Island bookshelf: A loving memoir of a time and place

COURTESY PHOTO Ms. Malcolmson first came to Shelter Island in 1969 and decided back then that she would write a book someday about her experiences.

COURTESY PHOTO
Ms. Malcolmson first came to Shelter Island in 1969 and decided back then that she would write a book someday about her experiences.

On Sunday, September 2, the Shelter Island Historical Society will host an art show and book signing from 4 to 6 p.m. The authors featured will be Karen Kiaer, whose book, “Ancestors Through My Eyes,” was the subject of a profile in the Reporter earlier this month (“Finding a family hidden in the past,” August 9) and Diana Malcolmson, well-known to generations of Islanders who have learned to ride at her horse farms. The art exhibit will feature Ms. Malcolmson’s equestrian paintings, which beautifully illustrate the story she unfolds in her book, “For the Love of Horses.”

Ms. Malcolmson first came to Shelter Island in 1969 and decided back then that she would write a book someday about her experiences here. At a series of horse farms on the Island, she built a reputation as a trainer and riding instructor with a devoted following. Photographs from horse shows over the years depict many of the young riders and their mounts.

The book includes articles from the Reporter filled with familiar names, from Sieni to Piccozzi to Klenawicus, winning ribbons with the skills she’d taught them. In an interview recently, she recalled them all affectionately, the horses as well as the students. “This horse, Dante, was the most comfortable I’ve ever ridden,” she said, looking at a painting reproduced in her book. “That other little pony was so dependable, I could put the tiniest riders on him.”

But there is more than nostalgia, as Ms. Malcolmson recalls the struggles over the years to establish and run equestrian centers on the Island. She pays enormous credit to Dr. Bernard Ryan and his wife, Betty, who enabled her to establish a farm on 85 acres, as well as the Murrays, who built her an indoor arena, and many other friends who helped her create the riding school she called Hampshire Farms, after the county in England where she grew up.

Ms. Malcolmson was also active in a completely different struggle — the effort to save Mashomack from development. She had an open letter to the Reporter in 1972 warning the Island that a developer had plans for the 2,000 acres.

“It was all very hush-hush,” she recalled. “But if they had gotten to build all those houses, there would be a bridge today!”

Ms. Malcolmson singles out philanthropist Katherine Ordway for the grant helping the Nature Conservancy to purchase what is now known as Mashomack Preserve, keeping one-third of the Island as a natural wildlife refuge.

“For the Love of Horses” is much more than a personal memoir. Ms. Malcolmson is a gifted artist whose paintings and pastels — nearly all of horses — make this book a visual feast. Throughout its pages, she has captured memorable moments with many of her horses. She broke into gales of laughter recalling a moment she simply had to paint, when a horse named Highlight rolled around to play in the snow and got stuck with his legs in the air. A crowd of horses gathered round and stared, as if to say, “What’s wrong with you?!”

Ms. Malcolmson is a delightful raconteur and the reader will enjoy her stories about nearly every horse she has ever acquired. Once, she heard about a horse for sale for $1,000 and found him in a backyard tied to a tree. The rope was wound around the tree and left little space to move. There was no water in his bucket and flies were besieging him.

She gave him some water and loosened the rope, but couldn’t leave him in that condition. She drove home, got her saddle and bridle, and rode him back to the farm. Although she called and left a message for the owner to explain and offer him his $1,000, “He was most indignant and said that I had stolen his horse!”

In the end, he was happy to accept his check and the horse, later turned over to a caring home, grew into a successful jumper, winning prizes for a young girl who fell in love with him.

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