You are on page 1of 14

Our Year of The Horse (1934

By Carol Messner Lebeaux

Dedicated to my happy memories of
Judy Churchill Skinner

Illustrations by
Virginia F. Kuniholm
Having decided on a plan of action we found a secret hiding
place to go to during recess time. It was an isolated alcove, once a
dumb-waiter, in the old brownstone building that was our school.
“Dear President Roosevelt,” I wrote on the large lined pad.
Judy and I grinned at each other in excitement. “We are two ten year
old girls very worried about–“
“Deeply concerned,” interjected Judy with her usual
“OH, thatʼs GOOD” I said, erasing and continuing; “deeply
concerned about the horses in New York City.”
“Wait,” said Judy. “We should be specific, ʻabout the condition
of the work-horses in the cityʼ”.
After all, we were well aware of the Mounted Police on their
magnificent steeds in contrast to the old nags pulling wagons. We
continued with our lament about the overworked and mistreated
horses hauling loads all over the city in the mid-1930s. Walking
together after school, we often fed apples and petted the valiant
creatures who lumbered along the streets pulling milk wagons, junk
wagons, produce, ice, coal, and grocery wagons. Judy Churchill was
my best friend. I had transferred to the school the year before at age
nine, quickly discovering our mutual love animals, especially cats and
horses. We shared books about cowboys, drew pictures of horses
and wrote poems together.



l .. .•
Judy had a slender athletic build and sandy-colored curly short
hair. Her features were refined, what one might call “chiseled”. Even
at ten years old she carried herself with an elegance I admired. On
Saturdays, I would take the subway to Greenwich Village to visit Judy
at her wondrous home in the Bleeker Gardens, not far from our
She lived with her mother and her cat, “Garibaldi”, in a large
sunny apartment with charming gardens in back. But rather than play
in the garden, we preferred to walk along the streets to find horses
and stroke their long velvety noses. We took pity on horses shivering
in the cold whose bones stuck out. There were those whipped by
their drivers to move ever faster, and old horses with sad eyes who
looked sick from the weight of their burdens.
It was Judyʼs idea to write to the President. I neatly printed the
final draft and we mailed it off to the White House, very pleased with
ourselves. After many weeks the reply came from the Office of the
White House to Judyʼs address, informing us that, “The ASPCA is an
organization fully equipped to prevent cruelty to animals, so two little
girls need no longer worry about such things.”

1" I

“Nuts!” said Judy. “Theyʼre not really doing anything about the
problem.” We were crushed, but only momentarily. “Now letʼs write
to Mayor LaGuardia” Judy declared, “After all, heʼs in charge of the
city.” A similar letter was mailed to the Mayor, this time using my
address. Again, many weeks passed.
After school one day I received a phone call from a Mrs. Erlich,
who explained that the Mayorʼs office had forwarded our letter to her:
Erlich asked us to meet her at her hotel suite to organize a plan of
action. Ecstatic, we hopped on the subway the next day after school
to visit this dear lady who dedicated her energy and riches to the
welfare of horses.
She was a petite woman, quite fashionable despite her eighty-
some years, who explained that she needed us to be her “eyes and
ears” as hers were failing.
For years, she had traveled around the city with a driver in a large
limousine, watching for horses in need, taking license numbers, and
following up by delivering hay, oats, horse blankets, and paying for
veterinary care. She criticized the ASPCA for simply fining the
owners when they found abuse, but not providing help as she did.


She also BOUGHT the old broken-down “useless” animals and
transported them to her rest farm in upstate New York where they
could live out their lives in green pastures, saving them from
slaughter for horse-meat. We were thrilled by her stories of rescue.
She also BOUGHT the old broken-down "useless" animals and
“Now transported
I need you them
two girls
to hertorest
be my
farmassistants”, sheYork
in upstate Nev said.where
were enlisted ascould
they case-workers, andlives
live out their the three of us
in green devisedsaving
pastures, a chart

from slaughter for horse-meat.
system. Our crusade was under way!
we were thrilled by her stories of rescue.
Each "Now
weekr we delivered our reports. She followed up and
need you two girls to be my assistants", she said.

reported back to us.
We were Our charts
enlisted looked something
as case-workers like this:
and the three
I of us devised

a chart Our crusade was under way!

