It’s nice to have your hobby also be your profession,” said Ryan Petronelli, who has achieved that elusive coupling through his lifelong love of horses and his ownership of Justamere Pony Farm. “They’re great animals. It’s a lot of fun hanging out with them all day long. And it’s better than sitting in a cubicle and in traffic all day long.”
Petronelli has run Justamere on a 10-acre spread at 150 Chestnut Hill Road in Bethel for the past five years. Last month he expanded his operations with a move to the 16-acre Ridgefield Equestrian facility at 258 North St. in Ridgefield, which he purchased for $2.7 million.
“This summer, we found out this place was available for sale,” Petronelli said at the Ridgefield facility. “It hadn’t gone on the market. We wanted something a little bit bigger and we were contemplating putting up an indoor riding range at our place. This place already had the indoor and we decided to keep our original location for retirement horses and layup horses.”
The Ridgefield location’s indoor riding range is an 80- by 170-foot facility with dust-free footing and an attached heated viewing room, and it adjoins a 20,000- square-foot outdoor ring featuring fiber mix footing. Petronelli teaches hunter, jumper and equitation riding classes on ponies and horses with riders who range from “children to seasoned or unseasoned adults,” he said. He has accompanied his more accomplished students to competitions around the country and recently saw a young student win a ribbon at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.
Justamere Pony Farm’s horse boarding services now includes 17 horses in Ridgefield and six in Bethel. A third-generation horseman, Petronelli also offers consulting services for prospective horse buyers, although he recommends that clients look to Europe rather than buying domestically.
“Europe is a lot stricter with the breeding,” he said. “Over here, unfortunately, the American idea — and this is a very generalized statement, because there are fantastic breeders for the ponies and horses over here — is, ‘I’ve got a pretty mare, you’ve got a pretty stallion.’ In Europe, a breeding match must be approved by a verband or association “that says, ‘This stallion’s bloodlines are going to work with this mare’s bloodlines.’ They go through tests as they’re growing up to decide if they’re going to be worthy of the verband to how they’re going to rate them.”
Petronelli does not plan to incorporate breeding into his operations. “It’s lot of fun and neat to watch and go through, but it’s a lot of work and way too much risk to validate for me,” he said. “You have all of the time and expense that goes into something that might or might not become anything. Not becoming anything is primarily your outcome, no matter how well you breed it, so I have better luck buying horses over in Europe that are 3 to 6 years old.”
He also opted not to introduce therapeutic horse riding at Justamere, deferring instead to the Pegasus Therapeutic Riding operation across the state border in Brewster, New York. “I’d love to be able to, but I think it would be tough to compete with somebody down the road who does that perfectly,” he said.
Petronelli is laying the groundwork for an equestrian-focused summer camp at the Ridgefield facility, along with a new barn with 15 to 20 stalls on the ground level and a second-story residence for Petronelli and his wife and daughter. Justamere’s Ridgefield facility employs two staff members who live in a small house on the property.
Petronelli said the monthly operating budget for his two barns in Bethel and Ridgefield averages $40,000. The business expansion will probably put him in the red for this year.
“The challenges are what makes it an exciting industry to be in,” he said. “It keeps you going and prevents it from being monotonous. Knock on wood, we’ve not had any challenges that we would say were too much and couldn’t get past it.”