By Ann Bullard
Picture a 370-acre, hillside farm covered with trees whose flaming leaves match the color of a fall sunset. Houses more than 200 years old, a large barn, riding arena, training area, trails and an Olympic-size swimming pool dot the area. American Saddlebreds and Morgan Horses, with an occasional Hackney, roam the pastures.
That was the ‘original’ Bobbin Hollow Farm … located near Amherst, Mass., in the heart of what might be called the Northeast’s college corridor. Today’s Bobbin Hollow sits on five acres just off the water in Naples, Florida. Palm trees and tropical plants have replaced the hardwoods and evergreens. However, the passion for horses – particularly American Saddlebreds and Morgans – and dedication to the business has made theirs a great transition from the Northeast to one of the Southern-most points in the United States.
The fourth generation of the Henry family … Lark … is the manager and co-trainer at the family farm. However, the generations don’t stop with four. Marsha Shepard’s granddaughter, Isabella, won the 2008 Grand National Pleasure Driving 11 and Under title with Mis Isabella. Marsha earned a reserve in the 2010 Grand National Ladies Classic Pleasure Driving with the same mare.
Ariana Varveris and Natalia Fernandez each won titles at the 2010 Morgan Grand National and World Championship Horse Show. Varveris drove Celebrity Marquee to the Grand National Park Harness title for Junior Exhibitors 15 and Under and Park Harness Junior Exhibitor Reserve World Championship. Fernandez tied reserve in the Grand National Walk/Trot Saddle Seat Classic Equitation 10-11 and in the Walk/Trot Saddle Seat Classic Equitation 11 and Under World Championship.
But one would expect this from Bobbin Hollow. It is built on a half-century of success.
Woodrow Wilson Henry, Sr., and his wife, Vivian White Henry, started the Bobbin Hollow Farm and Camp on land that had belonged to her great-grandfather, Moses White. Henry had little horse background beyond that of anyone growing up before the popularity of the automobile. He was an engineer. She grew up as Saddlebred and Hackney trainer Charles White’s daughter. White worked for a Mr. Judd, owner of a paper mill in Holyoke, Mass. Although Judd didn’t show, he wanted ‘beautiful’ horses for pleasure mounts; White often bought them from the late Earl Teater in Kentucky.
"That’s how Grandma knew about Saddle Horses," said Lark, adding that Teater was their first Kentucky connection.
"My Mom and Dad were kind of different," said their daughter, Marsha Shepard, owner of Marsha deArriaga clothing and partner in the ownership of the reigning World’s Grand Champion Five-Gaited Saddlebred, Courageous Lord. "Mom had been a pilot, flying cargo planes from the east to the west coast during World War II. Dad was in the navy and tried to get her to stop flying. He sent money home and thought it was in the bank. She bought a hillside with it; that’s how they got started.
"They built houses to get their stake in life," Marsha said. "Mom had the passion for horses … Dad put up with it."
Marsha and her four-year-younger brother, Woody, were in the saddle almost from infancy. "We took lessons from George Nichols at Mount Holyoke College," said Marsha. "Mom insisted we get started right. Nichols was a tough old bird who taught us how to ride. Years later, he came to work for us."
Marsha was 10 and Woody 6 when their mother heard that the old White Farm was on the market. The current owner was selling because it ‘was haunted …’ however, that didn’t deter the Henrys. The availability of the property, with the main house furnished in antiques and all the ‘extras,’ led them to say a quick ‘yes.’ Vivian Henry decided her husband needed to quit his job – and move there. The developer of several engineering designs and patents agreed. Within a week, they had sold their home and bought what would become one of the country’s legendary horse operations.
Now in her early 90s, Vivian Henry recalls her husband’s concerns about finances and a dream she had that showed her the way. "I had gotten lost during a walk in the forest and sat down with my back to a tree," she said. "I wasn’t completely asleep, but all of a sudden I heard laughter. A whole line of little girls went before me. I knew then what I wanted to do.
"My husband kept asking how in the ---- I was going to pay taxes on ‘all that property.’ I told him, ‘I know now. You’re going to build a camp and call it Camp Bobbin Hollow," she said. "We started building right away."
"My parents had sent me to a camp that I didn’t like," Marsha said. "When I came home, Mom said we are going to build our own. We’ll make it what you thought the other camp should be like."
That they did. Camp Bobbin Hollow was more than a national, but an international destination. The name? Bobbin came from a nearby factory that made bobbins for paper mills; Hollow was in honor of the early family farm, located between two large hills. The town and land had been flooded to make a water reservoir for the city of Boston.