Each week we delivered our reports. She followed up and reported

back to Our charts looked something this;

if - j. 3907L

I 126SL


: B
rown ..
& Bl
k I Dapple Gra Y Albino
i ... __ ... 10 "'

SICK, UNDERFED I V ! >/ _. -- .. -






One day we observed a driver beating his horse mercilessly.
While he went into a building to make a delivery Judy jumped onto
the wagon and grabbed the whip. We ran several blocks to stuff it
into a trashcan. Gleefully we told Mrs. Erlich about our heroic deed.
To our chagrin, she chastised us for stealing. “I know your hearts
were in the right place” she said, “but it is wrong to take someoneʼs
“Now I want you to inspect a livery stable where many
workhorses are boarded,” she said. “Thereʼs one downtown not far
from your school.”
We walked way over to Tenth Avenue near the Hudson River to
find this huge dank building. A rather unsavory bunch of men were
outside sitting (and spitting) on the sidewalk as we announced, “We
represent the Horse Aid Society of New York and would like to
inspect your stables.”
“Come right this way, Ladies,” a big man said with a sweeping
gesture, “and Iʼll show you through the palace!”
We heard the others chuckling as we entered the dark smelly
barn to begin our tour. I remember noting on my pad, “RATS IN THE
OATS BIN” among many other grievances we recorded.
\ "----i
Iʼm not sure what our respective parents thought of all this, or
how much we actually told them about our crusade. Luckily we were
safe throughout our adventures. Eventually, my parents overheard
enough to insist on meeting Mrs. Erlich, and invited her for dinner at
our apartment. Suddenly I felt like a little kid while the grownups
talked together. Answering their many questions, Mrs. Erlich began
her life story. She had run away from a convent boarding school at
14 and married a much older man.
“What was he like?” I interrupted, full of romantic images.
“Oh, I donʼt remember! I married just to get out of the convent
and left him soon after.”
I recall being amazed that she couldnʼt even describe the man!
Then as she talked on about her life she paused, sitting up very
straight; “You know, I was a beauty!”
“Oh yes, we can see that! Thatʼs obvious!” my parents chimed
in. I stared in disbelief at this wrinkled old dowager, trying in vain to
imagine her 60 years younger! She went on telling of her marriage to
a wealthy man named Erlich. When he died she founded the Horse
Aid Society and began her mission.

Before leaving, Mrs. Erlich announced her plans for the
summer. She would tour the whole country, in her limousine, to
inspect the conditions of workhorses and try to make improvements.
She asked if she could take “the girls” along as her assistants.
I jumped at the idea, “I know Judy and I would LOVE to go!” My
parents smiled that weʼll-talk-about-it-later smile. Soon they
persuaded me to opt for summer camp where I could ride horses
every day. Judy and I said goodbye for vacation, planning to
continue our work after the summer.
Sadly I never saw her again. She left school, something about
her motherʼs divorce, and our lives moved apart.
Searching for her some years later I contacted our school, “City
and Country”, but they had no information. Running into an old
school chum, I inquired, as I always did on such occasions, if she
knew of Judy Churchillʼs whereabouts. This was 65 years since I had
seen Judy!
“Oh, she was my classmate at Vassar” came the reply. That
was all I needed to track her down in one day through the Alumni
Directory. Imagine, all the while we were both living in
Massachusetts! We exchanged happy phone calls and letters,
planning to meet when the spring came.
Each of us had told our story many times throughout our lives. I
told Judy I had written down some of it and had illustrator make five
sketches 25 years ago. I sent her copies of the illustrations, which
she thought were “hilarious”.
“I want to be the one with the long hair,” Judy laughed. “I
always wanted long straight hair.” (Because in actuality we both had
curly hair I asked the artist to draw us as distinctly different
Our plans to get together did not materialize. Pooling our
memories we were going to write this story together. Judy would
have added much more and we would have had great fun doing it.