Maybe it’s the time spent in Connecticut and Massachusetts during my youth, the Hallmark presentation of the holiday, beautifully maintained architecture from centuries past, the pastoral views that remain in the area or the fact that family still resides here, but there’s just something about New England that says Christmas. Halcyon Acres is beautiful, but it will never have the charm that surrounds the equine facilities from my youth. Fortunately, as I discovered this year, they’re still there.

Traveling back to horse haunts

This year, I decided to trek back to Granby, CT, specifically the places I spent so much time riding and hanging out during my youth. Our Pony Club had Saturday morning lessons at the Raye’s. Across the street, I boarded my first pony (ultimately banned from the property – a story for another blog post), at a place run by a woman named Eleanor Wells (probably not among us now – she was old and crotchety then, at least through my ten-year-old eyes). Around the corner resided Bill Strange and his family – a horse dealer that carried the usual stigma only shared in whispers among the prouder crowd. Between the boarding facility and Strange’s farm, lived a great friend during my childhood years, Dana Muench. I was there the day after she lived through a horrifying fire in the barn where horses were pulled and ran back in repeatedly after being freed. Her mare suffered from the smoke inhalation and I learned a huge lesson from this event at a very tender age. If I ever face a burning barn, I’ll secure every horse I remove so they don’t run back into the fire.

Dana moved away a long time ago – and so did her mom. Surprisingly, the original barn was still standing and had been given some TLC to fix it up (the inside was gutted by the fire, but the exterior remained solid). The house was still there too – as it was more than three decades ago. The boarding facility was much like I remembered it – although repairs were obviously more of a regimen and a fresh coat of paint made the place look great (yellow was an interesting color choice, but it worked). The Raye’s place, sans some upkeep on the house, reflected my memories. I had forgotten about the Strange family farm, but was impressed to see the family name on the sign and the facilities looking posh by comparison to the old days. What really amazed me was all this (now much more valuable) land had stayed intact over the decades and continued to be allocated to horses.

What shocked me more was that I was able to find my way back there from decades-old memory with road improvements and a good deal of development along the way – on the first try, even. Good thing my long-term memory hasn’t suffered the challenges my short-term has. It was a wonderful trip down memory lane that I’m glad I took. I even managed to later connect with the current Granby Pony Club DC. She’s talking about an alum reunion. What fun!

Connecticut will always be home for the holidays

It just didn’t seem right as a New England Christmas with no snow on the ground. By the time I hit Westfield, there was a dusting at most. Southwick had none. Ditto for all of the towns I traveled through in CT. My nephew said Christmas seemed too early with no snow, and was concerned about Santa’s sleigh ride without the white stuff. This nine-year-old also insisted we leave carrots with Santa’s cookies (I didn’t get it and had to ask) for the reindeer.

Still, I was awestruck to drive through towns that had kept their character – and a good deal of open spaces – that I remembered from my youth. It brought back memories of horse-drawn sleigh rides and our travels with our ponies across miles of farmers’ land for our outings to the ice cream stand (that’s now gone) and then on to what we called the sand dunes (a quarry that’s still operating ).

Most of my family has moved to points south. Still, even though I’ve been gone for a long time, New England beckons me as what home looks and feels like. Even the radio stations from decades gone by were still on the air and working largely from the same play list. That put a big smile on my face.

Get away to horse country

If you’ve never been to New England, it’s worth the trip. This is a bucolic and beautiful area with architectural wonders that have been preserved for hundreds of years. It seems many towns have great zoning boards in place determined to maintain the character and feel of the area while embracing commerce and growth. Those Christmas card scenes aren’t fake – and they still remain. In most other places in the country, the farms, barns and horse places I used to frequent would have been razed for the mighty dollar. It was great to see that this fabulous memory from my youth remained largely the same. New England may not be the first place you think of for horses, but it might be the best. I didn’t see any ‘no trespassing’ signs and from the looks of things (including the horse crossing signs now placed where we used to ride across roads between farmer’s lands), the area hasn’t shirked in fear of lawsuits from allowing riders to enjoy private land.

What are your favorite places to visit?

Do you still have memories you can hold on to with places you can revisit from your youth? How about spots where you can escape with your horse where country kindness prevails? How is going home special for you? Please share your memories and newer experiences in the comments below.

17 Responses

  1. I moved from the big city to rural Michigan two years ago, and was totally surprised and pleased to find that my new barn not only has its own trails but also has neighbors who let us ride on their property (except during hunting season!).
    The realtor who handled the purchase of my house also rides, and told me stories of how as a child she spent hours riding on the neighboring farmer’s land. Today she and her children still ride there.
    A few days before Christmas, one of the gals at my barn hitched up her beautiful black Morgan/Freisian gelding to a sleigh, complete with shiny black harness festooned with big jingle bells, and took off for a drive through the woods. To me, that was the perfect picture of Christmas.

  2. What fun for you, Alli. Did you get pictures of the sleigh ride? That must have been quite a site. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Nanette – we knew each other from our Pony Club days on Eleanor Wells farm. I was doing a web search for “Granby Pony Club” and found this blog. How are you? Nice to hear about you!! Where are you?

  4. What a small world it is. I’m in the New York Finger Lakes Area now on a 117-acre facility called Halcyon Acres. Never did manage to shake that horse bug :-). Wound up doing some research on the Granby Pony Club too – no longer in Granby) and had an opportunity to speak with some delightful people currently involved with the club.

