Born in Sleepy Hollow, New York, I grew up along the Hudson River on an estate filled with architecture, art and ephemera reflecting the tales of Washington Irving and the early Dutch Settlers. I’m the granddaughter of a chauffeur who came of age driving the very rich throughout New York City, Westchester County and Oyster Bay, Long Island in the 1920s.
My early childhood memories are filled with my grandfather’s stories of society weddings, bootlegging trips from Canada and driving captains of industry’s wives to West Palm Beach, Florida each winter. But his favorite tales came from his childhood, growing up on the “Meriwether” estate in Pocantico Hills, next door neighbor to Kykuit, home of the Rockefeller family. David Meriwether Milton, a direct descendent of Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis & Clark fame, named the family homestead after his famous namesake.
I grew up on the fabled ‘Zeeview’ estate, built in the late 1920s by noted Western art collector Dr. Philip Gillett Cole. My young days in the 1960s were spent playing alone among wisteria-filled rock gardens, the orchard, the lake, the stable, the carriage house, and the dog kennel. By now, my grandfather “Papa” had become the superintendent of the estate, now called ‘Belvedere’ when the Bronfman family moved in. My favorite place to play – behind estate gates – was in the children’s log cabin next to the lake complete with a replica of the bridge where the headless horseman chased down Ichabod Crane.
Just like my grandfather, who played with young Miltons and Rockefellers, I would swim and play with the young scions of the Bronfman family when they would visit for the summer. One day I watched one of them ride at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club and instantly my passion for horses was born. Papa’s last chauffeur job was to take me to Sunday school at the Union Church in Pocantico Hills. A church built by and attended by the Rockefeller family. David and Peggy Rockefeller, and a young Jay Rockefeller, were sitting in the pews the day I was christened. I met David Rockefeller for the last time at his 100th birthday celebration held at the same church during its 100th anniversary.
When I was 8-years-old, my parents moved us to Connecticut where I continued my love affair with horses. After learning to ride at summer camp, my parents bought me a chestnut pony named Gingersnap. This spirited filly taught me how to show horses, fox hunt and fall off! At 16, my grandmother “Grossmutter” bought me that special first horse. Speculation was a handsome 16.2H Bay 7/8 Thoroughbred, who was my constant companion for 23 years. With Spec, I earned my hunt colors with the Fairfield County Hounds and showed in the junior and adult hunter and equitation divisions. I like to tell people my relationship with Spec lasted longer than any of my jobs, friendships or marriages!
As a young adult I embarked upon a career of showing and breeding purebred dogs, specifically Norwegian Elkhounds. My kennel – Elvemel Norwegian Elkhounds – reflects generations of sound, healthy champions that have won numerous awards at National Specialty shows in the U.S. and Canada. As an AKC judge I’ve officiated at dog shows hosted by the Norwegian Elkhound Association of America, the Norwegian Elkhound Club of the Potomac Valley, the Columbine Norwegian Elkhound Club, the Greenwich Kennel Club, the Long Island Kennel Club, and the Newtown Kennel Club among others. I shared my knowledge of horses by teaching horseback riding at several hunter/jumper show stables and at the horsemanship program at Post University. My most recent horse showing has been in the adult jumper and equitation divisions. however, trotting along wooded trails, cantering across open fields and galloping on Connecticut Coastal beaches remain my favorite places to commune with a horse.
My professional journalism career started as a cub reporter at The Newtown Bee. Right out of college I was covering cops, courts and crime, including the infamous ‘Woodchipper Murder’ case. I continued crime reporting at Norwalk’s daily newspaper, The Hour. As a freelancer, my articles and columns have appeared in USA Today, Connecticut Magazine, Connecticut Horse Magazine, AKC Family Dog, Horses Monthly, The Newtown Bee, and FoxNews.com.
As the Communications Director and Spokesperson at the American Kennel Club from 2004 to 2015 I made hundreds of guest appearances on television and radio, including the Today Show, The O’Reilly Factor, Fox & Friends, Fox Business Network, Good Morning America, Martha Stewart Living, and NPR as a canine expert on responsible dog ownership, pet safety, breed trends, legislation, breeding and showing dogs. In addition, my work has won the Public Relations Society of America “Big Apple” award for my PR campaign “Protect Your Pet From Theft” in 2008, as spokesperson for the “A Dog For Obama” campaign in 2009, and as podcast host of “Pick of the Litter, winning the Dog Writer’s Association of America “Best Podcast” award in 2012 & 2013.
In 2014, I founded Barn Girl Media, a communications consultancy company. My public relations work includes projects for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Team LiNX Drone Racing, Farmington Polo Club, Western Connecticut K-9 Challenge, and the Newtown Kennel Club. My writing includes the weekly newspaper column Lisa Unleashed in The Newtown Bee, an upcoming true crime memoir about the disappearance of Regina Brown and various other family stories about growing up Behind Estate Gates. I am also a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
When I’m not writing or riding, I’m enjoying life with my husband Ray at our Newtown, Connecticut home with our current brace of champion Norwegian Elkhounds @TimesSquareDog Linx and Adele.
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Lisa this is really fun and interesting to read! Sounds like you have continued to have a fascinating life!
One quick correction….Gillett is spelled without the ‘e’ at the end. The razor blade family is the ‘e’ 🙂 Hope you got my emil sent to both you and Barbara Worden? It will be fun to exchange photos and stories 🙂
Thanks for the update on the spelling! You can reach me via email@example.com to talk further. Thanks!
Congratulations on all your amazing accomplishments, Lisa.
Horses, dogs, history, Tarrytown and Washington Irving, a heartbreaking cold case, your work is fascinating.
Thanks for all the good stories, from a north Jersey girl living the #horselifeinLexington, KY, who is passionate about horses, dogs, history, and Irving.