"We’d have 90 girls who learned to ride saddle seat, hunt seat and dressage," Marsha said. "Mom had an ‘A’ rating with Camp America; we had girls and counselors from all over the world. It was approved by the United Nations, so we had a lot of delegates’ children. With French, German and Spanish tables, campers could work on their language skills.
"Those were big days at Bobbin Hollow," she continued. "We got accused of being a work house. My Dad was a stickler for everything being immaculate. On one occasion, he’d hired two men to be chefs. In his mind, the place was filthy. Cans and all kinds of things came flying down the driveway. Dad fired the two and we couldn’t find anyone to come in mid-summer. Mom and I helped cook three meals a day for 95 people.
"We had camp on top of the show horses and keeping the breeding farm going," she added, saying they had Morgan and Saddlebred mares. "It was a lot of fun."
Vivian Henry rode, but didn’t show herself. "I was busy making money," she said. "As Marsha and Woody got older, Woody started training young stock. He’d go to a show – and not bring all the horses home. It was a wonderful life."
Woody and Marsha grew up with Morgans and Saddlebreds, showing everywhere from local 4-H to regional and national-level competitions. Early clippings show 12-year-old Marsha on her Morgan mare, Ebony Girl, preparing to show at the annual National Morgan Horse Show at Northampton, Mass. Another shows Woody riding equitation on Gandhi of Windsong.
What inspired Woody Henry? "As a kid, I watched Johnny Lydon at Farmington, Conn.; I wanted to ride like him. I admired Joe Parker, Jack McGrane, Whitey Fenton, Henry Duquette, Leo Boyle … all those Eastern horsemen."
"Grandpa used to go to Kentucky and buy lesson and camp horses at Tattersalls," Woody continued, pegging those prices at about $300. "He met Bob Rowan [whose father, Bill, was a Kentucky trainer.] I really didn’t know what a Saddlebred was, but I’d go down and Mr. Rowan would teach me. We really were close; I’d spend two to three months off and on with them."
He was 16. And he would return home to work horses and help with camp. Both Woody and Marsha thrived, and Woody knew what he wanted from life.
"When Woody graduated from high school, I had hoped he would go to college. He told me, ‘I don’t want to go to college; I want to go to Kentucky and learn to be a horse trainer,’" Vivian Henry said.
"We had bought several nice horses for clients," Woody added. "Mom had gotten to know Mr. [Frank] Bradshaw. We thought if I were going to get all these nice horses, I needed to learn how to train. She wrote a letter to Mr. Bradshaw and asked if I could come down and ride … if he would help me."
To make a long story very short, Woody spent three or four years going between Bobbin Hollow and Mr. Bradshaw’s barn. "He taught me how to train horses," Woody said of the Hall of Fame trainer responsible for, among others, six-time World’s Grand Champion Five-Gaited CH My My.
He laughed as he told of showing up for work in jods. "Mr. Bradshaw told me I’d better go put some jeans on. I put on dungarees and went to clean stalls."
So many good horses followed: CH Flamenco; CH Match Point; All American Marine – and the home-raised All American Marine Lady, shown as Tiger Lil.
As successful as the Bobbin Hollow show string was, the camp remained the glue that held the operation together. Krista Dent, who owns and operates Krista Dent Stables in Asheboro, N.C., ‘grew up’ at Bobbin Hollow. A native of Boston, Dent first attended camp in 1972. After a few summers, she began working there.
"The Henrys kind-of raised me," she said, reminiscing about those days. "I always knew I wanted a career as a horse trainer, and gave up a four-year college scholarship to work at the show barn right after high school."
Dent describes Bobbin Hollow as "the DeLovely of the 1970s. It was a two-breed, full-service, full-time training and lesson program. They probably had 100 or more camp and school horses, 60 or more horses in training and 60 to 70 broodmares. There was no other place to work where you could get an education like they gave. When you worked there, you learned everything from how to train a horse – and some of the toughest – to how to teach, care for a horse and every other aspect of the business.
"Woody was well-known for being able to turn around horses others couldn’t train," Dent said. "Marsha, who was [and is] very refined, took care of equitation and was a sought-after judge in three breeds. Louise, who came from Orcland Farm, was a phenomenal, natural horsewoman. She was gutsy and could ride anything. If you wanted to learn, you had all three at your fingertips."
As a full-time member of the Bobbin Hollow staff, Dent has numerous memories and stories to tell. One of the more amusing concerns waiting for a van to pick her, Kathy Roberts and three horses up from Madison Square Garden.
