Equestrian glory returns to Prospect Park, one step at a time
Brooklyn Industrialist John Quadrozzi Moves Forward with Horse Arena, Stable
Prospect Park was designed for people — and horses.
The park’s grounds, which included carriage drives and bridle paths, were the site of horse shows and parades. In the early 1900s, hundreds of horses were stabled there.
Today, the park’s equestrian facilities are one step closer to their former grandeur, thanks to Brooklyn industrialist and horse fancier John Quadrozzi Jr.
Quadrozzi has championed repairs to the park’s unkempt bridal paths; has upgraded the bridle path’s riding circle, known as “the Q equine arena” (aka “the Q”); is setting up an equestrian program for disadvantaged kids; and intends to bring back the historic stable as a new state-of-the-art horse facility.
Roughly two weeks ago, Quadrozzi finished installing specialized equestrian fencing around the Q. The steel-reinforced vinyl fencing is designed to take impact without breaking and without hurting the horses.
“The Q is for doing your practice and your small jumps,” Quadrozzi told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We do some dressage here and the different types of equitation you would do in a ring. Being enclosed is an important part of that.”
“If a rider were to tumble or a horse go into a fence, it creates a deflection. It’s a special fence to protect horse and rider,” he said.
Before the fencing was put up, park goers might start playing ball and not notice 2,000-pound horses and their riders trotting around the circle, Quadrozzi said.
The “tail” of the Q will be a staging area with a watering trough, custom mounting blocks and perhaps an awning for the horses to protect them from the sun, if the Parks Department allows it. Quadrozzi also envisions bleachers and a judging stand.
A Long-Time Connection to the Park
Quadrozzi, a lifelong horseman and president of the GBX–Gowanus Bay Terminal on the industrial Red Hook waterfront, won the bidding for the historic Prospect Park Stables (more recently called Kensington Stables) last year. The stables — the first one, now a footbridge, was originally built in 1917 and the remaining stable was erected in 1930 — had deteriorated over the years, and the company went bankrupt.
Quadrozzi’s commitment to repairing the bridle path, however, began 14 years ago, when his daughters started riding lessons in the park.
Back then, the makeshift ring — just a big loop with a sharp turn around some trees near Bartel-Pritchard circle — had no footing and was rocky from erosion, Quadrozzi said.
“When going to watch my daughters train, I’d watch horse after horse stumble and at times fall and dump their riders,” he said. “Especially at the end, where it was rocky and rutty.
“I said, ‘This is an easy fix for us. I do this in my sleep.’ You know, pushing dirt and rock around is second nature,” said Quadrozzi, who regularly handles ship-sized quantities of bulk materials, from cement to rock salt.
“So we went to Tupper Thomas, the president of Prospect Park Alliance at that time, and she connected us with Christian Zimmerman [Prospect Park Alliance’s chief landscape architect], and that’s when we laid this out and did the initial shaping.” Now, the ring is filled with eight inches of soft footing material made from natural stone dust.
Quadrozzi says he’s talking to the Prospect Park Alliance about his idea to expand the Q by 25 feet, increase the center to dressage-standard and level the area for drainage purposes. “And then you can be regulation. And that’s really where we want to be with this,” he said.
Programs for Disadvantaged Kids
Quadrozzi is working with Good Shepherd Services to set up programs for disadvantaged public school kids.
“Right now we have a design plan for three schools — one in Red Hook, one in Sunset Park and one in Gowanus. They work with mostly kids who have social issues,” he said.
“We’ll be developing a funding stream so these kids can also partake in the whole equine experience, not just the kids who come from families well off enough to afford it,” he added. “It’s a very expensive sport. The horses are expensive and the gear is all expensive, and we’re figuring out a way to make it so everyone in Brooklyn that enjoys riding horses can be a part of it.” Quadrozzi is seeking the support of local elected officials to bring this program to fruition.
He’s also talking to a program based in Kentucky at Secretariat Center that specializes in working with children who have been bullied or come from abusive homes.
“They work with retired thoroughbreds that would normally go out to slaughter. They retrain them, find them new homes and use them in this program. So it has that double benefit,” he said.
“I went out to Kentucky to see if they were real — and they were very real,” he laughed.
Bringing Back the Stable
Quadrozzi intends to bring back the historic stable, located on the edge of Prospect Park, and turn it into a state-of-the-art horse facility, with boarding, equestrian apparel and tack outfitting, a coffee and tea spot and a multiuse room for equine education, entertainment and events.
He has already replaced the roof beams, the side material and the side walls. “We were able to work in sections around the horses,” he said.
He also hopes to build seven or eight stories atop the stable, for residential or possibly a self-storage facility, so the equine portion will be able to survive in a low-income environment.
“We’re working with the Department of City Planning, talking to [Councilmember] Brad Lander’s office, looking at some of the other developments, and we’re trying to figure out what the right fit is,” he said. “Knowing that you have that real estate there is the anchor. You don’t have to worry about the stables surviving.”
He’s also in talks with the city’s Department of Transportation to provide a safer and easier way for riders to get from the stables at Parkside Circle to the park.
“The traffic circle is taking your life in your hands. At certain times a day it’s treacherous,” he said. “So we’re talking to them about dedicated lanes to get the horses into the park safely.”
A Family Affair
Quadrozzi’s daughter Xiana, now 20, is a partner in the new stable and equitation business.
“I have fond memories with my friends aka fellow ‘Barn Rats’ from the stable,” she said via email. “Many of us still maintain the bond we had together growing up riding horses in Prospect Park.”
“We practically grew up there,” she said. “While other kids hung out on the street corner, we played games with horses and rode till sunset, and sometimes past; and on Halloween, we did horse and rider costumes and rode throughout the park.”
“It’s been extremely exciting to see the ring evolve throughout my life,” she said. “The missing piece, the fence, makes it function properly.”
Quadrozzi said that Councilmember Brad Lander has been very supportive of the project.
“Brad has been introducing us to different community gatherings, things having to do with the building rezoning proposal, so we’re meeting the community and finding out they’re very supportive of stables here. That’s nice, because usually everything you do is a challenge in this city, and I’ve never seen anything so welcoming.”
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