Down a sleepy county lane in Susan, Virginia, just outside of Mathews, there is a tranquil farm with fine green pastures and horses quietly munching on green grass. It is the setting for a woman who grew up in a very special world. As one turned off Clove Road in Staten Island, NY onto a cobblestone driveway, the world of fast cars, noisy buses and blue jeans disappeared. It was a wonderful world of beautiful horses, barns, the smell of fresh hay and lots of people wearing boots and riding britches.
There were all sorts of equestrian activities and jumping classes going on in the two large outdoor riding rings. There were ponies, ducks, pigs, geese, chickens, a cow, golden cats and all sorts of other animals as well as the gentle horses that lived in the big red barn. There were horse shows, rides on the manicured trails of Clove Lake Park, wagons, coaches and many exciting things going on. Clove Lake Stables was an oasis for horses and horse people of all ages. It was a little girl’s dream world come true. It was a very special place little girls as a teenager and as an adult. Her parents, John and Adele, had established Clove Lakes Stables after John’s return from World War II. Their home was on the grounds just a short distance from the big red barn that was at one time the barn for her grandfather’s ice business. Ice was cut from Clove Lake in winter and sold in summer. John Franzreb II turned the ice business into what soon became a flourishing riding academy. The business included supplying horses and other live stock to summer camps, movie sets and TV commercials. Grace appeared in films like Hello Dolly staring Walter Matthau and Barbara Streisand. Grace has some fascinating stories about being on the set of Hello Dolly and being directed by Gene Kelly. Clove Lake Stables fostered the careers of many riders some of whom made it into the prestigious National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden.
For many years the Franzrebs supplied horses and other animals to Radio City Music Hall for their annual Christmas show. Grace has won so many horse show ribbons over the years that she stopped counting. Anything made of silver in Grace’s home is probably engraved and was won by her as a trophy in a horse show somewhere. Grace’s sister, Merri Franzreb Musso, is an accomplished horsewoman in her own right and Grace’s star pupil. Merri and Grace have won numerous ribbons and both have won Monmouth County NJ Grand Champion. Merri is VP of the Monmouth Hunt and a Whipper-In. A Whipper-In is part of the staff on a Fox Hunt is a skilled rider who keeps stray hounds from escaping. She is also a horse show judge. If the class was open jumper, hunter or equitation classes with ladies to ride: the Franzreb ladies were in it and probably won it.
As the urban sprawl over took the Clove Lake area of Staten Island, Clove Lake Stables closed in the late 1980s and became a housing development. About that time Grace married Charles Hall, a retired New York City telecommunications specialist, who had already settled in Susan, Virginia. With lots of hard work and as Grace puts it “the help of God”, Grace Franzreb Hall and Charlie Hall have, over the last twenty years, turned their beautiful farm into a heaven for horses and horse people. The Halls named their farm Bay Breeze because of it proximity to both Mob Jack Bay and with lots of help from Charlie, can stable and enjoy her beautiful horses. Bay Breeze Riding Club is Grace’s own secret garden. It is not the kind of a place where you might go to hire a horse for an hour and ride on a trail. Bay Breeze is more of a club where friends can ride and benefit from the equestrian expertise of Grace in incredibly beautiful surroundings geared to horses. While horses graze in lush pastures and wild ducks take off and land from the tranquil pond to the rear of the immaculate stable, Grace can be seen in the middle of the ring coaching a rider over a rail fence. “Back straight, heels down, thumbs up, watch your diagonal, eyes straight ahead and a hundred more gentle instructions coupled with frequent exclamations of “good job” or “the horse is telling you to ease up on his month.”
At Bay Breeze you won’t find dozens of people on horses heading out on a trail ride as was common at Clove Lake Stable on a Saturday morning. What you will find is Grace Franzreb Hall with her infectious enthusiasm and warm smile, coaching an experienced rider on their own horse over fences in preparation for an upcoming horse show. Or you might find Grace helping a young couple choose just the right horse for their young daughter. Grace says she really enjoys helping people to find the right horse for a particular rider. She points out that the right horse for Mom may not be the right horse for Dad and is probably a very wrong horse for their little girl. Grace will shepherd a rider from choosing their first horse and their learning to ride right on through accompanying them to horse shows or for a day of fox hunting.
