Romping through the grass, Coco fits right in with the scenery: A red barn with an American flag draped over the front, a historic windmill and a charming gazebo, all surrounded by a white vinyl fence. In the distance, a cedar log cabin overlooks the view.
Coco is an 11-year-old leopard appaloosa horse — the name comes from the spots all over his coat. But his home isn’t somewhere on a rural estate. Coco lives less than a mile from the Long Island Expressway.
Rebecca Breitel resides in that log cabin, in Manorville. She takes care of two horses, maintaining their shared land daily. Breitel isn’t alone — Long Island is filled with horse properties. Many horse owners have found there are financial benefits to living on the same land as their animal, rather than renting out a stall in a barn.
But living on a horse property comes with challenges. There’s plenty of upkeep: cleanup, damage repair, water drainage issues. And of course, owners must take care of the star of the show. Horses require exercise, plenty of food, annual veterinary visits and attention, as well.
Fortunately, Long Island’s horse community is a caring one. These horse owners help each other out, and they’re proud of where they live.
Home on the range
For many horse property owners on Long Island, the prospect started as a fantasy.
“My dream was always to have my horses in my backyard,” says Breitel, 51. She’s achieved that, with two horses — the other is Kiwi, a miniature equine.
Sharyn Guzzi, owner of Long Island Horse Properties, a real estate agency based in Smithtown, helps horse ownership at home become a reality. Most of her clients come to her while using a local stable to board one horse, and have decided to get another.
“But it becomes too expensive,” says Guzzi. “So if the average boarding price is between $800 and $3,000 a month for one horse, it becomes easier to take the horses to live at home.”
Because there’s more open space in Suffolk County, the area has more horse properties than in Nassau, she says. Smithtown, Bohemia, Islip Terrace and West Hills are popular locations, due to their proximity to bridle paths—there are some in Connetquot River State Park Preserve and Blydenburgh County Park.
When working with new buyers, “I start out by asking how many horses they have, and how many they intend to have in the future,” Guzzi says. “I try to make sure the property will always follow them.”
Breitel lives on 4 acres. She was friends with the previous homeowners and they let her purchase the property for $450,000 in 2019, she says.
With that much land comes plenty of responsibilities.
“Taking care of this property is a lot of upkeep,” says Breitel, who works full time for the Suffolk County Board of Elections. “People think that if you can afford a large property and horses, you can afford lawn service. But on 4 acres, lawn service is a lot of money.”
She mows the lawn herself, with a tractor that goes through “gallons of gas,” Breitel says — a struggle given the recent rise in prices at the pump.
Breitel also had to make a big replacement recently. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her wooden fence broke apart. She and the original homeowners determined it must have lasted 50 years, but water damage and snow weight led to its demise.
The price of wood had “skyrocketed” at that time, Breitel says, “and I made the grandiose decision to invest in vinyl fencing.”
Proper fencing is essential for horse owners, for safety reasons, Breitel adds. Without a secure fence, “your horses could get loose and get injured in the road, or someone could get into an accident.”
Christina Tabacco, longtime horse trainer and president of the Nassau Suffolk Horsemen’s Association, says accidents are bound to happen, such as gates being left open.
“People band together; I see it all the time,” says Tabacco. “There are a couple of Facebook groups and people will post things like, ‘I found this horse wandering the street’ or ‘in my yard.’ The horse community on Long Island is very tight, and they will absolutely reach out to help another horse person in need.”
No riding around
Each town on Long Island has different zoning rules, in terms of how much land is required per horse. For example, in the Town of Islip, you can have two horses per 20,000 square feet (or less than 1 acre) of land. For the Town of Brookhaven, it’s two horses per acre.
Loretta Hall moved into her Islip Terrace home in 2004. The cost then was $440,000. Her horses, Gadget and Max, are ages 28 and 16, respectively.
“Every day, twice a day, we clean up after the horses,” says Hall, 60. “Not everybody does it twice a day, but we do since we’re on a small property.”
One of Hall’s horses had recently kicked and broken a rail in their fence, which she says is an “ongoing” issue. She also spent four hours during a recent weekend pulling out the mats the horses stand on in the stall, cleaning the concrete underneath and putting in new mats, which requires cutting them to size. Hall says she tries to get one major chore done each weekend.
“There’s always something to be done,” Hall says. “It’s a lot of work. But you could board them somewhere and pay and have somebody else do all the work, or you could have the joy of having them at home and do the work yourself.”
Kayla Hollborn lives nearby with her animals — a horse, a pony and a goat. She moved to Islip Terrace in 2016. Previously, she boarded her equines at two different barns.
“It’s much more convenient and definitely cheaper,” says Hollborn, 31. “It’s much nicer rolling out of bed in the morning to feed them, rather than drive to Bayport or Bohemia.”
Now, she’s learned all the rules of having horses on your land, and suggests that other Long Islanders looking into this lifestyle do the same. For example, in the Town of Islip, manure must be kept 30 feet off the property line, and barns should be 50 feet from anyone’s house.
“Just do your homework and know your town’s rules,” Hollborn says.
While house-hunting, Kevin and Jennifer Galvin may have put the cart before the horse. The couple picked their property based on the barn, not the home.
“We joke around that we bought a barn and it has a house on it,” says Jennifer Galvin, 47. “That’s really what sold it for us.”
The couple bought their Smithtown home for $635,000 in 2018. They have an acre and a half, with four horses: Arlo, Hemi, Rayu and Dixie. Galvin didn’t have horses of her own growing up, but she’s been riding since age 5.
The Galvins also run the corporation All Mine Ranch, welcoming groups of children and individuals with disabilities to their property to meet the animals.
“There’s such a therapeutic aspect to having horses at your home,” she says.
Jennifer and Kevin split the tasks: He takes care of groundskeeping and fencing maintenance, while she’s in charge of feeding and cleaning the stalls. They also hired someone to clean the stalls and feed the horses two days a week, helping Galvin while she’s taking care of her kids and working at a waste removal company.
Each horse has its own stall. When the doors are open, they can go right into a paddock, or large fenced-in area, and walk around. The Galvins’ paddock is 80 by 150 feet. Kevin built it himself, estimating that the materials totaled $10,000, not including the machinery needed to get the job done. Jennifer believes it would cost double the amount today.
Many horse property owners, including Hall, wish their horses had even more room. But picking a property near parks and trails helps horses get the exercise they need.
“I think we do the best we can with what we have, and give them the best we can give them,” Hall says.
Galvin’s bedroom is on the back wall of her home. So even when she’s inside, her animals are usually in sight.
The same goes for Breitel, who has a glass door and wooden steps right outside her bedroom. Sometimes she opens the door and lets her horses peek inside.
“I’m a hands-on horse person,” Breitel says. “If I’m going to have an animal living with me, I’ll have them on my front lawn so they can put their heads in my windows, which they do.”
The common thread among Long Island horse owners is their love and commitment to their steeds. Without that, owners wouldn’t choose this lifestyle, says Galvin. She notes that during the pandemic, her property became a sanctuary for family and friends struggling with anxiety.
“One of my favorite aspects of having this barn is being able to share it with people,” says Galvin. “It’s such a gift to be able to give that to people. I can’t say how happy it makes me every time I wake up, look outside, and see horses in my backyard.”