Craft Brings Success
By Ingrid Edisen
Perhaps it’s in the genes or maybe just the
luck of the draw. But for whatever reason, Nancy Fair got bitten by
the horse bug early in life and followed the call of her craft until she
has become a Grand Prix dressage rider. She considers her horses to
be her canvas and is in awe of how their musculature and performance changes
for the better over time.
Based in the Austin area, Nancy recounted her path
recently. She’d just returned the day before from what’s affectionately
called “the Frostbite Show” in Houston, which is the first recognized dressage
show of the season every year. The top scores she’d earned on two of her
horses, Pushkin (“B.J”) at the stratospheric FEI levels and Ubetja now at
Training Level had pleased her. All her work over the winter months
had paid off.
“I was one of three girls in my family,” she said.
And she was the only one who had a hankering for horses. Living in
Washington, D.C., her parents tolerated her requests for a pony at first
by trying to put her off but she persisted. Her desire for horses may
have been in her genes. Her father had had a “brush” with horses.
As it turned out, her grandfather had worked for four U.S. presidents as
the chief steward on the presidential yacht The Mayflower. He had a
good friend who was a colonel and owned several horses. Over time,
the colonel kept after her father, who was small framed and semi-interested
in horses, since the colonel wanted her father to breeze his horses for him.
When push came to shove, though, despite the invitation by the colonel, her
father chose to pursue college and get a business degree, eventually becoming
an accountant instead. But later, Nancy believes her dad encouraged
her horse path. She ended up owning three different ponies and a Thoroughbred
as she grew up from ages nine to fifteen, did the Pony Club and 4-H route
and showed hunters in the D.C. area. She had to admit, though, that
she does not know how her parents, both government workers, came up with
the funds to keep her involved in her horse habit. Neither of her
sisters ever expressed the same interest.
|She applied and was accepted into the Morven
Park International Equine Institute in Leesbury, Virginia, that was at
the time the only one of two places in the country that gave instructor
certification. Unlike the three-month plan at the Potomac school,
Morven Park offered a ten-month study platform. Forty students were
admitted. “All of us were at least ‘B’ Pony Club,” Nancy explained,
“but they took us back down to scratch and began lungeing us without stirrups
or reins daily.” In a way, the school was somewhat like a mini version
of the course at the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Major John
Lynch of England was the director. He’d ridden in the Olympics and
World Equestrian Games and Nancy even has a signed picture of him receiving
a medal from Winston Churchill. The class instructors taught the classes
in “ride formation” and the students had to keep up with the quadrille style
in group lessons. Most of the school horses were donated so the quality
was varied. There were two ex-Olympic horses on campus; many retired
event horses and some off the track. The program offered event training
and taught a balance seat. Among other things, she was given an entire
barn along with thirteen students to maintain and had to plan for the daily
operation and lesson plans for both steeds and riders. In the end,
she wrote two papers—one on barn construction and the other on how to let
a horse down for the winter after a heavy show season. As part of her
final exam, she had to ride at a canter and take the saddle off and hold
it up while keeping the canter the whole time. Morven Park was formed
in 1967 and has since then recently folded, but it served as her springboard.
She took various teaching positions around the U.S.,
living in places such as New Mexico, Florida, and Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
In Florida she got to work with Jean Brinkman of Valhalla Farms in ’75
and showed and trained there. At that time Valhalla had not yet made its
move to Wellington, FL, and was in its embryonic stages of its huge breeding
program. In her late twenties she taught for three or four years at
Patuxant Valley Farms while maintaining a day job as a secretary in D.C.
and teaching lessons at night and on weekends. She remembers taking
a lesson with Olympian Robert Dover in the mid-70’s and it only costing
her twenty-five dollars! Now living in D.C. she married Harry (“Bud”)
Fair who worked for the Defense Department. Little did he know how
much she was involved with horses, at least not at first. Bud was
offered a national research and development post at the University of Texas
at Austin and reluctantly, Nancy said good-bye to the East Coast.
They moved to Westlake, close to downtown Austin and Nancy was delighted
to quickly meet Barbara Boyd who also lived close by. Barbara served
as a pipeline of sorts. She had good classical dressage instructors
coming to her barn to give clinics and teach regularly.
