Thursday, August 13, 2009

“The one thing I do not want to be called is First Lady. It sounds like a saddle horse.”

Jackie Kennedy grew up surrounded by horses, nurtured her passion and became a highly respected life long equestrian. When she was living in Washington Jackie would often flee the city to the quiet of Kennedy’s 300 acre retreat at “Glen-Ota” in Middleburg. Apparently JFK was allergic to animal fur and did not share her passion for horses. Caroline’s pony – Macaroni – would often wander the White House grounds eating the grass and occasionally the White House roses! There were no stables at the White House for they had been destroyed by President Taft to make way for his modern motorcar! Stombock’s Fine Riding Apparel on M Street in Georgetown supplied Jackie’s equestrian needs. For more formal attire she turned to Oleg Cassini and other haute couture designers. Her connection with Cassini had an strong equine link, for he had been an instructor of horsemanship in the US Army Calvary in Fort Riley Kansas, he had played polo for the army team and had hunted on more than 20 hunts. According to Vicky Moon’s book “they shared the passion although never rode together.” Her saddles were from the Steuben Saddle Company which was founded in 1894 and manufactured in Stans Switzerland. After her death the estate sale estimate for her saddle was $300 - $500 however, it surprised many by selling for $90,500.

Few assigned protective agents could keep up with Jackie when she was riding so a good looking 27-year-old US Parks Department Private by the name of Denis Ayres was assigned to cover her. Ayres eventually became a Sergeant Major of the US Park Police with over 90 horses under his control – most likely housed in the building that is now the DC Archives at 1300 Naylor Court. With guests, Jackie would ride at Rock Creek Park.

Nobody who has ever seen footage of JFK’s funeral could ever forget the pathos evoked by the riderless horse with reversed boots. The horse – Black Jack - was a sixteen year old hybrid between a quarter horse and a Morgan. He served at the funerals of Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and General Douglas MacArthur. “Several years after the funeral, Jackie received a letter from the secretary of the Army, asking her if she might want to include him in her stable. She wrote back and politely declined saying it would be better to have him continue in military service.”(ref) After 24 years of distinguished service he was euthanized at the age of 29 on Feb 6th 1976, he was given a full military funeral followed with burial on the Fort Meyer parade ground, Summerall Field. His stall became a shrine.

Jackie moved to New York (1040 5th Avenue) following JFK’s death after trying to live in Washington. While in NYC she continued to ride several times a week through the Claremont Riding Academy on the upper West Side at 175 West 89th Street. This was a 5 story Romanesque revival building built in 1892 by Edward Bedell listed in the NY Landmark Commission as a National Historic Site. Originally a livery stable, designed by Frank A. Rooke who specialized in stables and factories it is allegedly the oldest continuously operated stable in the country. There were more than 100 horses living in the stable and it housed a commercial sized elevator for the horses along with a 65’ x 75’ arena. The horses (and their perspective riders) were specially trained to be accustomed to the NY traffic.

Jackie usually rode alone in the morning. The Claremont Stables would bring a horse to the Engineer’s Gate north of the Guggenheim Museum at 19th and 5th Avenue for a ride along the 5 mile long bridle path around the reservoir, built by landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead in 1858. Today the reservoir bears Jackie’s name.

“The Private Passion of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Portrait of a Rider” by Vicky Moon, Harper Collins Publisher 1st Edition 2005

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