The Unexpected Hampton Getaway

Written By: Diana Berthold

Born and raised in Nassau County, to a family of very limited means, meant a horse was something only to dream about. Living close to the woods and streams that I loved, is where I began to think it could come true. Someday to ride my own horse through the glorious woods and keep him in my yard, even though the property it was only 60 X 100. On my bike, I rode miles, even across Southern State Parkway, to a stable just to get a glimpse of the horses. Once I got there, I would just sit quietly on my bike in the distance, not even getting close to the horses or to talk with the people, as I was very shy. Growing up, I also wanted to become a veterinarian which I knew would not be possible , but since I sewed all of my clothes at a young age and even my aunt’s wedding gown at 16, I went onto to FIT, got married, and became a fashion designer. I worked weekdays in NYC and my husband worked nights and weekends, so began my pursuit of dreams to learn to ride and would do so in the evening after my daily four hour commute. Not long after, I bought my first horse which expanded my skills, knowledge, and goals, and eventually led me to bring him home. It would give me the freedom to go and do whatever and wherever which brought us to the point of moving which brings me to my first memories of time spent in the Hamptons.

We really needed a new place to live and didn’t even have time to look together. My husband showed me the little ranch house on an 80 X 100 parcel and I told him it was nice, but the yard wasn’t big enough to keep a horse. He wasn’t prepared for that and his answer was that I should have outgrown that childhood fantasy long ago. Little did we know when we bought that home of eight years that we would sell it to so that we could bring a horse home? It was April when we decided to put our home on the market and found one with more property a little further east, which was still within reason to commute. It was a quick decision and had our work cut out for us. With the careers that we held, we didn’t need the added stress of barn politics, which was the prime reason for the move. My colleagues balanced their lives with appointments with their therapists and all I needed to do was to groom and ride my horse to melt away all of the day’s concerns, deadlines, and stresses which gave me a sense of renewal. Unexpectedly, we had to move our horse immediately and thankfully, a friend who had a farm in the Hamptons, offered to pick up my horse and board him until we moved and built the barn. We were fit as a fiddle and looked forward to our daily rides, which were not possible since the distance was too great. Riding would have to wait for the weekend. Making two roundtrips a weekend with a gas guzzler in a gas shortage or trying to find and afford a place to stay for the weekend was another dilemma to resolve! We were lucky that my friend was able to accommodate us with a stall at peak season time, but she lived in tiny quarters and unable to help us with a place to stay.

Always determined, positive and creative problem solvers, we got our tent back which we had lent to our brother in law. Of course, it came back to us in terrible condition and really smelled awful, but we didn’t give it a thought and were happy for it as it was going to house us for the weekends until the move. On the first night after crawling into our sleeping bags, something jumped on top of the tent shaking it violently. We saw something large on top where there was a mesh screen for ventilation. My normally calm, strong, tough, six foot husband jumped to his feet thinking a raccoon was trying to claw his way in. This opportunist was only one of the very large barn cats! One weekend, upon getting ready to drive home, I sprung up into the driver’s seat and was mortified to have sat on something fat and squishy which yowled and also sprung out the window! That summer afternoon, finding the windows open, the biggest and toughest of barn cats, found it to be his perfect lounging place. We scared the life out of each other! Our tent was pitched next to the manure pile and in between the pastures. Location, location, location! Believe it or not, I don’t much remember the manure pile except it to be large, but still remember how wonderful it was to hear the horses moving around in the night and the quiet utterances to each other. In order to accommodate summer season boarders, school horses lived freely outside in the pastures under the stars. It was so peaceful.

We were so happy! On Friday after work, my husband would whip up all kinds of great food that he’d pack up in our Coleman’s cooler, which was ready to enjoy with our friends when we were hungry and had time to eat. The Hamptons went into hibernation from Labor Day til Memorial Day in those days and indoor riding rings were not common, so summertime meant days started at dawn and ended at dusk since summer was the season to earn most of one’s annual income. The long work day fueled a hearty appetite but also little time to cook. Hungry meant a trip to the deli for a sandwich or ice cream. By the time the work was done, it was too late and one too tired to go out to a restaurant. I remember barbequing and sitting there afterwards addressing prize lists from a long mailing list for the horse shows that were held there. We met all kinds of people from all walks of life. It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from. Horses were the common denominator which crossed all social, cultural, and economic lines. There was a kid whose father was the king of restaurateurs who preferred to raid our picnic basket after leaving her lunch unfinished at one of the prestigious private clubs. Those were great days riding everywhere, helping out at the farm and at their shows, even getting an opportunity to ride in a class. We had that horse for 25 years until he passed away at the ripe old age of 38. We still have horses and our lives may have changed a bit, but our friendships still remain strong for over 35 years and still laugh over some of the great memories.

Later on, somehow I learned that our brother and sister-n-law were miffed that we never invited them out for what they considered our “Hampton Getaways.” It still makes me crack up when I think of what they thought they missed out on. Was it sleeping in the smelly old tent next to the manure pile, working up a barn sweat helping out, or riding “dirty animals?” All of the things that I loved! All that time, they thought we were out shopping, going to the beach, and going to fine restaurants, all of the things that we did NOT do while away for the weekends in the Hamptons!

My family and I still visit the Hamptons throughout the year, and barely miss a day at the Hampton Classic Horse Show. Medical issues, including a brain tumor, has caused my riding to take a backseat to the time that I spend creating keepsakes for horse and dog enthusiasts. They send me their photos and show ribbons from all over the country which I use to create heirloom quilts and oil paintings of their beloved companions.