Tag Archives: Fairfield County Hunt Club

Huge Horse Show Gallops Into Town

It’s one of Westport’s oldest, longest-running events.

It’s one of the most exciting to see.

It’s one you’ve probably never heard of.

Fairfield County Hunt Club’s 96th annual June Benefit Horse Show opened yesterday. It runs through Saturday.

Part of yesterday’s action at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Over 3,000 international, national and local riders compete in world-class events, featuring hunter, jumper & equitation disciplines. Highlights include a $50,000 Grand Prix, and a $10,000 Welcome Stake.

The June Benefit Horse Show is open to the public, and free. Social activities include a Grand Prix Luncheon, Family Fun Day and shopping at the Paddock Boutique. For more information, click here.

There’s plenty of room at the Fairfield County Hunt Club show. (Photo/Diana Kuen)

The Fairfield County Hunt Club show benefits EQUUS Foundation — the national charity that protects America’s horses, and fosters the horse-human bond.

FUN FACTThis is one of the few remaining historic horse shows that still competes on grass.

The Exxon station at the Post Road and South Maple — around the corner from the Hunt Club — welcomed the stars of the show. (Photo/Diana Kuen)

 

Gruel, Britannia!

Growing up in London, Karen Hubrich hated traditional English food.

Fortunately, her Austrian mother and Hungarian father made sure she ate well.

When she was 21, she got a job serving meals at the prestigious Foreign Press Association, near Buckingham Palace. She looked at the first plate and thought, “This is diabolical.”

Soon — without any training whatsoever — she became the organization’s chef.

It was one more stop on a life that had already provided plenty of surprises. And would offer many more.

Four years earlier — just 17 years old — Karen had “escaped” to New York. She found work as a nanny. “It was a horror story,” she recalls. “I worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and lived in a closet.”

The Foreign Press Association job was a step up. But Karen longed to return to New York. “I didn’t have a pot to piss in,” she says. But she came back, lived with friends in the West Village, and — after spotting an ad in the New York Times — landed a job as chef of the MetroTech faculty dining room in Brooklyn.

She had no green card. Back in the day, there was a simple solution: Her employer sponsored her.

She biked to work, had “bankers’ hours,” and weekends off.

After a couple of years though, she got the urge to move. Another Times ad led her to apply to be chef at the Williams Club.

The room was filled with “old fuddy-duddies in suits,” she says. They were there to be interviewed too. Karen was the only woman.

She got the job.

She also moved to Westport. She knew the town well: Her stepfather lived here, and she visited him often each summer.

She commuted to work by train. She had one son, then got pregnant again. The Williams Club offered her a great severance package. She took it.

Her next gigs were closer to home: Food for Thought, the health food place on the Post Road near Norwalk, then 5 years as chef at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

For the third time though, Karen found a new job through the New York Times. This time it was at the Times — they were looking for an executive chef for their dining room.

So it was back to commuting. She soon ran the the entire food service. It was a great job, in the Times’ historic old building.

But when the paper moved to its new office, an outside firm came in to handle the food. Karen was soon “a single mom with 2 kids, unemployed, and stressed out.”

Even while working other jobs, Karen Hubrich had a catering business.

Fairfield County Hunt Club hired her back. She was there for another 5 years, until Pequot Yacht Club came calling.

Oh, yeah: In between was another 5-year stint, as the personal chef for Michael Bolton and his family.

“He was a great guy — very pleasant to work with,” Karen says. He lived right down the street, in her Old Hill neighborhood.

And she also did catering, and prepared meals to go. Plus all the prepared meals at Double L Farm Stand (which she still does).

These days, Karen is 62. Naturally, she’s on to her next project.

In mid-May, Karen opened a restaurant — her first ever. It’s at 2217 Post Road in Fairfield, just before South Pine Creek.

Warm and cozy, she designed it herself. It’s called Gruel Britannia.

Gruel Britannia, in Fairfield.

In a nod toward the way life can take unexpected turns, she specializes in English cuisine. The same food Karen loathed as a girl.

Now she makes shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, Yorkshire pudding, mushy peas — all simple, classical, with her own special twist.

Karen serves breakfast too: English bacon spread with butter and HP sauce, scones, and coffee — specially roasted by her son Lucas.

The Gruel Britannia pastry case, and menu.

“The food in London is now unbelievable,” she says of her decision to feature a cuisine she once called “diabolical.”

That’s jolly good.

(Gruel Brittania also offers prepared foods, soups, baked items and frozen selectons. Click here for more information. Hat tip: Darcy Sledge)

Gruel Britannia’s loo.

