Friday, August 13, 2010
All in the family:
Elizabeth (“Liz”) Platais, recognized world expert on Connemara Ponies, occupational therapist, mother, gardener and caretaker of the Elliot family lore, has returned to live in her childhood home, River Road Farm, with her husband Maris (see Mosquito, July 30, 2010, page 1).
When her mother Pagey Elliot passed away in March 2009, Liz and Maris began the time-consuming process of moving to the farm. “We’d never really moved before!” Liz exclaimed.
“We moved into our old house on Bedford Road in ’68,” Maris explained. “Back then we could move, probably, in two automobiles.”
“We’ve been trying to settle in here (at River Road Farm) since my mother’s passing,” Liz said. “But technically, we’ve only been here in the house since two days before Thanksgiving (2009). When we sold our old house, the buyers, who are lovely people, wanted to move in right away. So we just boxed everything and dragged it up here. The barn has stuff in it. There’s still stuff in the wood shed here and the other buildings as well. So that’s my summer project,” Liz said with a smile.
The advantages to living on the family farm are many. “I think probably the biggest plus in her life” Maris said of the move, “is that now she doesn’t have to get dressed and get in her truck to come up here to see a mare in foal or to do some of the little chores.”
Describing how Liz used to hustle up to River Road Farm, Maris said, “That meant that in early spring, late winter, she would have to scrape off the windshield and get the car running because we didn’t have a garage at the other house. Sometimes she would drive with her head hanging out the window so that she could see, to get to the farm.”
“It makes me feel good to know that her life is a little easier, a little simpler on that score. Now she can just stumble out of bed and walk over with whatever she’s got on,” Maris said, with a smile.
A Pony Pro
Liz said “We have always been horse people. When I was a child, some friends brought in 23 Shetland ponies for us to play with. We had no harnesses for them. We rode them everywhere with halters and hitch ropes and played cowboys and Indians over these fields.”
Today, Liz is a respected licensed Breed Inspector for the American Connemara Pony Society (ACPS). A former horseback riding instructor, she still has a current Massachusetts Riding Instructor license.
“There are 13 breed inspectors right now,” Liz said. “We cover the whole country. Our Connemara Ponies cannot be registered for breeding without an inspection.”
Liz was the president of the ACPS from 2000 to 2003. She has spent years helping to develop the American Connemara Pony Society and establishing breeding standards for American Connemara Ponies.
“The whole history of the Connemara is fascinating,” Liz said enthusiastically. “The Connemaras originated on the west coast of Ireland. The [legend] is that shipwrecks all along the coast brought in Andalusian stallions. They swam ashore and mixed with the native ponies.”
Connemara Ponies are known for their intelligence, willing dispositions and versatile athleticism. “The pony had to work in the fields all week. It had to go to church with the carriage on Sundays and then it had to produce a foal, at least one foal. And that foal sold for six or seven hundred pounds back then, and that carried the family through the next year.”
“Liz is also a successful breeder of Connemara Ponies under her barn- name of Concord River. “We try to have a foal every year or every other year. I have a mare imported from Scotland and another one from Ireland. Of course when you’re president (of the ACPS) everyone wants to sell you his or her pony. I did succumb to bringing two over,” Liz chuckled. Liz’s Irish mare is in Virginia, being bred right now. “She should be back up here in two or three weeks.”
“At one time we were up to 14 ponies here but through attrition we’re back down to five,” Liz said. Soon to be six however. “I’m buying a new pony for the grandchildren.”
Not just horses
In addition to the horses, Liz and Maris have three barn cats, a house cat and a Corgi. Their newest pets are 11 chickens, which are currently living in Pagey’s old dog kennels while Maris constructs what Liz calls their “summer quarters” under the deck of his new studio.
“Mother always had chickens here. Marilyn Harte and Terry Golson are helping me get going with chickens again,” Liz said enthusiastically. “I have two Rhode Island Reds and some Bantams. Terry wanted me to have chickens that look like Golden Retrievers, so I also have Buff Orpingtons, which are an English breed,” Liz said. “My grandchildren handle them daily, so they’re really quite social. They’re just darling, such interesting animals,” Liz went on. “They’re going to be laying chickens, but mostly I want them as pets.”
A new old endeavor
Once Liz’s mare is back from Virginia and “everything settles down,” Liz has plans to take up cutting jigsaw puzzles again. Pagey was a renowned puzzle maker, who cut over 1,500 puzzles and often collaborated with Maris.
“I’ve just gotten a saw of my own. It’s a Hegner jigsaw with a quadruple-ought blade, as thin as a piece of your hair. My new saw is out in the laundry, right where my mother had her saw set up.”
“This farm was originally called Riverside Farm,” Liz explained. “So that’ll be the new name of my puzzle company, Riverside Puzzles. And I’ll be using some of Maris’ paintings as well. Don Emmons is also helping me,” Liz added. “Mother got him started cutting puzzles and …he’s been really helpful.”
Sharing the Land
Liz said “My family has had the farm since 1946 and we have a long tradition of keeping it open for the town to use and enjoy. Mother wanted to do agility at age 86 or 87 and the agility group was meeting on a cement parking lot somewhere. She said, ‘Well I’ve got a field,’ and she invited them in here.
The farm has a huge tradition,” Liz continued. “It’s been used for field trials. The Yankee Golden Retriever Club started here. And now [there are] a huge group of people involved in field trials.”
“Bob Seawright started his daylilies here. Mother went to a hemerocallis (daylily) meeting and met Bob and Love Seawright and again she said, ‘Well, I’ve got a field.’ And so they were in what we call the Lily Paddock, which is a horse paddock now.”
“There were sled dog races here along the (Concord) river. They went out all along the river. They started by the ponds and they would go six to12 miles in a loop.”
“The 4-H horse club had horse shows here and we had a hunt course that went up behind the ponds.”
“During the Cold War, the ham radio operators would set up their equipment back on one of our biggest, highest fields way back by the river, as part of the civil defense effort,” Liz said.
Liz and Maris continue to generously share their land with local organizations. The ARFF (Agility is Really Fun for Fido) Agility Club stores their equipment in two sheds and practices weekly at the field known, not surprisingly, as the “Agility Field.” In addition to the agility club, the North Bridge Hunt comes out to the field to train their young hounds.
“At 5 o’clock on Wednesdays all of our friends from agility come pouring in. That’s exciting to see the agility [still] happening in our field there,” Liz said ardently. On pleasant evenings, Liz and Maris enjoy sitting on the patio to watch the agility practice, more often than not with family and friends.
“The agility people are wonderful because they fund-raise when they run their meet up in Westford and that’s to help keep this looking so nice. I’m afraid if horses were in there you’d have little tufts of grass and it wouldn’t look like a beautiful lawn,” Liz said.
“We feel that we are, more or less, just caretakers for the next 20, 30 years of the farm,” Liz said with a smile. “And then it’ll go on to another generation who we hope will love it as much as we do.”
“Twenty or 30 years? I like those odds,” Maris laughed. ∆
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito