Hounds were screaming, and the huntsman was cooking. A cattle guard loomed ahead—a coop to the left and a gate to the right. The huntsman veered left.
"Melvin," someone yelled, "the gate’s on the right!"
"Melvin just kept kicking on, right over the coop," recalled Joe Conner, shaking his head and grinning in wonder.
Conner, who has whipped-in to Melvin for years at Bath County (VA), didn’t resurrect that story out of a distant past. It had happened only weeks before Melvin Poe’s ninetieth birthday celebration.
A month or so earlier, I had recognized the same notes of awe and wonder as I stood chatting with Brian Smith, my farrier, about Melvin’s upcoming ninetieth birthday.
Leica was a remarkable horse whose career took her from incorrigible youngster with a vicious buck to an impressive third-place finish at age twenty-four in the grueling MFHA Centennial Field Hunter Championship. She was still hunting and showing at age twenty-seven, when she had to be humanely euthanized as the result of a pasture injury.
With her bloodlines and dazzling good looks, Leica was primed to be an outstanding dressage horse. An imported bay with touches of white, she was registered Hanoverian (by Lindberg, out of St. Pr. Kari) who was also entered in the main stud book of the RPSI (Rheinland Pfalz Saar International) and Holsteiner registries.
But after abuse from trainers who pushed her too far too fast, Leica had other ideas, says owner Julie Whitlock McKee of Grantville, Georgia. McKee acquired the hard-headed mare at age four after the trainers gave up on her. The pair did not get off to an auspicious start, with Leica rearing the first time McKee threw a leg over her. Rearing and bucking would become a regular occurrence.
Poplar Grange is the happy outcome of a potential problem: loss of hunting country to the Piedmont Fox Hounds and unwanted development next to Zohar Ben-Dov’s Kinross Farm.
In 2007 Ben-Dov learned belatedly that more than a hundred acres to his north had been sold almost as it came on the market, and, most worrisome, to a developer.