It’s a word that kept popping up on a cloudy, quiet afternoon at Wölffer Estate Stables in Sagaponack two weeks ago when barn manager Raquel Batto and trainer Babi Herrera took a walk around the grounds on an overcast Saturday. During that stroll, they spoke candidly about the transition that the facility, a fixture in the Hamptons equestrian community for decades, has undergone in recent years—a change that is less aesthetic and more philosophic.
Wölffer Estate Stables has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the elite equestrian facilities in an area that is a mecca for them. When Christian Wölffer purchased what used to be a potato farm in Sagaponack more than 30 years ago, he eventually added to the property and then built the stables before creating the equally renowned Wölffer Estate Vineyards. Both the riding facility and winery have become symbols of elegance and beauty in the Hamptons.
Wölffer died on New Year’s Eve in 2008 in Brazil at the age of 70, but his children—Andrea, Marc, Georgina and Joey—have carried on his legacy and kept his two passions, wine and horses, alive. They now own the stables and winery, and have begun to put their own personal stamps on both entities.
Under Mr. Wölffer’s guidance, the stables had a reputation for turning out Grand Prix-quality show jumping horses that had the ability to compete in the top venues in the world. During those days, Wölffer Estate Stables was known primarily as a barn where adult riders with serious show jumping goals could ride and train, and Mr. Wölffer regularly imported talented young horse prospects to be trained at the stables. But according to Batto and Herrera, as well as Joey Wölffer, Christian’s daughter, who is the most intimately involved with the stable operations, the environment has changed recently.
Rather than focusing mainly on big-time jumpers and elite competitions, the equestrian facility now has more of an inclusionary feel to it, welcoming riders of all ages and ability levels who have a wide range of equestrian goals. The uniting factor, though, according to Wölffer, Batto and Herrera, is a feeling of camaraderie and family that they say exists among all the barn’s clients, whether they are a young pony rider, an adult rediscovering a love for horses on a strictly recreational basis, or an equestrian with serious goals in the show ring.
Joey Wölffer, for her part, said she couldn’t be happier with the evolution of the stables. In between rounds at a horse show in Old Salem, New York, two weeks ago, she spoke over the phone about the atmosphere that has been cultivated at the place she called home for much of her childhood.
Wölffer, 31, who started riding when she was just 6 years old, is an accomplished rider and horse show veteran, competing in the low amateur jumpers with her 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood, Antonov. She also has found success in the fashion industry with the Styleliner, an old delivery truck she turned into a mobile accessories boutique. Wölffer takes the Styleliner to locations in the Hamptons in the summer and to Florida in the winter, and she recently opened a pop-up shop in Venice, California. Wölffer stays busy juggling her career in the fashion industry with her equestrian pursuits and, of course, maintaining the reputation of the stables her father built when she was just a child.
While Wölffer knows what it takes to be successful in the competitive horse show world, she said she also appreciates that many riders don’t want to take that path. She said that the beauty of Wölffer Stables is its appeal for any type of rider, pointing out that the beauty of the property, which includes miles of open land for trail riding in addition to top-of-the-line facilities, is that it has a little something for everyone.
Herrera and Batto agree, and for them, Wölffer is as much of a home as it is for Wölffer. Batto has been at Wölffer for more than 15 years, coming to the East End of Long Island from her native Argentina after meeting Christian Wölffer in her home country in 1997. Herrera, meanwhile, came to Wölffer Stables in 2007, and originally intended to stay and work only for the busy summer season. But she fell in love with the stables, met her husband, and has been there since.
Both Herrera and Batto are trainers at the barn, with Herrera specializing in training the young riders and ponies, while Batto also gives lessons in addition to her duties as barn manager. They live on the property, which is also home to many of the grooms who take care of the horses on a daily basis. There are 80 stalls on the property, and they are full in the summer, while in the winter, roughly 20 horses go down to Florida to compete on the winter show circuit with their owners and riders.
While the atmosphere at Wölffer has become more inclusive to all types of riders, it still has maintained its reputation as one of the best facilities in the area for serious competitors, thanks in large part to trainer Mary Manfredi, who works with the more serious riders and brings them and their horses to the top shows around the country. Manfredi is in her second year at Wölffer, and is widely recognized as one of the top trainers in the country.
For riders at the barn who aren’t at that level, there is still opportunity for them to achieve their equestrian goals. Herrera and Batto enjoy bringing the young and less experienced riders to local horse shows throughout the summer, and the barn has even hosted a pony camp for the past two years. The stables has also been home to the Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End (CTREE) for the past few years. CTREE is a not-for-profit organization that provides therapeutic riding lessons and equine-assisted activities to children and young adults with cognitive, physical or emotional disabilities.
Wölffer and her family and the management have done their best to make the specific set-up of the facility accommodating to all types of riders. There are five riding areas on the property, including one ring specifically for ponies and their young riders, and another ring specifically for the more serious jumper riders. That ring has top-of-the-line “GGT Jumper Footing,” which is made from a mix of shredded textiles, fibers and sand. It reduces dust and also does not puddle even in rainy conditions, and it also is a perfect surface for high-impact jumping.
There is also another outdoor ring, next to the pony ring, as well as an indoor riding arena, and a ring that is located in the middle of the vineyard. And of course there is the vast grass open field area, which has natural elements such as hills and bushes. The property is so large that a horse and rider moving at the trot would still take half an hour to traverse the perimeter.
There also are 30 turn-out paddocks for the horses as well as a mechanical hot-walker, which is used to cool down horses after a ride and to give them exercise when they are not being ridden.
No matter where riders are on the property at Wölffer Estate Stables, or what ring they are riding in, Herrera summed up what the feeling is these days at the stables.
“You’re not going there just to ride a horse,” Herrera explained. “You really belong to something.”