Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Snow geese at Tom's Cove, Chincoteague
This week I will spend a little closer to home and begin with one of my very favorite places to visit, Chincoteague, Virginia. This island came to fame due to Marguerite Henry's writings and the annual pony swim is known around the world with the population of this small island swelling by tens of thousands of people who come to view the swim and see the auction. While I have attended this a couple of times I much prefer to visit the island during the off season. While it is always an added bonus to see the ponies out in the marshes there is so much more to see here. Chincoteague and Assateague are a popular destination for bird photographers, and is a rest stop on the Atlantic migration fly way, you will always be rewarded with bird activity here anytime you visit!. The marshes are always filled with many varieties of ducks, geese, swans, egrets and herons as well as more unusual migrating species.
During my trip to Chincoteague this year I also stopped at the Maryland end of Assateague near Berlin, Maryland and found many ponies sheltering in the trees away from the high winds at the time. I also spent some time in Cape May, NJ, where I was treated to many viewings of various raptors and Bombay Hook, DE for the huge flocks of snow geese (I was treated to my first snowy owl sighting here last year but was not as lucky this year) as well as a mesmerizing murmuration of blackbirds (truly a sight to see!) and Conowingo Dam for some Bald Eagle shots.
Pretty mare in the marshes during our boat trip.
During my visit to Chincoteague we took a boat tour with Captain Carlton and were treated to a good morning on the water. We saw several bands of ponies as well as the lone stallion Copper Moose. This pretty mare was especially photogenic and she looks well prepared for winter! To see more photos from this trip please check this gallery. For anyone who enjoys various bird life and the relaxed pace of island life put Chincoteague on your list of places to visit, you will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Babolna State Stud, Hungary

Storks on their nests in the village of Rust, Austria
Upon leaving the Piber Stud we made our way to Hungary for a visit to the Hungarian State Stud. On the way we had lunch in the scenic village of Rust, known around the world for the storks who nest on the roof tops here. What a charming place this was and we were entertained by the storks as they flew in and out of their nests.
Crossing into Hungary we arrived at the Babolna Stud complete with the Imperial Hotel for us to spend the night and barns full of Arabians and Shagya Arabians with long and illustrious pedigrees and histories of horse breeding. Complete with a museum rich with the history of Hungarian horse breeding over the centuries and barns full of living and breathing treasures this is another European State Stud that works to preserve highly valued bloodlines. We were presented with several amazing Arabians and Shagya Arabians but the highlight of the visit for me was the team of five grey Shagya Arabian mares presented in harness in an intricately hand knotted harness. The perfectly manicured courtyard and the windows etched with horse figures were just a few of the amazingly intricate details that are all a tribute to the history and horses of the area.
Please visit this gallery to enjoy photos from our visit.

The beautiful courtyard at the Babolna Stud

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

World Class Driving in Slovenia

Drivers enjoying the beautiful
 lanes of the Lipica Stud
A Slovenian team of Lipizzaners
boldly exits one of the obstacles
During our stay at the Lipica Stud in Slovenia we were treated to some world class driving. Teams from nine countries assembled to compete for three days of combined driving.
What a treat to see these magnificent horses competing in such a beautiful setting. It was a thrill to be able to photograph the marathon and have a ring side seat to this exciting phase of this driving event. The horsemanship and skill level as the teams hit the obstacles at full speed was truly apparent, as well as the training and trust of the horse and the communication of the whips to their teams.
One pair of Haflingers were disqualified after their rig was turned over after taking a corner too fast but they calmly stopped and waited for their carriage to be righted and all disasters were averted.
What a treat to spend a perfect June day enjoying some of the best competitive driving in the world, and even though many languages could be heard, everyone had gathered for their shared love of the horse, and the closeness of the community of drivers was apparent. Many of these drivers and teams compete at the highest levels and we wish them lots of luck!
Enjoy a gallery to the images here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Piber Stud, Austria

The young stallion Pluto Capra 78 showing us his moves!
I am not ashamed to say I felt a little misty eyed when our week's stay at he Lipica Stud drew to an end and it was time to say goodbye. I know that Lipica will always have a special place in my heart with many fond memories of this magical place, and I know I will return some day.

We hit the road and were treated to a day driving through the beautiful Slovenian and Austrian countryside. In June everything was green and picture perfect and we took the time to explore some of the local attractions. Before we left Slovenia we enjoyed a visit to the Bee Museum in Radovljica. Bee culture is a part of the history here with wonderful folk art illustrating and preserving history and traditions painted on old beehives, making them true works of art.
The sky in Austria turned dark and dramatic and we traveled through many tunnels as we made our way to Austria with magnificent panoramas wherever we turned.
Mares and foals grazing at the Piber Stud

We spent a day at the Piber Stud, charmed by the fairy tale setting and richness of history. The Piber Stud produces all the stallions that go on to perform at the Spanish Riding School and we were treated to several young stallions playing at liberty and enjoyed time with the mares and foals. The Stud gives tours to thousands of visitors a year and also has many school groups who come and learn the history of the Lipizzan horse. The oldest resident was Neapolitano Nima I, a stallion foaled in 1979, a popular favorite at the Spanish Riding School for many years and now retired and living out his days in comfort at the place where he was born, a true testament to the program and the hardy and sound nature of this breed.

