Joel, age 69, grew up in Brooklyn during World War II, when grocery stores were using horses to pull their delivery wagons. He remembers it was love at first sight when he looked into the big brown eyes of one little palomino wagon horse.
“The first time I ever rode a horse was right here at this stable in Brooklyn; it was called Kennedy’s Riding Academy then. But I ride more now than I ever did as a kid: riding wasn’t very encouraged for a lower-middle-class Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn. I started riding more in my late twenties. I spent a lot of time going to dude ranches, when they were non-family oriented, in the Swinging Sixties, when everybody was getting a little wacked and then riding a horse … don’t ask!
“I had a natural ability to ride pretty well, and back in ‘94 I began to volunteer here at the stable every weekend; it became a religion. And I teach beginning horsemanship now. But after all of these years— close to 60 years of riding—I’m taking lessons from Jesse, who’s 20 years old and I’ve known since she was a five- or six-year old kid. You can be involved in something all your life, and then discover, “Yeah, there’s dimensions I don’t know properly.”
“I have a couple of horses that I adore, but Rocky is the one that’s most needy, since he’s blind. He gradually was less and less confident out there, and someone could see it was a vision situation. Ultimately, they were afraid to use him anymore for trail rides because of his increasing loss of sight. So he was on what they call “stall rest”, which means he ain’t working, for two years and change. And I said, “Jesus, this guy, he’s such a good horse and it’s breaking his heart that all the other horses are going out to work.” So the owner of the barn said, “Joel, I think he’s still ride-able, and why don’t you give it a go?” Of course, he was scared, as horses are born cowards, and panic-aholics, and claustrophobics, and “yippee-there’s-a-dinosaur-behind-every-tree”, but he responded to my legs and to my voice. Subsequently, this bond developed and this mutual trust which is almost unexplainable. It’s such a beautiful thing to know the horse is relying on you. And by nature they’re herd animals, so when you ride, you become a herd of two.”