By Gina Valentino, with Nick Brandi
Featuring photography by Toshi Tasaki
Boasting myriad premier facilities and tracts fit for everyone from beginners to Olympians, Westchester is considered horse country for good reason. Not even an hour from New York City, sprawling acres of verdant pastures and secluded trails serve as the playpens of majestic mares and stallions (as well as foals and ponies). Naturally, acreage-friendly Bedford and North Salem top the list of horsey hotspots in the county, but even areas like Eastchester and Harrison offer stables for down-county residents to partake in equine activities. We invite you, then, to take this tour with us, to see just why Westchester County rides so tall in the saddle when it comes to good ol’ horse sense.
Blacksmithing through the decades.
Despite the digital revolution that has washed over the landscape like a tsunami, there are still some old-school gigs that are alive and kicking like an Army mule. And that mule is likely wearing Bill Fitzgerald’s shoes.
A longtime Westchester resident, Fitzgerald is a seventh-generation (that’s right) Irish master blacksmith, and business has boomed for him since he went solo in 1973. In the more than three decades that followed, Fitzgerald, on average, shod five or six horses a day, six days a week, and has, to date, provided enough iron footwear to shoe the entire population of the city of White Plains.
Though he officially retired from farrier work a couple of years ago, Fitzgerald has remained quite active, working with wife Phyllis as part of By Hammer By Hand (www.byhammerbyhand.com), a Mahopac business that does custom ornamental metalwork. As one might imagine, a thriving farrier in the horse country of Westchester’s North County is likely to attract some high-profile clients, and Fitzgerald is no exception. The likes of Paul Newman, Jennifer O’Neill, Martha Stewart, and the Rockefellers have all retained his services at one time or another.
Fitzgerald’s heavily muscled arms bear testament to a lifetime spent pounding metal — as do his injuries, which include surgeries on both rotator cuffs, in addition to countless cuts, burns, bruises, and, in the cold months, cracks. Still, the talented craftsman never really wanted to do anything else with his life.
In-demand local farriers:
Paul Heller; 914.629.2953
Dave O’Dell; 845.797.6071
Photo by Geoff Tischman
13 Hands Equine Rescue helps horses in need.
So many appreciate the beauty of these majestic animals and can’t fathom hurting them. To ensure the animals’ safety and well-being, Bedford Hills not-for-profit 13 Hands Equine Rescue (www.13handsequine.org) helps unwanted, abused, and slaughter-bound horses. Many are rescued from kill pens and auction houses and sent to a quarantine facility for 30 days, where they will rest. The horses are later seen by a veterinarian, and if approved, sent to 13 Hands’ facility in Bedford Hills. The not-for-profit helps to rehabilitate and care for the horses, and set them up with new homes through adoption, sponsoring, or fostering. When individuals opt to foster horses, it helps the organization rescue more horses. Sponsoring helps finance the animals and entails committing to a recurring monthly donation to help cover the cost of care for the chosen horse. Their fourth annual Help A Horse Day is a fundraiser held in conjuction with the ASPCA’s contest in which rescues can compete to win grant money based on the number of adoptions during the contest period, explains Jacki Zawslow, of 13 Hands Equine Rescue. The event will be held on May 4 this year.
What equestrian life in Westchester means to one Larchmont family.
Many children dream of owning a pony or horse growing up, and some lucky ones actually get to. Rebecca and Bruce Robinson of Larchmont introduced their children to equestrian life at an early age, and the hobby turned into an enduring passion for all of them.
Rebecca, a registered nurse and co-creator of Just Amazing Skincare (JAS), always loved horses and was excited that her kids enjoyed them, too. She says that her husband, Bruce, a dermatologist and co-creator of JAS (sold at Pink on Palmer in Larchmont) was happy to support their love of riding.
Sophie Robinson riding.
Over the course of 14 years, their children have ridden for pleasure and competition on academy/schooling horses and on horses the family leased or owned. The family purchased their first horse (now retired), Sander, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood Gelding, from horse dealer/trainer Michael Kirby for their son, Jay, and their second horse, Carly, a 6-year-old Oldenburg mare from a farm in New Jersey, for their daughter Sophie. As Carly was an inexperienced young horse, Sophie focused on training Carly, later competing in the FW-PHA Children’s Hunter’s and in the Marshall & Sterling Insurance League, in Saugerties, NY. Carly is now being leased to the championship collegiate equestrian program at Savannah College of Art & Design, in Georgia.
While the Robinson kids have competed in both regional and national events, they practice locally. They have ridden at Boulder Brook in Scarsdale, Twin Lakes Farm in Eastchester, and most recently, Autumn Farm in North Salem.
Which option best suits your life?
For hippophiles, owning your own horse may be the ultimate goal, but it can also be a budget-buster. So, for some, leasing may be the better option.
Generally, horses used for private, recreational purposes can range in price from four- to five-figure price tags, depending upon age, breed, and other factors. Horse owner and Larchmont resident Rebecca Robinson explains that most show barns have trainers who can help find a horse for a potential lease or purchase. “You really need an expert in the equestrian world to navigate the sale or lease experience. The help of a trainer is a must,” says Robinson, who adds that barns with lower groom-to-horse ratios have grooms with more quality hands-on time. Lower ratios, however, also help determine how much time you’ll need to put in at the barn and the cost of boarding your horse there.
“At some full concierge barns, you just show up to ride. Your horse is tacked and ready to go when you walk in,” says Robinson, “while at others you have to groom, tack, untack, bathe, and blanket the horse yourself.”
Owner, Amy Bastone of Ossining, getting a kiss from her happy horse, V.
