Lives Are Changed at Stony Hill

A not-for-profit foundation to provide local youngsters with scholarships so they could ride at Stony Hill Stables
Kailee Brabant and her leased 10-year-old warmblood, Gio, were put through their paces by her trainer, Marisa Bush, in Stony Hill’s Classic-size ring Saturday morning. Jack Graves

When Maureen Bluedorn, whose love of horses is evidenced in the fact that she bought a horse before she bought a house here, first spoke with Wick Hotchkiss some half-dozen years ago about setting up a not-for-profit foundation to provide local youngsters with scholarships so they could ride at Stony Hill Stables, she wasn’t sure the idea would fly. 

But fly it has, much to Bluedorn’s delight, as she said the other day in a conversation at The Star.

“You know, with these things you never know. You never know whether you’re going to be able to raise the money; you don’t know if you’ll find the right kids and whether you’ll be able to integrate them into a horse community.”

Most of the barns on the East End, said the former international banker, have become “private,” inasmuch as one has to own a horse to ride at them. Stony Hill in Amagansett, by contrast, is, in its office manager Jane Cochran’s words, “a lesson barn,” open to the public. 

All well and good, but until the foundation was founded, in 2012, most children living here year round weren’t availed of the wherewithal to embark, if they wished, upon a serious equestrian career.

“This is a country of opportunity,” Bluedorn said, “but it’s not given to you — you have to seek it out and find it. These are the kind of kids we want, kids who want it, and, I’m happy to say, we’ve been getting them. It’s turned out just as I and Wick had hoped.”

Thus far, the foundation has underwritten 30 scholarships, averaging five or so per year, scholarships that provide the young recipients with a solid four to five months of riding and horse care experience, which can lead, depending on their varying talents and ambitions, to a full-fledged year-round working and riding program.

While all of the recipients have been enthusiastic, about 20 percent, beginning with the foundation’s first honoree, Lara Lowlicht, who recently bought a horse, largely with her banked hours of work at the stable, have really taken the bit in their teeth. 

One such is Kailee Brabant, a 15-year-old East Hampton High School sophomore, one of this year’s six recipients, who came to Stony Hill three years ago, asking if she could work there.

A friend of hers, Renny Murphy — a scholarship winner from Springs, as is Kailee — had told her about Stony Hill, she said before taking a lesson on her leased horse, Gio, a 10-year-old warmblood, Saturday morning. She’d always been interested in horses, though without Stony Hill she never would have ridden, she said.

Asked what it was about horses, Kailee, who has been successfully struggling on her own to overcome an innate shyness, said, “They help with my anxiety. They calm me down.”

It had not only been “like night and day” with Kailee, who plans to pursue equestrian studies in college, said Bluedorn. “The first three scholarship students we had wouldn’t speak. You can understand. You’ve taken them out of their milieus and you’re putting them into a more rarefied existence. At first, they don’t know how to fit in. But then they learn how to, by riding and caring for a horse, by cleaning stalls, working with the other kids, sharing responsibilities, by learning what it’s like to compete. . . . It’s like teaching farmers how to farm.”

The foundation’s philosophy, to wit, that the bonds created with horses and with the Stony Hill family can be personally transforming, has been borne out many times over, she continued. “They become very confident girls and boys.”

“Kailee’s been remarkable,” Coch­ran said as Kailee went to tack up Gio. “I’ve watched her grow personally and grow as a rider. I’ve watched her blossom into an incredible young woman. She was so shy and quiet when she first came here. Working with her and with the other scholarship students has been so gratifying.”

Marisa Bush, Kailee’s trainer, said after the lesson, “She’s been making great progress. Today was the first time she cantered over poles. . . . She has shown — she was in two shows this past summer and liked it. Kids like Lara and Kailee are driven.”

Having provided the scholarship effort with a jump start, Bluedorn said she has now passed on the baton to an energetic and imaginative board — a number of them parents of former scholarship recipients. 

“They went into the community this year and got restaurants to contribute food and businesses to underwrite raffles at our fund-raiser. By doing so, we were able to cover our expenses. And we’re getting donations too from the grandparents and parents of the kids . . . the community is really behind it. The foundation is on a very good footing.”

“This was the best year for candidates,” she added. “We had 18 applications, the most ever. But it wasn’t just the numbers — we gave out six scholarships — it was our most diverse group. . . . One girl said that when she was 2 she asked her mother if she could borrow $2 so she could buy a stable.”

Besides Kailee, this year’s recipients were Olivia Walsh, 14, of Montauk, Nina King, 11, of Montauk, Nadia Binozi, 6, of East Hampton, Aaliyah Brown, 6, of East Hampton, and Johana Morales, 6, of East Hampton.

“These kids were screaming for it, it made it very easy for us to choose,” said Bluedorn. “None of them ever could have afforded to do this. . . . The kids were over the moon, and the parents were so appreciative. They’re sharing a passion; they’re developing beautiful relationships, with horses, and with others. Beautiful people come out of that. It makes my heart feel good to see that it’s continuing.”