Massachusetts Horse — February/March 2011
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Bavin And Chestah
Stacey Stearns

In 1980, Jackie Kane founded the Pompositticut Farm Day Camp and Heels Down Riding Program at her parents’ farm in Hudson. Jackie uses any child-safe breed of pony or horse for the program, and has built one of the premier day camps in the region. Heels Down is a unique, full-day program of mounted and unmounted equine pursuits for children ages 9 through 15.

The farm, comprising 60 acres, is home to 34 horses, two of which hold a special place in the hearts of many campers and staff. Ain’t Misbehavin (aka Bavin) and Attitude Adjustment (aka Chestah) are six-year-old registered Haflinger geldings, and their stories are intertwined with each other and with the farm.

One Horse Started It All In 2002, Jackie and a nonhorse friend, Natasha (known as Nattie), were out pony shopping for the camp program. While visiting one farm, Jackie and Nattie saw an unbroke two-year-old Haflinger filly in the field. Nattie really liked the filly and told Jackie she should buy the “Barbie pony.” Jackie laughed; she needed broke ponies. “As we got in the truck to leave, the filly whinnied,” recalls Jackie. “Then she followed the truck down the driveway, whinnying at us. As the days passed, Nattie kept calling me and asking if I was going to buy the Barbie pony. I called the owner and bought the filly.”

Candleglow CC (aka Candee) went to live at Pompositticut Farm. By the time Candee was four years old, Jackie was using her with the campers.

“Candee is the initial reason why I purchased more Haflingers,” Jackie says. “She does everything except clean her stall and other barn duties, but will keep amazing company and provides entertainment of all sorts while you’re working around the farm.” She continues: “I fell in love with the Haflingers’ versatility, disposition, and personalities — those are the most rewarding things about working with them.”

In 2004 Jackie went to the Haflinger breed registry sale in Ohio and bought six more Haflingers for camp, among them two pregnant mares, Miss Orphanannie Walnut LN and Manjana NTF.

Born on the Farm

Bavin and Chestah were both born at Pompositticut Farm in March 2005. The two mothers, nicknamed Annie and Yanni, lived side by side and their pregnancies aligned. The foals were born within 12 hours of each other. As foals, they wrestled in the fields, then became mischievous yearlings, and then grew into the role of active members of camp. Both geldings are friendly and sensitive and always entertain the campers and staff at Pompositticut.

“From their birth, both foals have been a hundred percent involved in the day camp program,” says Jackie. “Their list includes every aspect of horse care as we know it, from brushing and ground manners to riding and driving.”

The Early Years

Jen Brogie has been involved with Pompositticut Farm for several years. She began as a camper; later became a Heels Down participant and then a Junior Wrangler; and most recently served as a staff member. Jen is currently a veterinary science student at the University of Kentucky. “For the past five summers I have worked with Chestah and Bavin, giving them exposure to many different disciplines and experiences,” says Jen. “As five-year-olds, they know so much and we forget they’re only five because they never back down from any challenge we give them.”

Jackie and Jen started Bavin and Chestah under saddle when they were two and a half years old. Jen put her weight on their backs while Jackie led them around. Jen recalls, “They were workers from the beginning, and weren’t surprised by much.”

In 2008, when Bavin and Chestah were three-year-olds, Jackie and Jen spent the spring and summer teaching them to steer, halt, respond to leg and voice commands, and begin to learn transitions. “That summer,” Jen says, “we were able to integrate them further into the camp scenario, being involved in the trail rides led by staff and as a teaching tool for some of the advanced riders in the elite riding program, Heels Down.”

Jackie competes in combined driving events and wanted to introduce Bavin and Chestah to the sport. Both geldings were taught to ground-drive. As their training progressed, their individuality became even more apparent. Both horses continued to work under saddle and in harness, but Bavin spent more time on his saddle work whereas Chestah received extra time with Jackie to advance his driving. They were also lesson horses in the Heels Down program once or twice a week.

Bavin

Bavin stands out in one very special way. His father, Alex NHH, is the tallest Haflinger stallion in the United States, and Bavin inherited this gene: he measures a lofty 15.1 hands.

Jackie asked Jen to spend more time riding him, so Jen spent the winter and spring of his three-year-old year working On figures, transitions, and canter leads. She says he’s smart and challenging, and likes to be kept busy.

