The remnants of Queens history are strewn across the borough, in the expected forms of historic houses and landmarked sites.
But a bucolic stretch of the borough next to the Flushing cemetery is home to a living anachronism: a rural and thriving horse stable in an urban setting.
Just across from where the long-deceased rest, 169-38 Pidgeon Meadow Road is home to a 108-year-old horse stable with four equine residents and their caretaker Joy Tirado. Combined they form Western Riding Club.
For nearly four years, the stables have been a quirky open space for any good-hearted member of the community.
Most of all, Tirado says it has given back her lease on life and a dignity that was marred by what she called an abusive relationship to a now-ex husband.
The riding club has accepted donations of any variety, from Home Depot gift cards to sacks of sawdust. The club has given back to the casual passerby with relatively open access to the horses and a chance to do some very un-New York chores. (The benefits go beyond the “Free Manure” sign visitors walk past as they enter.)
But Tirado, 43, says the Western Riding Club needs a bit more to survive: close to $800,000 by May 13 to buy some time and prevent her landlord from selling the land out from underneath her and the horses.
The sale of the property by her landlord John Lightstone, 87, is out of her hands. Now Tirado is looking for some help: a pro-bono attorney, landmark status for the stable and cash. A lot of cash.
“I was left penniless from the divorce. This is all that I have left,” she said, motioning toward the barn. “I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to keep it.”
Her travails with the landlord run deep. To put it succinctly, they don’t get along, with each side accusing the other of antagonistic behavior.
Parsing who’s right and who isn’t seems beyond the point now. The reality is a “Right of first refusal” clause in her lease has left Tirado looking to match the offer of an unnamed buyer by Monday. If she doesn’t, the Western Riding Club has to find a new home.
For the record: It is Joy and the Horses. Literally. The quintet is so symbiotic, Tirado signs off as “Joy and the Horses” at the bottom of her emails.
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Tirado was sweeping up loose hay inside the stables, as her pony Flash spastically stuck his head out at a reporter, before a tubby cat emerged and dogs barked behind a barn door.
Abby, who Tirado called the equine matriarch of both the horses and the stables’ regular visitors, remained her usual steadfast self.
In the paddock outside, the rambunctious Vortex chomped at his hay while the docile Chico relaxed in the shade of a neighboring pen.
Such is the typical goings-on of an operation that, by all appearances, functions solely at the will of Tirado. Visitors, including a usual cast of characters, take a hands-on approach with feeding, grooming and even massaging the horses.
“The environment and the way I run this barn is a little unconventional,” she said, noting barbecues and cookouts with the community and having the horses clop down the street to a nearby meadow.
Lightstone’s attorney Jeff Schwartz told the Chronicle he would inquire with the prospective buyer to see if they’d allow Tirado to stay past the 60 days she’s currently allowed after the sale of the property, according to her lease.
Tirado is pursuing landmark status for the barn, with the help of state Sen. Tony Avella’s (D-Bayside) office.
“This is the last piece of urban agriculture on private land in Queens,” she said.
Tirado pointed to a “Tom Hanks-like figure” who can come in and shower money upon the riding club. Because, in her mind, it’s always “Joy and the Horses.”
“If it wasn’t for them...” she said, looking at Vortex in the paddock. “They have such a mystical, magical energy.”