For decades Jewish youngsters have been smitten by equestrianism and the affinity for a relatively expensive sport. Scions like Jerry Seinfeld’s daughter Sascha and Mike Bloomberg’s daughter are noted young female equestrians. The latter, Georgina Bloomberg, started at age 4, earned winnings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and broke her back twice.
Local equestrian Alex Bernstein spring boarded her love of the sport to the University of Georgia equestrian team, which claimed a national championship. Jewish summer camps have always been a good place to start and develop skills.
Bernstein parlayed her early love of horseback riding to the highly touted varsity equestrian team as a student at the University of Georgia.
“I started riding around 9 years old and gradually became more competitive. I started with taking lessons once a week, then twice a week, then partially leasing a horse, then owning a horse of my own to care for and compete with,” she said.
“The barn gave me a sense of purpose; I had a big group of like-minded friends with similar interests, would be outside for long periods of time and learned a sense of responsibility by taking care of the horses. We bathed them, brushed them, cleaned and oiled saddles and tack, and observed the veterinarians and farriers at work.
“The horse shows and competitions allowed me to become accustomed to life’s pressures. I learned how to accept losses and learn from mistakes, constantly striving to improve. These were all life lessons and friendships carried through to adult life.”
Alli Sundheim’s 6-year-old daughter Emma has been obsessed with horses since she was 2, an interest that stemmed from watching animated Netflix shows. Mom Alli states, “After years of begging, we enrolled Emma in a Sandy Springs program (Go With It Farm) that she attends on Sunday.”
Before and after lessons and trotting, the children get to prep and disassemble equipment and groom the horses. Alli continues, “This helps with independence and posture while learning through fun and games. It’s also nice that older teenagers serve as mentors.”
Some of the regional sleepaway Jewish camps don’t have horseback as an option because it adds extra layers of complexity and expense. Camp Blue Star in Western North Carolina has a program with 20 ponies and six rings and a staff of eight on their riding campus. Their website notes that there are extra charges, and the camp offers private lessons.
Bob Fierman was one of the first campers at Camp Barney Medintz near Cleveland, Ga. He later served as head of horseback and had a full-time staff of five in addition to counselors in training. He recalled, “We had 30 mostly docile horses, and for many campers this was their apprehensive first time. We had adults stabilize the horses and got the campers to uniformly tap with their feet, pull back on the rein, and quickly gain confidence in the ring. At around 11 years old, we took them out on trails and even overnights with a skunk sighting from which we retreated.”
There was no shortage of volunteers to do the hard work and shovel manure. Today the Barney website touts its Brill Equestrian Center horsemanship program including tzaar ba’alei hayyim, Hebrew for caring for animals.
Lifelong equestrian Chuck Vrono started riding as early as he could walk. Atlanta natives might remember his horse Ajax, notorious for hanging out at the “Big Apple” on Highland Avenue.
Vrono became horseback director at Camp Barney in 1975. “It was probably the best job I‘ve ever had,” he said. “Along with my younger brother Donnie (who became an equine veterinarian), we had a great staff. Because we were so enthusiastic, the kids were even more excited!
“Horseback riding is a unique camp sport because it’s non-competitive at this level and ensues confidence, responsibility and compassion. The kids also learned the care of horses and basic riding methods. After four weeks, campers came together as a cabin, culminating in a campfire dinner ride and riding back at dusk.” He continued, “Campers came away with confident riding experiences and great stories to share.”
Vrono still rides and professes to be a “Jewish cowboy.” He passed the love of horses to his three sons. One went on to be a farrier and horse trainer, and one a veterinarian. He joked, “One works with Porsche and likes that ride better for now.”
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Jerry Seinfeld
- Sascha Seinfeld
- Mike Bloomberg
- Georgina Bloomberg
- Alex Bernstein
- University of Georgia
- HorseBack riding
- Alli Sundheim
- Emma Sundheim
- Sandy Springs
- Go With It Farm
- Camp Blue Star
- Camp Barney Medintz
- Bob Fierman
- Sleepaway Jewish camps
- Brill Equestrian Center
- Chuck Vrono