“Come on buddy, wake up here,” Anne Kulak called to her 20-year-old horse, London Gem, as she led him across the neatly clipped grass to stand next to a blue step stool.
From on top of the stool, the short, spry, 80-year-old equestrian swung her right leg agilely over her horse’s back. Dressed in white riding pants, a white shirt with a western cut, scuffed black riding boots, a helmet, and black gloves that winked with rhinestones, she sat in the English saddle like she’d been there all her life.
And when you get right down to it, she pretty much has. Kulak began riding at age 8 or 9 and hasn’t stopped since.
On Sept. 23, the Glenville resident was inducted as the 120th member of The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club, an honor reserved for horses and riders whose combined ages total at least 100. Before the award presentation at the Stockade Polo and Saddle Club in Glenville, she reflected on her life in the saddle.
“I started riding just as World War II was evolving,” she reminisced.
Kulak grew up in Hartford, Conn., and spent summers in a small town in east-central Vermont, where she went to camp and took riding lessons.
“I connected there with one of my first instructors, named Sally Swift. She’s internationally renowned now. She was the founder of Centered Riding, which is a way for instructors to better teach people. It’s about awareness and how it affects the horse,” she explained.
In summers during wartime, while in Vermont, the family rented a horse named Ned and a buggy for transportation.
“In the afternoon, my older sister and I, we rode him; we covered the countryside,” she said.
When she got older, she and her sister would ride their horses to Woodstock, Vt., to compete in a 100-mile trail ride.
Indiana to Glenville
After graduating from college, Kulak married, and she and her husband, John, lived in Indiana for 11 years.
“We had a farm and we had some horses and so on,” she said.
In the early 1960s, they relocated to their picturesque farm on Baldwin Road in Glenville, where they raised horses and six children — four girls and two boys. In the 1970s, Kulak got together with a group of other like-minded people and developed the Eastern New York Dressage and Combined Training Association.
“We’ve been very active. We have a recognized dressage show at Saratoga on Memorial Day weekend and we have a recognized horse trial in Chatham in July. We bring other professionals in to give us clinics so we can all be improving our riding skills,” she said.
Even though she’s been riding horses for more years than most people are ever lucky enough to, Kulak still takes lessons.
“It’s an ongoing journey, because you always want to be able to do better and improve. You’re always working on improving yourself and thus improving the horse,” she explained.
With her feet in the stirrups and her hands holding the reins, Kulak said she can escape the rest of the world.
“You get on and you ride and you totally forget about that you need to do this and [that], because that doesn’t count,” she explained. “You just go and focus. ... It keeps you in the moment, and you shed some of your other everyday concerns, because you’re focusing on yourself and the horse.”
Rubbed off on daughter
Kulak’s farm is a performance horse training facility, where she still teaches lessons, but not as often as she used to.
“There’s a lot to running this farm that does occupy me. I know how to mow hay, ted hay, rake hay, bale hay and all of that. We don’t do that any longer, but that was all part of our lifestyle,” she said.
Her daughter, Marcia Kulak, of Glenville and Florida, inherited her mother’s love of horses. She’s a professional equestrian who competes internationally and helps to run the Glenville farm.
“I got the disease from her. It’s all her fault, and I’m so fortunate,” she said, swiping London Gem’s rump with a curry comb as her mother and the horse waited patiently. “I couldn’t be here where I am today without my mom, and I’m very aware of that.”