    1. Just a note on your blog “Traveling back to horse haunts” – that was Bill Strain and family (not the “Stranges”). Bill and his wife still live in the same house with the horses. Not sure where the Boys went too. Of course, the Dr and Paula Raye moved to Cape Cod several years ago. Kim, Karin and John (? – youngest) moved to the same area. Eleanor Wells moved to North Carolina in the late ’70s or early ’80s and passed away in the ’90s. Pat Hall, the co-dc with Eleanor for several years after the GPC inception in the late ’50’s (officially became a Pony Club in the early ’60’s) has also passed away (2007). My parents still live in that town and I am fortunate to be able to return on a regular basis.

    2. I see that the GPC is now at the farm of Ann Marie “Willi” Gregorie’s farm (use to be an instructor when the GPC actually met in Granby at Eleanor Wells farm).

  5. Must have been after my time with “Willi” :-).

    Thanks for the correction and update. It’s a time that’s etched in my memory but not all the details are crystal clear after more than 30 years. Figured I was safe with my recall deficits not being called out by someone who had been there :-). It’s certainly becoming a smaller world. I’ll be more careful about checking facts (sometimes these are hard to find for childhood memories) in the future.

    1. Didn’t mean to “call you out” …. :-) – just thought you’d want to know. It was a while back for both of us …. I was just lucky to have spent some time in Granby for the last few years. Glad we were able to hook up on Facebook!!

      1. I was just kidding, of course, with the ‘call me out’ comment. Actually it was great to get some updates and corrections on my recall (which brought back more memories) of a time and experience in my life that was precious. Thank you for reaching out – and for taking the time to comment here. Life has changed a lot for me (unexpectedly – but it’s all good), so I won’t likely be able to make the trip for the reunion – but maybe. Do you know when it is?

  6. Wonderful blog. :)
    I was 8 years old in 1965 when our family moved away from Granby. One of these days I hope to return to there for a visit, and one of the places I’d like to see is the place where I took my first riding lessons. Back in the early 1960’s (1964-1965) I was a student of Mrs Wells. You’re right, she was crotchety, and seemed old even back then.

  7. Hi Susan – great to know you. You’re a bit before my time at that stable (it’s been upgraded considerably, by the way – still a horse facility), but it holds fun memories (even though I was ultimately banned from riding the pony I boarded there on the premises – I suspect this was a Pony Club board driven decision). There’s a reunion planned for the GPC in October of this year, I believe. You ought to consider making the trip.

  8. My daughter, Pam, her husband, Rick Stevens and family live on the old Wells farm and run a stable called Horse Central Stable, which you can find online. they have done a great job fixing up the house and restoring and adding to the old barn, etc. Rick trains horses and both give lessons as well as working as an electrician (Rick) and a H.R. Director at the Hartford (Pam). the whole Granby area is so beautiful. they would like to learn the history of their farm and put up any old pictures they can locate of Eleanor and the farm.

    1. I don’t think my Mom has any pictures of the farm, or of Mrs Wells, but I’ll ask her.
      As for riding lessons – I don’t know what it costs now, but when I was there the cost was about $2.00 per lesson – pay as you go. I remember, before each lesson, putting the money in an old leather bag that Mrs Wells had hanging in the old barn.

      1. You (or your mother) must have been way before my time, Susan. I don’t think Eleanor was doing any teaching by the time I landed there, but know there wasn’t a $2/ lesson option. I’m going to try hard to make it to the reunion. No idea how many I know will show up, but it should be fun hearing the stories regardless.

    2. Hi Janet – it is a small world, isn’t it? Unfortunately, I don’t have any old photos, but imagine there may be many who will at the GPC 50th Reunion on October 27th (at the Lost Acres Vineyard, 80 Lost Acres Road, North Granby, CT). Marc may still be following comments to this post, and if he is, seems to be the one reaching out in the biggest way to connect with the old guard. When I drove through the area after a long time away, I could see someone had put a lot of work into the place. Glad your daughter and son-in-law are having fun with the place. It holds some great (and some not so much) memories for me.

  9. Well I’m older than all of you. I spent many a weekend evening in attic room upstairs, with a friend called Christine Powers. a
    And no heat. We were in pony club there. We were also there at the time of the building of the indoor riding ring, 1964ish and what excitement ensued! I too have many fond memories. My mom would drive me over from Longmeadow as we boarded our horse at Mrs Wells. Looking back I realize what a hard life Mrs. Wells had. Her son was in junior high school at the time and she was making her living doing what she loved best. We had great laughs and learned a lot about horse care, tack care, getting along with one another and responsibility ! At the time I had a horse with a brand on his cheek. It was a J and a K. Mother was waiting for me in the car, and after my lesson and clean up she told me John Kennedy had been assassinated. It didn’t hit me till I was older what a horror that day was ! The farm is for sale once again and the house have been added onto and a beautiful job was done. Unfortunately the gentleman died and his wife and family have to sell the farm. I live in Southwick and one day took a ride over and showed my husband where I spent many a happy time..the old barn still there and I remember Mrs. Wells favorite horse, Fog and also an Easter morning when one of the mayers gave birth. The foal was named Bonnett(Easter).

    1. Hi Judith – you’re right, your memories precede my birthdate ;-). I never realized Ms. Wells had kids. Sorry to hear the current owners need to sell due to a death. Haven’t seen the place in a while. I appreciate your update.

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