The 24th Annual Running of the Willowdale SteeplechasePosted on May 16, 2016
Damn you climate change! The date is May 15, 2016, which is approximately the middle of May. A typical mid-May day in Pennsylvania, to my recollection, is to be somewhere between 65 and 80 degrees. Today, in the year 2016, the temperature is around 52 degrees Fahrenheit with winds 16-30 mph and a real feel of 45. Insanity. The more insane part is that we, of Paperchases & Petticoats fame, did not let the weather deter us from attending the Willowdale Steeplechase in Kennett Square. Because we are horse people. And horse people don’t let a little undesirable weather ruin their plans.
And we weren’t the only ones. The place was packed. After weeks of non-stop rain, we Pennsylvanians were itching to get outside to play. Hunter, Dubarry, and LL Bean duck boots laced up the knees abounded, though mud was scarce and the turf was perfect. A few women were strong and sported dresses I’m sure they’d chosen a month before, but were no longer practical for the elements. You go girl. Lindsay and I left our dresses at home and opted for layers, but after about 30 minutes outside realized a down winter coat would’ve been nice.
The first event of the day was the terrier races. My family has owned (rather, been owned by) Jack Russell terriers for years, and seeing so many of these quirky, ferocious little dogs in one place was equally hilarious and terrifying. They were all wisely muzzled for the races, which was a good choice. Without muzzles I’m sure someone would have lost an ear. Or an eye. The prey drive in these little monsters is amazing. Over the lifetime of my parents’ first Jack, I witnessed her swallow baby bunnies, birds, and a chipmunk whole. No chewing. Whole. They don’t care what it is–if it’s moving, it must die. Race organizers rely on this prey drive to get the ornery little things to cooperate, yet they still ran off course. They’re probably the least trainable dogs alive, which is what makes them so loveable and full of character. (Note: the little demons were so fast we couldn’t manage to capture any clear images. For pictures visit Willowdale’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.).
Before the start of the pony races we attempted warming up with hot chocolate and shopping. Both did the trick. We ended up with a lovely antique coal scuttle from Hoofprints Studio that I plan on putting flowers in and placing in my flower bed. Hopefully it’ll keep the children from traipsing through my yard, but that’s a story for another day…
We missed seeing the pony races up close and personal because our tummies were rumbling and our fingers were purple, but after warming up with some grub from Hood’s BBQ & Deli and Natalie’s Fine Foods we made our way to the rail to wait for the first race over timber to start. My choice for best future jumper/dressage horse was number 7, while Lindsay chose number 8 to win. Yes, these are two different categories, and in a sense I think we both may have won. Number 8 won the race, and 7 crossed the finish without a jockey.
But that’s not the most exciting part of race 2. The remaining horses with jockeys up (plus one without) came blazing down the home stretch. As horses were thundering in front of us we suddenly heard hooves behind us, and turned to see one of the riderless horses had jumped out of the race field and was galloping just feet behind us and heading up the hill through the tailgating area. He disappeared before we got to see if anyone caught him, so I’m going to assume he made it back to his stall safely and no one was hurt.
None of the other races were quite as exciting as that, and I’m sure I probably won’t see another horse jump out of the field in my lifetime! We ended the day exhausted from battling the cold, but thrilled to have been a part of a tradition supporting a variety of important community charities since 1993.