Thursday, February 5, 2015


By Tom Gumbrecht

The Pennoyers were my clients and became my friends. I had the incredible privilege of sharing a horse on their property and riding with them on their 25 acre preserve in the years between the time that my first trainer Skip Lauinger moved to Virginia and my building my own stable in Fort Salonga.

Converted stable, home of Paul and
Cecily Pennoyer, background.
Current stable, foreground.
Their horsey lifestyle was chronicled in Newsday September 7, 2000 in a story titled “Stable Conditions” by Jan Tyler:

….A somewhat different scenario threads through Cecily and Paul Pennoyer’s 50 year history of living the stable life.  The Pennoyers actually made their home in their family’s 1926 stable for a couple of years, even before the horses were relocated.

Although Paul Pennoyer, an attorney, is a grandson of J.P. Morgan, he and his wife opted for the simple life on the Morgans’ 100- acre estate where several family homes and outbuildings plus a working farm were part of the complex.  “The stable was beautiful; it’s even more so now. It’s a rural paradise,” says Cecily Pennoyer. “We raised five children in this place, where they learned to split wood for the fire, gather eggs, grow carrots, beets and beans and bale hay for the horses.; we had the only baler left in Nassau County.”

At first, the Pennoyers lived in the fully equipped former farmhand’s quarters, a wing attached to the stable’s huge midsection.  Moving the horses to a nearby pig pen, where three are still housed, the couple gradually converted the ample spaces into habitable rooms.

The horse stalls became a 35-foot-long study with mullioned windows fitted into the door openings. The equally large living area, which had stored equipment, is now a cozy living room where a fire burns almost continually in a colonial style brick-oven fireplace and a small stall for a pair of donkeys named Concertina and Clarinet became a telephone room, the animals’ hoof marks sentimentally preserved on the wainscot paneling….

….It would be hard to find a place evocative of more storybook charm: A long dirt road that winds past rail-fenced pastures where horses still graze leads to a patchwork of picturesque coops, pens and corrals close to the rambling converted stable behind a low stone wall. A clock tower (its mechanism, wound weekly, chimes on the hour) adds an architectural distinction to the former stable’s fa├žade, now nearly obscured by mature laurels and climbing ivy…

The floor here is of worn brick that Cecily Pennoyer put down herself in the mid-1960’s after rescuing them from her family’s abandoned home on the estate. “It was a house that Grandpa Morgan gave my husband’s mother,“ she explains. “He gave a house to each of his children”

That house was demolished five years ago when the land, once a favorite route for the Meadowbrook Fox Hunt, was subdivided. Part was sold to a developer, 25 acres were donated by the Pennoyers to the North Shore Wildlife Sanctuary, and 13 acres were retained for their homestead.

….”We’ve paid heavily to live the rustic life,” says Cecily Pennoyer. “Our homegrown flowers, vegetables, eggs and honey all cost more in the long run, but they’re fresh, organic and taste wonderful; the taxes inch up every year.  But our roots are here; that’s what really counts…”
The bucolic pastures of the Pennoyer Estate.
I was a middle aged but newly trained rider with about a year and a half experience when I noticed an empty stable while doing a job for the Pennoyers.  I inquired about it and found that their horses had recently been retired to Massachusetts as it was getting more difficult for the couple to care for them. They did find that they missed having the horses around however, and I was able to assist them in returning their horses to Long Island. Others had the knowledge and the horsemanship and I had an insatiable appetite to learn about all things horsey and the willingness to work. It was here that I began the transition from novice rider to horseman, experience I would need around the stables I had planned for my own horse property.

Having been born and raised in Glen Cove I knew the names Morgan and Pennoyer and at first was a bit awestruck of being in the presence of such a venerable name.  Mr. Pennoyer diffused that with his humble, down-to-earth way, and treated me, a tradesman and fledgling horseman, with the same respect and interest that I’m sure he showed to heads of state and industry. He had a way that made anyone in his presence feel important. Our talks, seated on a log or mounting block, will not be forgotten as I encouraged him to recount his tales of cruising to Europe in the summers of his childhood on Grandpa Morgan’s yacht, The Corsair. I was equally riveted when I was able to circumvent his natural humility and get him to recount his adventures as an aviation attorney in the days before the NTSB, when attorneys representing parties to lawsuits conducted their own investigations, including in Mr. Pennoyer’s case, riding on mule-back to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to examine the wreckage of an early airline crash. 

At the time we were acquainted, Mr. Pennoyer had found it physically difficult to mount a horse, so I constructed a large staircase- type mounting block in order that we might take the occasional ride together and continue our chats on horseback.

Maggie, the Pennoyers' sweet "watchdog."
That is a fond memory, but one of the fondest memories I have from my early riding career happened in a totally impromptu manner when Mrs. Pennoyer on a late fall evening invited me for a moonlight ride through the woods and on the neighboring estates.  Cantering through wooded trails by the light of a full moon was an experience I was not sure I was up to at the time, but I didn’t let on to that fact and I was rewarded with a riding experience I will not forget. Lights went on and blinds opened as we trotted up to the stately homes, and Mrs. P. would tap on the windows from horseback and introduce me to the owners.

Horses, I have found, are the great equalizer.  In my experience, acceptance as a fellow horseman has not been dependent on social or financial stature. A quiet confidence around the stable, a foot that knowingly finds an iron and a leg that encourages, a generous hand into which reins fall naturally and an inherent empathy toward the horse are some of the requirements for membership to this club.  “They say that princes learn no art truly, but the art of horsemanship. The reason is, the brave beast is no flatterer.  He will throw a prince as soon as his groom.” – Ben Jonson, c.1600

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