Cora started riding ponies in horse shows at a young age and showed as a junior in equitation and hunter classes in the top horse shows of the time, including the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. In the early 1960’s she bought a small mare, Sight Unseen, that she boarded at the Piping Rock Stables with Mike McDermott, who developed Sight Unseen into one of the top junior hunters of the decade.
Ridden by Sheila Maloney, Sight Unseen was the American Horse Shows Association Junior Hunter Horse of the Year in 1963 and 1964, and was the Long Island champion or reserve champion Junior Hunter from 1962 to through 1966, and again in 1969 when ridden by her Cora’s, Van.
Cora’s involvement with horse shows extended far beyond just competing in them, she also ran several horse shows on Long Island, and judged and stewarded horse shows all over the country.
Starting in the 1950’s, Cora ran the Helping Hand Horse Show at Grace estate in Old Westbury. In the 1960’s, she added the Vixen Horse Show, held at the McLintock estate in Upper Brookville, and Meadow Brook Horse Show, held at the Hickox estate in Old Westbury. Cora hired the judges and put them up in her home, purchased the fences that the horses would jump, hired a jump crew to put the fences up and move them around, hired the announcer, and bought the ribbons and the trophies. All of the proceeds from her horse shows were donated to the United States Equestrian Team.
Cora was a Director, Vice President and Secretary of the Piping Rock Horse Show in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Piping Rock Horse Show was a four-day “A” rated show held at Piping Rock Club, and was similar in stature, and held on the dates currently occupied by, the Hampton Classic.
Cora judged and stewarded prominent horse shows such a Devon, Ox Ridge, Fairfield and Warrenton, as well as the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, where she judged both the Medal and Maclay Hunter Seat Equitation National Finals in 1964, 1966 and 1967. In 1999, Cora was honored as one of the Living Legends of the National Horse Show.
Beginning in 1983, Cora served on the American Horse Show Association (“AHSA”) Hearing Committee, which heard appeals filed by competitors who had been sanctioned for violating the rules of the AHSA. She was elected Chairman of the Hearing Committee in 1997, a position that she held until she retired in 2013.
Fox hunting with the Meadow Brook Hounds was one of Cora’s great passions. Her intense involvement with the hunt began at a young age, when she could be found in the hunt field on her pony, Bric-a-Brack. Meadow Brook hunted three days a week from October through March, and Cora rarely missed a hunt. On the days when there was no formal hunt, Meadow Brook’s huntsman Charles Plumb would often exercise the hounds by casting them across the road from his house near Syosset, and hunt for up to three hours, usually with a small group that included his wife Mimi, Cora and her sister Sara, professional whipper-in Mike McDermott and Torrance Watkins, whose daughter Torrance later became a top 3-day event rider.
During the summer months, Cora worked with Huntsman Plumb to train the young hounds and their puppies. As noted in Judith Tabler’s recently published book, “Foxhunting with Meadow Brook”, Cora and her sister, Sara Cavanagh, “studied how individual hounds found a scent and worked a line. Both young women could soon differentiate the hounds not only by their markings, but also by their voices and their mannnerisms.” Tabler went on to write that “Throughout the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, if someone wanted to know something about the hunt, they called Cavanaghs”.
Cora was elected Secretary of the Meadow Brook Hounds in 1965, and served in that role until 1967, when she became Master of Foxhounds, a position that she held through 1971.
Cora’s love of horses and her involvement with them led her into many different venues. Her friendship with the Charlie Plumb and his wife Mimi steered her towards three more of her passions: 3-day eventing, travel and photography. Cora travelled the world to watch the Plumb’s son Mike compete for the United States Equestrian Team
Along with her husband Ted, whom she had married in 1955, Cora attended the Olympics at Rome in 1960, and travelled to every Olympics thereafter, starting with Tokyo where Plumb’s team won the silver medal in 1964, Mexico City in 1968, another silver for Plumb’s team, Munich in 1972, silver for Plumb’s team, Montreal in 1976, a gold team and individual silver for Plumb, the alternate Games in 1980 when the USA boycotted Moscow, Los Angeles in 1984, where Torrance Watkins Fleishman rode on the gold medal winning team with Plumb, Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992, which was Plumb’s final Olympic team, then on to Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000, Cora’s final trip to the Olympics.
