Claremont Riding Academy New York
The Claremont Riding Academy, was located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, just two blocks from Central Park’s six-mile bridle path, at 175 West 89th Street. It was built as stables in 1892, converted to the riding academy in 1927; and permanently closed in 2007. Throughout its history, it contributed to the charm of the city. Of the 110 horses that were housed, approximately half were for rent, and the rest boarded, for private owners, but riders were from all boroughs and socio-economic backgrounds.
An excerpt from Dana’s riding lesson at Claremont Riding Academy in What Might Have Been
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Dana had no desire to begin her riding lessons on Saturday morning, a beautiful warm day in April. Amanda had grown pale at the mention of Claremont, and Dana was smart enough to recognize territoriality when she saw it. And jealousy. She felt foolish for going to Miller’s and accepting the riding outfits from Mark, for how could she not have seen this coming? Mark had often talked about his time on the trails with Amanda, as well as her show jumping. Of course she wanted Dana excluded from that part of her life. Any child in her situation would feel the very same way. Dana called Mark at eight in the morning, telling him how she felt and that she wanted to return the clothing purchased from Miller’s.
“Let’s not be too hasty!” Mark stated. “I had a good talk with Amanda after you left last night. She said she understood why I wanted to share riding with you and that she would try to give it a chance.”
“You and me. It’s not easy for her, but she loves me enough to know that I deserve some happiness, too. There’s no reason to change our plans.”
Dana remained hesitant. “I don’t know, Mark. It doesn’t feel right. Maybe in time.”
Mark was clearly exasperated. “There’s never going to be a right time, Dana. We can wait six months to re-introduce you to Amanda, but she would still feel the same way then. She has to get past the idea that I’ll never share things with anyone but her. Am I supposed to wait until she’s in her twenties or married before I date or enjoy myself? I’m not willing to put my life on hold, especially now that you’re a part of that life. And the same goes for your riding lessons. We can put them off, but you’re going to feel the same way whenever we decide to go to Claremont, whether it’s today or next year.”
Dana was silent.
“Let me put it another way,” Mark continued. “Last December, you decided to divorce
Brett. It was painful, but it needed to be done and there was never going to be an opportune time to do it. We have to live our lives without giving power over them to anyone else.”
“I can’t argue with that logic,” Dana admitted. “I surrendered my plans to Brett for too many years.”
“I gave Amanda all the reassurances she needs to know that my relationship with her won’t be affected by the simple fact that I’m dating, and that’s all I can do for the moment. Besides, it’s not fair to Amanda to conduct our relationship behind her back. We’re not doing her any favors by avoiding these issues.”
“What do you mean? I’m not following.”
“She’s nineteen. She’s still got a lot of maturing to do, but life is filled with obstacles, and she has to learn to deal with them.”
“And she’s okay with my taking lessons?”
“Yes, so put on those breeches and get over here. You have a nine-thirty lesson.”
“Okay. I’m convinced.”
“Good. See you soon.”
* * *
Claremont Stables was located at 175 West 89th Street on the Upper West Side. A former livery stable converted to a riding academy, it was a multi-story barn with several floors connected by ramps. An indoor riding ring gave the academy a unique and homey feel despite being located in Manhattan.
“I pictured something larger,” Dana said as she looked at a few riders and their trainers in the crowded ring.
“It’s all the space you need to learn the basics,” Mark said. “The rest of the building stables one hundred and thirty-nine horses. About half are boarded by owners, and the others are rented for the bridal paths just a block and half away. Here’s Larry now. He worked with Amanda when she was just starting.”
Larry Cuthbert was one of Claremont’s fifteen trainers. He was a tall man in his fifties and walked with a slow easy gait that spoke of someone quite comfortable around horses. He wore jeans, boots, and a blue work shirt, although he spoke with a New York accent.
“Hi, Mark. Good to see you. This must be Dana. Pleased to meet you, Ms. McGarry.”
“So what have you picked out for Dana?” Mark asked.
“Follow me,” Larry said, leading them to stalls on the second floor. “This is a Tennessee Walker, a chestnut mare named Macy. Pretty gentle and the ideal choice for a beginner. She can rack, foxtrot, and canter, but all you want to do at first, Dana, is follow me while I walk her around the ring downstairs. Let her get to know you. I saddled her just before you arrived.”
The three of them took Macy to the ring, Dana walking next to Larry as he led Macy around the circuit a dozen times.
“She’s used to your being near her now, Dana, so it’s your turn,” Larry said. “Take the lead rope, but don’t hold it too close to the halter underneath her chin. Loop it around your hand but don’t ever wrap it tightly in case a horse decides to get ahead of you. With a gentle horse like Macy, give it some slack. Now stand even with her head, click your tongue, and start walking. I’ll be right beside you every step of the way.”
Dana led Macy around the ring several times, Macy stopping and shaking her head only once.
“Nothing to worry about,” Larry said. “It’s not a tug of war, so just stop and wait. When she’s steady again, click your tongue and resume walking. You’re doing great.”
“I’m proud of you, honey,” Mark said from the side of the ring.
Dana blushed. “I don’t feel like I’m doing anything.”
“Sure you are,” Larry said, “but it’s time for you to mount.”
He showed Dana how to climb into the saddle as he held Macy’s reins. “The first thing you need to learn is the correct posture. You want to be able to imagine a straight line from your ear through your shoulder and hips and all the way down to your heel. That’ll help you keep balanced. I’m going to lead you around the ring a few times, but don’t lean left or right. Just stay in alignment. Above all, breathe easy and stay relaxed. Horses can sense the slightest bit of tension in a rider. That’s what I want you to take away from today’s lesson. The correct sitting position and staying calm.”