Expect to shell out $2K-$3K per month, and that’s before additional fees, such as horse-show entries (approx. $300/show), horse-show transportation ($250/show), vet fees (approx. $1,500/year), farrier ($350 every 6 weeks), tack, and mortality/medical insurance (on average $3,000/year).
For those who want some of the benefits of owning but not the full commitment, leasing is an option — albeit not necessarily a cheap one. “Leasing can range from $10,000-$75,000 per year, depending on factors like whether you lease a pony or a horse; the breed; and the discipline and height of jumping. But with leasing, you are spared the process of selling or leasing your horse when you’re done,” Robinson says.
Natasha Tarasov of The Horse Connection in Bedford Village agrees wholeheartedly. “Buying a horse is a big deal and a huge investment, both financially and emotionally. It is not something to do on a whim. I would always suggest getting professional help, whether it is a knowledgeable friend or trainer.”
For Rebecca, riding means “hard work, commitment, dedication, and lifestyle,” she says. “You really have to love it! It is early mornings, long days, rain or shine, hot or cold weather, not only taking care of yourself but your horse-partner, too! It takes a team, a barn family, to make that happen.”
Her advice for those looking to ride in Westchester: “Ask yourself if you want to ride competitively or for fun. Not all barns offer schooling or academy lesson programs, where you do not have to own or lease your own horse. Some barns offer training or lessons only if you lease or own your horse and board it at the barn. And some expect you to show more than others.”
17” CWD 2G with 1L Flap Close Contact Saddle, $4,200, The Horse Connection in Bedford Village
Conquer Figure-Eight Bridle, $310 Beval Saddlery, North Salem
Eggbutt Jointed Pelham Bit, $36.99 Beval Saddlery, North Salem
Fillus Peacock Safety Stirrup Irons, $39.95, Beval Saddlery, North Salem
Gladstone Removable Sheepskin Girth, $150, Beval Saddlery, North Salem
Beval Free Wither Double Diamond Pad, $44.95 Beval Saddlery, North Salem
Casual outfit: Ice Fil Zip Shirt by The Tailored Sportsman, $64.95; Trophy Hunter Breech by The Tailored Sportsman, $189.95; Denver Dress Boots by Parlanti, $1,050; Grip Gloves by Roeckl, $49.95; Suede Quilted C Belt by The Tailored Sportsman, $98. All items available at The Horse Connection in Bedford Village, Bedford.
A dozen county stables to frequent.
1. Old Salem Farm North Salem
2. Summit Farm North Salem
3. Chicory Meadow Farm Cortlandt
4. Limelight Farms Bedford
5. Courtyard Farms Bedford Hills
6. Fox Hill Farms Pleasantville
7. Beech Hill Farm Pleasantville
8. Kentucky Riding Stables Harrison
9. Stratford Stables Purchase
10. South Horse Stables Purchase
11. Boulder Brook Scarsdale
12. Twin Lakes Farms Eastchester
How one county tack shop has endured the test of time.
The Horse Connection in Bedford Village has been a staple for county equine enthusiasts for decades for its high-quality inventory and quaint location. Owner and president Natasha Tarasov grew up in Westchester and spent most of her life horseback riding in the county before opening The Horse Connection in 1993. The current Danbury resident, who these days rides at Fischer Enterprises in Bedford, explains that her experience as a rider and horse lover influence how she stocks her shop. “I use lots of different products to see how they work. I can see new trends in the horse show world as they begin because I am a part of it.”
Photo by StefaniA Delpezzo
That copious experience didn’t help her much when it came time to shift gears to accommodate an emerging digital world. When she opened her shop in the ’90s, there was no Internet to affect shopping behavior at brick-and-mortars. “Our biggest advertising expense was our multiple Yellow Page ads! Online sales have definitely affected brick-and-mortar,” she says. “For a long time, even before online stores, customers were shocked to see how competitive our prices are, even though we’re small. We’ve lost many sales to online stores simply because people assume they are less expensive. But I think people are starting to understand that if we don’t support local business, there will be no more local businesses.”
Tarasov also reports that while her online sales are better than ever since she revamped her shop’s website last year, it all still comes down to personal service. For example, a Horse Connection staff member will bring a customer’s tack directly to the stable for them. “That way,” Tarasov says, “they can try items on the horses and have the trainer see how certain products work. It’s great!”
Photo by Stefania Delpezzo
For many equestrians and riders alike, however, there is nothing like touching and feeling the products for themselves, which is why Tarasov’s staff spends lots of time with customers, outfitting them with the gear that is perfect for their needs and budget.
“Westchester has a great community of riders, trainers, and stable managers who can provide training and care, from beginning riders to Olympians,” Tarasov says. “We have so many barns, each with its own unique personality. I always take time to try to match the customer with the right stable. I never just hand someone a preprinted list. People will always appreciate personalized attention.”
The American Gold Cup is one of the county’s annual premier equestrian events.
One of Westchester’s claims to equine fame is being home to the illustrious American Gold Cup, a sporting event hosted at Old Salem Farm in North Salem. Originally hosted in Cleveland, the American Gold Cup moved to Westchester in 2012. Athletes, horse owners, and fans alike gather over five days to enjoy the jump-show classic, now in its 49th year. Dozens of vendors sell cars, clothing, and custom leather goods during the event, while face painters and magicians make frequent appearances. Some years have garnered more than 10,000 attendees. This year’s American Gold Cup will be held September 11-15.
Westchester Trail Rides, based in Croton-on-Hudson, offers guided horseback trail riding for all ages throughout the 7,000 acres of county acres. Visit www.westchestertrails.com for more details.