In addition to travelling to many of the 3-day events held in the United States, Cora and Ted frequently travelled to Badminton and Burghley in England, most of the Pan American Games, and every Equestrian World Championship from its inception in Stockholm in 1990, to The Hague in 1994, Rome in 1998, Jerez, Spain in 2002 and Aachen, Germany in 2006. In addition, Cora attended every Rolex 3-Day Event in Lexington, Kentucky from 1978 through 2015. She was a member of the Advisory Committee of the United States Equestrian Team from 1964-1988.
Cora took her camera with her on that first trip to Rome in 1960, and so began her love of photography that lasted the remainder her life, during which time she took thousands of photographs of 3-day events, many of them published in in The Chronicle of the Horse and the Horse of the Delaware Valley, and posted on her website, Eventing Etc.
In the mid 1950’s, Cora helped develop the newly formed Meadow Brook Hounds Pony Club, serving as it’s District Commissioner for almost a decade, organizing it into three regional groups, each with its own Assistant District Commissioner, and holding mock rallies where the groups competed against each other in preparation for the National Rally. Almost every child under the age of 14 who had a pony or a horse and lived on the North Shore of Long Island in the 1960’s was a member of the Meadow Brook Hounds Pony Club, including future Olympic gold medal winners Tad Coffin & Mike Plumb, and future professional horsemen Bernie Traurig, Don Sachey, James Rice, Brian Quinn & Woody Maloney.
Cora led many Meadow Brook Hounds teams to the Pony Club National Rally during her tenure, and was the District Commissioner in 1960 when the Meadow Brook Hounds Pony Club hosted the National Rally at Whitney Stables on Wheatley Road in Old Westbury. She was Chairman of the United States Pony Club’s Competitions Committee from 1961-65, and was elected to the United States Pony Club Hall of Fame in 2005.
Cora also established the Long Island High Score Awards Association (“LIHSAA”) in the early 1960’s, and served as its President from its inception until 1987. The LIHSAA keeps track of the points won at Long Island horse shows and awards trophies to the winners at the annual dinner at the end of each year. Cora was the President Emeritus of the LIHSAA at the time of her death.
In 1996, the Long Island Professional Horseman’s Association honored Cora with the James Walsh award, given to an individual whose actions merit unique distinction by their accomplishments, furthered the goals of an equine organization, provided inspiration to those in the sport, were a creative force for change, helped the horses in the sport and benefitted equestrian sport.
Cora loved equestrian art and collected approximately 50 signed prints of Sir Alfred J. Munnings’ paintings. She commissioned Jean Bowman to paint her famous hunter, Sight Unseen, and her favorite fox hunter, Night Lily. Both paintings appeared on the cover of The Chronicle of the Horse. She also supported and collected contemporary artists Booth Malone, Peter Williams and Anthony Alonso.
As you may have gathered by now, Cora loved a project – the bigger and more time consuming, the better. The biggest project that she undertook in her life, and the one that she most likely will be remembered for years from now, is a book about her forbearers that she diligently researched for 15 years in the ‘70s and the 80’s, before there was an Internet. Entitled “The Hourglass”, it clocked in at 708 pages of history about Michael Francis Burns and the Burns Brothers coal company that he founded in the late 1800’s and transformed into the biggest retail coal company in New York City in the early 20th century.
As stated in The Hourglass, Cora’s philosophy of life was “Do everything, see everything, try everything. Enjoy Traviata as much as baseball - Hong Kong as much as Long Island - the Beatles as well as the Philharmonic – Burger King as well as caviar and grouse – a limousine as well as the “E” train, and never stop learning!”
Cora was pre-deceased by her husband, Theodorus Van Wyck Cushny, brothers Frank and James Cavanagh, and sister B.C. Bradley. She is survived by her sister, Sara Cavanagh Schwartz, children Theodorus Van Wyck Cushny Jr., and Alix Michel of Locust Valley, NY, Lillian Cushny of Lexington, KY, Michael Cushny and wife Betty of Ringwood, NJ, and Coralie Galyean and husband Brad of Marietta, GA, four grandchildren, Theodorus Van Wyck Cushny III, Kim Cushny Roddy, Patricia Galyean and Peter Galyean, and a great-grandson, Thomas Doubleday Roddy.
A memorial service for Cora will be held on June 18 at 37 Frost Mill Rd., Mill Neck, NY at 12:30 pm. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to Hospice of the Bluegrass or the United States Equestrian Team.