Several members of an online bulletin board got together over last New Year's
Eve weekend for an impromptu clinic at Tamarack Hill Farm, Southern Pines, NC. Here are some
of their experiences:
It is hard to say when it all began. We are the living definition of six
degrees of separation united by an online bulletin board, except that as
time goes on the six degrees have shrunk to one. I joined the group in
2001, some were there years before me, and others have joined within the
last year or two. What is that they say, you can't choose your family but
you can choose your friends? Well, we are both friends and family and our
reunion was at Tamarack over New Years Eve weekend.
Billed as Camp Denny and planned entirely online, we managed to get 15
horses and 20 people organized to arrive in Southern Pines for our reunion.
This was no small accomplishment. The locals coordinated housing and
transportation for the visiting masses. Rachel flew in from New York,
Denise drove from Georgia, and hordes of us came from Virginia and
Maryland. As for horses, at least half of us ended up riding someone else's
horse for either a trail ride or a lesson. In several cases, the owner of
the horse had never seen the rider in the saddle before, but we know each
other well enough to trust her judgment about her capabilities in the
Arriving throughout the day on Friday, the locals had their lessons while
those of us coming from further away found our way to the visitor's barn
and unloaded our horses. Those of us arriving too late for lessons took our
horses for a quiet hack around the farm and out on to the Foundation. As
dark arrived, we made plans for a group dinner at the local Thai
restaurant. Dinner discussion included bloodlines, our fellow 'family'
members, trucks, and our plans for the rest of the weekend. The highlight
of the evening was Denny telling us about his dinner the night before with
George Morris, including an excellent joke at George's expense!
Saturday and Sunday were similar in format. In the morning we cared for our
horses and then we headed up to the ring to watch the first group go. One
of the things that became clear quickly was that we were not there for
camp. We were there for a 3 day clinic and should've had our notebooks at
the ready. Denny spent as much time teaching the auditors as teaching the
riders. After some time in the ring it was time to head out to the cross
country course. It didn't matter how much experience the horse or rider
had, Denny was quiet and reassuring. The riders that had never jumped a
solid obstacle had huge grins on their faces and the horses that had never
seen a ditch or a bank were crossing them with their ears pricked and
expressions quiet. For the more advanced groups, the jumps were bigger but
the horses and humans looked just as happy and confident. One of the horses
that went out to play on the XC course was a confirmed AA Hunter with the
ribbons to prove his excellence in that career. He was obviously concerned
about some of the scarier things, like barrels and ditches, but with
Denny's quiet presence, he jumped around several Novice and Training jumps
in perfect hunter form and even finished up with the water jump.
I could spend hours and pages detailing all that we learned, although I
missed a chunk of it due to illness, but the most important things that I
learned were not the things you often list when you are doing a clinic
report, but are best summed up with some of the following quotes from my
family of friends.
"Can I tell you my favorite part of the entire weekend? Watching Ellen OWN
those piles of poles. She rode the BSM beautifully, and we all knew her
fear of jumping, but she did SO SO SO WELL!"
"The one thing I noticed about everyone was how much they loved their
ponies, how no one lost a temper or blamed their horses for trouble. That's
really great and that's why NOBODY sucked."
"And I've never seen such a group of happy horses & happy riders. No drama,
no princess-like behavior, no 'it's my horse's fault', just a bunch of
people encouraging their horses to improve & trying to improve themselves."
So thank you to Denny and to my chosen family.
* * *
Organizing camp via bulletin board has its' unique moments. Squillionponies, citypony, and shady
were sharing a house, and Betsy was driving down with hairball, but was Betsy who we knew as
Pixie, or was JulieAnne? People would walk up to the ring, recognize my OTTB from progress
photos online, and squeal, "Larry! You're so handsome! And you must be Jeannette!" We ended up
with 15 people and 20 horses converging in Southern Pines from Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland,
Virginia, other parts of North Carolina, and New York City. Shady won the prize for flying in to
meet the most internet strangers, having had lunch once in Manhattan with citypony, but
otherwise having met the rest of us only via the internet.
