Spotlight on BRLA

by Jan Montgomery

Early Days of the BRLA: Some recollections from Jean Tilt, Wilhemine Waller, Mary Berol, Spencer McLean and Jan Montgomery. Reprinted from the Spring 2001 issue of the BRLA Newsletter.

BRLAThe PLA (Private Lanes Association) was the predecessor of the BRLA. Mrs. Tilt believes it dates back 80 or 90 years; she rode the trails linking her family property, the Prestons' with the land of the Wood and Brewster families and extending beyond Mt. Kisco toward Seven Bridges. They were well maintained by a Mr. Harrison who was paid by all the families using the trails.

Jean remembers at age 14 hacking her first hunter to the Meet on the Bedford Village Green. The Hunt Colony was the surrounding meadows and trails. Later there was a terrible row splitting the Bedford Hunt and leaving some families not speaking for years. This excitement reverberated as far as England and resulted in two Hunt territories, the Greenwich-Fairfield and the Goldens Bridge Hounds.

Mrs. Waller stressed the "Private" in PLA. No dues, any "events" were strictly local, for amateurs living within a ten- mile radius, and the trails were primarily a means to reach the Hunt Meet. She recalls hacking to Greenwich from Tanrackin Farm through Piney Woods, "a long way", but not on paving.

Preferable was riding over the day before and putting your horse up at a friend's barn. In those days it was assumed that landowners would be agreeable to trails access as they and their children would be using the trails too. Further, all would know to leave gates as found and not trample the daffodils.

By the late 1950's, many big changes were affecting the PLA and its maintenance. The rush to the "ex-urbs" had brought many new residents to Northern Westchester, many of whom had no previous interest in horsebackriding and wanted their privacy protected. New roads were threatened, built, and paved, including the highly divisible Route 684. The l5 or so riding families could not keep up with the rising costs of equipment and gas. And many riders from public stables in the area used the trails without knowing of or following Trails Rules.

Under the direction of Marilyn Simpson, the PLA became the BRLA, with tax-exempt status to encourage membership and other donations. Mary Berol ' s Beautification Committee transformed "the trails" into a social organization with events to stimulate interest, provide fun, and help raise money. A $5.00 fee with identifying tag for bridle or saddle was successfully promoted around the public stables. An enthusiastic trails access advocate was the late Albert Berol, who rode right up to the doors of new residents to convince them of the wisdom of keeping their trails open and joining the BRLA. Albert and his mount often left a calling card for the cause.

Spencer McLean, who brought a Pony Club Chapter to Bedford (Running Fox), was a highly successful public relations advocate for all horse activities.

A visit from Spencer, often for some Pony Club Rally, usually resulted in the landowner's enthusiastic approval of access, trails adjustment if needed, fences built and/or repaired, and volunteers offered for the day's event.

Spencer, now living in Denver, stresses the fun everyone had with horse activities. She said that though it was still possible to hack with her Pony Clubbers from Hook Road to Greenwich or North Salem for hunting, she thought it would be fun to have a mock Hunt in Bedford, using scent and "hounds" from the Pony Clubbers' own households. She called on landowners involved and ordered a quart of fox scent by mail. A problem arose when the scent bottle leaked at the Bedford Post Office, temporarily paralyzing operations there and proving too strong for the McLean household and their dogs. Fox scent was swapped for rabbit by the Goldens Bridge huntsman and, on the appointed morning, Spencer and her Pony Clubbers followed an ecstatic pack of dachshunds, terriers, Labradors, etc. pursuing rabbit aroma around Bedford's trails and having a lovely time. On Wednesdays, Spencer had a ladies' lunch ride. One day she was inspired to lead the group through a deep section of Beaver Dam River, knowing the horses would swim and riders get wet. When they emerged onto a sand bank, soggy ladies shed their clothes with much hilarity.

All these activities paid off during a couple of crises for the BRLA. The Town of Bedford, fed up with muddy dirt in the winter and spring, proposed paving Hook Road. Despite protests, the bulldozers appeared on the road. Spencer and over 50 fellow Hook Road residents and supporters from other parts of Bedford, lay down in front of the bulldozers. "Our finest hour" one sign proclaimed. Other supporters funded a "legal aid" amount, which, happily, was not needed. The bulldozers retreated, but left a roadblock at "the hook." A kind resident allowed delivery trucks up her driveway and across her field by-passing the roadblock.

The BRLA's act of civil disobedience had prevailed and Hook Road remained unpaved. This one-famous incident has larger significance: it issued in the current era of the BRLA" with its activist mission and a dedicated and growing membership.

There was also a year when the Town budget, to be reviewed at the annual public meeting in December, specified monies for paving some dirt road mileage, Pony Club members turned out with homemade signs opposing the paving and marched in a picket line at the Bedford Town House on the day of the meeting! The BRLA wants to thank Jan Montgomery for gathering these reminiscences from several of Bedford's most experienced horse historians.