or so she claimed.
I disputed the fact she had no experience packing anyone off to college.
“Don’t you remember how I left?” I asked on the phone, trying to jog her memory. Mary and I are very close, although we have not seen each other for years. The last time we physically got together was nearly a decade ago when we spent an afternoon at the summer home of a sort of sibling we mutually share through our unique familial arrangement.
 “Eddie drove you and I rode shotgun,” Mary said. At the time I was 17, car-less, and desperate to get out of my mother’s house. Eddie was a friend of Mary’s half- brother, Chip, who had a license and a car and was willing to chauffeur. I told him to bring Mary along to help move my stuff, and also to keep him company on the long ride back to south Jersey. To our minds, we were strict south Jersey people and north Jersey was another planet, a planet constructed of concrete, and with twice as much traffic.
“Remember how I told you guys just to leave after we went somewhere for lunch?” I said. “You’re going to do the same thing with Will. You will not unpack his bags. You will not make his bed. You will hug him and kiss him goodbye and then you and Dave will scram. At home you will practice making small romantic dinners. You will hang out and watch TV. You will start to get used to being a pair and not a trio, because this isn’t just the start of your son’s life of independence, but your future with your husband as a child-free couple.”
“You don’t say,” Mary said. She was still adjusting to the concept of becoming an empty nester. I didn’t tell her it takes years for that notion to sink in, especially when the average college student who lives less than an hour from home drops in once a week to do his laundry.
Mr. Sax and I have officially been empty nesters now for about 7 years. Our son’s old room is making the slow transformation into a second den. Most of his personal belongings are gone and we no longer keep his favorite cereal in the house because he’s so rarely around to eat it. We baby our cats and dogs because they really have become our children. The only thing that never changes is the pang I still experience on the first day of school when I see the neighborhood kids proudly climbing on the school bus. I know just how their parents feel seeing them pull away. They feel sad because they know it’s just the beginning.