Widgets Magazine

Foxrun Farm Backstory: How Leonard and Beryl Dank Turned a Cornfield into a Horse Farm, and Nurture a Therapeutic Riding Nonprofit

Leonard and Beryl Dank share the backstory of Foxrun Farm; Maryann D’Auria, the barn manager, riding instructor and trainer discusses the North Fork Therapeutic Riding Program. Q: How did you get to the North Fork, to Foxrun farm?

LD: I’m a medical illustrator, lived and worked in Manhattan. To keep our sanity we built a summer house in Cutchogue in 1964. Around 1977 we learned that this big vacant 25 acre farm became available. Since our daughter was riding horses, we wanted to buy this to become a horse farm. We made an offer, but it was refused. Two or three years later the farm was still vacant, we renewed our offer and it was accepted.

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Our daughter had been using a rented horse. Her desire to own her own horse is what started it all.

Q: Did you have any agricultural background?

LD: Well, the first thing we did was build a house, and we moved in on Beryl’s birthday, 1981.    And no.  We learned much of what to do from books.

img_5378Beryl started planting herbs almost as soon as we bought the property. She made herb jellies, sold them at a local farm stand. They were a big success, so she kept growing more and more, eventually about an acre of herbs in all.  A local trucker started taking her herbs up to markets in Hunt’s Point, NYC, and also up to Boston.  The herbs had to be in market very early so we and some local kids who worked for Beryl, would be out there in the pitch dark at 5 am. We'd turn the tractor lights on and gather the herbs.

Soon after the herb planting started, we went to farm auctions; we needed to get equipment.  We’re Manhattan people and we’re at farm auctions buying pipes for irrigation!  We got a lot of teasing but all the local REAL farmers were very encouraging and helpful.

I moved my business here full time in 1983, gave up the city life. In 1984, we planted our first crop of hay on 13+ acres—and brought in 1200 bales of hay!  That’s a lot of hay. So in 1985 we built a barn to hold the hay.

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Then a horse-fence expert came up from Kentucky to build our fencing and we moved our daughter’s newly bought horse into the barn along with a couple of goats who ate everything in sight, even the cedar siding on the house.

Q: What kind of horse did your daughter get?

LD: She bought her Thoroughbred horse, Classified Run (Classy) locally.  Then Beryl and I went to the 1986 National Clydesdale Sale Show in Springfield Illinois, started bidding and bought Strong Line Rosie May, a Clydesdale weighing about 2000 pounds and standing some 6’ high at the withers.  She had been a Budweiser horse. The hardest thing was getting her home from Illinois.

We decided to breed Rosie to a registered Thoroughbred stallion to give us American Warmblood.  Eventually we bought another mare, Maple Jean (Daisy) and ended up with two mares, three Warmbloods and Classy.

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Q: Warm blood? What’s that about?

MD: Cold blood breeds are Shires, Clydesdales, Belgians—they’re real heavy horses, draft horses. They were meant to be workhorses.

Hot bloods are refined thoroughbreds. Much smaller, maybe 1000-1200 lbs. They have smaller hindquarters, and carry less of a load. They’re great at going forward—racing, steeplechase and fox hunting.

Warm bloods are a cross between the two. They have stronger hindquarters than a thoroughbred, and are stronger. They are bred to take a full grown man—200lbs—for a long time. They’re also better at dressage, and are very popular now in Olympic Show jumping.

Q: What are the horses we see in Westerns? Are those warm bloods?

MD: No, those are usually Quarter Horses, and they are entirely different breed. Traditionally the Quarter Horse is good for Western disciplines, can be faster than a thoroughbred for a quarter mile. That’s what they say.  Great for trail riding, pleasure riding, children’s lessons.

Thoroughbreds are usually better racing and English riding disciplines; Warmbloods for dressage (dancing—which is judged on rhythm, balance, consistence, obedience/responsiveness) and show jumping.

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Q: Foxrun Farm isn't just a private family horse farm--what services do you offer to the public?

MD:  We offer riding lessons year-round, English-style primarily, and also therapeutic riding lessons. During the summer we have ‘pony camps’—that’s what they’re called here, but we use horses, not ponies. Riding is by appointment. You can’t just show up and take a horse for a ride.

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We board horses in our ten-stall barn and another four in an adjacent annex.  Interestingly, horses are generally fine outside throughout the winter—they’re animals, and are comfortable even when it’s 15 degrees out. As a boarder, you can also make use of our exercise ring and jumps.

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We also have an elaborate system of trails. If a group wants to use them, just call and make arrangements. You have to bring your own horse.

Horses are available for lease to experienced adult English-style riders.

Q: Maryann, how long have you been riding?

MD: I started in a Girl Scout program when I was in 3rd grade. I got my first horse when I was 13.  I was showing, competing, training to be an instructor and got involved in the therapeutic riding. I have been riding for 33 years and teaching for 25 years.

I was the director of the Red Barn Therapeutic Riding in Old Brookville and became a Team USA Special Olympics coach. After working in Brookville for about 10 years, my husband and I moved to Florida where my mom had a mini-farm.  I was a show trainer in hunters, jumpers and combined training in south Florida.

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I rescue thoroughbreds after they’re done racing; I have three here.  If I can get them to be quiet enough, I use them in the programs.  With all these ex-racehorses it’s really become an economic problem. When you don’t own a farm, it’s really expensive to keep these horses.

Q: You rescue racehorses? Wow, that's great. How did you get from Florida to the North Fork and Foxrun Farm?

MD: My husband’s family had a summer home in Southold, and we decided to move back north. He introduced me to Southold and I found a 10 acre horse farm where I could work, live and bring my horses.

I met the Danks and Foxrun Farm because I need a place to stable my three horses after that barn was sold.

Q: What’s therapeutic riding?

MD: People with special needs disabilities of all kinds, including PTSD, can benefit from horseback riding. Riding helps develop and enhance basic motor skills, muscle coordination and even communication skills, while gaining a sense of self-control, personal responsibility and self-confidence.

Learning to ride and control an animal as large as a horse requires a lot of physical skills that can be learned and the relationship with the animal offers a powerful emotional bond.

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People who cannot play sports or succeed in many other rigorous activities can, through therapeutic riding, master riding a horse and gain tremendous muscular skills as well as self-confidence.

Q: How did the current incarnation of Foxrun Farms horse farm come to be?

LD: One day Maryanne mentioned therapeutic riding and that one of her students, a youngster with Asperger’s, a form of autism, had eventually became a gold and silver medalist in the 2003 World Special Olympics.  I became interested.  She told me about how helpful it was for physically, emotionally, and developmentally disabled people—for people with PTSD too. There’s something about the rhythm of the horse that helps with posture.

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So we decided to create the North Fork Therapeutic Riding Program using the facilities of Foxrun Farm; we started up about a year ago.  We have applied to Southold Town to sponsor an eight week program this coming spring.

MD: For the past year, the Danks have been very generously donating out their farm for the Therapeutic Program and the camps.  Without their generosity these programs would not possible.

LD: We’re really enjoying giving back to the community.

For more information:

Maryanne D'Auria       561-358-5539 (not 516) Leonard Dank 631-734-6199 or 631-943-6502

Foxrun Farm, 800 Cox Lane, Cutchogue, NY 11935 Follow us on Facebook at “Foxrun Farm No Fo” Email: FoxrunFarmNoFo@gmail.com