Fairfield County Hunt Club: Horses — And Much More

A few weeks ago I wrote about Birchwood Country Club. I called the hidden-in-plain sight 80-acre property — just inches from the Norwalk border — “the only private country club in Westport.”

Oops!

At the opposite end of town — just inches from the Fairfield border — lies the Fairfield County Hunt Club. It’s a country club too.

And though their emphasis is on horses, not golf, the Hunt Club shares several similarities with Birchwood. Both clubs have beautiful dining rooms. They offer tennis and swimming. They’re reaching out to younger families, and welcoming kids.

Fairfield County Hunt Club’s inviting dining room.

And they’re both trying to overcome low profiles and outdated stereotypes about who they are, and what they do.

The Hunt Club traces its history back to 1923. Averill Harriman commissioned Laura Gardin Fraser — a famous sculptor living on North Avenue — to design and execute a polo medal.

As part of her research she borrowed mallets, mounted a horse and began knocking a ball around on her estate. Intrigued, other Westporters joined her.

Games grew into the idea of a club — with, in addition to polo, horse shows and hunting.

Polo was played first on the a field on Hulls Farm Road, in Fairfield. Horse shows were held on the Bedford family estate.

The historic logo hangs on a barn door.

The Long Lots Road property was purchased in 1924 by Henry Rudkin, whose family founded Pepperidge Farm.

Interest in horses flourished. But the Depression a few years later made riding seem frivolous.

Smith Richardson, Fred Bedford and Fred Sturges helped reorganize the club. They introduced sound financial controls, and things were looking up.

A fire on New Year’s Eve in 1937  gutted the clubhouse. With insurance money, the club could have paid all its obligations and closed up shop. Instead, leaders vowed to rebuild.

Then came World War II, and gas rationing. Though membership dropped to 70, the club emerged in good shape.

A swimming pool was added in 1952. Then came 6 tennis courts, a paddle court, and in 1965 an indoor ring for year-round riding.

Through the 1970s the Hunt Club built more tennis and paddle courts, another indoor ring, and other amenities.

In the 1990s a capital improvement program renovated the clubhouse, improved barns, refurbished the baby pool, and added a snack bar and irrigation.

The 40 acres now include 8 tennis courts, 4 paddle courts, 6 barns, 2 outdoor and 2 indoor rings, a casual grill room in addition to the formal dining room — and a 60 foot-by-120 foot skating rink.

Paddle courts (foreground). In the rear is the skating rink.

Notable members over the years have included Martha Stewart, Lucie McKinney, Paul Newman, Ruth Bedford, Frank Deford, Robert Ludlum, and Harry Reasoner — who lived directly across Long Lots Road from the club.

Though not as famous as some members, Emerson Burr was well known in riding circles. He was Fairfield County Hunt Club’s stable manager for over 50 years. A ring is named for him. Burr died in 2001. His portrait hangs in the dining room.

There are now approximately 200 members. One-third are not interested in riding — they join for the pool, tennis and paddle courts, dining, family fun, summer camp, whatever. They come primarily from Westport and Fairfield, with a smattering from other nearby towns.

Things have changed over the years, of course — and not just the facilities. Members used to ride horses on the roads near the club. They no longer do — except occasionally on Godfrey Lane, off nearby Bulkley.

Riding lessons, in the indoor ring.

But key events remain the same. Several horse shows are held each year. The big one is in June. This year’s — the 95th annual — benefits the Equus Foundation. The US Equestrian Federation has designated it a “heritage competition” — one of only 16, out of 2,000 shows a year in the country.

The polo field, as seen from the dining room.

The Hunt Club hosts other fundraisers, along with dances, Halloween and holiday parties, and more.

The riding program is robust. Youngsters start as young as 5 — and members continue to ride through their 70s. A summer academy (ages 6 to 11) teaches riding, as well as horse care.

A young Fairfield County Hunt Club member, and her horse.

The club owns 9 horses; some members own their own.

