BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Basking Ridge mother of twins, Sharon Vopel, has created an online petition to save Lord Stirling Stable in Basking Ridge. The public stable, run by Somerset County Parks Commission, has been completely closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many other Somerset County parks have reopened to the public in some capacity according to county Parks Director, Geoff Soriano, Lord Stirling Stables will remain completely shuttered for the remainder of 2020. The ridership at Lord Stirling Stables received an email from management on April 22, 2020 stating that since the stables and other parks were forced to close, they had to make the difficult decision to downsize the herd and cut staff citing financial shortfalls. “We were told that a few of the horses were placed in the Retirement Program, run by the Friends of Lord Stirling (FLSS) and already had new homes, others were sold back to the dealer from where they came and most of those had already been sold by the dealer. There used to be 60-70 lesson horses,” said Vopel.
On the morning of May 19, 2020, the ridership received another letter from Soriano, stating, “It was with considerable deliberation by many folks that the difficult decision to disperse the remainder of the lesson herd was made. Financially there was no other option”. In an interview with Bernardsville News in early June, Soriano shared that more than 27 lesson horses had been sold and only a handful of county owned ponies remain at the stable and that the only horses remaining at the facility, now in it’s 51st year, were privately owned. “It was just devastating. They were liquidating the remainder of the lesson horses, and, we found out only then, that the dealer would be there with his trailer that same day. To me and so many others, this felt like a "fire sale" and it was a done deal and without anyone knowing it was coming. It was a gut punch,” said Vopel.
“It is of great concern to riders and the local neighboring communities, we do not know what the future holds for Lord Stirling Stables,” explained Vopel. “I am 49 years old and when I was just 8 or 9 years old, my parents signed me and my siblings up for lessons. Now, my own children, 12 year old twin girls, have taken lessons at Lord Stirling Stables for the past three years. Lord Stirling has become a part of our family, and it is home to us and we truly feel lost without it. The future is uncertain and that is beyond disconcerting to all of us”.
The Park Commission has not formally committed to reopening in January 2021 and to date, no future plans have been shared with Somerset County residents or Lord Stirling Stables patrons. “We are all very concerned for the future of Lord Stirling Stables. It is a community treasure, a tremendous resource that has afforded generations of riders the opportunity to learn how to ride. The bonds are intense and lasting. A resident who signed the petition wrote that her daughter learned to ride at Lord Stirling and is now a mounted police officer in New York City. The stable has had an immeasurable human impact in the last 50 years. You cannot just erase such a large footprint and it is unreasonable to expect every taxpayer owned park to turn a profit, that is not their purpose,” said Vopel.
Vopel went on to say that some have recommended that the stable should be privatized. However, Vopel believes otherwise, “the stable needs to modernize, allow for a greater selection of program offerings and become the community destination for family and group events and gatherings. Other ideas discussed amongst riders is to bring Rutgers Cook College into the picture with a tie into agriculture and community farming. Or bring Rutgers Equine Science and the University equestrian team to Lord Stirling. Broadening the offerings for therapeutic riding beyond the TRAILS program and offering midweek lessons to cater to adult day program participants with disabilities”. Another fear is that if the County Park Commission privatizes Lord Stirling then prices for lessons and boarding will likely go up, thus potentially losing current or new borders and riders. “Maintaining publicly run programs makes the County stables accessible to many more people. The tax investment stays within the county and community, especially through employing local workers and students,” Vopel added.
To sign the petition to Save Lord Stirling Stables, please visit: https://www.change.org/p/save-lord-stirling-stable