By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The boy pushes back the brim of his hat and beams proudly.
"I was just like him," Debbie tells me, "had my first pony ride right here at Cedar Lane when I was seven. Once my son was grown, I got a horse and came back here."
Last June, Debbie founded the Cedar Lane Jewels, a cowgirl offshoot of the Federation. Eight members ride in parades and compete in barrel races, a test of skill that requires weaving in and out of rows of barrels at top speed. Debbie's horse has a stall at Cedar Lane, but she, like everyone else, is worried over the fate of the soon-to-be-uprooted Federation horses over at the Hole.
Dennis Gonzalez is a part-time lifeguard who stables Tango, a chestnut Arabian, at a stable in the Hole. Though Gonzalez isn't a member of the Federation (he's white), he is sympathetic to Cleary and the others' plight.
"It's tough being a cowboy in East New York," he says.
Any cowboy here could tell you about riding a horse from East New York to Brooklyn Heights through rush-hour traffic, or cite the merits of a particular brand of hoof oil, but they don't know much about the land disputes and are reluctant to say much about them.
Department of Finance records show that most of the vacant land surrounding the stables was bought by Wildwood Construction in 2000. A spokesman for Wildwood, who would not give his name, confirms that Wildwood is also about to purchase the lot the stable is built on from its current owner, Paul Stabile.
"Horses are beautiful animals," the Wildwood spokesman says, "nobody wants to kick them out. But those stables aren't clean. We're going to build two-story homes there." Though Stabile did not wish to comment, he confirms that he is selling the land.
Gonzalez and his horse Tango are safe for now. The land underlying their tiny stable hasn't yet been sold. But all the horse owners feel like they're living on borrowed time. What they have here at the Hole isn't much. Rain causes the area to flood frequently and the dogs that guard the stables barely keep the rats under control.
For people like Gonzalez and Cleary, there aren't many alternatives.
Cleary leads Dalton into his stall. As Dalton pokes his head out to nuzzle with his neighbor, a bay quarter horse, Cleary gently pushes an orange cat from a bale of hay, breaking off a flake for his horse.
"I've got a lot of lessons with kids scheduled for next week. Problem is, I don't know if me and Dalton will be here."
Research assistance: Danial Adkison