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The Fairfield-Westchester chapter of the Professional Horsemen’s Association annual awards dinner, on December 1, was an evening billed “to celebrate the achievements of riders, trainers, horses and their supportive teams.” I went to the Ethan Allan Inn in Danbury that night not to pick up any award, but rather to support a horsewoman I’ve respected for years to be honored for a lifetime of dedication to horses.
Her name is Barbara Cochrane and she’s the barn manager and riding school instructor at Fox Hill Farms in Pleasantville, N.Y. She’s been there for 50 years, teaching generations of horse lovers to ride while always putting the welfare of the horse first.
About a decade ago, I had not done any meaningful riding for about six years. In my late 40s, I was frantic that having horses in my life was over. I needed to take action. After searching the internet, I found a barn with large school program that also accommodated adults. Fox Hill Farms, nestled near the Pleasantville train station, might work, I thought, where I would ride at night after commuting back and forth to Manhattan.
At the awards dinner Becca, a former Fox Hill instructor, and I reminisced over that first “test” ride on Sparky to see if I could ride, like I said I could. She quickly turned me over to Barb, who had the patience of a saint, and a horse-side manner that soothed me. She suggested during an early lesson that my leg wasn’t strong enough yet to keep my spurs on while jumping cross rails. She came over and took them off to protect Libby from my unintended spurs. It was easier for me to ride with spurs, but better for Libby if I didn’t. That was Barb, thinking of her horses.
Then I found this magical lesson called Thursday nights with Barb. On summer nights in the big outdoor ring with a few adults, I gained the confidence I needed to return to my former riding self. Afterward, when the grooms were gone, I’d ask Barb all sorts of questions about the school horses, their care, routines, or whatever. I enjoyed this part of riding just as much, if not more, than what happened in the saddle. I wanted to absorb all that Barb had to say. By fall, Barb suggested Buddy and I try a horse show. I still have all four pink ribbons we earned that day.
At one point, I became ill and injured and didn’t ride for another year. Then out of the blue Barb called in the spring, asking if I wanted to go on a walking trail ride on the Rockefeller Preserve. I was starting to heal and my strength was returning. She knew my passion for horses, and had some sixth sense that maybe the air on the former carriage trails would spark, yet again, my desire to ride. It didn’t take long before I was riding with Barb twice a week. By fall I was going to try another schooling show at the barn. Buddy was a horse who needed company in the ring, and so another school horse with rider was placed in the center of the ring to stand there while I navigated my jumping course. That was Barb, thinking of her horses. We earned some seconds and thirds and a reserve championship that day. The picture still sits on my desk.
Two months later, Barb introduced me to one of her horses, Mikey, a big bay Thoroughbred who never stopped at a fence and turned on a dime. We clicked and off we went. Barb was gracious and answered every question I had about his care as I leased him. We engaged in deep conversations about his feed, his supplements, his corrective shoeing. We’d talk about what tack to use, what his prep was before a show, which front boots he liked the best. Each horse under her care had a routine, a protocol, a way that Barb kept them sound, sane, and happy with their task at hand. She taught me about Mikey’s moods and how to ride him so that both of us thrived.
By now, I wanted to jump the three-foot adult equitation medal classes and jumper divisions. Barb suggested I join the show team, and Fox Hill Farms owner Jane Grenchi took over our training. But Barb and I still talked about Mikey’s care and then one day Jane brought me to the Fairfield County Hunt Club FW-PHA show. I had shown there as a kid, and it was like a homecoming for me. Mikey and I placed third out of ten riders in an adult medal class.
I am blessed that Barb took a chance with a middle-age woman who showed up one day wanting to ride again. And that Barb, and the team at Fox Hill, made a dream come true for this little girl as she turned 50 to return to horse shows and big jumps. There were many in the Ethan Allan ballroom that night whose professional careers were kindled, nurtured, and furthered by Barb sharing her horse knowledge with them.
Barb’s dedication to the welfare of the horse has provided generations of horse lovers with the ability to ride and thrive. And because of her quiet resolve to do what’s best for the horses first, she was the recipient of the 2017 Raymon A. Molony Horsemen’s Award. Molony’s widow, Carol, was on-hand to present the award, which states, “Ray Molony was the consummate horseman. Born into the business, he spent his entire life riding, training, teaching, and inspiring, always keeping in mind the welfare of the horse.” Like Ray, Barb has spend her entire adult life putting horses first. I couldn’t think of a more deserving person to receive this award. Congratulations Barb!