I have written about summer camp but not specifically about horseback riding. It was sensational. Each morning the bus picked me up on West 83rd Street and took me to the “wilds” of Yonkers in the Silver Birch Ranch Day Camp. The “wilds” being high on a hill above the Tuckahoe Road exit number 6 on the NYS thruway.
Being a West Side kid I knew about the riders in Central Park and the Claremont Stables. But Silver Birch was different.
The corral wasn’t very big. It was on two levels, well sort of, with a little trail up some not so big rocks that led from the lower to the upper flat area. The lower area was where you would typically find the horses tied up to the wooden post and rail fence and Jerry, the riding counselor, perched.
We all wore cowboy boots, those of us who helped out. The campers were encouraged to wear at least hard sole shoes. We wore western snap button shirts and jeans, just like Jerry. His girlfriend was Gail, the best looking counselor in the camp, of course.
We taught campers how to bridle and saddle the horses. We were a small operation. We let them ride around the flat upper part of the corral and then we taught them how to brush down the animals.
The older kids got to go out on the trails that left the upper camp area which surrounded the upper corral. This was mostly a walking ride with Jerry in the front and one of us, the counselors-in-training (CIT), bringing up the rear. For the better riders the trail ride included an area where they were encouraged to run their horses.
And then there was the time the horse fell on me. While Jerry sat on the fence around the upper part of the corral I took one of the horses to ride in loops. Forgetting that the animal was slightly lame on the left I was making left turns until….over we went. I got untangled as the horse got back on his hooves and Jerry looked down at me and said, “Is the horse all right?”
Sally and Milt, who owned the camp, used to tell us about the time when they rode on the NYS Thruway while it was a dirt route under construction to become the highway we all know.
They were great folks. Sally was a nurse. She seemed to be the person running the day to day operation. Milt, if I recall correctly was a doctor. We didn’t see him every day. They had a daughter, Garth Allison, who was several years younger than me. She had a crush on me and I thought she was very pretty and I was very flattered. They had a gorgeous Irish Setter named Maverick. He was friends with us all.
Sally gathered the CITs together in the office one day and we talked about pimples. She was very firm in her belief that most if not all of us had skin which was adversely impacted by milk. I stopped drinking milk and stopped getting any pimples.
I stayed with family on the camp grounds for to weeks one summer while my parents were away. My mother was in Europe with her best friend, Florence, and dad was in California working. It was fun being with Sally and Milt, Garth and Maverick.
In my last year as a CIT, I had visions of Jerry moving on and me taking over. Instead, sadly, Sally and Milt sold the camp to a developer. Now when you look up from the Thruway around the Tuckahoe Road exit you see houses. What a loss! I really loved it there in the wilds of Yonkers.