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220. Strain Family Horse Farm Cowboy Museum

Neigh! A Cowboy Museum in Connecticut?! Yee Haw!
Granby
(Google Maps location)
September 25, 2011

I really, really wish I could remember how I found out about this place. I know it was fairly recently and I think it was the result of my 73,704th time checking those awful aggregator websites for anything they’ve picked up with their search crawls that I haven’t over the years. I do recall seeing the name of this place and initially thinking it had to be some sort of mistake.

After visiting, I’m still not so sure.

I kid, I kid. This is the sort of place I LOVE. This is what makes CTMQ unique and different from any other similar website in existence. I find these tiny museums, actually visit them, actually take a bunch of pictures and actually speak to the person or persons responsible for its existence. And then I get to write about my experience AND check another off my list! Everybody wins.

Some insight into what this CTMQ project and my family has become: I had written “Granby adventure” on our monthly calendar on the fridge a few weeks ago. Hoang (my wife) didn’t question me about it at all, except to confirm a few days prior, asking, “Are we still on for the Granby adventure on Sunday?” Yes. Yes we were.

Now, if you’re not from these parts, you may not know much about Granby, CT. Although there are some great trails to hike at McLean Game Refuge (CTMQ hikes here and a decent brewpub (CTMQ visit to The Cambridge Brewhouse here, plus a few other museums, the beautiful Enders Falls and even a winery (CTMQ Visit here), Granby ain’t exactly a place to which a family of four goes on adventures. Okay, you all should be sure to check out the coolest tree in the state at least.

But Hoang, being the world’s greatest wife and mom, never even asked me what we were doing up there in Granby until the Sunday morning of its scheduling. “Oh, there’s a brand new winery that just opened yesterday and – “

“Great, I can get a bottle of wine for my brother since today is his birthday!”

“- and we’ll hit the Cowboy Musuem.” Silence. I guess she’s come to expect such nonsense from me. Either that, or she’s just given up. Whichever, it makes me laugh to think about it. We have fun.

We arrived at the Strain Family Horse Farm in style, almost running into some girl on her horse in the driveway. Yee Haw! We parked and I entered the barn where I’d seen some people milling about. A woman was perched upon an uncomfortable stool and a man, bedecked in Wranglers and a western style dress shirt greeted me and didn’t bat an eyelash when I said, “Hi! We’re here to check out the Tack Shop and Cowboy Museum!”

At this point, it’s important to point out that this gentleman, Bill Strain, speaks with a decided western/southern accent. I’d noted it when I called earlier to double check on open hours and had mentioned it to Hoang, but now we were in the presence of the real deal! An honest-to-goodness cowboy! Having grown up in Vietnam/New Britain and outside of Philadelphia respectively, Hoang and I had never really met any cowboys. His lilting drawl soothed any anxiety we may have had about visiting such a random little museum that we had no interest in beyond its being a museum.

“Sure thing pardner, we just need to mosey on over to that thar building to see the museum,” Strain didn’t actually say. We mosied.

I should note that there are no signs for the museum, but it’s clearly denoted as such on the Strain Farm website. The site’s description is scant, only offering the following: “We have a horse/cowboy museum with over 300 items including old and unusual bits, spurs, all original antique saddles, and related equipment. We are always looking for additional items so please call if you might have a treasure in your attic or barn.”

The header of that page calls it a Cowboy Museum, but Mr. Strain said he thinks of it more as a Horse Museum. Pshaw. I told him to stick with “Cowboy Museum,” as it’s just much more interesting and as a real western cowboy, he should be proud of his heritage.

“So, where are you from originally” I asked, eager to hear tales of howling coyotes, of breaking wild mustangs and of eating cold beans from a can.

“Born and raised in Granby,” he drawled.

“Ah,” I thought. “Granby, Colorado of course! With only 1,525 residents, the town of Granby, Colorado has mantained it’s proud ranching heritage and its friendly small-town atmosphere!” I was excited to know so much about Strain’s hometown. He raised a hand, presumably to give me a high-five, but I wasn’t done yet.

