It’s a hot August morning and the air is hazy with humidity. But inside the stables of Bridle Path Manor in Onondaga Hill, it’s cool and comfortable.
The team of caretakers – lead by owner Kathy Zimmer – are busy with chores indoors, while most of the farm’s 14 horses graze and gallop in the sun on the 32-acre property.
“This doesn’t feel like work,” laughs Paige, a high school student working at the Manor during her summer vacation. She’s busy cleaning a stall, smiling with each shovel full of hay.
It’s So Satisfying to Raise Horses
Like Paige, Kathy’s summers revolved around horses when she was growing up.
“I was 8 when my mother took me to visit a horse farm near our house. I’d always admired the horses from afar, but coming face-to-face with a year-old horse? I was hooked. The foal was so playful, curious, and fun to be around,” said Kathy.
Kathy’s parents asked if she wanted to head to camp or lease a horse. Kathy couldn’t say “horse!” fast enough. While she loved to ride, it was the daily grooming and care for the young horse that sparked her lifelong love of all things equine.
Decades later, Kathy is just as passionate about working with young horses (she calls them “the babies”).
“It’s so satisfying to raise horses and prepare them for their next stage in life. We train them so they’ll be great riding companions for others,” Kathy explains as she watches Fake News, a two-and-a-half month old horse, run circles around its mother Encore.
Why the name Fake News?
“When the horse was born, we were told it was a girl. But ‘she’ was actually a ‘he.’ Fake news,” laughs Kathy.
It’s Showtime Nine Times a Year for Kathy
In addition to rearing “the babies,” Kathy also boards horses, teaches riding lessons for all ages, and somehow finds time to run about 9-12 horse shows each year.
The shows are held at Bridle Path Manor and the NYS Fairgrounds from April through October. While there is an entry fee for participants, spectators can enjoy the “show” for free.
Some shows have themes, like the annual Trick or Trot Halloween Show at the fairgrounds. (Yes, there’s a horse and rider costume contest involved.) The shows give both new and experienced riders a chance to compete and advance their skills.
“If you’re curious about getting into horseback riding, go to a show. You’ll get to see different riding styles from hunter to equitation,” Kathy suggests.
Hunter and equitation are the two riding disciplines that Kathy focuses on – both in shows and in lessons. You won’t be out looking for foxes if you take hunter lessons, but the style is based on manners a horse (and rider) would theoretically have if they were hunting. That means a smooth, comfortable gait and clean, controlled jumps.
The equitation discipline puts a bit more pressure on the rider, as courses are often more technical. If you want a closer look, check out this overview of different horse riding styles.
Meet the Schoolmaster
When it comes to riding lessons, Kathy isn’t the only teacher. She points to Ransom…an older, large white horse with grey spots who is snacking on hay.
“Ransom is known as a schoolmaster horse. To me, Ransom is one of the most important horses I own. He’s an experienced horse who can help a child or new rider have a positive first experience. Like any good teacher, he’s kind, forgiving, and very patient. He doesn’t complain or get worked up when a rider makes a mistake.”
Together, Ransom and Kathy have taught hundreds of students over the years…from kindergarteners to seniors.
“Horses help children learn about responsibility and commitment. They learn to care for something outside of themselves,” explains Kathy.
She says that adults are often drawn to working with horses for different reasons:
“Horses provide an escape from the chaos of life. They have a calming influence and bring people into the present moment. Everything else fades into the background. Adults get satisfaction from riding, yes, but the grooming and bonding with the horse is the real joy.”
Protecting Open Spaces
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County estimates that there are about 18 horse stables in Onondaga County, and approximately 400 horses. These businesses directly support other local farms and businesses by purchasing hay from nearby farmers and equipment from stores.
Horse farms like Bridle Path Manor also protect open land that would otherwise be used for commercial or residential development projects.
“When I purchased the land for Bridle Path in 1994, the seller was happy to know the land would be home to horses – and not a housing development,” says Kathy.
Hands-On Learning (with a Fun Twist on Tuesdays)
Today, Bridle Path Manor is a place where riders of all ages can come together over their shared passion for horses – with Kathy leading the way. To keep riders engaged, she integrates her sense of adventure and fun into activities at the stable.
For example, Tuesdays are known as “Typical Tuesdays” when the day is anything but ordinary (except Kathy always orders pizza for participants). Riders are invited to come to the Manor for hands-on experiences in horse care.
Last Tuesday, the focus was on grooming and participants were shown how to bathe the horses.
While her horse business is her livelihood, Kathy shares the same view about her work as the young rider, Paige. It never feels like work to her:
“It’s all about sharing what I know – and love – with others.”