On the following day we drove up the side of a mountain for 45 minutes and arrived at the stud where the young stallions live for the first four years of their lives. After turn out in the morning the boys gallop up the side of a mountain and enjoy grazing in the fine Alpine meadows. While there is always a little "horsing around" to be expected, these young horses live peacefully together and are given the time and freedom to develop physically and socially.
Young stallions grazing in the Alpine Mountain meadows

One of my favorite stories from my Lipizzan trip was the story of the bell stallion. The stallions always have overseers with them, and they are closely monitored daily. While the herd of 50 or so young stallions runs free in the big pastures of the Alps from the time they are yearlings until the age of four, one stallion is assigned the job to wear the bell. While the bell is used for the caretakers to locate the herd in the fog, it is also a big responsibility for the stallion himself. The stallion must be a leader, and for the rest of the stallions to come to and follow with respect, especially the younger ones. Not all stallions are able to handle these responsibilities and other stallions have lost the privilege due to lack of leadership skills or being too aggressive. I saw this in action when I spent a morning with the herd, where the stallion would periodically check on the rest of the herd, it seemed to me he was well chosen for the task. So much that we can learn from these horses and the people who have preserved the breed for 500 years!
Here is a complete gallery of images from our visit from the Piber Stud

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lovely Lipica

With a visit to the Spanish Riding School in bustling Vienna under our belts, we made the trip to Slovenia and to the bucolic Lipica Stud, the cradle of the Lipizzaner horse. With a hotel right on the grounds and the stables just a short walk away, Lipica is friendly and welcoming to visitors and eager to share their treasure, the Lipizzan horse. Since 1580 Lipizzans have been bred here uninterrupted with the goal of preserving this special and iconic breed. With approximately 350 horses on the stud a visit here is truly a special experience. Foals are raised in groups and not weaned until they are six months old. Every day they run with their mothers to spend the day playing in the large, fertile pastures with big old Oak and Linden trees. People from not only around the world but also from the local area come to enjoy this scene. On a rainy day the air is fragrant with the scent of lavendar and linden, a truly sensory experience! The mild weather of the Karst region makes for ideal conditions to raise horses. Italy and Croatia are nearby, so day trips to explore the region make for fun adventures.

The foals are weaned at the age of six months and at that time they are divided by sexes and continue to grow and live in herds. the stallions move to a nearby stud and play and spar together until they are four years old. At four years they start their training, and all the horses are trained and evaluated before they are added to the breeding groups. Many stallions and geldings train and compete in dressage and in harness and are worked on a regular basis.

Lipica has performances open to the public on a daily basis, guided tours of the stud in several different languages and their beautiful museum and gift shop are not to be missed. They also host competitions of all sorts and we were treated to some world class driving while we were there. What a thrill to see the best the of the sport from around the world competing on a perfect day!
I took many thousands of images during our week there, please take a look through this gallery to get an idea of the beauty of this place and it's wonderful horses. I hope to return again soon.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Vienna and the Spanish Riding School

Andreas Hausberger, Chief rider of the SRS
and Maestoso Bellamira sharing a moment
 at the end of their training session
This week we will take a trip across the ocean to enjoy the horses and history of the Lipizzan horse.

In June of 2014 I was lucky enough to make the trip to Europe for three weeks of Lipizzan immersion. My friend and fellow photographer Gabriele Boiselle arranged a tour to visit the Spanish Riding School, The Lipica Stud in Slovenia, the Piber Stud in Austria as well as the Hungarian State Stud in Babolna, Hungary. It was a dream come true and far exceeded my expectations!

We spent several days in Vienna enjoying the sights, the food and the people. The weather was delightful and we walked many miles enjoying this wonderful city. The rich history reflected in the architecture and statues everywhere as well as the horses and carriages took us back to an earlier time when horses were part of every day life.

We spent one morning enjoying a training session at the Spanish Riding School and were lucky enough to be granted permission to photograph. Several sessions of training took place, from younger horses starting with basic training to older stallions doing the more advanced maneuvers under saddle and on the long lines. After the training the stallions wait patiently to be given their sugar which is kept in a special pocket in each rider's jacket. We spent some time touring the stables with the amazing tack room and friendly stallions. I can understand why people from around the world make this place a destination.

Visiting the stables at the SRS and a photo op
with two of the stallions, riders and Dr Max Dobretsberger.

It would be an understatement to say how special this experience was, to sit under the chandeliers in this world famous and beautiful riding hall watching the stallions being put through their paces! The tradition and pride that everyone feels for the horses is evident everywhere and was only reinforced as we continued our travels to the studs where this ancient breed is being preserved. Stay tuned to this blog this week as I take you next to Slovenia to the cradle to the Lipzzan horse, the Lipica Stud!