Along the way to my nightly visits to feed my grandmother dinner at the nursing home, I drive by the barn where I first learned to ride as a child and the place where I developed my love of horses. The sprawling manicured lawn, white fencing, stables off in the distance, and horses grazing along the road always greet me on my left as I drive along my route. This place holds many special memories from childhood for me, from meeting my first giant Appaloosa, to winning my first blue ribbon at a horse show.
At one time or another, I, along with many other equine enthusiasts on Long Island, called the 21.6-acre Thomas School of Horsemanship (TSH) property and longest-running equine school home. To convey how special this place was to me would be an impossible task and one I couldn’t properly do justice. But every year, as the school year would wind down, my countdown to summer camp at TSH would begin. It didn’t matter how many years I had been attending camp, everything each year always felt new and exciting.
When I first started summer camp at TSH as a Trakehner (every camp group was named after a horse breed), I was nervous. My only exposure to horses had been brief at my previous summer camp, but when I would come home and regale my mother with stories about my equine adventures, she knew that I needed to go to a place with a more dedicated riding program. When we first found TSH, it was an hour away from our house, and I didn’t know anyone who had gone to the camp. The first day of camp was met with the usual trepidation as the bus slowly drove down my block to pick me up. But after meeting my fellow campers, I began to make friends, and by the end of the day, I felt like I was ready to go to the Olympics and ride on the US equestrian team.
TSH was a transformative experience for me. Not only did it solidify my passion for horses, but it introduced me to other activities, like yoga, creative pursuits, such as lanyard making, and life lessons that have come in handy all of my adult life, like the ability to feel confident making new friends. At the end of every summer, saying goodbye to my fellow campers and counselors was always the hardest part. But luckily for me, I became a regular at TSH when my parents decided to enroll me in weekly riding lessons year-round. From there, I leased horses, rode in horse shows, and eventually, years later, owned my own horse.
I spent so much of my life at TSH and made life-long friends there throughout the years. So, you can imagine my horror when I passed by the barn, as usual, and saw the gates closed and a giant development sign at the entrance to the property. Upon closer inspection, the white fencing had been torn down, and the stalls abandoned. TSH is under construction and facing a new history that will not include young campers eager to establish a bond with horses or serious competitors in search of their next show. It’s hard to believe that such a storied place that touched so many young riders will become a part of other people’s stories in the form of housing.
There’s no doubt that Long Island is an expensive place to live, even more so when it comes to keeping horses on sought-after land. But to see the end of TSH and to know that it will not impact other riders the way it did me and my equestrian friends, is a heartbreak too painful to bear. My only hope is that all of the lesson horses were able to get good homes elsewhere, the trainers find work at other barns, and that people who were touched by this special place continue to remember and share their stories about TSH so the show can go on for the next generation of riders.