One in particular served as Nancy’s mentor:
Franz Rockowansky. “Rocky” who had been trained at and helped run
the program at the Spanish Riding School, has since died, never stopped
teaching. He was 89 and still teaching at Nancy’s farm, passing away
later that year after his 90th birthday. For over twenty-five years
or so, he’d travel from England where he was based with his protégée,
Olympic rider Vickie Thompson, and teach in the U.S. twice a year.
Nancy formed a bond with him. She recalls that it was at one of the
clinic dinners at Barbara’s house in which someone announced that she,
Nancy, needed a better horse.
“I had a Thoroughbred mare
at the time,” she said. “Actually, she was a dangerous horse to ride
but it was all I could afford at the time.”
Rocky put his arm around her and asked in his Austrian
accent, “You need a horse? I’ll go to England and find you a horse.”
Bud and Nancy, not knowing any better, said, “okay.” Two months later
she received the call. Rocky had found Sable for her, a six-year-old
warmblood that had been used as a hunter hack. So, sight unseen and
only able to watch the horse on a video, the Fairs borrowed the money ($14K)
to purchase what was to become her first FEI horse. Up to that point,
Vickie Thompson had only worked Sable twice a week for two months.
Vickie had ridden in the ’96 Olympics and would work the horse for its owner
who wanted Sable sold. Sable arrived in the U.S. in 1988.
Nancy said Rocky always gave her something new to
work on. “He always kept you a little off balance,” she said.
“I’d always learn something really new with him. One time he’d come
here and teach me how to do a flying change.” So, for the next six
months, she’d perfect that. Then he’d return for another clinic and
check in on her progress and teach her how to do tempi changes.
“I’d never have done that on my own,” she admits.
What it amounted to was she received an education in classical dressage
taught by one of the old school masters and basically kept pure. “He
kept pushing you.”
Nancy admits it takes the right combination.
Not all horses are suitable for FEI work. After she earned her bronze,
silver and gold USDF medals on Sable and had trained the horse herself all
the way up the levels, she realized had attained her goals and asked herself
what was next.
She sold Sable and found herself crying as her aged
partner trotted off “just like a four-year-old in his prepurchase vet check
when she sold him. That’s one thing you should ask yourself,” she
noted, “is my horse sound?” All of Rocky’s horses lived long
lives and stayed sound. He even had a thirty-eight year old that
was still sound. “It’s a testament to your riding,” she said.
Nancy Fair can be reached at Fair Oaks Farm, (512)
413-4462, 1001 Brownson Rd., Dripping Springs, TX 78620.
She then purchased several
horses and worked them to fourth level or so, searching for a new FEI partner.
Each time, she’d sell the horses after she’d gotten them as far as she
thought they were capable and make a small profit. In 1992, she and
her husband purchased their current training facility where she gives lessons
and trains. It is located in Dripping Springs and on fifty scenic
acres. She charges $70 for a lesson; $800 for full training (five
days a week of riding) along with $575 board.
| In 2003 and 2004, she decided
to do the Florida winter dressage circuit just to see where she ranked nationally
and was satisfied to find herself placing at several shows and at least
middle of the pack in the CDI’s (internationally ranked classes that serve
as ramps to the Pan Am Games, Olympics, etc.). The competition in
Florida is fierce. “You really need to be breaking into the 70’s scorewise
at FEI to make it into the top,” she admits. Her scores were in the
sixties but she was pleased nonetheless.
Who does she use to study with now that Rocky is
gone? “I imagine he’s still with me,” she said. She can still
hear his voice and if she gets into a tough spot, she thinks, “now what
would Rocky do?” She explained she has gotten more confident and
no longer gets lost (mentally) as she works her horses. She knows
the path she’s on and what to do to fix a mistake.
“I always go back and redo if we make a mistake in
training.” There is no point in trying to ride through a mistake,
Today she campaigns three horses and has two others
in full training for clients. She also teaches on a limited basis.
Pushkin is a 1993 Pregelstrand son Trakehner, working at Intermediare II
and Grand Prix; Japolita (“Jax”) is a 1991 Dutch warmblood (Claveciombal
daughter) doing Pre St. Georges and Intermediare I; Ubetja is a five-year-old
Dutch warmblood she purchased from Jim and Jody Cunninham and of Flemmingh-Rampal
breeding (the same lines as world champions Anky Van Gruensven and Edward
Gal’s horses) who is now coming along nicely at training level.
Her addresses are: (mailing) P. O. Box 645; Dripping Springs, TX 78620;