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Rider Recalls Greenwich's Equestrian Heyday

Vicky Skouras remembers when she could gallop her horses through open fields. Now she must slowly maneuver around houses.

"There is less open space to run in," the Greenwich native says. "We have less fields to run in. The trails still exist that I rode on when I was 5-years-old. The network of trails is still there, it is just traced with a few houses. That is the biggest change."

Skouras is head of the Greenwich Riding and Trails Association , which was formed in 1914 as the Greenwich Riding Association. By the 1920s its biggest equestrian pastimes were fox hunting and riding in fine carriages – and the Fairfield-Westchester Hunt was one of the leading hunts in Connecticut.

Skouras says the arrival of the Merritt Parkway in the late 1930s made it difficult for the hunt to continue. The huntsmen and hounds set out for the last time in 1952. There are around 150 miles of trails stretching from the Merritt Parkway to Riverside and Stamford. "Our trails go back to the Revolutionary War days," Skouras says proudly. "They are revolutionary spy trails that we fought against the British on."

In order to preserve open space, the GRTA partnered with the Greenwich Land Trust, Greenwich Audubon, Boy Scouts, and Boys Club and thousands of landowners who give riders permission to use their land. "Our trails are only open to riders, and that's why it's so hard for us to show people our trails," Skouras says. "That is our hardest understanding -- that we preserve open space but you can only see it mostly on horseback."

One of the Riding Association’s activities is the hunter pace. Skouras says these were established by the two hunt masters, Harry Kefe and Bart Delia, as a way of educating other riders. A hunter pace is a low-key competition where teams of two or three riders follow marked trails. They can go at their own pace — either to enjoy the scenery or ride at a good clip. There is no set length for a pace, but they usually are between five and eight miles and can take up to two hours to complete.

Skouras says she grew up with riding being a family sport since most people owned more than one horse. Now, it's usually a son or daughter riding. "We have a lot of children's barns," she said. "I think if we didn't have children's barns that started the passion for riding, we wouldn't have as many equestrians in this area. It is a lost art."

The GRTA is approaching its 100th anniversary, and the town is including the association in its conservation plans. Skouras said without preservation, open space would become overgrown and unusable. She plans on riding out to inspect the trails this weekend. The first hunter pace of the season, The Dogwood Ride , is scheduled for May 7. For more information about the GRTA, call (203) 661-3062.

Have you ridden on the trails? What do you think about the GRTA's work to preserve open space? Leave your thoughts below or send them to acorbett@mainstreetconnect.us.

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