You could say this gathering started taking shape in the early days of the equisearch listserve,
when Jane got hooked into the online horse community, or 6 years ago on the Chronicle of the
Horse online bulletin board, when I first met FairWeather and SaddlefitterVA. In the way of
online community, we had met via different bulletin boards, and found each other again when
various boards imploded or grew too large for easy chatting. We had ended up forming our own
small board with probably 40 regular posters, and on this board we had said, "Who is free at New
Years? Tamarack has stalls and Denny will be in town. We can run our own camp!"
At first it seemed like there might be 5 or 6 of us, which would have been fun enough, but
suddenly we hit critical mass and it became clear if you weren't with us over New Years, you
would be missing out on huge fun. People arranged rides online, offered loaner horses, and
discussed driving directions. We had no idea how much education Denny would slip and hammer into
us along the way, but have vowed to return again next year with notebooks for another gathering.
* * *
My eyes focused on a topic "Southern Pines NC Contingent Gathering"..I was
there. Pants said we could meet at either Denny's or her place and then go for a trail ride with
Jnday, Maria, Squillion Superotto. I chose to meet up at Pant's cute little farm. She had a
laugh over my confusion of famed rider Denny Emerson's Tamarack vs. the
moderately priced breakfast restaurant, Denny's.
So we hop on our fiery TB's and head out on the lovely trails, coming
across a field of XC jumps. One of my companions mentioned getting together
a clinic with Denny Emerson. Upon seeing a rather large table in the field,
I managed to squeak out "Oh, you guys have fun, I'm not exactly ready to
ride with him". Squillion, seeming like a sane, honest individual offered
that Denny works with riders of all levels. Something about her made me
trust her, and everyone else seemed excited.but I still wasn't sure- this
was a group mounted on chestnut OTTB mares galloping through the woods
jumping piles of logs.
So I returned home and emailed my trainer, Jennifer who very kindly allows
me to ride her lovely ISH Greta. She confirmed that it was a great
opportunity and was more than happy to loan me Greta for the day. I was
still a bit leery, as Jennifer is one of those exceedingly brave riders who
would happily jump whatever was put in front of her. But part of me knew
that my pal Greta would never put me in harms way.even if everyone else
did. As luck would have it, Superotto needed a horse, so we would be able
to split the costs of the trip..and SHE would be able to do cross country
The big day came and it was really great. After setting jumps for Jennifer
and Andrea's lesson, I felt the urge to run back and steal all the jump
cups. They jumped high and looked great. I slunk into the ring on Greta and
proceeded to warm up. I made a deal with myself to just listen to Denny. I
had a fabulous time, jumping all sorts of jumps, even oogy things like
oxers and barrels. Greta, relieved to have someone sitting up in front of
the jump, jumped her best for me. As I finished up, feeling brave,
confident and excited about jumping, my thoughts immediately turned to
offing Superotto so I could go do cross country on Saturday.
* * *
HI there Denny and May, This is allie, She of broken back, lost camera card, and unofficial
First, It was SO nice to spend time with you two on your fabulous farm. I think I learned more
from sitting and watching everything than I would have on my horse, so yay for that! And what a
treat to have a chance to watch Susan Harris teach alongside, simply awesome!
I hope I can come down for a lesson in the next month or so. I was certainly inspired and
re-energized to get riding seriously again, so thanks for that too.
* * *
My husband asked for my Christmas wish list, "I want to go to Camp Denny over New Year's," was
my immediate reply. Of course he wondered what a Camp Denny was and who would be there, so I
explained that a group of riding friends from "here and there" had decided to meet in Southern
Pines for a long weekend of top notch instruction with one of the country's most knowledgeable
eventing clinicians. He then nodded and said he'd bring his bike so he'd have something to do.
What followed was a group of women from various riding backgrounds - eventers, dressage
enthusiasts, and hunter/jumper riders - as well as riders of different experience and comfort
levels. I'm not sure if Denny's the praying kind, but I felt a few Hail Mary's and an Our Father
would be necessary before we entered the ring. However, he entered the ring for our group
lessons and asked what our goals were and where we were in that journey. Then he proceeded to
teach, cajole, encourage and challenge us to learn the basics in order to achieve those goals.
I found at the end of the 2nd day that his exercises had greatly increased my abilities and
Now we're planning on returning this spring. Oh, and the non-horsey husband really enjoyed
listening to Denny, as well.