I began parroting the Granby website: “Ever been to a rodeo?” There is one every weekend in Granby, Colorado. “How about a horseback ride with views of the Colorado Rocky Mountains? Truly an experience that you will never forget!” I smugly announced.

“No, sir,” Strain lamented, “Right here in Granby, Connecticut.” Oh. But… Then.. Why do you speak with a southern/western accent? I nearly blurted out. Instead, I stared in stunned silence at the couple hundred saddles that filled the small room. “Oh. This is a nice town” was all I could muster.

Just then, Hoang appeared with Damian who takes the term “mosey” to new heights. She entered and marveled at the saddles and let the musky scent of leather fill her nose. “So, where are you from originally?” she innocently asked.

“Right here in Granby,” Strain strained again. Pause.

“Oh. This is a nice town” she stammered. It was at that moment I wished that Damian was a typical 5 year old and he could be the one to ask the obvious question. Heck, I’d have told him to ask it and to be sure not to say that I had done so. Oh well, let’s get to the museum.

Basically, it’s a nice collection of saddles, bits and other horse things that I know nothing about. Strain pointed out the different kinds of saddles from side saddles to, um, double saddles, blah-blah saddles to “those” kind of saddles. (Pardon me, I was still stuck on Mr. Strain’s provenance.) There was even a little hobby horse thing for kids like Damian to ride on, if they weren’t terrified of such things like Damian is. For his part, he did pet it and even gave it a loving hug. That’s our boy.

I do wish we had more relevant questions for Mr. Strain. I want to make it clear that he was very friendly and more than willing to answer any questions we had. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have too many, as we don’t know horses. I’ve mentioned before on random pages on this site about my experience with “horse girls.” They are cRaZy. They LOVE horses. For the heck of it, I looked one I knew up on Facebook recently and noticed that she, and all her friends that were visible, had horse portraits as their profile pictures. Just… Weird.

Sorry, I digress. I learned a bit about bits of varying kinds. And I just read up on them online just now… They are basically the things you put in horse’s mouths to control them. Mr. Strain pointed out some snaffle bits and of course the square wire coil mouth piece bits. But he was most excited about the antique medicine bits which were used back in the day as a way of administering, you guessed it, horse medicine.

They were pretty ingenious in their design, allowing liquid medicine to drip into the horse’s mouth in the years before syringes and such. The walls were lined completely with bits of different design. For what it’s worth, I just looked up “snaffle bit” only because it sounds funny and learned that they are used in the early stages of horse training.

I asked Mr. Strain if he’d ever broken a wild mustang and he laughed at me. Then Hoang asked an actual intelligent question about what the Strains do up there in Granby and it turns out the whole family is in on the horse selling game. These guys sell a LOT of horses all over the eastern United States.

We left the tiny and very well-kept museum and walked over to the horse stables. From their website:

The Strain Family Horse Farm is a family run business in its current location since 1967. There are three generations of Strains working at the farm.

The Strain Family Horse Farm is the largest quality sales stable in New England handling hundreds of horses per year. We keep a large and varied selection of fifty horses on hand at all times.

Our clientele includes dude ranches, show stables, lesson barns, other dealers, and private individuals. All of our horses are sold with a two week exchange guarantee in writing.

Yup, I caught that too: They sell to actual real live dude ranches! Having no idea what a dude ranch actually is, I just looked that up: a dude ranch, is a type of ranch oriented towards visitors or tourism. Hm. I never knew that – nor have I ever thought about that. According to Wikipedia, the Western adventures of famous figures, like Theodore Roosevelt, were made available to paying guests from cities of the East, called “dudes” in the West.

The woman I mentioned in the beginning of this report was still sitting on the same uncomfortable stool when we went back over to the stables. She hopped off and was great with Damian, showing him the horses and allowing him to pet one’s nose. It was pretty cool.

After a few minutes of this, Damian just said, “Home!” which at that point I couldn’t disagree with. So we bid the Strains goodbye (sorry, I don’t know the cowboy version of “goodbye”) and we hit the dusty trail.

Thanks to the Strains for their hospitality and their pride in cowboy heritage. It’s folks like them that keep me excited to do what it is that I do here.