"Woody had gone home to show horses to Tim Arcuri. Kathy and I stayed at The Garden to take care of Sassy Stepper and two equitation horses. We had torn down and were ready to leave … but the van company had forgotten us. The Garden was getting ready for a hockey game; they put us, the horses, tack trunks, buckets and equipment out on the sidewalk. In 1981, there were no cell phones; I kept trying to reach Woody on a pay phone. The van finally picked us up, we took a ferry and then changed to another van," Dent said, adding that being on the streets of New York with a nervous friend and three Saddlebreds is an experience she’ll never forget – nor want to repeat.
While Woody and Marsha experienced Camp Bobbin Hollow in its various forms, Louise Henry gained her horse knowledge at her parents, the legendary Lyman and Ruth Orcutt’s Orcland Farm in West Newbury, Mass. Not only was it known for its Morgans, but for its Holstein cattle.
"I remember starting with a pony named Chico. All ponies try to dump you; if you can deal with a pony, they will make a rider out of you," Louise Henry said, adding she was bound and determined to ride and ride well.
After Orcland Farm lost 57 head – all but two mares in foal and Louise Henry’s favorite horse, Walinda – in a barn fire, the family moved to Michigan. Orcutts gave their daughter one of the foals, Orcland Gaystar, as a project. A year later, they moved back to Massachusetts, converted the cow barn into a horse facility … and were back in business.
Life was good. In the winters, the Orcutts would hitch a Morgan to a toboggan, one would climb on its back, and they would ride behind it. As Louise Henry put it, "It was like being on a flying saucer."
She also spoke of the Morgan, Johnny Appleseed. "He used to trot half-miles when they had those races. I practiced dressage and jumping with him, and did three-day eventing."
She and Woody were childhood friends and competitors. "We each had a black horse … I think his was Ebony Girl, mine – Orcland Gaystar. We competed in Junior Exhibitor Pleasure, Road Hack and trail," she said, adding "I think I beat him most of the time. We always found something to raise h--- with."
Woody disappeared from the show scene for a couple of years due to illness. When he came back at Connecticut Morgan, "I ran into him while carrying water around the corner. He helped me carry the buckets," she said.
The couple married; although they later divorced, they remain best friends and involved in the farm together.
"When Woody and I married in the 1970s, we got real busy with Morgans and Saddlebreds in training. Marsha came in and taught equitation. The year after we married, we had a 38-horse show string. At one show, we had all 38 there, with more at home," Louise Henry recalled.
Woody, Marsha and Louise each had separate barns feeding into a 60 x 235-foot indoor arena.
"Woody told us, ‘You women stay up there, I’ll stay at my end," Louise Henry said.
What outstanding Morgans came through that barn! Bobbin Ben-Bella, Bobbin Hollow Reagan, Bobbin Hollow Gunner, Bobbin Hollow O’Brien, Bobbin Hollow Corine, who showed until she was 24, Orcland Skyrocket. If you check the American Morgan Horse Association website, you’ll find 60 horses carrying the Bobbin Hollow name.
The Henry’s daughter thrived. "I had the best childhood ever," Lark said, conceding "I was a spoiled little brat when growing up. I went to school every day and didn’t have to do all the things they did. We used to have people from all over country fly in. We had a house where the equitation kids had their own room for the weekend."
Lark had quite a career long before she entered the professional ranks. "I’ve been doing this for 37 years," she said. "Mom ‘lead-lined me; Marsha was my equitation instructor. My walk and trotter, Roman Prince Ranier, I later showed in junior exhibitor classes."
She had wonderful Saddlebreds as well. Perhaps the best-known: the three-gaited star CH Private Eyes, with which she earned a Louisville Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited 14-17 Reserve World’s Championship.
The family worked hard; they also took regular vacations – to Marco Island, Fla. – a place where no horses are allowed. It’s half an hour from their present farm.
"Dad was tired of frozen pipes and other things that went with winter," Lark said. "He has his captain’s license, wanted a marina and to run a fishing boat.
"I was 17 or 18 when we moved," she said, admitting, "I was so upset when the farm was sold. In front of the house we had beautiful peonies that came up the driveway. I cut every one of them, put them in the car and brought them as far as we could."
Thus – the move to Florida. But the Henrys couldn’t stay out of the horse business.
"All of a sudden, Dad realized he missed the horses," Lark said. "Our five acres skirt the beautiful Tiburon Golf Course at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. It really gets interesting when Dad is ‘entertaining’ horses while someone is trying to tee off or sink a putt."
"We’d been predominantly Morgans since 1998," Lark said. "We’re just getting back into the Saddlebred world. We have Saddlebreds here and broodmares in Kentucky with Jimmy Robertson."
As for their teaching, "We start everyone on a basic balance seat," Lark explained. "From there, they can go into many English disciplines, including hunt and dressage."