Pic Of The Day #743

On Saturday, Fairfield County Hunt Club held its annual Father-Daughter dance. The outdoors photo opp was chilly. As soon as it was done, the girls raced inside. (Photo/Diana Kuen)

Pic Of The Day #658

Last night’s sunset, at the Fairfield County Hunt Club (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Photo Challenge #211

Our 1st-ever “4-fer” Photo Challenge showed a quartet of ads. All were shot in the 1950s and ’60s by photographer Bill Bell — longtime Westporter Bobbi Liepolt’s father — for the Dunbar furniture campaign. (Click here to see.)

The photos showed, in order:

  • Kathleen Laycock School on Beachside Avenue (now Greens Farms Academy)
  • Fairfield County Hunt Club
  • Nyala Farm, off Greens Farms Road
  • The Stony Point home of Leopold Godowsky (a concert violinist who helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome) and his wife, Frankie Gershwin (George and Ira’s younger sister, and a noted painter).

The first 3 sites are all still in Westport, in more or less the same condition (despite, in Nyala Farms’ case, the construction of a massive office building for Stauffer Chemicals’ world headquarters).

The Godowsky home was torn down in 2009, to make way for a larger, more modern home.

No one got all 4 right. The school was the easiest; Andrew Colabella, Dana Brownell, Barbara Sherburne, Rick Leonard and Bob Grant all quickly identified the iconic, Ivy League-looking main building.

The Hunt Club seemed to be the second easiest. Fred Cantor and Rick Leonard got that one.

It took a while to identify Nyala Farm and Stony Point — but Evan Stein got ’em both. Congrats to all!

This week, we “welcome” old and new readers with this Photo Challenge:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

Polo Rivalry Comes To Westport — And You Can Win

There are many great sports rivalries: Yankees-Red Sox. Michigan-Ohio State. Man U-Man City.

Let’s not forget Gold’s Dragoons vs. Squadron A.

That’s a classic polo match-up. And local residents can watch the two sides battle it out Sunday, August 26 (1 p.m.) — right here at Westport’s Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Exciting polo action comes to Westport.

The full day of fun includes family activities, a polo skills demonstration, music by Green Eyed Lady, plus prizes for best ladies’ hat (a day of pampering at Kate Burton Spa) and best tailgate (a horse weathervane and cupola from Good Directions).

A great VIP lounge features cocktails, beer, a traditional Argentine asado buffet — and “06880” readers can win 2 tickets for full VIP access.

Just click “Comments” below. Pick your team; then respond in 50 words or fewer: “I’m rooting for Gold’s Dragoons (or Squadron A) because…” The deadline is 12 noon this Monday (August 20).

Decision of the judges (Dan Woog and Diana Kuen) is final. Let the games begin!

(The polo event benefits the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation’s REACH Program, an outpatient psychiatric program for children and adults. For more information and tickets, click here.)

Some people dress up to watch polo. But you can come as casually as you like.

Pic Of The Day #430

Fairfield County Hunt Club. Their prestigious June Horse Show ends Saturday. There’s competition all day (and great food), with the Grand Prix starting at 1:30 p.m. Admission is free. (Photo/Greenshotz Photography)

Horse Show Gallops Into Hunt Club

There are only 25 official Heritage Competition horse shows in the US.

This week’s Fairfield County Hunt Club benefit is one of them.

The designation is reserved for long-established competitions that have also made substantial contributions toward the sport, while raising money for charity.

Over 700 international riders participate, at the 97-year-old Hunt Club on Long Lots Road.

It’s a big deal. But despite the elite-sounding name — and of horse shows in general — this one welcomes all of us riff-raff as spectators.

Even better: It’s family-friendly. And free!

In addition to horses and riders, local and national vendors offer home goods, antiques, jewelry and food. (That stuff is not free. Sorry.)

Jumping at the Fairfield County Hunt Club. (Photo/Greershotz Photography)

The show — a fundraiser for the Equus Foundation, a Westport-based national non-profit that protects horses while fostering horse-human bonds — begins at 8 a.m. every day this week, and Saturday. There’s action on 3 rings, simultaneously.

The 2 biggest events are the Welcome Stake (Thursday, June 21, 4 p.m.) and Grand Prix (Saturday, June 23, 1:30 p.m.).

If you’ve never been to a horse show, here are a couple of things to know:

During judging, the rider and horse should appear relaxed. The riding should seem effortless.

Riders may be faulted or eliminated for knocking down any part of a jump, exceeding the time limit, “poor presentation of horse or rider,” bucking, stopping in front of a fence, going off course or jumping in the wrong order.

Those are the basics. To learn more, just trot on down to the Hunt Club.

 

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.

Pics Of The Day #164

Dramatic clouds today at Old Mill Beach … (Photo/Seth Goltzer)

… and across town, at the Fairfield County Hunt Club. (Photo/Bob Jacobs)