Equestrian Life

The Haskell Hunt: A Piece of History in My Backyard

 

Local legends abound everywhere. Here in my corner of the world we have our own stories.  As a local, it’s hard to live in Monmouth County and not hear about the haunted woods of Whipporwhill Road. Tales of witches and hauntings abound. Even my own husband and brother-in-law of creepy stories from their teenage years.  Tales found even in Weird NJ, a semi-annual magazine dedicated to folklore and legends here in New Jersey.

 

I’ve spent a lot of time in those woods, on horseback. I can honestly say this superstitious girl has never seen a hint of anything supernatural. The only creepy thing that has ever happened was the wasp attack. Just a lot of wildlife. However, some stories and local legends have a lot of truth.

 

In truth, the two most haunted roads in Monmouth County border the prior Amory Haskell estate, Woodland Farm. Lucky for me, I know a little bit about it because that is where my barn, Lancaster Equestrian Stables, is located.

 

This property is historically important to the equestrian culture in New Jersey. Thoroughbred racing season in Monmouth County means Monmouth Park racetrack, the Haskell Invitational, and Amory Haskell.

For those of you who don’t know, Amory Haskell brought thoroughbred racing back to New Jersey after prohibition. He was the first President of the Monmouth Jockey Club and a huge reason that thoroughbred racing is so popular in the Garden State. While he was best known for horse racing, Amory and his wife Annette were avid fox hunters. In honor of their passion, The Haskell’s began to host an annual hunt on their property beginning in 1932. Not only was this a fox hunt, but held several horses races, and one large party.

There was a mile-long track where they would hold horse racing.  Amory Haskell would invite up to 300 guests to eat outside watching the riders while they enjoyed champagne and fine dining with white linens, candelabras, and service staff. A truly elegant affair.

My trainer, Robin Brennan, found this gem on YouTube of old Haskell Hunt footage. It’s truly a step into history.

Amory Haskell passed away in 1966. As the decades progressed, the hunt went from a society affair to a more informal tailgate event like we see currently in Far Hills. Attendees would pay for a spot to park their cars and all proceeds were donated to charity.

 

This property may or may not be haunted, but it holds an immense amount of local history. Riding around the Kentucky-style indoor is a step back to another era. A series of paddocks for the horses in the valley is the site of the former hunt track. While a judge’s stand still remains, aging and overgrown, you can use your imagination to picture the cheering and thundering of hooves.

 

In the end, those “eerie” woods are peaceful and lovely. Riding along up the old driveway or through the brush, you can step back into an important part of equestrian history in New Jersey.  A  careful and adventurous rider may even traipse through the ruins of the old house, which burned down several decades ago.

The Haskell Hunt continued on until 1996, the tradition continuing after Amory Haskell’s death and the land was sold.  Locals from the area still speak about the hunt and their memories associated with it.

Sadly I did not move to the area until a decade after the hunt closed, nor did my friends the Lancaster’s live and work on the property until 2000. But the sense of history and pride remains. I can almost hear the pounding of hooves and clink of champagne glasses when I walk into the paddock to retrieve Delight for a lesson.

 

When you visit the property, my favorite place, you are stepping back into an important part of history. Not just for New Jersey but for equestrian sports.

*Please keep in mind this is private property. No trespassing is allowed.

 

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