By Nancy Goll
The year is 1969. Ten year old Mollie Bogardus steps out of her house on Sunrise and mounts her horse, Misty. She tucks her lunch into her saddlebag. She and a friend, also on horseback, head out. Their destination: the candy store in Lynwood, the deserted but still bountiful strawberry fields around Meadowmeer, or just nowhere in particular. The girls spend the day roaming the island’s trails, beaches and forests. They jump the newly cut Koura Road—a dirt byway that most cars cannot yet tame. Their summer idyll lasts until dark, when, exhausted and dirty, they regain their backyard.
Time gallops on. Bogardus, now an equestrian coach at Haven Farm, wishes more island kids could have such experiences. In fact, there are myriad opportunities for kids and adults to join the community of riders, trainers and stable owners, some of whose island roots go back well into the 1800s. Kathy Countryman, who started Countryman Stables in 1981 with her late husband, Rick, remembers when people paid to keep their horses in a large fenced lot where Battle Point Park now lies. “There were about 80 horses, and when you drove past, the earth just shook from their running,” she said.
Today’s stables are much more than a fenced lot, offering everything from lessons and boarding to tack shops and farriers. Visitors are welcome to tour facilities and ask questions. Kathy Countryman (a descendant of Cyprion Wyatt, whose Winslow home still stands) got her first horse at age 12, and her children are riders as well. She expects that they will continue on with the business in years to come. Other equestrian opportunities on the island include Bainbridge Island Saddle Club, Haven Farm at Cottingham, Hazel Creek, Horse feathers Farm and Wacky Nut Farm, which also features a guest lodge.
If saddling up isn’t for you, you can still jump into the horsey set. The Bainbridge Island Saddle Club hosts six horse shows each year, one a month from April through September, at its riding arena adjacent to Manzanita Park. In these “hunter-jumper” shows, riders demonstrate their skills in both hunting-oriented movement and jumping. According to Sara Papajani, the president of the Saddle Club, “The best way to get involved in equestrian is to come to an event like this.” The shows are a good place to meet riders and trainers, and they’re free and open to the public.
While Mollie Bogardus, like many island high-schoolers, couldn’t wait to leave the rock, she came back after college and never looked back. She has taught countless children to ride, a skill she believes “gives children an enormous sense of pride, accomplishment and confidence, and it teaches them responsibility as well.” However, her greatest legacy may be the annual Bainbridge Classic horse show, which she created when she was just one year out of college. The show has been going strong for 30 years, offering awards for hunters, jumpers and sportsmanship. Several years ago it lost its venue at Battle Point Park; this year the threeday event was held in Auburn. Bogardus hopes to find a way to bring it back to the island. “People loved coming to watch it.”