Cocoa’s Story

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

In light of recent "developments" out here in Espyville, I thought it was time for a reprint of what is now becoming a CN classic and I hope readers will give pause to think about what it means to live in the country, in a township, and why zoning and ordinance is important, and also why citizens should attend their monthly meetings of Supervisory Boards.

This article was originally written in 2001, after Cocoa had been with us for several years, and the time frame suggests as such:

Back around 1996, I moved back to the Keystone State from the land of oil, longhorns and cowboys. Our dear, old Morgan gelding, Foxy, was still at the farm and had been there alone for some fifteen years.

As Foxy was getting on in age, we had decided an older companion might be a good thing for him and our blacksmith at the time knew of a hack stable over by Cleveland that was selling out.

He said there was a small Shetland pony that might be suitable and that the owner would give her away for free to the right home.

The owner was a man named Joel Martino, and he came to the Trail of Pines Stable as a groom in 1960. It was a hack stable run by an old woman, and he purchased the place from her in 1963.

At the time, there were approximately 25 Thoroughbreds being raised there, and they were used at the race tracks in Cleveland. There were also 15 to 20 assorted other horses used for trail riding, as the farm was also an operating Hack Stable.

The surrounding area was zoned for farming; there were some 20 other horse farms that had working facilities at that time.

However, in late 1996, due to zoning changes, Joel Martino was forced to reduce the amount of stock he was keeping at the barn because of encroaching housing and development, literally moving closer on all sides. The city of Cleveland had begun a campaign in the name of progress, and Martino began a sellout of some 45 horses.

Trail of Pines was the last remaining horse farm in the area and through the zoning changes and weak Grandfather clauses, Martino was not even allowed to dump manure on his own property.

New ordinances dictated he could only keep 5 head on the 8 acre premises and the Hack part of the operation was forced to shut down entirely.

He had to pay to ship the manure out of the stable to areas zoned Agricultural, where the spreading of manure was still permitted.

For 3 years, Martino fought the city valiantly in court to keep his farm and Hack Stable open, fought to keep his farming rights; after all, he had been there for 36 years.

Facing uphill battles and astronomical attorney fees, hoping for a new Mayor to be elected in the city of Cleveland in an attempt to gain a sympathetic ear, he continued to fight until poor health and loss of income ultimately closed the Trail of Pines forever.

Think that it could never happen to you and your farm? Think again.

Think you’ll always be able dump manure on your own property and run as many head as you see fit?

City folk arrive and complain about "country smells" and noisy tractors; pretty soon, they are in and you are out.

At the first stock liquidation in 1996, that small Shetland pony was up for retirement.

Upon arriving at the stable, we took a look-see and decided "Cocoa" would indeed be a suitable companion for Foxy.

Joel Martino told me that when he came to Trail of Pines in 1960, Cocoa was already there, as a full grown adult, working the Hack. In fact, she was working right up to about 3 days before we went to pick her up.

At age (36), he estimated she had had more than 15,000 children on her back during her career! What a lifetime; we will never know for sure how old Cocoa really was; she died in 2004 at the grand old age of 44.

Her younger boyfriend, Foxy, lived to be 28.

We can only hope there will be horse farms and hay fields and manure piles and trail rides to enjoy for ourselves and for our children. May there always be country smells and tractors running at midnight under a Harvest Moon and may these children live to see and enjoy these finer things in life...

On a sidebar note, it was here at the Trail of Pines in 1996 when we went to get Cocoa, that we first saw our beloved DannyBoy.

He, too, was up for sale, and as Joel Martino gave us the tour of his stable, he opened DannyBoy’s stall.

A big Percheron, DannyBoy plodded out and immediately stopped so all of us could pet him and he could search our pockets for goodies. Of course, it was love at first sight.

Then we all walked slowly up the aisle together and around the corner so DannyBoy could take a big drink from the old bath tub set up under a faucet. Then he paused so all of us could pet him again and he could beg for more goodies.

Next, he slowly walked back up the aisle, pausing before going back in to his stall, so we could pet him again and he could see if there were any more goodies left. We really wanted to take him with us, but didn’t have room at the barn; draft horses are really big.

One year later we went back to Trail of Pines, hoping DannyBoy might still be there. He was, one of three horses not sold, and right before the stable closed. There was a stock auction coming up, just days away, so we made it just in time.

The rest is history, folks and I guess I still believe in some-old-meant-to-be’s.

Pondering the honor of knowing my friends Cocoa and Danny Boy, and leaving you to ponder your rights as a property owner, I depart for the week to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, "Happy Trails to You."