“You look terrific,” Mark commented. “Aren’t you glad you came? You look like a natural.”
Dana smiled. “I feel pretty comfortable. And I don’t feel so intimidated anymore.”
“Then the lesson has been a success,” Larry declared. He stopped the horse occasionally to adjust Dana’s feet in the stirrups. “Don’t dig them in all the way. You’re walking, not jumping,” he said with a smile. He continued to instruct Dana whenever her body came out of alignment, but Macy, Dana, and Larry circled the ring, with Larry moving farther away with each circuit until the lesson was over.
“It gets easier,” Larry said as he helped Dana dismount. “I can tell you like animals, and so can Macy. You did really well, Dana. I look forward to our next lesson. We can take her out on a trail, and I’ll ride alongside.”
“Let’s go into the park,” Mark said as Larry brought Macy back to her stall. “We’ll walk the short bridle path that goes around the reservoir. It’s such a beautiful day.”
“I’d love to,” Dana replied. “We have the entire weekend to ourselves. Let’s make the most of it.”
They strolled along the bridle path in Central Park, a place for horseback riding, jogging, and enjoying nature. The trees and shrubs were just starting to display varied shades of green as Mark and Dana walked, hand in hand, beneath the path’s lush canopy.
“I wish everything were this tranquil,” Dana said reflectively. “Or as easy as learning to get on a horse.”
“Wishing it were easier to get to know Amanda?” Mark said, looking at the dirt path ahead as two joggers coming from the direction of the reservoir passed them.
Dana smiled and looked sideways at Mark. “Yes, and getting the boutique up and running.”
Mark squeezed Dana’s hand tighter. “Getting to know the child of someone you’re dating always takes time. The boutique is a different story, however. Helen remains an obstacle, but that’s no reason why we can’t follow our plan.” He returned Dana’s gaze as he spoke. “I’ve had to fight for almost everything in my life. The right to take riding lessons, permission to go to the Wharton School and not a medical college, and, later, the way I wanted to run the company. My dad is a difficult guy, always challenging my vision, but we can’t live in little bubbles, like the Finzi-Continis. I suppose that’s why I create challenges for myself whenever things seem to be sailing along smoothly. It gives me a competitive edge and reminds me that there will always be something to push against what I’m trying to achieve.”
They passed several tourists taking pictures. A photographer with half a dozen cameras slung over his shoulder was looking in the distance through a tripod-mounted zoom lens. He smiled at the couple and tipped his cap. Dana smiled back before walking on.
“You didn’t have to fight for me,” she said.
“Yes, it just feels . . . right, doesn’t it?”
Twenty paces further, Mark stopped and encircled Dana with his arms, drawing her close as he kissed her passionately on the lips.
“For now, it’s a perfect bubble, and I’m happy to live in it all weekend,” Dana said.
“Then that’s just what we’ll do. No talk about boutiques, Marx & Sons , France, or the Hampton Classic. You’ve had your first riding lesson, met Amanda, and the gears are in motion with Irwin. I think we’ve both earned a little quiet time.”
Dana leaned her body against Mark and put her arm around his waist as they continued to walk. An occasional rider slowly trotted by, and they passed an older man in a brown tweed jacket, obviously a birdwatcher, who was looking up into the trees with binoculars and writing his observations in a spiral notebook.
“Where shall we have dinner tonight?” Dana asked. “Sal’s trattoria?”
“I know just the place,” Mark said.
“My apartment. We’ll drop by your place after lunch. You can change clothes, pack a bag, and pick up Wills. Tonight, everything we need will be at my apartment.”
“Yep. You and me.”
“I think you’re spoiling me, Mr. Tepper.”
“Gladly. And you have to start taking care of Dana, too. Stay focused on what you need and what makes you happy.”
“That’s what Father Macaulay’s been telling me.”
“The priest in London?”
“Yes. He’s a wise man. And kind.”
“You’ll have to tell me more about him sometime. Anyway, why don’t we go over to Sal’s for a quick lunch, get our chores done, and be back to my place by four. We’ll have a long, leisurely evening. And we’ll sleep in tomorrow. Read the Times and—”
“And you can make some hockey puck pancakes.”
“Amanda was exaggerating. They weren’t that bad. They could have been oven mitts, but not hockey pucks. I’ll put breakfast into your capable hands. How about a smoked salmon frittata? We’ll buy what we need at Zabar’s after we pick up Wills.”
They kissed again and continued on. Dana leaned her head against Mark’s shoulder and closed her eyes to block out the rest of the world. For the moment, there was no B. Altman, in-store boutique, or private label. She had the present moment, which was more than enough to make her happy.
* * *
It was a challenge to keep the Academy’s doors open as far back as 1973 when the city condemned the building. That year, horses were boarded for a monthly fee of $117.50 and the hourly rental fee to ride was $8.50 . In July of 1973, a two-year reprieve was announced by the parks commissioner and, miraculously, the doors stayed open for thirty-four more years Today, the bridle path is enjoyed by joggers and children in nearby schools.
Here is a passage from a letter written by Paul Novograd, the second generation owner of the Claremont Riding Academy.upon the closing of the he beloved school and stables…….Our remarkable horses are all going to good homes. Some are being retired to green pastures after many years of hard work. Some are being sold to their loving riders. Some are being donated to the equestrian program at Yale University. And most will move down to Potomac Horse Center, a wonderful 60 acre facility with three indoor arenas (no poles there) that we operate. Hopefully you’ll be able to pay them a visit. April 2007