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Lisa Unleashed: Keeping Horses in Newtown’s Landscape

Published: December 4, 2016

I read with great interest the comments recently given at the public hearing about the pending development of Cherry Grove Farm. Some spoke about the horse trails in the area used by generations of horseback riding enthusiasts. There was also discussion about the dirt road, Beaver Dam Road, that might be widened and eventually paved as the housing development progresses.

I was still in high school when I moved to Newtown in 1978. My Dad had just built a home on West Farm Ridge Road, literally up the road from Cherry Grove Farm. We’d walk down the street to get our fresh eggs and vegetables. I would stare at the cows grazing away. It was so peaceful and agrarian. We had moved from Trumbull, a true suburb, to this bucolic, wild land called Newtown. In 1978, I was still fox hunting my horse in Newtown, and many times we’d gallop down Beaver Dam Road. We’d also jump coops into Cherry Grove Farm cow pastures and quickly trot by as not to disturb the livestock. The late Eleanor Mayer, a gracious landowner who allowed the Fairfield County Hounds on her vast parcels, made this rural riding fantasy possible.

Because of my love of horses and the equine opportunities for riding that Newtown presented to equestrians, especially those that kept their horses in their backyards, I moved here in 1994 specifically to house my horse on my property and to enjoy the surrounding countryside and numerous trails. I met dozens of like-minded folks and we rode all over the town. But then one day, a favorite dirt road I used to access Huntington State Park, Jangling Plains Road, was paved. It upset me. Like a lost friend. Our fun trots down that road had ended and off I went to find new ways to get to the park. For the past 20 years, many dirt roads have suffered the same fate.

Horse In The Hood

As much fun as riding in the neighborhood was, it was equally fun for my neighbors to have a horse in the ‘hood at the end of Pleasant Hill Road. The road was paved to a point and then turned dirt and wound its way right to my horse’s paddock beyond where any cars could go. Many times I would go to feed Spec only to find a head of broccoli given to him by some well-meaning child. Horses don’t eat broccoli, and I’m sure there were plenty of apples and carrots that were offered as well. Once some lettuce leaves were left for the big furry horse, no doubt shared with Spec by a child who had extra rabbit food. Clearly the neighbors loved walking down the dirt road to see, pet, and feed the horse. It was a unique rural experience that was only possible by keeping Newtown a horse-friendly community with lots of dirt roads.

But I never really appreciated the depth of having just one horse at the end of a dirt road until after Spec died in 2000. A neighbor had sent me a condolence card after I had let the neighborhood know he had passed away. I was worried that come spring, the kids would be disappointed not to find their furry friend, and I wanted to give the parents a heads up.

The neighbor wrote, “Dear Lisa, Thank you for letting us know about Spec — we are so sorry. We did admire him and enjoyed our visits with him. One of the first sounds our granddaughter made was a clicking sound my husband made to call Spec over. When we would say, “How do we call Spec,” she would make the sound. When they were visiting from Chicago, one of her special treats would be to visit Spec. Our granddaughter who lives next door visited Spec many times since she was little and from those visits developed a love of horses. She has taken riding lessons. Our granddaughter from Atlanta loved to visit Spec and she and her dad were sad to hear that he was gone.” The letter included a picture of Spec and thanked me for “sharing your wonderful horse with our street.”

Because one horse lived along a dirt road in Newtown, children from large urban cities like Chicago and Atlanta connected with one of the most beautiful creatures in nature. Even more children right here in Newtown developed a love for horses, which usually lasts a lifetime. Never underestimate the power of one.

And as the town decides the fate of one dirt road, think about the heritage that Newtown holds. Think about the large parcels of land that once raised cows and hosted thundering hooves and hollering hounds. Keeping horses and keeping dirt roads have a magical ability to teach a love of animals in the most unforeseen and unforgettable ways.

Lisa Peterson writes about horses, hounds, and history at lisaunleashed.com. She is the owner of Barn Girl Media, a communications consultancy company; contact her at lisa.peterson@barngirlmedia.com.

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