The Fancy Ponies of Sweetbrier Farm


You never know who you are going to meet in the horse world! This week I interviewed a woman for an article I’d been assigned to cover for a horse magazine. As usual the first question is, “Where did you start riding?” And to my amazement she answered, “Sweetbrier Farm in Easton.” Here is where my jaw dropped, smile followed and my reply was, “So did I!” We checked our dates and thought we might have ridden there at the same time.

Then I started rattling off the names of school horses, Missy, Briggy, Worthington and Miller. Then she named some ponies, Bonnie, Sprite. And then I offered up the name of my favorite pony, the one who gave me my first blue ribbon — Marvel-Us.


Marvel-Us and Me: Fall 1971 Sweetbriar Farm Schooling Horse Show, Reserve Champion

“Marvel-Us!” she quipped. She remembered that pony too. In fact, she had ridden her, once. As she recalled it, the pony would respond differently to each rider. Those who were nervous or tense, got the speedy treatment. Those who were calm and confident, got the dream ride.  She told the tale about how she watched as someone tried to ride Marvel-Us, getting the speedy treatment. Then she got to hop on during the lesson, and briefly got to experience the dream ride.

Missy and Marvel-Us

My memories of Marvel-Us, where just that, Marvelous! I first climbed aboard this little white pony mare as a 10-year-old. But I didn’t get to ride the dream pony at first. Fresh back from learning to ride at summer camp, I clearly remember my first lesson at Sweetbrier aboard this bay mare named Missy. I had mastered the walk-trot at camp, even showed in the lead line class at the camp show. But the wise instructor felt I was ready for that first canter. Missy obliged, a new riding thrill emerged and I was on my way.

Along that way, I learned to master the canter on an old horse named Miller, who was a retired racing trotter. There is nothing quite like trying to ask a horse to do something he was clearly trained not to do at any cost. But we persevered. Then we started tackling the cross rail jumps on those tried and true school masters, like Worthington and Briggy. As a child you are not quite aware of things like the horse’s age, but I do know that when I asked how old Briggy was, they told me, “Ancient.”

Fancy Ponies 

But then one day I got to ride Marvel-Us. I remember how effortless things seemed, like picking up the canter on her versus Miller, the king of trotting. Eventually, after another year I was able to join the advanced lesson on Saturday mornings. It was filled with fancy ponies like Dark ‘N Fancy, owned by the Humphrys, the farm’s owners. He was always ridden by a red-haired girl named Emily. This very cute large pony, was black with a speckled white blaze all the way down to his nose. His white stockings on his rear legs were matched up front by a near sock and what looked like a white splash on his remaining far leg just below the knee. His nickname was “Too Big” and I can still hear Emily call out to him as “Toooooooo Big.”


Sweetbriar Farm Riders at the Fairfield County Hounds Thanksgiving Day Hunt at Greenfield Hill, circa 1973. From left: Lisa on Gingersnap, Emily on Dark & Fancy, Gerri on her horse, and Holly on Fleet Nancy

There was also Sprite, a dapple grey pony that loved to jump and occasionally stop! I do recall one of my worst spills coming off that pony, right on top of a very sturdy and hard vertical jump, landing on my back, like a gymnast performing a flip. But the first time I ever rode her, the barn let me tack her up myself. So proud was I as I entered the ring to mount up, before the instructor came over to explain I had put the saddle on backwards. Other ponies that joined us in that lesson were Bonnie, a cute bay pony mare, and BeBell, a rambunctious alibino pony, who was actually Marvel-Us’ daughter! Once I rode in a pairs class at a horse show on Marvel-Us with BeBell ridden by a girl named Diane.

And then Marvel-Us gave me the gift of our first few horse shows. Our first was a  schooling show at Sweetbrier, in the fall or winter, it was cold and the show was indoors. But bless you Marvel-Us as she took my novice seat around one of those egg roll jumping courses. It was my first blue ribbon. Later, next spring, took me to my first away show, a local recognized show, where we also garnered a blue ribbon in the pleasure pony class.

It was Marvel-Us who set me on the path of lifetime riding and a love of horse shows. Just like many, many other little girls who passed through the Sweetbrier gates in search of that dream ride. In fact, during my recent interview with the barn owner for that article, she admitted that seeing all those fancy ponies at Sweetbriar fueled her imagination to grow up and bred fancy ponies herself. Thanks Marvel-Us!

18 thoughts on “The Fancy Ponies of Sweetbrier Farm

    • Hey Lisa, Certainly been a long while. I knew you at Sweetbrier Farm during 1971 – 1973. I was the white-haired guy who owned Caliban, and rode with my then girlfriend Darlene. I well remember the horses and ponies you mention, but you left out a gentle mare named Sweet Toot and a pony Potato Chip. My instructors were Kathy and Terry. I stumbled upon Deanie’s page promoting her children’s books while curious what has become of Sweetbrier Farm. I will be contacting her soon, as I have several photos and hundreds of old negatives (no digital pix then) to share. You are probably in some of them. When I retired in 2000, I bought a 60 Acre horse farm in Wisconsin Dells, WI., but later moved to the dark skies of Texas where I can do astronomy. Best Regards and hope to hear from you…
      Pete Armstrong

      • OMG! Peter, yes I remember you and Caliban! What a great memory you have. Who could forget Sweet Toot, that lovely bay mare and Potato Chip, a palomino roan colored horse, he was my first ride with a Pelham bit. Would love to see your photos. Sweetbriar Farm was purchased several years ago (it was Lion Hill Farm by then) and the new owners have been fixing up the barn and will soon tackle the old homestead, I hear. I’m glad the place is still a riding stable. Thanks so much for reaching out and sparking more memories. Best, Lisa

