Equestrians find common ground off the beaten path

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Kendall Casaccio, 16, flashes a proud smile after her mare, Love Actually, clears a hurdle.  Kendall Casaccio, 16, flashes a proud smile after her mare, Love Actually, clears a hurdle.  

Kendall Casaccio, 16, brings her horse Love Actually to a quick trot along the perimeter of Pembrook Farm in rural Dennis Township, leans into the reigns, and leads the horse over a hurdle.

“Beautiful, Kendall,” shouts her trainer, Chrissy Covarrubias. “Now try the course in reverse.”

While many girls her age are at the beach on a given sunny day, Casaccio spends hours riding her horse and jumping it over 4-foot hurdles at Pembrook Farm off Route 47.

Casaccio, who lives in Upper Township, is a nationally ranked rider who has traveled the country to compete, placing at competitions throughout Pennsylvania.

She and other competitive riders belong to an equestrian community that stakes its turf on the rural back roads of Cape May County and goes largely unnoticed by the thousands of tourists who frequent the area in the summer, as well as a lot of the locals.

“There’s a pretty big horse community that flies just under the radar,” said Andrea Bry, owner of the Boot and Bridle Tack Shop on Route 9 in Dennis Township, “It’s a big business, and also a big secret.”

Boot and Bridle has been serving riders in Cape May County for the past 28 years, Bry said, and began on her and her husband Michael’s 8-acre horse farm in the Clermont section of Dennis Township.

“People are surprised, when they come in they say, ‘What’s a tack shop doing down here?’” she said.

But Bry said they shouldn’t be surprised. New Jersey’s state animal is the horse, and the state has the highest number of horses per capita in the country, she said.

Bry said there are a half-dozen or more professional horse riding facilities in Cape May County.

Some 400 horses were evacuated from Cape May County during Hurricane Irene last year, she pointed out.

Bry is on the board of directors for the English Circuit of South Jersey, an organization that began almost 40 years ago to promote the spirit of riding in southern New Jersey. The circuit will host more than 15 horse shows this year in Cumberland and Cape May counties; the next two are June 16 and June 23 at Seahorse Farm in Cape May.

Bry said that while most people think of tourism as the county’s main business, agriculture is also a large part of its economy. From this, Bry said she believed the sport of horse riding grew.

“The pony that was once just another addition to the family farm is now a finely tuned athlete, and so is the kid riding it,” she said.

Andrea Bry of the Boot and Bridle Tack Shop has been dressing Cape May County’s horse riders for the past 28 years. Andrea Bry of the Boot and Bridle Tack Shop has been dressing Cape May County’s horse riders for the past 28 years.  Development resulted in the downsizing of many farms, she said, including her own 8-acre farm, which was part of a 40-acre thoroughbred breeding facility for racehorses before it was divided into three parts, one of which she bought.

“As farms got smaller, the sport has gotten bigger,” Bry said. Primarily what we see now are farms that board horses, teach riding lessons, and take horses to various horse shows in the area.”

Bry said that, as the owner of the only tack shop in Cape May County, she has met a majority of the county’s riders.

The shop carries riding boots, helmets, saddles and gifts for horse lovers, among other items necessary for riding. Bry said that some of the women she once outfitted to ride in their first horse are now bringing in their daughters for the same.

“I’m surprised if there is someone else in this area that owns a horse who I don’t know,” Bry said, “It’s a tight-knit subculture that no one really knows how to break into unless you’re already in it.”

The Boot and Bridle Tack Shop is at 2300 Route 9 North in the Ocean View section of Dennis Township. Hours are 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

 

 

Pembrook Farm in Dennis Township boards horses, offers riding lessons and hosts riding competitions throughout the year. Pembrook Farm in Dennis Township boards horses, offers riding lessons and hosts riding competitions throughout the year.

Kendall Casaccio, 16, leans into Love Actually as they jump a hurdle. Kendall Casaccio, 16, leans into Love Actually as they jump a hurdle.

 Kendall Casaccio of Upper Township leads her horse, Love Actually, over a high hurdle.  Kendall Casaccio of Upper Township leads her horse, Love Actually, over a high hurdle.


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