This year’s Cheshire Point-to-Point includes the inaugural running of The Mrs. Miles B. Valentine Memorial Side Saddle Race, drawing two unique entries: Susan Oakes, a world-record-setting Irish rider and Amy Magee, a side saddle eventer.
If you’re a fan of racing, eventing, fox hunting and all things horse sport, you’re in for a treat! Smack dab in the heart of Cheshire Hunt Country, the 71st running of The Cheshire Point To Point Races on Sunday March 27th, on the same property where the Plantation Field Horse Trials are held. The races are a strong tradition to the Unionville community, marking the end of the fox hunting season and the beginning of the spring race series.
This year promises to be even more exciting, as a new side saddle race has been added to the day’s race card, marking a resurgence of interest in side saddle competition. To pique your interest even more, the Cheshire side saddle race will kick off a three-race series and the entry list includes not only an international world record holder from Ireland, but also a local Pennsylvania competitor who has competed at the AECs aside!
Inaugural Running of Mrs. Miles B. Valentine Memorial Side Saddle Race
Located in the heart of the Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds hunt country, this year’s day of racing promises to be even more thrilling with the addition of the inaugural running of The Mrs. Miles B. Valentine Memorial Side Saddle Race.
The ladies side saddle race is expected to be a huge spectator draw, being the first side saddle race held north of the Mason Dixon Line since the 1930’s. A display of tradition, elegance and bravery, this year’s race is run in honor of Mrs. Miles B. Valentine, who graced many hunt fields with her style, grace and unmatched horsemanship. The ladies will impress race fans by negotiating 1 1/8 miles of brush, timber and coops typical of inviting hunt country. Riding aside whether for pleasure, hunting, showing or racing is making a worldwide resurgence, perhaps due to the “Downton Abbey Effect”, making it a natural addition to 2016 schedule of junior, timber and flat races.
Race and Best Dressed Sponsors for this years race are Middy N Me (who makes the most beautiful American made ladies clothing and sponsors Silva Martin) and Chasing A Fox in A Little Black Dress. The day will not only be thrilling, but will certainly be a celebration of equestrian fashion!
In addition, this race will be the first in a series of three races, including the The Mrs. George C. Everhart Memorial Invitational Sidesaddle Race at Loudoun Hunt April 17th in Leesburg, Virginia and the High Hope Ladies Side Saddle Race May 22nd in Lexington, Kentucky. An overall championship will be awarded at the end of the series to honor the season’s high point ladies side saddle rider.
Two entries in The Mrs. Miles B. Valentine Memorial Side Saddle Race are drawing special attention: Susan Oakes and Amy Magee.
Susan Oakes: The Flying Irishwoman
Susan Oakes is no stranger to Horse Nation: she’s gained notoriety here first for hosting the world record-setting most ladies riding aside to hounds and for setting another world record by jumping a 6’8″ puissance wall sidesaddle. World records aside, Ms. Oakes of Navan, Ireland is a horsewoman through and through.
Susan Oakes was born into a horse-loving family. Both of her parents rode and embraced her desire to ride side saddle, which began at the age of 4. She hunted with her family and was a member of the Meath Hunt Pony Club, Dublin, Ireland with whom she competed nationally and internationally in show jumping, eventing and in triathlons.
Ms. Oakes also had a keen interest in showing her mother’s Connemara ponies and show horses, and has won at the Royal Dublin Horse Show on numerous occasions, both astride and aside. She became the youngest RDHS judge at the age of 16, and now judges in-hand, astride, working hunters and side saddle classes.
She graduated from Trinity College in 2004, and currently has two dental practices in Ireland. Before work, she spends her mornings exercising and training her yard of point-to-point race horses, which she races on the weekends. She is known internationally for setting the current world side saddle high jump record at 6’8”. Her future goal is to set a new side saddle jump record of seven feet or more over a puissance wall in the USA.
In addition to her aforementioned world records, Susan Oakes’ numerous accomplishments include:
- Won the Irish Hunt Horse competition riding Croboy Rambo.
- Represented Ireland numerous times eventing at junior level.
- Rode side saddle in two movies, including Lassie.
- Set the world record for side saddle jumping at 6’5” over the triple bar.
- Set a world record for jumping side saddle on a Connemara pony over a puissance wall at 1.35m.
- First woman to open an international puissance competition by jumping the puissance wall aside.
- Won the inaugural running of the “Dianas of the Chase” side saddle race in England (with a bitless bridle).
- First jockey, male or female, to win a race over three miles and 15 fences in a bitless bridle.
