Next to a modern apartment building in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, is a nondescript brick structure that dates to the 1930s. Look closely and you’ll see that there are dozens of horses inside. Kensington Horse Stables, at 51 Caton Place, is the last remnant of a riding academy from the early 20th century, with this structure built as an extension of a main facility at 11 Ocean Parkway.
Prospect Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the same landscape architects as Central Park. Like the latter, Prospect Park was meant to accommodate the horse, with bridle paths and carriage drives. The riding academy then, run by Adolph Vogt, was an important part of the new park. Vogt cut his teeth as the Riding Master and later the proprietor of the Bedford Riding Academy, on Bedford and Atlantic Avenue in the Crown Heights area that would later become Automobile Row.
Automobile traffic had made Bedford Avenue inhospitable to horse riding, so in 1917, Vogt looked to expand to another location in southern Crown Heights, near the entrance to Prospect Park off of Malbone Street (now Empire Boulevard). The New York Supreme Court ruled that Vogt could not build there, so he found a new site in Windsor Terrace at 11-27 Ocean Parkway. There, he built the largest riding ring in Brooklyn.
In 1919, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described plans for the new Bedford Academy as “a gorgeous affair…It will have a frontage of almost 100 feet and fitted with observation balconies, tea parlors, and various other requisites of a gathering place for society.” It was also conveniently located for direct access to the bridle path to Coney Island. 11 Ocean Parkway still stands today, repurposed as a warehouse space.
Nearby, Kensington Horse Stables, the only remaining stable in the Prospect Park area, still uses the building at 51 Caton Place. Under the pavement on the street you can see old Belgian blocking peeking out. A small arena inside is used for lessons, though most of the instruction is given on the Prospect Park Bridle Path. There’s also an outdoor space in the back for educational programs.
Kensington Horse Stables aims to teach riders about horsemanship, or the “art of horses,” more than just horse riding, says Barbara Stork, who works at the stable. The stable focuses on developing the relationship between the rider and the horse. Each horse has their own personality, says Stork.
You can also book a carriage ride in Prospect Park through Kensington Horse Stables or rent ponies for parties and film shoots. The horse Tonka, for example, has been on Saturday Night Live, while Emma is used as a picture horse because she knows how to stay very still. The stable also participates in Gallop NYC, a therapeutic program for people with disabilities.
Earlier this year, there was fear that the Kensington Horse Stables might close following a potential bankruptcy proceeding but with support from Brooklyn councilman Brad Lander, the city was in talks to buy out the stables from the Blankenship to keep the operation going. The details are still pending but the future looks promising.
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