    • I just came across this article! I started riding in 1971 and my first lesson was on Sprite! My friend Amy and I spent every weekend helping at the barn. We brought thermos’s of hot cocoa in the winter and ate our lunches in the lounge. I have been riding ever since and am now 59 years old and a proud horse owner of an incredible hunter/jumper. I loved the Himphreys family and my childhood memories all began there. I moved to Vorginia- wonder what happened to Sweetbrier Farm?
      Elise Gelfand Lestz

      • Hi Elise,
        I rode Sprite too! Cool pony. I’m surprised we didn’t run into each other at Sweetbrier as we are the same age. I started there in the fall of 1971. The barn is still there. It became Lion Hill Farm for many years and for the last few years has been Far Hills Farm. I’m happy the place still teaches young people (and adults) to ride and love horses. 💕🐴🏆Thanks for sharing your memories! #HorsesRule

  1. Hi Lisa, what was your name when you rode at Sweetbrier? You did a great job remembering the horses! Did you know I wrote an award-winning book about growing up at Sweetbrier? We also have a video with some scenes from the book. You can see it Here:

    Many of our former students have contacted me about riding with us at Sweetbrier. Did you know the new owners are fixing the house up?

    • Hi Deanie! My name was Lisa Nelson. I rode at Sweetbrier (apologies for the misspelling, I’ll have to update that!) from 1971-1974. My parents bought me a pony named Gingersnap from Kathy Biedermann. I recently stopped by Sweetbrier and met the new owner. Glad the house is being fixed up, I remember watching Secretariat win the Triple Crown in your living room! And yes, I did know about your book! That too brought back memories!

      • Lisa, I knew that was you sitting on that white pony. Sorry, I don’t remember all the horses/ponies. I met you way back then too, when my name was Kathy Piccot-Bederman. Yes, it’s me. Your old instructor and friend.

        Deanie: Wow! Kudos to all your accomplishments. I stumbled on all of this information while searching for your sister, Terry. I have a bunch of pics from my time at Sweetbriar. I have lived in Houston, TX since 1983.

        Peter Armstrong. I don’t believe it. I’d love to touch base. Darlene and I used to live together in Redding, CT back then. I’m glad everyone had such wonderful memories of those days. I am still good friends Dr. with Ginny Buechner. She lives in Radford, VA and is a vet at Virginia Tech.

        Would love to hear from all of you.

      • Hi Kathy,
        Thanks for reaching out! I would love to catch up! I have your email. Thanks for posting. Those days were the best at Sweetbrier. The farm continues operation under a new family. I went to visit it back in November. Talk soon.

      • Hey Kathy, Pete Armstrong here. Saw your post to Lisa’s page and would love to do some catch-up with you. I sent some pictures to Deanie’s Sweetbrier site, and am working on scanning the hundreds of negatives of those times. My fond memories of learning to ride and jump under your instruction have not diminished at all. Let’s reminisce.

        Pete . . .

  2. Hi Lisa,
    We haven’t met the new owners of Sweetbrier yet, but one of them told me she’d invite us to visit when the house is finished. Iit was fun to hear from you and to read your blog.
    Best wishes for a great year!

  3. Hi Deanie, The article Lisa is writing is about my barn in Middlefield, CT. You were my instructor at Sweetbrier, and I want to thank you so much for the good instruction and also the great memories! Jill Carbone Kulmann

  4. Hi Lisa: I read your article entitled The Fancy Ponies of Sweetbriar Farm with such enthusiasm!

    I started riding there when I was 8 years old (1968) as Theresa Youd. Once a week my parents would drive me there from Huntington, CT for my lesson on Wednesday nights with Dee Dee Humphrys. I couldn’t wait for each Wednesday to come.

    I remember Bonnie, Worthington and I thought the name was Brigsy instead of Briggy, who was kept in the lower barn. Maybe, Deanie can confirm! I also remember a bay horse named Yankee. My dad would ride him so we could go out on a trail ride across the street before the housing development took over the land. Just me and my dad. They would never allow that in this day and age.

    One special pony I will never forget (nor my mother) was Bobby, unless it was BeBell, I’m thinking of. I’m thinking it was a gelding. Anyway, if I wasn’t paying attention to him, he would run around the indoor ring at a full gallop, stop in the middle and buck me off! He was a great pony, though. He taught me a lot. I also fell off, on my back, during a show in the outside field. Right on a stone wall jump. My poor parents!

    Such wonderful, fond memories of that place. Are they fixing up the main house? It seemed to be always in need of repair. I hope the farm lasts forever!

  5. Hello! I enjoyed your article and was quite transported. Thanks for sharing!
    Deanie Humphrys-Dunne is a friend of mine. I’m re-reading her book, “My Life at Sweetbrier Farm: A Life Changed By Horses.”
    All the best from the Wild West, Lisa!

      • That’s so wonderful. I love your photos, too. Your love and passion shines through, and makes me wish that I had been a part of this world.

  6. Dear Deanie and friends,
    My name is Judy. I was talking with my granddaughter today about my riding days and she looked up Sweetbrier Farm for me and found you all. I started riding at Sweetbrier Farm in the mid to late 60s on Charade, a white stallion 15-16 hands high. I won my first blue ribbon on Charade and enjoyed my time riding. Would love to see if this forum is still active and to connect with others ☺️🏇🐎♥️

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