“When Bavin was three, Jackie took a couple of the staff and horses to Bradley State Park in Hamilton for a day of trail riding,” says Jen. “It was Bavin’s first time out with the big boys and he absolutely loved it. He marched along for three hours with his ears pricked forward the whole time.” Jen had not introduced Bavin to jumping prior to this trail ride, but he was eager to have a go, so she let him try several small cross-country jumps set up at the park. “He jumped anything I pointed him at,” she says.

Bavin was leased to Carol Hill, of South Dartmouth, after the 2008 camp season was over, and again when camp concluded in 2009. (Many camp horses are leased out from September through June.) With the help of Carol’s trainers, Lauren Clegg of Pinegate Farm in Swansea and Dawn Zuchtmann of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Carol spent two successful years leasing Bavin.

Carol fondly recalls, “Our biggest adventure was in October 2009 at the Rhode Island Horsemen’s Association Hunter Pace in Portsmouth. We walked, trotted, and cantered our way around the beautiful fields and trails near Glen Farm. Bavin was a total star and all the competitors commented on how well behaved and handsome he was, with his gorgeous double mane. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with a young horse and am very grateful to Jackie for trusting me with him for two years.”

Chestah

Chestah is also incredibly smart and responsive. “I love seeing Chestah give our Heels Down girls their first experiences on the cross-country course at Pompositticut,” says Jen, “because he’s enthused to show them how great it is.” Chestah has competed at both combined eventing tests and combined driving events.

Combined driving consists of three phases: dressage, marathon, and cones. The marathon involves traveling through obstacles on a course that tests a horse’s endurance, speed, and relationship with the driver. Jackie drives Chestah; Jen rides as navigator on the back of the carriage. The navigator keeps time on the course, helps navigate through obstacles, and keeps the back wheels on the ground. It’s a fast-paced sport that requires excellent communication among horse, driver, and navigator.

For the past two years, Chestah has been competing at training level and shows no fear. Jackie says his biggest accomplishment was in June 2010: “I competed with him at Connecticut Valley Horse Driving Trial under ‘R’ judge Dana Bright. Chestah was dressage champion of the day, which is awarded to the best dressage test of all levels. Even though we were in the lead in our division after the dressage phase, I still took it slow during the marathon, and time penalties dropped our final placing.” There were 26 horses competing at Haddam Meadows that day. Jen was navigator: “Chestah was fit and cooperative. He shows improvement at every competition,” she says.

Many Adventures Await

For Jen, the opportunity to work with Bavin and Chestah has been life changing: “The most rewarding thing has been seeing their progress. I remember when we were teaching them to stand on the cross-ties and lead. Watching them grow up each summer has been amazing, and I love to see what they bring to the table each year.”

Seeing how well Bavin and Chestah did in the camp program prompted Jackie to plan the Heels Down unmounted activity for 2008. Dr. Laura Carmel Spengler bred Yanni using artificial insemination. “This was one of the most outstanding unmounted activities in the history of the camp,” says Jackie. “Although Yanni was confirmed pregnant during the first session, Laura repeated her presentation during the rest of the summer so that all Heels Down campers were part of this amazing program.” Pip was born in 2009 and has become an active member of the Heels Down program.

Jackie could not be happier with her Haflingers and their roles at Pompositticut Farm. “The challenge is remembering as they are young at just three, four, five, and six years of age that they’re still growing and developing, and you need to take it slow and be patient. When you do, you have a really reliable pony with a great disposition and a tremendous amount of versatility.”

Bavin and Chestah will continue to have many adventures at camp and away from home. Jackie has found that Bavin prefers to have a one-on-one relationship. Although he is happy at Pompositticut, she believes he would be happier with one owner. When the perfect home comes along, Jackie will let him go. Until then, Bavin will continue Being pampered by the more than 400 campers a summer at Pompositticut.

Chestah continues to prove his versatility — riding, driving, and jumping successfully. In addition to his camp responsibilities, Jackie plans to compete with Chestah in combined driving events again this year. He’s growing into a solid driving pony for the children and Jackie will hand him over to a youth driver in the future. “Chestah has such a wonderful personality,” she says, “and is quite animated, so he has won a place in the forever lineup of Pompositticut ponies.”
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