BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Horses built Brooklyn, but in the 21st century they are a rarity in the city.
Fortunately, one stable in danger of closing — and there are only two others in Brooklyn — has received a reprieve. Kensington Stables, offering trail rides in Prospect Park and pony rides throughout the city along with lessons and a summer program, has been in existence since 1930. A bankruptcy auction put the future of the stables in jeopardy.
While there was support from the city for the stable’s preservation, it was businessman John Quadrozzi, Jr., the father of a Kensington Stables rider, who purchased the property in December. His proposal involves turning the barn into a state-of-the-art horse facility, while building seven stories above the current stable to include 12 apartments. These units would provide income and help finance what Quadrozzi plans to call Prospect Park Stables. Part of his plan involves partnering with Gallop NYC, a local horse organization that has an agreement with the city’s Parks’ Department to construct a riding arena in the nearby Prospect Park Parade Ground. Quadrozzi hopes to offer Gallop NYC boarding space at Kensington Stable in return for access to the arena. However, that plan could take years to come to fruition.
Former owner Walker Blankenship, who has operated the stables since 1993, said the issues and subsequent bankruptcy auction occurred because his father, who has since died, was not well and didn’t pay the taxes. His mother never paid attention to finances and the situation subsequently became messy. “She could have been forced to sell to anyone,” he said. Under the plan, Blankenship will continue to manage the stables for at least the next five years.
There are currently 30 horses at Kensington Stables, down from a peak of 40. Blankenship said he is holding 10 stalls for the possibility of Gallop NYC using the facility. He said a major cleanup has already taken place on the dilapidated property, and rebuilding will begin in the spring. One major repair, that of the roof, should happen fairly quickly, he said. Once that’s finished, he expects completion of the majority of the work by the end of summer.
Kensington Stables means a lot to local horse enthusiasts. Ruth Moore, an English native who now resides in Brooklyn said, "I rode horses regularly in Prospect Park from 2000 onwards and it was a great antidote to city life. One of the standout memories I have of Kensington Stables was its attraction and accessibility to people with no horsey background whatsoever. Among these were many kids who didn't have many opportunities, and they found their passion and their future there. I know many who have gone on to careers with horses, or to owning horses of their own. There are professional horse people, veterinarians, vet techs, and some farmers out there who are all graduates of that little urban stable."
Zoe Fintz is just 17, but she’s been at Kensington Stable since she was 10. “By learning to ride at Kensington Stable you also learn to be a horse person,” she said, noting it’s important to keep horses in Brooklyn because not too many city dwellers have the opportunity to learn about horses and their care, and urban stables help change that.
“The barn and the horses are a huge part of my life and a huge part of what makes me happy. When I found out Kensington would remain a stable, I was thrilled.” Fintz takes out trail riders and gives pony rides at Kensington, and on occasions teaches lessons.
For Jill Adamski, Kensington Stables has been a kind of sanctuary. “In a city like New York, a horse stable is truly a treasure because it becomes costly and time consuming to find horses outside the city,” she said. “It keeps equines that have called the cities home from the time they helped us build them, where they belong, right by our sides.” Adamski know she’ll always have that fast-paced New Yorker mentality, but doesn’t have to give up on it to be an equestrian and take a quick break from the city life. She began riding and volunteering at Kensington Stables as a child in 1998, not knowing that experience would set the entire basis of her life in the direction of horses later. “Like many city dwellers, it was my first experience with the horse world. Though I can now afford to purchase my own riding lessons, we used to work for tips for lunch money and our payment was given in time on horseback. To help care for a horse, even just for a day, it’s a lot of hard work, responsibility, and is a great way for a child to get some structure in their life,” she said, adding it’s probably where her general good work ethic stems from today. “Over the years, there have been gaps in my equine involvement, but whenever I found that I was down or felt lost, I’d return to that stable and feel like I was ‘home’ again; a place I belonged. With her background in horses, Adamski was later inspired to delve into the world of horse carriage driving and now does that for a living.
When she heard there was a chance of Kensington Stables going up for sale and a possibility of it ending up in the hands of real estate developers, as so occurs with most equine institutions in urban settings, she was devastated. “I thought about how the human-equine bond would struggle to continue for city people and how many children growing up in cities would miss out on the kinds of opportunities I had to learn about horses. Whether I’m driving my carriage in Central Park or walking a pony at a child’s birthday celebration in East New York, I see how detached so many are from horses,” she said. “I fear that without that equine understanding the bond we share with horses could eventually be pushed away forever. With the recent news of Kensington Stables being purchased by someone who truly has the best intentions for it, I thought it was such a win to the horse world and children seeking their first introduction into it.”
She said that while the horses that live there have always been loved, the building has always needed work, so the fact that the only changes will be for the better and a more permanent public riding stable makes it seem like the bankruptcy auction really was a blessing in disguise. ”I feel like it’s left all these opportunities for me there in the future. I can continue taking riding lessons on the weekend. I don’t have to give up on my goal of one day owning my own horse, boarding them close to my home without having to move. When the horse I drive is ready to retire from pulling a carriage, I might be able to purchase and retire him as a riding horse there,” she said. The saving of Kensington Stables means horses successfully used in therapy can flourish. City children can continue to enjoy the thrill of a pony at their home on their birthday. Urban dwellers can still learn what it’s like communicate with a horse and that equine language has a little less threat of being lost forever.
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