In a sense, fans of the equestrian trainer Ruth Nicodemus have John Wayne to thank.
Growing up in Irvington — the daughter of a couple who ran County Auto & Commercial Towing in Yonkers — she fell in love with a different kind of horsepower. (Her mother always liked to say it was because of her own love of the Duke’s movies.)
Whatever the reason, “I absolutely love horses,” says Nicodemus, who began riding on the horse show circuits around age 10, reaching the United States Equestrian Foundation (USEF) Medal finals and the ASPCA Maclay Regionals before turning professional at 18 and earning a degree in equine studies from Pace University. “There’s something about how majestic they are. They can be so kind and carefree. Their personalities are unique.”
Nicodemus revels in that uniqueness as owner and trainer of Serenity Show Stable Inc., celebrating its sixth anniversary this month. Despite the coronavirus, which doesn’t affect horses, the past few months have been busy and successful ones for Nicodemus. Her students have competed at shows in Saratoga and Princeton, taking a number of first-place blue ribbons. She’s also done well with sale horses.
Nicodemus operates her business out of our neck of the woods as well as Wellington, Florida, the winter capital of the equestrian world. (Because of the virus, she’ll be returning to Wellington early this year, in October.) This past spring, she moved her northeast operation from North Stamford to JT Farm in South Salem.
“We were in Florida in January when we decided to make the move toward the end of March,” Nicodemus says. “(JT Farm) was closer to more things, closer to clients.”
With 51 acres of pasture, the farm has two extra-large sand rings with carefully maintained footing, a heated indoor arena, a Grand Prix field with natural jumps and access to more than 45 miles of trails on the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation bridle paths. Meticulous care extends to the well-ventilated barns for her stable of between 15 and 20 horses and ponies — a mix of mares and geldings mostly.
“I do have one stallion, a young jumper,” Nicodemus says. “They get a bad reputation.” But just because they’re hot to trot, so to speak, doesn’t mean they can’t be taught to be great in the ring, she adds.
Indeed, Nicodemus schools her four-legged and two-legged students alike, children as well as adults, in the equitation, hunter and jumper disciplines. Equitation is all about the rider’s form; hunter, all about the horse’s. In jumper events, horse and rider must navigate a series of obstacles with speed and accuracy. In each, horse and rider must be as one.
“If you’re going to find a bright side to the coronavirus, it’s that it has slowed things down so we can go back to basics.”
At Serenity, lessons are individual and held at staggered times. Nicodemus, who started teaching at 16, takes a personal approach to horse and rider. While she thinks anyone can learn to ride, it has to be the right fit.
“Trust your instincts,” she says. “Come in. Let’s have a conversation. If this isn’t the right place for you, we’ll help you find it.”
She refutes the idea that horses are forced to become equestrian athletes.
“There is nothing you can do to make 1,500 pounds of animal do what it doesn’t want to do,” she tells us, elaborating on her experience with her four-legged pupils in a quote sent from her publicist:
““My children’s hunter, The Lone Ranger, was a school horse turned show horse with a little TLC and a whole lot of flat work. My big equitation horse, Tom, was a former Grand Prix horse and taught me all about jumpers and how to believe in myself. So many of my investment horses have taught me about persistence and work ethic. The ponies I’ve had the pleasure of keeping in my program have taught me patience.”
Patience — it’s important to Nicodemus, a Stamford resident, who meditates, using guided imagery and visualization, and holds yoga classes at the farm on weekends outside. These help with core strength but also with the quality found in the name of her business — serenity.
“With all that’s going on in the world, take a breath,” she says. “It’s a gift.”
There are still a couple of more places for students at Serenity Show Stable in Wellington. For more, visit serenityshowstable.com.