At Prospect Park Stable, kids gain confidence, discipline, connection with horses and nature
Fudge is a real New Yorker. He moved to Windsor Terrace from the Bronx 10 years ago for work, and even in the midst of this pandemic he’s still right here in Brooklyn doing his job. Most days you’ll find him outdoors performing routine tasks in the fresh air of Prospect Park.
Fudge likes routine. He finds it calming. His job involves working with kids, and he likes that, too: their energy, their enthusiasm, even their mistakes — Fudge takes it all in stride. Unflappable steadfastness and a strong work ethic have made Fudge a prized employee. His bosses don’t value him for his grit or chutzpah or “city smarts.” They value him for his equanimity. Or in Fudge’s case, his equine-imity.
Fudge is a horse. As part of the Brooklyn equine — nickname “Be™”— summer weekly immersion program, he helps kids ages 6 to 15 learn important horsey basics like how to use different types of tack, how to sit on a saddle in proper two-point position and how to trot. Fudge’s wisdom in these areas is innate and bone-deep, and he is uniquely good at what he does. (This reporter can also verify that his forehead is very soft, and that he stands still and regards you serenely when you stroke it.)
Fudge has been at the stable for almost a decade, and in that time he has helped hundreds of city kids learn horse behavior and etiquette. His current “boss,” program director Xiana (pronounced “Cee-ah-nah”) Quadrozzi, was one of those kids herself; she took her first riding lessons at this very stable when she was five years old. “I learned how to do a lot with Fudge,” she says. “He has a great temperament. He is the most reliable pony I’ve ever worked with and ridden in my life. He teaches the kids more than I do! I will give him all the credit. He’s our tried-and-true favorite.”
Quadrozzi’s father, horseman and Brooklyn industrialist John Quadrozzi, Jr., bought the former Kensington Stables in 2018, re-introduced their historical name from 1917 — Prospect Park Stable — and had his equestrian daughter on board from the start.
On this day, Xiana Quadrozzi and her team — instructor Sylwia Wisniewska, handlers Valerie Garcia, Tucker Prisant, Ariel Ron and Marcela Slawomirski, and horses Fudge, Cody, KitKat and Peaches — are helping two groups of kids get comfortable being on horseback.
“We don’t want to be the type of stable that’s, ‘The horse is ready for you; take your one-hour ride,’” Quadrozzi says. “Kids spend the whole day here. They come at 10 o’clock in the morning, get their horse ready, go to the park and have a riding lesson, then come back to the stable and do horse-themed activities for the rest of the day. Every week they’re learning a different aspect of horse history, behavior and healthcare.”
The six women leading today’s lesson are city slickers all. “Everybody’s either a Queens or Brooklyn native,” says Quadrozzi. “Sylwia’s from Brooklyn; she’s been with the stable since 2013 and moved up to an instructor role about three years ago.”
Ron, a graduate of The Urban Assembly NY Harbor School, met Quadrozzi when both were attending Centenary University, which has one of the top equine studies programs in the country. “I’m still in the middle of getting my degree,” says Quadrozzi, “but Ariel just graduated this year. She’s from Queens.”
During these daily riding lessons, each horse-and-rider combo has an adult handler holding the lead as the watchful instructors shout regular feedback and encouragement:
“Soledad, fix your feet! Too far in the stirrup. Keep that heel down — I know you’ve got it in you!”
“Elbows and heels! Elbows and heels!”
“Pick your reins up, Vivian!”
“Remember that nice springy heel I talked to you about last week, Michaela? You got it!”
“Yes! I love that sitting trot!”
Young riders often make the mistake of leaving too much to the horse. “They’ll use the horse as their security, instead of relying on their own body to keep them steady,” says Quadrozzi. “Even just picking up the reins properly is something they have to learn. Keeping their arms in the correct position has to become muscle memory, so they’re not yanking on the horse’s mouth and causing unnecessary pressure. Their seat has to be a certain way, their legs have to be a certain way, their heels, their arms, their head … They’ve got to learn how to connect everything, because the horse feels every movement.”
In the end, it’s a real workout. “Riding is a whole-body emotion,” says Quadrozzi. “You’re following your horse’s behavior and figuring out what your horse prefers, and you’re also learning how to hold your body steady so you’re not throwing yourself off-balance.”
Learning how to care for and control these intelligent creatures is a confidence-booster, too. “When I was growing up here, I saw the positive impact horses had on my peers,” Quadrozzi says. “They’re great with helping kids learn responsibility and respect for large animals. They’re also good for social and emotional issues. They pick up on energy, so you have to learn how to adjust yourself so you can be around them.”
There are currently 19 horses at Prospect Park Stable, and as horsey folks well know, each one has a distinct personality. Take Cody, for instance — the tall, full-bred Paint horse from New Jersey. “Cody is old reliable,” says Quadrozzi. “He was trained as a Western Pleasure horse, and they’re typically calm, slow, easygoing.”
By contrast, Peaches — the part-Arabian chestnut who came from Fudge’s old stable in the Bronx — is “a little bit sassier. She does very well with beginners, but she’s really more of an intermediate [rider’s] horse, because she can do more work when she’s not on a lead.”
KitKat, however, is another story. The stable’s newest horse (she was brought here from Tennessee in January 2019), she can be a bit sensitive. “She’s a fun little middle-of-the-road type of pony,” says Quadrozzi. “But she can have her moments. She’s kind of a different pony every day. Sometimes she’s like an angel. Other times, we adults will be doing stuff with her, and she’ll be like, ‘Uh, I’m not feeling it today.’ But she loves the kids. Once they start feeding her treats and patting her, her ears go forward and she’s like, ‘Ahhh.’”
Brooklyn equine operates at the historical Prospect Park Stable, located at 55 Caton Pl. in Windsor Terrace. The Stable’s seven-week summer-immersion program is separated by age group: “Pony Days,” for 6- to 11-year olds, and “Junior Groom,” for kids aged 12 to 15.
For more information, please email [email protected]
Leave a Comment
Leave a Comment