Right Stuff, Easy

Brian Mulhall is a man with the easy demeanor of a Richard Farnsworth or Sam Elliot; well read, loaded with common sense and a great storyteller. I’m a talker, love a good story, but Brian’s got me beat hands down.

Brian was born in New York City. His father and grandfather were both firemen. When the opportunity presented itself, his family purchased a place outside Millerton and moved. His grandfather was in the Veterinarian Corp during WWI, so horses were in Brian’s blood. His folks bought a horse, a big horse, a Percheron named Jack. “I was six or eight and I figured out that if I put some feed on the ground, Jack would put his head down to eat, then hand over hand I was able to climb up his mane to his back. I’d just sit up there. Wherever he went, I went. He’d wander all over Winchell Mountain and in the evening when he got hungry we went home. In high school I rode in most days on horseback. Eventually the school appropriated three dollars or so and gave me a shovel.”

In 1966 Brian headed off to the city and became a detective. He worked on the Son of Sam case and the Etan Patz kidnapping, dozens of other hijackings, kidnappings and extortions, even solved cases for NBC Chief Grant Tinker and singer Dinah Shore. When Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon came to New York, Brian was their choice, “They always sent around an expensive bottle of champagne or some gift afterward as thanks, a nice touch.”

In the late seventies he bought the property on Winchell Mountain and gradually added to it. In the city a hansom cab driver he helped out one night introduced him to a friend at the Clermont Riding Stable, just off Central Park West. Wealthy horse owners boarding their animals there, found insufficient time to ride, so they paid Brian to keep their horses ridden, when he wasn’t working, he was riding.

When he retired from NYPD he came home to Winchell Mountain. “I never get tired of the landscape here or riding horses for pleasure,” a small smile appears beneath his enormous mustache. Looking around, Brian noticed there were plenty of English riding stables, so he opened Western Riding Stables, Inc. “Horses and riding attract a certain type of people, people with a deep respect for nature, a certain reverence for life. For the most part women are better with horses than men.”

“Why’s that?”

“They’re more aware, have a clearer sense of what’s going on with the horse and a softer nature. Horses are very noble, you can’t fool ‘em, can’t lie to them, they’re very honest emotionally. You’ll know it if they don’t like you. Horses are more dependent than a child. You have to be alert and aware with horses watch for signs of odd behavior, when something is wrong they segregate themselves from the other horses. Arabians normally pal around with other Arabians, paints with paints, quarter horses with quarter horses. If a horse isn’t with his pal something’s wrong.”

Starting out with eight horses in the eighties, Brian and his wife Colette now have just shy of a hundred. Eighty percent of their horses are registered quarter horses, thoroughbreds, paints, Arabians, Morgans, warmbloods. Western Riding Stables offers lessons, trail rides, moonlight rides, hay and sleigh rides, boarding, pack trips on Mt. Washington, even a ride into Millerton for Sunday brunch. With 5,000 acres to ride the trails and scenic beauty are endless.

“What do you love most about horses?”

“Lots of things. I just love horses. The quiet grace, all the things you get from art and music a horse can do for you.”

Sauntering through the barn, Brian stops at the stall of a beautiful paint mare. He slides open the wooden stall door. “Come on in,” his voice is quiet. “Watch this.” A foal, Firecracker, born July 3, is curled up in the back of the double stall. He wobbles to his feet, comes directly to me and sticks his nose in my face. “They’re usually pretty skittish, but not this one, he’s special, gonna be a great horse.”

We take the colt and the mare outside for a walk around the barnyard. The mare tugs at tall green grass while her spindly-legged son runs, leaps, plays, but never too far from mom. His legs are much longer than his neck and nibbling at grass is a tricky proposition for him.

I guess you could call Brian a horse whisperer sort of guy. He doesn’t break horses, doesn’t even like the term. “You have to get them to trust you enough that they will allow you on their back, then it’s easy.” The training phrase he uses is, “Right stuff, easy. Wrong stuff, hard.”

I ask Brian if he has a dream. Without hesitation he blurts out, “I’m livin’ it. I’ve worked since I was nine. If you ain’t lovin’ it, why do it. Life is good.”

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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