Grace is no stranger to hard work. At one moment she may be schooling a horse over fences, then and in a miraculous change, look like a character in a Currie and Ives hunt print; attired in a scarlet coat heading out to hunt and looking ever so beautiful. One of the pastimes Grace enjoys immensely is to travel to the home of a horse owner/friend and coach the rider on their own land. Graces like to start training riders before they have acquired bad habits they will eventually have to unlearn. She says it is easier for a rider to learn the right way the first time than to have to learn not to do things they have learned to do the wrong way.
Grace is an accomplished side saddle Chesapeake Bay. It is a place where Grace, rider and has hunted adorned in authentic side saddle riding attire. For any one used to riding astride, taking a fence on a side saddle can be quite a challenging experience. Grace makes it look easy and is eager to train anyone interested in riding side saddle.
This writer has been privileged to ride to hounds with Grace many times over many years. At the beginning of one hunt of fond memory, on which I was Field Master, a less experienced rider somehow broke both of her vintage stirrup straps. Grace took the stirrup straps off her saddle and installed them on the rider’s saddle. Grace then rode the rest of the hunt doing her job as Whipper-In jumping fences and racing after stray hounds “Indian style” without the benefit of stirrups.
In her leisure time Grace rides to hounds with the Reedy Creek Hunt in McKinney, Virginia and occasionally with her sister, who is a Whipper-in at the Monmouth Hunt, in Monmouth NJ. Until she moved to Virginia, Grace was a familiar sight riding her big grey horse McColtish in New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade and in various parades around the New York New Jersey area. For many years she was a Whipper-In with the Hidden Hollow in Homdel Township, New Jersey. On many a beautiful fall or winter morning Grace and her sister Merri could be seen in their scarlet coats chasing hounds on the Laura Harding Estate. Among those following the hunt in cars or on horse back was estate owner Laura Harding and her lifelong friend famed actress Katherine Hepburn. Grace recalls that Miss Hepburn loved horses and would often mingle with the riders before the hounds were cast and join in a stirrup cup or two.
One of Grace’s fondest memories is of her dad, John Franzreb II, riding on a horse during an evening horse show at Clove Lake Stable while she, at age five, led his horse in what was known as a “parent’s lead line class.” Grace’s dad was a dynamic horseman well known in Staten Island for his charitable work and bubbling enthusiasm about both the horse and the rider. Grace’s mother was very much involved in the family business and in equestrian related activities related to the Professional Horseman’s Association in which she and her husband held office. Every year the Franzreb family hosted a lavish party for members of the PHA. Professional horse people came from all over the tri-state area to feast on boiled lobster, shrimp, fresh oysters on the half shell, clams and all sorts of elaborate treats under the light on the grounds of the Franzreb home on Clove Road in Staten Island. Celebrities like Olympic open jumper champions William Steinkraus and Frank Chapot along with famed Dressage Master Konrad Fisher; were frequent visitors to the Franzreb’s home.
Folks around Susan have become accustomed to seeing Grace and a few friends riding their horses up to the Susan Post Office to pick up the mail. What they might not have seen is Grace and her favorite horse Valentino sailing high over a puissance wall, a coup in the hunt field, water hazard or a railed jump or doing a flying lead change in a dressage exercise.
Grace and Charlie live in a turn of the century farm house Charlie has restored over the years. The home is adorned with memorabilia of Grace’s life around horses, Fox Hunting and the horse show world. The walls are decorated with numerous prints of Clove Lake Stables that were once used by the Franzrebs in Christmas cards they sent out each year. Many of the cards included Grace’s sister Merri, brothers John III and Bill and parents John II and Adele Franzreb.
When you approach the tranquil setting that is Bay Breeze Riding Club, you will hear classical music coming from the barn and wafting across the pastures. Grace believes music soothes the horses and the riders. Grace and Charlie have carried on the family tradition of teaching a few people who are serious about riding to ride and ride well while having a wonderful time doing it, a passion passed on to her by her parents Adele and John Franzreb II. It is very obvious that Grace loves to ride, she loves to teach people to ride and she loves people. If you love horses and serious equestrian training you will love Grace and Charlie Hall and Bay Breeze Riding Club on route #673 in Susan, Virginia. (804-725-3000).