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Hamptons Life

Aug 2, 2015 12:17 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Matt Lauer Argues That Neighbors Spook His Horses

A view of the Wassermans' property from Bright Side Farm. ALYSSA MELILLO ALYSSA MELILLO
Aug 3, 2015 4:09 PM

Matt Lauer has a new argument to combat protests about trees he wants to plant at his horse farm in Water Mill.Noise from neighboring properties spooks and startles the horses, potentially putting riders in danger, the "Today Show" co-host argued at a public hearing before the Southampton Town Planning Board on July 23.

“It’s happened quite frequently," said Mr. Lauer, who owns the farm with his wife, Annette. "We’re very fortunate … that no severe instance of spooking or startling has happened."

“These are thousand-pound animals," he said. "And when they get spooked, and if they get spooked badly, and there is my daughter, an 80-pound rider on that horse, or my wife, whose weight I will not mention ... the rider always loses."

The trees would serve as a buffer for the trail, he said. The 42 trees and 194 shrubs he wants to plant would go along the northern boundary of Bright Side Farm, which is located on Deerfield Road. Neighbors have argued, however, that the plantings would violate the terms of an easement that went into effect when Southampton Town bought the development rights for the Lauers' property, as well as a condition set by the Planning Board in 2012 that views of the horse farm should be maintained.

According to Mr. Lauer, there are often parties and large gatherings of people in the backyard of Jack and Jodi Wasserman in particular, which is the closest house on Farrell Court to Bright Side and borders the site of the proposed landscaping. Mr. Lauer told the Planning Board he is concerned that without the proposed screening, those activities will eventually lead to a spooking or startling incident that could severely hurt a rider using a trail bordering the Wassermans' property.

In response, the Wassermans are calling on Mr. Lauer to close his farm if he chooses not to move the trail, since it appears to be a safety concern. The couple has previously said that the trees would obstruct their view of Bright Side's open space.

"If the Lauers truly believe any actions from the Wasserman property will spook a horse and create a danger, the simple and only viable solution for the Lauers is to move their allegedly dangerous stretch of trail a safe distance from the Wassermans’ yard and onto another portion of their 40-acre farm," the Wassermans said in a statement their attorney, Patrick Fife, provided after the public hearing.

"If the Lauers do not want to move their trail, they should close Bright Side Farm and cease putting the safety of their riders and customers at risk."

At the public hearing, one of Mr. Lauer’s attorneys, Edward Burke Jr. of Sag Harbor, had expanded on Mr. Lauer's comments and stressed that the proposed landscape is not intended to prevent the Wassermans from seeing the open vistas of Bright Side Farm.

"It’s not about celebrity status and seeking to shut out the outside world, and it’s not about creative measures under our town code to orchestrate some kind of legal loophole,” Mr. Burke said. “It’s about coming before you tonight seeking help. We're concerned because our approved riding trail and our approved paddock area are in very close proximity to our neighbors and their backyard, and their rightful backyard activities. We’re not here to diminish them in any way.”

The attorneys brought in local horse experts to testify to the need for the landscaping. Shanette Barth Cohen, executive director of the Hampton Classic Horse Show, said horses behave differently on a trail than they do in a ring, and are more likely to be startled by sudden noises.

“Horses will spook for a lot of different reasons," she said. "When a horse is spooked, they get over it easily, but it’s that piece of time when accidents happen. When they’re out on a trail, often with a more loopy range and just trotting along, even at the walk, they will spook much more easily at loud noises. I have fallen off on two occasions.”

David Birdsall, who lives down the road from Bright Side and has been shoeing horses for 48 years, echoed Ms. Cohen's statement.

“This is a situation that if people are playing in the pool or kicking the soccer ball around … it could be very dangerous," he said. "I’ve seen that happen often without screenings and without borders that are defined."

Last week, Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty said that the public hearing was the first time he and other board members had heard about safety concerns regarding the location of the walking trail. And while the board is still accepting comments–he said he doesn't expect a decision until September–he acknowledged that it was odd for the concern to be brought up several years after the farm was established.

“It’s new information, certainly. It sounds like it’s a standard problem with equestrian facilities," he said. Even so, Mr. Finnerty said, "it’s unusual that it would surface this late in the game."

