Once one of the largest stables and riding facilities in the area--and possibly the state--Bay Ridge Stables on Bull Run Post Office Road, just over the line in Loudoun County, moved all its horses to temporary quarters on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Bob and Pam Kunkel, who operated Bay Ridge Stables, relocated about 17 horses--the 10 best--to Julie Mathis' Four Winds Farm on Vint Hill Road in Nokesville. The horses could be stabled there and other facilities until next spring.
In May, the Kunkels received a 90-day notice that they needed to vacate the property, which is held in trust and is now in the hands of the heirs of Frances and Roger Cornwell.
"We tried to buy [the land] twice, and we were turned down twice. We don't know what's happening," Bob Kunkel said Tuesday, noting, "We got notice of this about 60 days ago, right around Mother's Day. We thought we were getting a year's extension."
He added, "This was more a comedy of mistakes. I would really hate to think someone would do something like this deliberately."
Kunkel explained that Bay Ridge was started by Sandi Ward on Clifton Road. In the beginning, Ward had a small amount of acreage and needed more room. In the mid-1970s, she moved to the current location, a triangle where Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax counties meet.
Ward signed a long-term lease with an option to buy the land from its owners, the Cornwell family. She built the stable and indoor riding arena and opened for business.
Ward's barn manager was Pam Kunkel.
Pam Kunkel made sure the animals got fed, the stalls got cleaned, and she kept track of the class schedules. But the Kunkels also wanted to have children.
"I told her, 'You're running this small business with no benefits. You're either going to have to buy it or get a real job.' She offered to buy Sandi out, and Sandi took her up on it,' Bob Kunkel said.
Kunkel, who was an Arlington police officer, felt it was to his advantage as well as wife's. She would be doing what she loved, and he would no longer have to deal with the commute and the "unpleasantness" that inevitably accompanies police work.
"And I would essentially be my own boss," he said.
Working together the two created what Kunkel described as "the largest riding school in Northern Virginia and possibly the state. We had 350 students, and I have yet to come across another riding school in the state that has that many students," he said. The stable also once boarded about 70 horses.
"We have a niche. We teach beginning to intermediate riders. Other schools don't want to have beginners. We took anyone, 8 to 85, who had no idea what a horse is. ... Our oldest student is pushing 80," Kunkel said.
Bay Ridge was, until 1997, one of the larger contractors with Fairfax County's Department of Parks and Recreation.
"[Fairfax's] costs kept going up. ... When they drastically increased the cost on their end, we dropped the county," he said.
One of those who has ridden at Bay Ridge, Bernadette Carter, said Bay Ridge has had show teams and competed in the National Capital Area Equestrian League, on both the junior and senior levels.
Other attributes of Bay Ridge included the fact that one need not board a horse to take a lesson.
Another attraction was Pam Kunkel's love of horses. Even the horses that became too old for use in riding lessons were never sent away. They remained at Bay Ridge under her care.
Bay Ridge will continue, Kunkel said. The fields may be different and the corporate structure may change, but "Bay Ridge is going to exist in some form."
He said the short-term plan is for his wife to teach at the farm in Nokesville where Bay Ridge's best horses are boarded.
"In the long term we are looking for a place to buy. Being a sharecropper is not what I want to be in the future. I tell my children when they ask about what they should say at school, I say, 'Tell them he's a sharecropper that's lost the farm.'"
The two issues facing the Kunkels at this point both have to do with size. Do they become a mom-and-pop operation or do they step up from their present mid-level size to a much larger enterprise?
"Do we shrink in size or do we go with one that involves growing dramatically, incorporating and bringing in investors, and doing a first-class huge facility?" Kunkel said.
Barrie Perrottino, of Clifton, one of the supporters of Bay Ridge, was so disturbed by the turn of events that she wrote a letter to the Times Community Newspapers. (See letter on Page B1.)
The letter said, in part, "Years ago a visit to western Fairfax and eastern Loudoun County would provide you with rolling hills scattered with small herds of horses. Now you have treeless tracts of land stuffed with upscale neighborhoods. ... They have still managed to squeeze in a baseball field or a soccer field but any open area for a horse to run is all but nonexistent.
" ... My daughter started riding at Bay Ridge Stables in January 1998. ... Bay Ridge not only provides her with a safe, constructive place to spend her time, it has provided her with skills that she will carry through the rest of her life: How to care for an animal in a responsible manner; how to develop friendships with people, of all ages, from different backgrounds but share the same interest; that life isn't fair; and that there will always be someone better than you; how to win graciously and lose with a smile on your face.
"The odd thing is that people don't realize how wide reaching Bay Ridge really is. I have heard that people have been approached while wearing their Bay Ridge hat or sweatshirt at places like the Rolex in Lexington, Ky., and have been told, 'I learned to ride at Bay Ridge.' That in itself speaks volumes."
Carter, who had been boarding her horse at Bay Ridge for 11 years, had just sent her horse, Mr. Chips, to South Carolina to live with her daughter Niki. Her involvement with Bay Ridge began through its contract with Fairfax County.
Carter said she and her daughter both took lessons. She was "about 38" at the time and her daughter "8 or 9."
"This is a fabulous way for children who do not own their horses to show. They went to other barns in league and rode their horses in a show situation. [Niki] rode for seven years. ... Then she rode in college at Clemson.
"Horseback riding teaches them responsibility, that you have to care for the animal. ... stable management. You could leave your child at that stable all day and know they were safe, and busy at something all day, and you never had to worry about something happening to them.
"Some said the county should not be supporting rich people's habits. No one I know is rich. We all work full time. There's nobody rich here. It costs less to keep a horse here than to make a car payment. This [closing] has been heartbreaking."