With approximately 30 horses in training and an average of 80 lessons a week (plus clinics and other special events) the Bobbin Hollow staff remains busy. Lark manages the operation, with Amanda Ryan as her assistant. She and Woody handle most of the training duties. Louise Henry and Ashley Turner are the primary instructors, with Kathy Wilcox as an assistant. Leah Boyle Conathan heads the dressage training and instruction program. Add four caretakers, and you have a staff capable of dealing with the operation.
The Varveris girls are stars in their Morgan divisions; the family recently acquired a pair of Saddlebred broodmares. Their 2010 foals now are yearlings, with a new crop expected in the spring. On the Morgan side, they own and show True Gold, RCV Precisely Right, Celebrity Marquee and HVK Noble Flame as well as Queen’s Adele, who is used in the lesson program.
Nicki Varveris spoke of their Bobbin Hollow experiences. "We didn’t know anything about Morgans, but happened to drive by and found the farm," she said. "As a family, we spend a lot of quality time there; it’s nice having them in our lives."
Why Bobbin Hollow? "It’s not just location for me," she responded. "I feel like we’re part of their family and they are of ours. My older daughter, Ariana, began taking lessons with Lark’s mom when she was two-and-a-half; she’s now 14. Woody treats my kids like his own; they call Vivian and Woodrow grandma and grandpop. The Henrys are great at what they do. I think Lark is super-talented. She works great with the kids and Woody is super with the horses. They’re a great team and combination."
Varveris says Lark "is known at the barn as the warden, although some call her the princess or master. She’s very detail-oriented. Lark really gets into it; she may be a tougher instructor than Woody. She pushes the kids to try their best but puts it in a fun way. When all is said and done, they have a great time with her."
"Lark makes everything fun; you don’t know you’re getting better," added Ariana. "She rides and will show you what you have to do, so you can see the example. I go to the barn almost every day. Wednesday through Friday I take lunge lessons; on Saturday I ride my show horses and practice with Lark and Woody. I spend a lot of time taking care of my horses and stuff. This has been one of the best things we’ve ever done."
Long-time Saddlebred exhibitor Rusty Grundy and her Three-Gaited Park horse, In My Sight, made the move to Bobbin Hollow just over a year ago.
"Bobbin Hollow is wonderful," she said. "I thought they basically were Morgan trainers – but I was wrong. They have all breeds and disciplines. Things are going on all the time."
Grundy describes the Henry family as "really happy, upbeat people. Woody is down to earth – an old-time, natural horse trainer and blacksmith with a lot of talent. Lark is very outgoing, aggressive and personable. She’s ready to do new things and has a lot of programs going with the kids."
Patty Richards’ daughter, Katiepaige, 11, and son Cole, 7, ride and/or drive. Katiepaige, or KP as she is better known, began riding with Louise Henry when she was three. KP now works with Lark and Woody while Cole still drives with his first teacher.
"Louise starts the little people. She has that special talent – and the patience of any mother I’ve ever met," Richards said, adding she still takes some lessons from Louise as well. "She has the ability to say things to these kids with a calm demeanor, and explains things in detail. It’s amazing how she can explain things until we say … ‘It’s OK. Now I get it!’"
The Henrys teamed Katiepaige with HVK Standing Ovation four years ago. They now compete in Classic Pleasure Driving and were the 2010 USEF Region 4 Classic Pleasure Driving Champions.
"We have fun," said Katiepaige. "We have group lessons on Wednesdays and drill team on Thursdays. And the farm often hosts a show for all their riders."
Dr. Lionel and Kathy Gatien of RCV Morgans have RCV The Total Package, RCV Victors Legacy and RCV Victory Lane in training. The Stone family, Gulfwind Morgans, Denise Novak and the Fernandez and Riviera families have Morgans at Bobbin Hollow. Gale Lazarus has placed her Saddlebred, Delightful Diamond, with Bobbin Hollow. The Richards’ three-year-old Shiekra and the Eagle family’s Will’s Genius round out the client Saddlebreds at the farm.
Lark definitely is a disciplinarian … and an innovator. She emphasizes service to her students. Her latest venture: Saddle Seat coordinator for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. Her middle-school team, Katiepaige, Ariana, Lillian Gilbert and Natalia Fernandez, recently attended the inaugural Saddle Seat show at Morehead State University.
"Teaching is my passion," Lark said. "I love to teach children at an early age and see them develop into grand equestrians. And I love working with my adult riders as well. It makes you want to wake up and do your best every day."
And that she, Woody and the rest of the Bobbin Hollow family do – exceedingly well. And their clients love it.
Perhaps Rusty Grundy put it best when she said, "Bobbin Hollow should be called The Happy Farm."