We've come a long way from the days when the South Fork was populated mostly by the Montaukett (hence: Montauk) Indians and a few hardy souls. Back then the thin grassy land between the waters was still prime real estate, but for grazing cattle. And the only horses were used by cowboys for ranching. Nowadays, big floppy white hats bob around the grass showgrounds and graveled walkways of the Hampton Classic, watching celebrity children like Hillary Dobbs, Jessica Springsteen, and Georgina Bloomberg
compete for $200,000 in Grand Prix prize money.
Somewhere in between the cattle rustling and the slender beauties of the Classic circuit a surprising number of equestrian options have spring up along with the Mercedes-Benz
dealerships. A quick Google search on the Internet revealed no less than 15 suggested places to ride, stable, show, buy, sell, breed, and pet horses, all on the way from the Lobster Inn to the Lighthouse.
Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk is one of those original-type ranches, claiming to be one of the oldest in the United States. Preservation of a way of life has been in the blood of the owners of this ranch, from staging a concert series to raise money to save the Lighthouse to keeping the heritage of this family owned property intact for generations. Now folks can go out there to see how this ranch operates. Though the cattle are long gone, they offer lessons, boarding and training, and even pony rides for the kids. You can take a ride on the beach trails or host a corporate party. You'll have to take a ride all the way out East to experience of the old West.
Erica Walters is the owner of The Tack Trunk, a store that outfits riders with everything from saddles and bridles to apparel and grooming equipment. If you want to know about riding, Erica has the information you need so we spoke briefly about riding on the East End.
Erica is an East End resident who grew up riding horses and worked for Leigh Keyes, the former owner of The Tack Trunk, since she was a teenager. A year ago, after 15 years selling all kinds of equestrian supplies, Leigh decided to retire and Erica purchased the store.
"Business is great. I can't complain," said Erica during our conversation. "Fortunately the economy doesn't affect our business like others."
There are plenty of places for lessons and casual riding.
But say you're not ready for the Hampton Classic circuit. Erica said there are plenty of places to go to take lessons and start yourself or your kids on the road to the Grand Prix. Stony Hill Stable in Amagansett has lessons for jumping and riding. In East Hampton, children can take advantage of East End Stable's riding camp from June until August as well as lessons. Two Trees in Bridgehampton is another great place to go get yourself some riding lessons. Most of the stables here offer boarding, riding lessons, training, showing or some combination of each. Trails abound on the South Fork with most major parks including Sears
Bellows in Hampton Bays.
Dee Graves, formerly of Colorado, runs a management and handling workshop course for everyone from novices to enthusiasts. She offers a companion booklet called "Horsemanship Fundamentals" that instructs on the "Four Elements" of horsemanship taught in her workshops. Details on the workshops can be found at her website, www.horseman5elements.com.
Of course the big event on the East End is the Hampton Classic held from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31 this year. This one seems to be bigger than ever with increased prize money in many categories. For the first time there will be no entry fee for the Grand Prix instead according to their press release, the Grand Prix will be open to all horse/rider combinations that complete Friday's Grand Prix Qualifier.
"We are very pleased to offer an increase in the prize money as well as being able to waive the entry fee for Sunday's Grand Prix," said Shanette Cohen, Executive Director of the Hampton Classic.
While the Hampton Classic does bring in some business to Erica Walter's store it's a bittersweet time. "It's exciting," said Erica. "But it means the end of the summer."