The photographs vary. Some are of boys on gray hunters and some are of girls aboard bays clearing fences. Regardless, likely most homes in Hamilton and Wenham have at least one such snapshot either hanging in the front hall, bathroom or barn, or stuck between the pages of an old family album.
The riders, the horses and years vary but not the venue. Each is a shot snapped at Labor Day Horse Show, an event that’s been running for 111 years.
Ashley MacVaugh tacks up her horses every morning beside one of these shots, that of her mother Susie, then a teenager, sailing over a hurdle on a dark horse marked by a wide blaze.
No weekend hacker, MacVaugh of Sprague Farm on Bridge Street in Hamilton carries on the equestrienne tradition riding at the Olympic level. And this September she looks to pursue two agendas at Myopia’s training fields.
The first is to see a group of young riders she coaches through a slew of classes at the Labor Day show. And the second is to campaign two talented young horses that she trains in the inaugural that will run the following weekend, Sept. 8-11.
MacVaugh, who’s riding career caught fire when she was selected to be on the United States Eventing Association’s young rider Area 1 team in 1989, is nearly as enthusiastic about her students’ riding as her own.
“I teach all ages from kids to adults and I’m encouraging all of my students to come (to Myopia),” says MacVaugh.
MacVaugh said her work involves teaching and training, including clinics all over the United States.
She recently stepped down after coaching the USEA Area 1 Team for three years, she now works as a horse “Selector” for the team. This means that she gets to travel the world looking at horses with promising talent.
One such trip a year ago unexpectedly led her to a leggy red-bay thoroughbred in county Kilkenny, Ireland. Not able to keep herself from working even on what was a leisure trip to visit a friend, MacVaugh found a horse she couldn’t resist - one that goes by the name “Fernhill Can Do.”
“It was November and he was all fuzzy but he was lovely to ride,” she said of the nine year old gelding she went on to buy. “He was just very athletic, very light on his feet and he’s a goof.”
After a morning workout on Can Do MacVaugh, she stood outside the stall of the other eventer she’ll be riding in the Putnam Jumper Classic, a dark Dutch-bred named “Tactiek”.
“I picked him out as a six-year old (and) my mother bought him in England,” she said of the muscular horse she’s been bringing along for five years, adding, “I have high hopes for him to move up to advanced (level eventing).”
Looking towards the Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic, MacVaugh said Can Do and Tactiek will compete in meter 3.0 or higher.
"The courses generally have the same number of jumps and the same optimum time,” she said. “The difference (between the classes) is the size of the jumps, so a meter 20 class is smaller than a meter 30 class and so on. Jumps in a meter 30 class would be about three foot six inches in height.”
A check at the event’s website reveals that to date only one competitor has registered. This comes as no surprise to MacVaugh or Wendy Wood, another local who intends to ride her Holstein jumper “City Life”.
"There are too many variables,” explains Wood, “The weather, how the horse is going.”
A lot goes in to preparing for the event, she said.
“You can’t just dust off any horse and put him in that ring," Wood said. “No one really knows who’s coming until they show up," adding“ (the acclaimed Olympic rider) Leslie Howard is definitely coming.”
Wood said she is expecting "a really great event" this year with two horse shows during nine days.
Event organizer Don Little exhibited no apparent anxiety about the preparations.
“It’s a horse festival with Olympic style show jumping,” he elaborated, “There’ll be 500 horses. It’ll bring $15 million worth of business into the town. And when it’s all over everyone will have had a really good time.”