Barbara B. Clarke of Bridgehampton Dies February 15 - 27 East

Barbara B. Clarke of Bridgehampton Dies February 15

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Barbara B. Clarke

Barbara B. Clarke

Barbara B. Clarke

Barbara B. Clarke

Barbara B. Clarke

Barbara B. Clarke

authorStaff Writer on Feb 26, 2024

Barbara B. Clarke of Bridgehampton died peacefully at home on February 15, surrounded by her family and friends. She was 83.

She was born in Chicago on February 14, 1941, to Wilson Brown and Ruth Stevens Brown.

Clarke, who held the title master of fox hounds, is perhaps best known for her lifelong passion for horseback riding. She was truly an all around horse woman, who was as comfortable in the show ring as she was trail riding high in the mountains. She was also an accomplished trick rider, side saddle rider, and foxhunter. She spent her life sharing her extensive knowledge, skill set, and enthusiasm for horses with her students, friends, and family.

Her love of horses began in Chicago, where as a young child she became enamored with the horses the mounted police officers rode. This was where she first took lessons at just 5 years old. Her family moved around in her early years for her father’s naval career, and wherever they landed, she always found a way to make horses a part of her life. This included her time in New Orleans when she was 7 and would take the streetcar with her 9-year-old sister to lake Ponchatrain and pay one dollar to take a pony out for unsupervised trail rides.

A number of years later, she would foxhunt for the first time after her family moved to England. There, she and her sister shared a pony, Amber, joined the local pony club, and at 12-14 years old, she first rode to hounds with the Chiddingford Farmers Hounds.

One day she distinguished herself as a leader and exceptional young horsewoman when the hounds ended up on one side of the Byfleet River and the hunt on the other, and she and her brave pony Amber led the hunt master, huntsman, and whipper-ins to the other side.

She began trick riding while in college after her sister dared her to answer an ad for “a girl to learn trick riding.” She always said, “anything would be more exciting than waitressing at the diner,” which was her then summer job. And so began several years of learning, perfecting and performing daring tricks including the liberty stand, Roman riding, chariot racing and the suicide drag at state fairs and race tracks around the country and in Canada.

She had to get special permission to miss class and travel — permission only granted by the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, if “she maintained her excellent grades and never told anyone what she was doing, as proper young William Smith ladies didn’t do such things.” Her trick riding career ended her senior year when after four and a half years of risk-taking, her parents, while always supportive, convinced her that her luck might run out.

She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in history and a teaching degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1962.

Shortly after, she married Stephen L. Clarke of Locust, New Jersey, also a Hobart and William Smith graduate. Though they would later divorce, they had two children, a daughter, Leslie, and son, Stephen Jr.

In 1970, the family moved to Bridgehampton, where she was instrumental in the development of Swan Creek Farm, owned and operated by her close friends and in-laws, Alvin and Patsy Topping.

She taught riding there to students of all levels and ages from 5 to 85 for the next six decades, until only a few weeks before her death, all the while forming life-long friendships with her students. It was at Swan Creek that she first rode sidesaddle, eventually competing at the highest level at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, where she won the prestigious Widewater Challenge Trophy in 1976, riding the Toppings’ mare, Nantucket Sound (“Nanny”).

A few years later, she rode her beloved horse, Stowaway, sidesaddle at the Garden, where they won sixth place over a full course of 3’3” jumps. Her sidesaddle career also included riding among a large contingent of sidesaddle ladies in Jimmy Carter’s inaugural parade.

Her seven decades spent both riding and teaching included several awards, most notably the 2012 Long Island Sportsmanship award for “excellence and service in horsemanship over a long period of years,” which is given annually at the Hampton Classic Horse Show, where she was a familiar fixture on the ring rail.

While her love for foxhunting began in England, her six decades in the sport were spent with the Smithtown Hunt beginning in 1962. She earned her “colors” in 1974, and was riding to hounds until January 2024. She worked tirelessly to ensure the stability and continuation of the Smithtown Hunt, now a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization, and to educate riders and community members alike on the nature of drag hunting and the role of the hunt in land preservation on Long Island.

She chaired hunt balls, hunter paces, endurance rides and hosted and participated in hunter trials. She was appointed to Hunt Committee in the 1980s, served as field master and led the Hilltoppers, bringing out new riders and making them feel safe and welcome while they learned about the sport. She was appointed master of fox hounds of the Smithtown Hunt in 2019, and served as joint-master until her death.

While she may be best known for her horsemanship, those who knew her well knew that she lived a full and varied life that encompassed so much more. For almost 50 years, she was a member of the Bridgehampton Club, where she was an avid tennis and paddle tennis player, best known for the fun she had as a doubles partner. She could always be seen at the beach club, swimming in the ocean while never getting her hair wet, and often accompanied by one of her three granddaughters. She was also a longtime parishioner and advocate of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Bridgehampton. She greatly valued intellect and was an avid reader and lover of history. She spent the later decades of her life traveling the world with her sister. In every country they visited, they could be found exploring the significant cultural and historical sites as well as trail riding, which was always her favorite way to take in the local landscape.

She will be remembered by those who knew her for her endless curiosity, her unique wit and humor, her ability to strike up a conversation with anyone wherever she was and come away utterly fascinated by what she was able to learn from them. She was someone who said “yes” to every experience and opportunity she found, and who was deeply generous.

She touched in the most profound ways many people from all walks of life and of all ages. She was her students’ most ardent cheerleader, guiding them to reach their full potential, while recognizing that meant something different for every rider. She was a beloved sister, mother, and grandmother, a loyal friend and confidant, a source of unwavering support and encouragement, and the calm in the storm for all those around her, according to her family.

“She will be missed and forever in our hearts,” her family said.

She is survived by her sister Deborah; daughter Leslie McCauley (Kevin); son Stephen (Barbara); and three granddaughters, Nikita, Sasha, and Allison.

Services will be held on March 15 at 2 p.m. at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Bridgehampton.

In lieu of flowers, her family has requested that donations in her name be made to the Smithtown Hunt’s hounds (smithtownhunt.com/donate), Smithtown Hunt c/o Christa Duva, MFH 354 Eastport Manor Rd., Manorville, NY 11949.

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