You cannot drive a Hamptons backroad and not eventually see beautiful horses either grazing, or being ridden. Horses represent a huge connection to the land and to the past. Who can forget the scenes in the 1959 movie, Ben-Hur, showing among other things the connection of men and horses in ancient times?
Years ago I was introduced to Emily Wintjen. I was told she had a gift with horses. Actually, her whole family was said to have the horse magic. It started with Emily’s dad, Hank. Through the magic of the Internet I tracked her down and she was kind enough to share.
Emily explains: “My dad was born in 1937 in Brooklyn. When he was 14, he recalls going to Canarsie to the stable that rented horses…him and his friends would take the horses out to the beach all morning and when it came time to return the horses and pay, they would get off and send the horses back to the barn because they didn’t have money to pay. They listened to country music and were self-proclaimed, ‘Brooklyn cowboys!’ In 1974 my dad bought 13 acres in Sagaponack on Merchants Path, a dirt road back then. My dad and his two teenage sons began clearing the land and built a fence out of the trees for a paddock and a 2-stall barn that is still there today. Hank got his first horse from a farmer, Mr. Turner, [who lived] on Haines Path. Mr. Turner also rented out hack horses. Then my oldest sister, Faith, started taking riding lessons at Swan Creek with Alvin and Pasty Topping. It was before the first Hampton Classic Horse Show.”
I asked Emily about the Hamptons being ideal for horse country, and she responded, “Is the Hamptons ideal horse country?… it has its perks, it’s beautiful and has great trail riding opportunities, such as being able to ride on the beach or take your horse to some of the gorgeous ponds. The mild weather also makes it possible to ride almost all year. There’s also the Hampton Classic which attracts top trainers and riders.”
“Unfortunately there’s not much farmland left and being on the end of Long Island can make it tricky to find affordable, quality hay and bedding for horses, as well as horses,” she added.
Her dad sold the farm and moved to Ocala, Florida, the ultimate year-round horse country for show horses in the USA. I asked her after her dad sold the Sagaponack farm, did it change him? Her reply is pure daughter’s pride, “It hasn’t, in 2000 he bought 10 acres in Ocala, Florida and at close to 80-years-old he again cleared the land and designed and built another horse farm. He does boarding and raced thoroughbreds. Today, at almost 90, he still oversees the farm. Supervising the training of my young warmbloods, maintenance and repairs, tree trimming and mowing, fence fixing, stall mucker, horse transporter, ultimate horse show dad for three horse crazy daughters!”
Looking back to being a young girl with horses in the Hamptons, Emily Wintjen has fond memories. She said, “My fondest memories always involve my niece Maggie and our little pony ‘Gee Whiz.’ He was an 11.2 hand Shetland pony that my parents bought for me when I was 2-years-old. We used to play Cowboys and Indians, load three kids on him bareback and ride along all day. We would ride through the woods, fields and ponds. We would fall off or get bucked off every day. He was a great teacher.”
As for being the best rider in the family, she explained about her sister Joann who died of Leukemia and competed in the Hampton Classic. In fact, to this day, in Joann’s honor “The Wintjen Perpetual Trophy for Local Junior Champion,” is still awarded at the Hampton Classic yearly.
However, Emily did share, “Around 13-years-old I started teaching lessons and competing locally. I had a string of school horses for teaching, about 13. Most of them were ponies purchased from slaughter auctions or horses I was training to resell. By the time I got to high school I was competing on the Florida circuit and going to school only part time.”
What was like life back then in the Hamptons at their home and Bed and Breakfast? She replied, “I think of that scene from Forrest Gump where he’s talking about his mom running a boarding house…. there were always people coming and going. We boarded horses for decades in Sagaponack and every person and every horse had a story and it was so interesting to get to know these people and the horses they owned. It was fascinating!”
Emily would only say this about the Hamptons horse scene today. “I really have no idea what goes on out there these days but I always had the most respect for Swan Creek. Alvin and Pasty Topping’s son Jagger and his wife Mandy are hard workers and have been there forever. They know the land and the business of horses in the Hamptons.”
These days Emily is in Ocala, Florida. What’s she up to? “Well, I live in Ocala, Florida breeding my own horses. I have two dogs and I am raising four horses,” she relayed.