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have trail horses for 40 years and have been thrown twice due to spooking. NO ONE would want to be on a 1200 pod spooking horse!! trust me. I know personally of a woman whose horse spooked in the woods, ran into the woods, threw her head first into a tree (they dont bend much). She had severe head trauma spent months at Stony Brook and years at a rehab facility. she was a doctor who had no short term (think 10 years) memory which caused her to loose her practice. Have seen other over the ...more
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Aug 5, 15 6:31 PM
Another cidiot who knows the rules, and wants everyone else but him to follow them. Horses get spooked all the time for many reasons. Is a tree going to stop noise? No. Is a big tree going to stop noise? no. The guy wants privacy from the riff raff.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Aug 7, 15 1:33 PM
It Matt Lauer cannot operate his horse farm within the parameters of the zoning restrictions (that were there when he bought the property and before he developed it as a horse farm) then he should change its use. How about a tree farm?
Aug 5, 15 7:45 PM appended by highhatsize
That is to say, a DWARF tree farm.
By highhatsize (4216), East Quogue on Aug 5, 15 7:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
ahh it used to be empty farmland and now the new money is fighting over parties and horsies and soon enough there will be nasty accidents on that dangerous Deerfield straightaway and 2 welcome to the hamptons party fools are going to (unfortunately) head smack on to each other in their ive got one you've got one too Maserati ghibli ... predictable as it gets.
sad indeed.
By dave h (193), calverton on Aug 5, 15 10:28 PM
(he should horsey ride before noon when the party neighbors aren't even awake yet. what does she ride 24/7 ??)
By dave h (193), calverton on Aug 5, 15 10:30 PM
It's amazing that Lauer and his neighbor are BOTH right AND wrong at the same time. What a quandary.

I say let him plant the trees - the neighbors are just being spiteful
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Aug 6, 15 9:23 AM
1 member liked this comment
Do you not understand what an easement is? He can move his (self imposed hardship) trail or comply with the restrictions on the property.
By East End 2 (151), Southampton on Aug 6, 15 11:09 AM
1 member liked this comment
OR he can request the Planning Board amend the covenants and restrictions which, let's be honest seem a bit silly. Only in the Hamptons would it be a "BAD" thing to plant trees.

I know the issue is more complex than that, but if exclude the names involved and the money involved and look at the merits, it seems a bit silly. Mr. Lauer is making his case to the Board and they will make a decision
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Aug 6, 15 2:34 PM
And i say ALL the city folks are selfish and stupid. Planting all the hedges they have around their property only puts an end to the vistas out here. When In the late seventies they first started buying up property and immediately putting up hedges they ruined everything for their own selfish reasons.
Putting up so much landscape only helps thieves. Neighbors can't see when a nefarious individual is lurking around your house.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Aug 6, 15 10:28 AM
Funny I see horse farms with fences right up to Scuttle Hole Rd and people riding with no problems. Matt Lauer has a breed of scared horses
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Aug 6, 15 2:31 PM
2 members liked this comment
Of course nobody want to see anybody get hurt. But didn't Mr. Lauer know about the restrictions before he bought the property? Frankly I think this whole thing is petty and Mr. Lauer's neighbor should allow him to plant the trees. Then again the law is on Mr. Wasserman's side. His call.
By Tuckahoe Ted (53), southampton on Aug 7, 15 9:53 AM
Horses do spook - jump forward or sideways suddenly - sometimes as they are flight animals, but I doubt any neighbor is doing anything startling enough near the edge of their property to cause a horse to spook. A row of large rhododendrons would buffer just as well as a row of tall trees that would block the neighbor's views. Same goes for Madonna's farm on Mitchell Lane.
By Crabby (63), Southampton on Aug 7, 15 9:53 AM
Planting trees on multi-million dollar properties in an effort to keep horses calm. I can't imagine having such ridiculous "problems" and would be embarrassed if I did.
By double standard (1506), Remsenburg on Aug 10, 15 3:28 PM
2 members liked this comment
Res ipsa loquitur!

Fiddle Fiddle Fiddle !!!
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Aug 10, 15 3:43 PM
Don't get us going, double standard, on the plethora of folly involved in this SNAFU . . .
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 10, 15 5:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
no horsey riding during party time
By dave h (193), calverton on Aug 11, 15 10:46 PM
Believe it or not they sell horse earplugs which are used to calm horses at equestrian events. A cheaper alternative than trees and court dates. That would protect the horse of all sudden noise not just from the neighbors property.
My guess is that since Mr. Lauer is a celebrity he just wants some privacy on his property for his family. I can't fault him for that.
By Tuckahoe Ted (53), southampton on Aug 13, 15 1:36 PM