NYTimes article on the history of horseriding

New York Times Article on the history of horseriding in the area.
Special thanks to Emily for convincing and encouraging the Times to do
the piece.  

When the Horsemen Passed By


THE VOICE; When the Horsemen Passed By

Published: June 11, 2006

YOU can smell the horses before you can see
them, although if you’re walking off the overpass that straddles the
busy Prospect Expressway in East Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, the pungent
odor of hay and manure seems out of place among the warehouses,
semidetached row houses and passing cars.

Kensington Stables,
at Caton Place and East Eighth Street, is the last stable remaining at
an intersection that was once home to several such enterprises. In
their heyday, at the beginning of the 20th century, hundreds of horses
were stabled there. But the Depression and the automobile transformed
horseback riding from a necessity into a hobby, one soon overtaken by
other leisure activities.

No one remembers exactly when the
changes started to take place — around the 1930’s or 40’s, old-timers
suggest. The first stable to disappear was converted into a
roller-skating rink, which later became a warehouse. The second was
converted into a bowling alley, which later gave way to a giant church,
the Calvary Cathedral of Praise. A third stable, known as the Little
Gray Barn, was torn down last year and is being replaced by

Because stables may change their name as often as
they change owners, it’s hard to say how many such businesses have come
and gone. Kensington Stables, too, is struggling with the challenges of
maintaining an agrarian sort of business in a crowded urban setting. A
recently formed group called Stable Brooklyn is trying to preserve
remnants of the neighborhood’s equestrian past and to resist high-rise
development in the area.

Residents past and present recall
long-departed landmarks like Prospect Park Stables, Harry Goldstein’s
and Jimmy Seelandt’s. Those were places to which New Yorkers traveled
from throughout the city to ride in nearby Prospect Park, places where
local children would feed and exercise the horses in exchange for a
dollar or, even better, a free ride.

Art Goldberg, 57, a
retired subway union executive, grew up on Cortelyou Road in Kensington
and now lives in Pennsylvania, in the Poconos.

the early days in the 1950’s, all they had on television was cowboys,
and I identified with the loneliness and the hard work they did. I
began saving money to buy a pony when I was 5 years old. I started
working at Harry Goldstein’s stable in 1960 when I was 12, taking care
of the horses and taking people out in the park. I was paid a dollar a
day for that.

”In those days there were 150 horses down there,
or more. With the bowling alley and the roller-skating rink, it was a
real gathering point for hundreds of people. There was also the bridle
path from Prospect Park to Coney Island, and people could ride horses
down Ocean Parkway.

”The horses more and more became the
center of life, and it was a real alternative to some of us who felt
there really weren’t too many options. It was a real ego boost and gave
us something to look forward to: taking care of the horses and being in
charge of something. It gave us a focus, and it helped a lot of lost

”We were inner-city kids. Many came from the downtown
area, and we didn’t have too much opportunity to experience animals or
to be around a park. So being out with the horses and being in the park
was like being in another world.”

Joel Vincent, 69, a guide at Kensington Stables, grew up in Midwood, Brooklyn, and lives in Manhattan near Gramercy Park.

would get the trolley to the stables with my aunt and uncle from Coney
Island Avenue. I would go riding maybe 10 times in a year, so it was a
rare treat. They had a system of guides that would take you into the
park, just as I take people in the park today.

”When people
ask how did I fall in love with horses growing up in Brooklyn, that’s
always a puzzle for me. Maybe it’s just they were more observable in
the street. Because of the war and rationing, there was a lot less
driving going on, and they were using horses more for doing work like
pulling delivery wagons and milk wagons. And somehow or other, these
big, fascinating creatures intrigued me.”

John Davenport, 74, a retired security director, grew up in Windsor Terrace and still lives there.

trolley used to end over here, and we used to get off and come down
here to make a little bit of money. The owners would bring their horses
back from the park all lathered up, and that’s where I would make my
tips, by walking the horse up and down the block until he got his
composure back and started breathing right.

”I would come home
all sweated up, and we didn’t have air-conditioning in those days. My
mother used to make me take my clothes off and leave them in the hall
after a day down here.”

Walker Blankinship, 37, the owner
of Kensington Stables since 1997, grew up in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens,
Brooklyn, and still lives there.

”For the first few years
after I took over the barn, quite a few people would come in telling
stories, but now they’re all gone. Usually the stories were tragedies,
like the one about a fire here in the late 40’s. One man who used to
live around here said that when they put a horse down, they would use
it for anatomy classes. He remembers sitting on a dead horse right
outside here eating a sandwich while they dissected the legs for a

Muriel Bissell, 74, a homemaker, lives in the Windsor Terrace house where she grew up.

police stabled their horses here, and they used to line up like
soldiers all in a row every morning and go down to different areas of
the city. My sister used to bring the horses apples every day.

was a terrible fire once, and I saw the horses being shot because they
were all badly burned. I was a kid, and all I remember is hearing the
sound go off and the horse falling. They had to take them out on
garbage trucks. It went on for days.”

George Bissell, 74, a retired banker, moved to Windsor Terrace from Flatbush in 1959, when he married Muriel Ferrari.

really miss the police horses. We used to see them in action, and the
guys always had a few yarns to tell. There was one guy who chased a man
who had committed a robbery. The robber was in a car, and this police
officer was on horseback chasing him down Parkside Avenue and taking a
few shots at him. Just like the old West.”


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