The Split Rock Riding Academy
By Arthur Scinta
Pelham Town Historian
Paddy was on the run from the local cops, giving chase from Pelham Manor and across Sanford Boulevard before turning south into the Bronx. At about 9 am on August 8, 1936, Mount Vernon Patrolman Abe Haber saw him running. He hit the gas, getting his patrol car up to 40 miles an hour, trying to catch up. Paddy had been out all night, away from his oats and hay, but an empty stomach didn’t seem to slow him down as other motorists joined in the pursuit near the subway at Baychester Avenue before cornering him in the Bronx. He was just one of a long line of horses to escape from the Split Rock Riding Academy on Boston Post Road in Pelham Manor.
It is hard to imagine that where today is a mixed-use commercial and industrial area, a huge riding facility once occupied most of the area along West Street on the east side of the Boston Post Road. Started as the Log Cabin Stable in the 1920s, the site was purchased in 1934 by Pelham resident John Vetter who expanded it eventually to include an indoor riding ring and stalls for 80 horses. His niece, Pelham Manor resident Geraldine McElroy, remembers driving up from the city as a young girl to visit her aunt and uncle at the riding facility. “It was like going to the country,” she said. The bridge on the Post Road from the Bronx was still a wood structure and she remembers the ka-klunking sound as her family’s car would cross over into Pelham where she rode her own pony.
Paddy wasn’t the only horse to escape from the Split Rock Riding Academy. Over the 17 years of its existence, local newspapers regularly reported horses escaping during the night or taking off after throwing a rider on the trails that once lined the Hutchinson Parkway. Routinely, horses showed up on the lawns and in the flower beds of homes on Grant Avenue, Jackson Avenue and Carol Place. One night in 1937, Nunzinni Ricci, the night watchman at the Fulton Avenue bridge saw an unattended horse wander by. He mounted it and rode it home to 455 Seventh Avenue. Eventually it was returned to the stable. Even the facility’s mascot, a burro named Mary, disappeared one night, apparently intent on giving birth to her foal not in a lowly stable but in a tonier residential section of Pelham Manor.
The Academy was very much a center of community life with barn dances and fundraisers. It was also a place of serious riding. One former Pelham resident and PMHS student, Michael Page, trained at the Academy and went on to become a world class equestrian, winning two Pan American Games gold medals (in Chicago in 1959 (at age 21) and in San Paolo in 1963) and three Olympic medals (a silver medal in team eventing and a bronze medal in individual eventing at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and a silver medal in team eventing at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City). He was inducted into the United States Eventing Hall of Fame and is currently the head trainer for riding at the Kent School.
John Vetter passed away in 1946, just six months after achieving his dream of building the largest indoor riding arena in Westchester County. The business was continued by his son Jack until 1952 when the main building was sold and converted to a dinnerware factory. It later suffered a fire, was eventually demolished and succumbed to urban sprawl.
Today, a gas station, a self-storage facility and Pelham Gourmet occupy most of the site.
For more about the Split Rock Riding Academy and other Pelham history topics, visit the new Town Historian website at PelhamTownHistorian.com