Polo begins as young as 10 years old.

Monthly horse shows are open to the public. The big one, in June, draws international riders.

Like its counterpart Birchwood, the Fairfield County Hunt Club honors its history — and is moving into the future. New, young members have energized both clubs.

Ride on!

BONUS HUNT CLUB FUN FACTThe Polo Ralph Lauren logo is based on a photograph of Benny Gutierrez — a Polo Hall of Fame inductee — taken on the Fairfield County Hunt Club polo field.

A whimsical part of the Fairfield County Hunt Club parking lot.

12 responses to “Fairfield County Hunt Club: Horses — And Much More

  1. Nancy Powers Conklin

    During the summer, when I had nothing to do as a 10 year old, I would ride my bike up to the Hunt Club and walk around petting the horses and watching people ride. I was fascinated and loved the Hunt Club, even though I was just a local kid looking around.

  2. Linda D. Parker

    Oh, my! My sister and I had the same experience as Nancy ! Growing up on Old Road, we were frequent ” visitors” to Fairfield County Hunt Club. Great childhood memories, Dan – thanks

  3. Bob Weingarten

    A bit of history trivia. From historic records it appears that one of our renown architects Charles Cutler design the clubhouse and barns in 1925.

  4. Some of my very best memories are from time spent @ our beloved FCHC! And I’m still making memories with dear friends decades later. Thanks Dan for sharing our story with the local community. It remains one of the special places where kids can unplug and be kids.

  5. Patricia Andrews bray

    What what windercul memories ❤️

  6. Barbara Sherburne '67

    Great story and photos. I especially like the portrait of Emerson Burr. I attended Burr Farms Elementary School, probably named after him, I would think. I watched people ride at the Fairfield County Hunt Club also. I think it was at the Birchwood Country Club where I broke my left leg when I was about 12 years old skiing down a slight hill and the toe of my ski got caught in the snow. My mom was late picking up my twin sister Nancy and me, and it was cold. So we were doing jumping jacks to try to stay warm. That was on New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day I woke up and could not walk. Wow. Those were the days.

  7. HEy dan
    Great article
    I live in Mexico
    Central área
    Horse country
    Long story but loved remembering Connecticut
    Horse culture

  8. Remember Skeeter?

  9. Brenda Tananbaum

    Thanks for the article!

  10. I’ve lived here off and on since 1962; and because of you, Dan, I’m still learning new things about this town! I had no idea about the Hunt Club’s cool history.

  11. When I was a kid, showing at the Hunt Club was one of my favorite shows (competition). Loved competing there! My horse, rode by my trainer, competed against Leslie Burr in a hunter class. Long story short… my horse beat out hers. I was so proud. My trainer kicked some butt that day!
    Many years riding there… amazing memories. Love the club!

  12. I find it interesting how people discuss the Hunt Club, but gloss over its history of virulent anti-Semitism.

    At it’s inception, founded partially at the trotters track in my old back yard at 282 North Avenue, by my family’s next door neighbor Laura Fraser, the Hunt Club had a very explicit NO JEWS ALLOWED policy.

    While a attending a dance there in the mid 1960s with other Staples students the comment was passed “ Well it’s nice we can get away from all the Jews moving into Westport here.”

    When I informed the person that I was Jewish he replied, “Really, you don’t look Jewish.”

    On my response, that I looked like everyone in my family and they were all Jewish, he got up and spoke with an adult who was in authority. I was then “politely” told that I would have to leave the event.

    It’s a testament to the moral fiber of Staples students even there, that every one of the friends I was sitting with got up and left as well.

    Years later, when working in government affairs, local Congressman Stewart McKinney invited me to join him for lunch there. When I demurred, and under some pressure from him related the story, he replied that that sort of behavior was long past anything acceptable at the Hunt Club, that he was sorry for any past offense but it would never happen to anyone there again. Something he actually took credit for.

    It was comforting, but the insult never really goes away.

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