USET Foundation Celebrates Hamilton Farm's 100th year and a U.S. National Historic Landmark

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hamilton Farm in Gladstone, New Jersey, is where the United States Equestrian Team Foundation is headquartered and where U.S. equestrians continue to prepare and represent their country abroad, including major team championships like the Olympic Games. It’s a place where the US Equestrian’s Talent Search Finals continues to hold one of the most rigorous competitions and where the Dressage National Championships, called the Dutta Corp US Equestrian Festival of Champions, takes place. Most importantly it is where, thanks to the USET Foundation, the Hamilton Farm Stable complex is now officially recognized as a National US Historic Landmark while also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Wall Street financier and magnate James Cox Brady (not “Diamond” Jim Brady) who was close friends with Thomas Edison and also interested in gas and electric lighting, built Hamilton Farm and named it after his third wife’s family name. Quickly growing from 180 to 5,000 acres, the homestead included an extensive horse barn with storage area for a large carriage collection. When this barn burned, Brady resolved to re-build in even grander scale, and included fire-proofing measures which were virtually unheard of at the time.  The new barn featured a carriage storage area and fifty stall stable. Ten years later, in 1927, James Cox Brady passed away at the age of 45 from pneumonia. During World War II, the entire stable complex was converted into an emergency hospital and recuperation center for the injured in the war. This was the very first facility in the U.S. used for such a purpose, called Base Hospital No. 1. When the war was over the buildings were restored to their original purposes.

The building housing the stables is made of reinforced steel, brick and stucco and has vaulted tile ceilings that maintain a cool environment during the hot northeast summers and help to radiate warmth on cold, wintry days. Recent renovation of the two levels of stalls called special attention to the craftsmanship of the horse’s box stalls, with individually handcrafted wood paneling and brass fittings constructed in 1917. A ramp decked with sections of old fire hose allowed horses to easily walk from one level to the other.

The United States Equestrian Team was established at Hamilton Farm at Gladstone in 1960 to transition from cavalry riding to competition riding with a series of donated horses. From 1960 – 1980 horses and riders were selected, lived, trained, were coached and sent to represent the USA in such shows as the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, Olympic Games, Nations Cups across the globe and European Championship competitions.

There are Many Ways to Get to Gladstone

Everyone is encouraged to visit Hamilton Farm invites USET Executive Director Bonnie B. Jenkins. “We have two major events that happen almost every year. One is the Dressage National Championship [U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions] usually at the end of May. The other one is in October called the U.S. Equestrian’s Talent Search Finals.”  She continued, “Young riders work all year to qualify and it’s the most difficult of the equitation finals. It’s a three day competition including flatwork, gymnastics and Show Jumping.  The US Equestrian Talent Search Finals are different than the Medal Finals because it points the direction to prepare young riders for that next step and to help them work toward representing the Team someday in Show Jumping.  It really asks many more questions technically. Many of the young riders ride their jumpers in it opposed to riding their equitation horses.”

“We encourage anyone who is coming up the ranks, who maybe doesn’t have some of the same opportunities, to look up the clinics and activities on the U.S. Equestrian website or USET website.” Bonnie welcomes, “There are many ways to get to Gladstone.” 

Now housed in the open section of the barn that was originally used for carriage storage is office space for staff. Currently, eight USET Foundation staff members work in that section, along with some U.S. Equestrian staff that travel with the athletes to nations cup competitions and international championships. The spacious building also has dorm rooms for athletes who would stay and train there. “The list of U.S. riders who have stayed here is incredible, like Jimmy Wofford and Michael Page in Eventing, George Morris and Frank Chapot to name a couple for Show Jumping, and Robert Dover and Kathy Connelly for Dressage,” shared Bonnie.

Bonnie B. Jenkins, Executive Director

“Right out of college, I started working in New York City as a prize list analyst for the AHSA, known back then as the American Horse Shows Association. I would read the prize lists all across the country for upcoming competitions and contact the show managers and let them know what they needed to correct. Soon I became its Assistant Executive Director and moved up to Executive Director. I did that from 1985 to 1996. Then, I took some time off, had some children and was offered the position here in Gladstone with the USET. I became the Executive Director when the USET was still fielding teams and fundraising for the high performance programs.”

“I’ve been the Executive Director for the USET Foundation since it was put into place in December 2003. It’s been a wonderful experience for me, being able to meet and stay in touch with incredible people in the sport and to be involved in helping our teams. We’ve really had a great go of it with tremendous success thanks to an incredible Board of Trustees and generous people involved in this sport who have given their support to the athletes. Because of them, we’ve been able to provide $35,000,000 to our equestrian teams over the last 13 years.”

“We have a comprehensive fundraising program.  We have annual support programs through direct mail and on-line, as well as our Gold Medal Club program, annual supporters of $1,000+, in addition to benefit events and major gift campaigns all that contribute to supporting our United States Equestrian Teams and this country’s High Performance programs each year. ”

Hamilton Farm from an Athlete’s Point of View

Six-time Olympian and current US Dressage Team Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover shared, “I was 19 years old when I arrived here in the late 70s. It was the first time I was longlisted for the USET. I had a horse named Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I drove up from Georgia to be in a clinic given by Colonel Bent Lindquist. When I arrived, I didn’t know where to put my horse. I took him off the trailer and placed him in a stall before looking for a person to show me where I needed to be. When I entered the offices, I met Fiona Baan, an imposing British woman who was the Stable Manager here for many years. Also in the office was the Executive Director for the USET, Captain Jack Fritz, also a top dressage judge.”

“In her British accent, Fiona took me to a stall that had a brass plate with my horse’s name scripted on it. That’s how it would be for years to come. Every stall had an immaculate brass plate with the horse’s name on it. The stall had been bedded down for my arrival with the shavings banked higher against the walls than the hocks of my horse. Everything was polished and perfect.”

“I met Bert de Némethy who was perfectly dressed in bloomer breeches and wearing an ascot. Back then, the horses were donated to the USET and riders were selected to ride and compete them. Bert informed me I’d also be riding and caring for two other horses while staying there at the facility under his watchful eyes and those of the Colonel. These were world-class jumping horses housed there that would compete for the country in Europe with great riders like Bill Steinkraus, George Morris, Joe Fargis and Conrad Homfeld.”

“This place is the most special place in my heart. I lived here for two years after returning from Europe and a long tour there. When you were a member of the US Team you could live here in a room either above the garages or the stables and house your horse here for a nominal fee. The place was really about being a family of people who were preparing or had been on a team.”

Recognition as a Historic Landmark

Earlier this year, the USET Foundation received approval to pursue being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “To be included on the National Historic Registry is a very long process,” Bonnie pointed out. “We’ve actually been working to achieve this goal for about two-and-a-half years. You have had to complete an extensive application where every window, every latch , the ceilings, the light switches are all of the same period, fully restored yet left as period pieces. It all has to be either original or we have to explain how it was altered.”

“We’ve had professional historians really help us complete that rigorous process and it’s first gone through 7 or 8 reviews in the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office before it was finally approved by them. Now, it goes on to the national office in Washington, D.C. and we believe it will be endorsed and approved. Once this rigorous process is completed, it will officially be preserved as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.” This year is the Hamilton Farm’s 100th year celebration and it is a bit of a celebration in achieving National Historic Designation.