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The Last of the Last: 3 Horses in a Stable of Empty Stalls

The Last of the Last: 3 Horses in a Stable of Empty Stalls

New York Times 5/26/2007

By Manny Fernandez

Brutus sleeps in a back corner, in a stall with a window view of the neighbors’ courtyard. Only in New York, perhaps, can you find yourself living in an apartment next to a horse. Tugger and Monte have two wooden stalls close to each other, away from the windows, near the old ramp that leads downstairs.

The place still smells of more than a century of history, horses and hay. But there is something new: empty stalls. Brutus, Tugger and Monte are the last of the last — the last three horses in the last days of the last public stable in Manhattan.

The stable, the Claremont Riding Academy on the Upper West Side, shut its doors nearly four weeks ago, on April 29. Since then, most of the horses at what had been the oldest continuously operated stable in New York City have found new homes. Some retired, some went to a horse center in Maryland and five, it turns out, were donated to Yale.

Only Brutus, Tugger and Monte remain at Claremont. They sort of have to, for now.

The three horses are part of the Parks Enforcement Patrol, the law enforcement arm of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The patrol’s mounted unit, made up of six officers, three sergeants and seven horses, primarily keeps watch over city parkland in the five boroughs. The seven horses are rotated periodically between Claremont and two other stables in the Bronx and on Staten Island.

For Brutus, Tugger and Monte, life at Claremont since April 29 has been unusually quiet. Their stablemates — about 45 of them — are gone. The ground-floor riding ring, where parents would watch their children take lessons, seems more spacious. Among the white-painted stalls upstairs, the only sounds are often the whir of fans and the smooth jazz that plays from a radio outside Tugger’s stall. The riding academy — at 175 West 89th Street, a few blocks from the bustle of Broadway — was for decades a 19th-century anachronism. Now, it feels more like a relic.

The three horses do not stay in much. They each do a daily patrol of Central Park, and there are other perks: brand-name feed, vitamins, shredded beet pulp and a pinch of garlic salt in their food in the summer months (to keep the flies away). Their stalls are outfitted with a video camera so they can be monitored 24 hours a day, and the building is also equipped with fire, smoke and, this being New York, burglar alarms.

Sgt. Robin Wickert, who oversees the mounted unit, said the horses had not had any problems adjusting to the nearly empty stable. ”We try to get them out on a daily basis,” Sergeant Wickert said. ”They’re out so much that we haven’t noticed any difference.”

The former owner of the stable, Paul Novograd, whose father, Irwin, started working there as a bookkeeper during the Depression, cited several reasons for the closing, including high insurance costs, a lack of business and the congestion of pedestrians along Central Park’s bridle path, where riders could stroll with the horses for $55 an hour.

Mr. Novograd sold the four-story building for more than $11 million to a small group of investors who plan to convert it into nine residential units and a single-family town house.

James F. Capalino, a government and community relations adviser to the new owners, said that while the group was made up of real estate investors who were not horseback riders, they were seeking to preserve the site’s exterior. The building, which was erected in 1892 as a carriage stable and became a riding academy in the 1920s, is a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. The developers, Claremont Owners LLC, hired as the project’s architect Sherida E. Paulsen, a former chairwoman of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Parks Department officials, who have been working on plans to bring back horseback riding in Central Park, are also seeking a new home for the horses that they had an agreement with Mr. Novograd to keep at Claremont. Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner, said they would move the horses by the end of the summer to a new or existing stable in Central Park. ”We’ve got to do what’s best for our horses ultimately,” he said.

Yesterday afternoon, Sergeant Wickert saddled Brutus, 19, the oldest of the three. Brutus and the two other horses slowly plodded along an Upper West Side street to the park, ignoring sirens, cars and the buzzing of saws from a building under construction. They are not always so casual. Officer Destiny Colon, who rode Monte, remembered the time she and Monte chased down a man who was speeding through the park. He was not in a car, but on a horse.

Officer Colon wrote him a ticket, for reckless riding.