Horse memories made a New England Christmas

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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.

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