220. Strain Family Horse Farm Cowboy Museum Neigh! A Cowboy Museum in Connecticut?! Yee Haw! Granby (Google Maps location) September 25, 2011 I really, really wish I could remember how I

Strain horse farm

“Matching the right horse to the right person” is the objective of the Strain Family Horse farm and has been for more than 40 years in Granby, Connecticut.

“My grandfather and my father were in the horse business. My father came from Ireland as a young man because the streets in America were ‘paved with gold’ – and he found out that means it takes hard work to make things happen,” said Bill Strain Sr., who heads up the multi-faceted horse business with three locations today.

As a boy, Strain worked alongside his father at the Yale Armory in New Haven. Later, as a young man he worked with his father to run operations at the Connecticut Polo Club and Windmill Stables, where they bought and sold horses, did boarding, lessons, and training.

The family tradition continues at the Strain Family Horse Farm, located at 30 Sakrison Road in Granby. The Strain Equestrian Center, run by Bill Strain Jr., is in Southwick, Mass., about five miles away. The Western Connection on Creamery Hill Road, offers boarding, training and lessons, overseen by David Strain.

“There are all kinds of horses out there. Aim for a sound, nice horse with a head set, that takes his leads, goes willingly and will help you learn how to ride safely.”

“We supply nice family horses to people,” said Bill Strain Sr., who notes that the business has also worked with at least three police departments, a number of colleges, show stables, horse farms, and countless private individuals. The Strains also supplied horses, riders and handlers for Hollywood movies, including Gods and Generals and, most recently, 27 Dresses.

“The movie I liked the best, was one I did with Katherine Heigl. We supplied five horses for the wedding scene in 27 Dresses, brought the horses on location to Rhode Island. And it was quite an experience dealing with Hollywood, I had a good time. But make sure you get put in the credits.”

“In three to six days, I know what a horse can do. If a person says a horse is good, that means he is good for them. In other words, generally a horse from New England, has most likely not been around cattle. To do team penning, well, that would be an exciting adventure, and not in a good way. You need a horse broke to what you want to do. That takes time.

Their specialty is the family show horse, generally 5- to 13-year-old geldings.

“We do buy mares at times because some people want them, but we recommend geldings,” he said. “We believe what matters most when matching up a rider to the right horse boils down to: Are they safe? Are they having fun?

Now some trainers may disagree with that statement, but at 71, and with years of riding, buying and selling, raising his own family, and matching people to horses under his belt, Strain knows that these two questions are the facts of life when dealing with horses.

“If you’re out there in that show ring or jumping a horse, you want to have fun and you want to be safe. That’s what matters.” He recommend buying a horse that is good looking and has “as much training as a buyer can afford.”

“If you buy a horse and it takes you and eight friends to catch him – and you’re running out of friends – that’s not the right combination. If you buy a horse that makes you nervous, get rid of him. There are so many good horses out there. You want a horse that you can get on this weekend and enjoy, not a year from now. If you can’t feel safe with this horse, trade him, get something else.”

To find a steady stream of sound and sensible horses takes a network of scouts across the country. Once a horse arrives on the farm, each is checked over, ridden and observed in various situations. “My sons take them into traffic, over tarps, through water, working a variety of tasks. We deal with a live product with many variables. Say ‘Gentle Ben’ is turned out 8 hours a day, he’s a wonderful horse and everyone will love him. Now move that same horse to a new barn where he gets only get a half-day turnout, well, ‘Gentle Ben’ is not so gentle any more.”

The farm offers plenty of access to trails and room to explore each horse.

“Granby is a horse town. Some towns are, some are not,” said Strain, who rides trails each week, sometimes spending 6 hours in the saddle.

Horses are a 7-day-a-week profession, and that includes nights. Attention to detail and relationships are important. “Claude Talbot out of Massachusetts is our farrier and he’s been with me for about 35 years,” he said “He’s a good man and knows how to take care of our horses.”

The Strain family buys and sells about 200 to 300 horses a year. Each leaves with a halter and lead rope, a negative Coggins test and is wormed with Ivermectin.

Strain horse farm “Matching the right horse to the right person” is the objective of the Strain Family Horse farm and has been for more than 40 years in Granby, Connecticut. “My