- Rode in the world-famous La Touché cup at the Punchestown Racecourse twice.
- Represented Ireland in the world Arab racing series.
- Organized two record setting gatherings for ladies hunting side saddle, with 50 ladies in 2013 with Meath Hunt and 62 ladies in 2014 with the Tara Harriers Hunt.
- Master of the Grallagh Harriers Hunt in Ireland from 2013 – 2016.
- Rode aside in the inaugural 170th reenactment steeplechase race from Doneraile to Buttevant.
- Took 2nd place in the first ever running of a side saddle flat race in Wincanton, UK.
- Participated in a side saddle jumping display at the opening ceremony of the European Championships in Aachen, Germany in 2015 with 50,000 guests in attendance.
- Holds the astride Irish ladies’ puissance record.
Amy Magee: An Eventer Aside
Amy Magee started her eventing career the conventional way — that is to say, riding astride. She competed her own homebred Aaspen’s Black Diamond, reaching her goal of a CCI* at Morven in 2003. On the side (pun intended), Magee dabbled in sidesaddle, competing aside a few times at the Devon Horse Show.
When respiratory issues forced Magee to drop Aaspen down to a more manageable level, however, the idea to attempt eventing aside took root. Magee actually found riding aside to be more comfortable after she suffered a riding accident in 2001 which broke her pelvis, back and left hip — as the left leg does little work when riding sidesaddle, the position was a logical fit for Magee who is still weak in her left leg to the day.
In their first attempt competing aside, Magee and Aaspen placed at training level at Fair Hill in 2004. This first experience was followed by two wins at Plantation, more placings at other events and ultimately a fourth-place finish out of 66 competitiors at the AECs in 2005 — all while competing sidesaddle. Aaspen was named the USEA Area 2 reserve champion for training level as well as the Zone 2 and National USEF reserve champion for ladies sidesaddle.
Aaspen went on to compete in sidesaddle hunters and then evented in beginner novice and novice with teen riders. Magee had two children while training and competing a new horse. The idea of sidesaddle riding fell by the wayside, a special bond she had shared only with Aaspen. It took introducing a new rider, a friend of Magee’s, to the art of riding aside that rekindled the idea of taking up sidesaddle again: Magee went hunting aside for the first time since 2005 at Thanksgiving of last year.
Magee now has plans to compete this season at novice riding aside, with hopes to move to training at the end of the season — as well, of course, as The Mrs. Miles B. Valentine Memorial Side Saddle Race at the Cheshire Point to Point Races.
“I love helping others take up riding aside,” Magee states. “I love riding aside and it is my preferred method: I always sit a little straighter and smile a little wider when aside. It just makes me feel elegant and feminine. I feel very secure and safe and hope to show others that it is an option for those that wish to pursue it.”
About The Cheshire Races
Founded in 1946 by Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds, the Cheshire Races is located at the Averell Penn Smith Walker Memorial Course at Plantation Field in Unionville, Pennsylvania. In addition to the side saddle race, the day’s schedule features pony races, a junior field master’s chase, a flat race and multiple races over timber including the Cheshire Bowl.
Used as a prep race for the Maryland and Virginia timber racing circuit, many past Cheshire Bowl winners have gone on to win the Maryland Hunt Cup. 2015 winners Mark Beecher and Grinding Speed (trained by Alicia Murphy and owned by Michael Warton) retired the bowl after their third consecutive win. Grinding Speed also went on to be the 2015 National Steeplechase Association’s Horse of the Year.
The first horse to retire the Cheshire Bowl was in the late 1940’s was Our Hobo, owned by Mr. & Mrs. Plunkett Stewart, ridden by John B. Hannum III and trained by his wife, Nancy Penn Smith Hannum who was the Master of the Hunt having succeeded her stepfather, Plunket Stewart, who founded the Hunt in 1912. Current race chairman “Jock” Hannum continues to keep this wonderful tradition of the Cheshire Point to Point Races alive for many generations with an eye to the future.
The race committee is grateful to all of their sponsors and supporters, including Glenmede Wealth Management, returning as Presenting Sponsor and to Middy N Me, sponsors of the inaugural Mrs. Miles B. Valentine Memorial Side Saddle Race! Proceeds from the Cheshire Point to Point Races benefit the Cheshire Hunt Conservancy.
For more information about the Cheshire Point to Point Races such as tickets and race day information see the website at www.cheshirepointtopoint.com. Reserved parking and tickets are available through the Hunt Office, which can contacted at 610-347-1918 or [email protected], or at the main gate on race day off of Route 82.