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Barbara B. Clarke, 83, Lifelong Horsewoman

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 10:45

Feb. 14, 1941 - Feb. 15, 2024

Barbara B. Clarke, an all-around horsewoman and lifelong teacher of “the art and skills of horsemanship,” died at home in Bridgehampton on Feb. 15, a day after her 83rd birthday.

In the early 1970s, Ms. Clarke was instrumental in the development of the Swan Creek Farms equestrian facility in Bridgehampton, owned by her sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Patsy and Alvin Topping. For six decades she worked and taught horseback riding at Swan Creek alongside the Toppings, their son, Jagger Topping, his wife, Mandy, and her niece, Phoebe Topping.

It was at Swan Creek that she first rode sidesaddle, a sport in which she competed at the highest levels, winning the prestigious Widewater Challenge Trophy at the 1976 National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden riding Alvin and Patsy Topping’s mare Nantucket Sound. A few years later she placed sixth at the Garden riding her own horse, Stowaway.

She also rode sidesaddle with a large contingent of other women in President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural parade.

Her passion for riding “and all of its unique subcategories is most obvious in her love for the traditional equestrian sport of fox hunting,” her family said. Ms. Clarke was a member of the Smithtown Hunt in Manorville beginning in 1962, and held many leadership positions with it over the years.

“Barbara 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 [using hounds and only a fox scent] and the role of the hunt in land preservation on Long Island,” her family wrote.

“At each hunt, Barbara was always the last rider to dismount because she would go from trailer to trailer to ensure everyone had a great time and to speak of how great the day was,” the Smithtown Hunt wrote in a tribute to her. She was appointed master of fox hounds in 2019 and was joint master until her death.

In 2012, she was awarded the Long Island Sportsmanship Award, given annually at the Hampton Classic Horse Show for excellence and service in horsemanship.

Ms. Clarke was born in Chicago on Feb. 14, 1941, to Wilson Brown and the former Ruth Stevens. Her love of horses began in that city, where she “became enamored with the horses the mounted police officers rode,” her family wrote. She first took lessons when she was just 5. Her father’s naval career took the family to New Orleans, England, and Shortsville, N.Y., and wherever they lived, she found a way to ride. It was in England as a girl where she first fox-hunted with the Chiddingfold Farmers Hounds.

She began trick riding while a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. At racetracks and county fairs across the country and in Canada, she did Roman riding, standing astride two horses at once, and chariot racing, “where during night shows they would turn off all the lights on the track, put flares on the back of the chariots, and race in the dark,” according to the Smithtown Hunt tribute.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a teaching degree from Hobart and William Smith in 1962, and on June 22, 1963, married Stephen L. Clarke, whom she had met in college. They had two children, but eventually divorced.

After living in Jacksonville, N.C., and Lewis, Del., the family moved to Bridgehampton in 1970. She taught riding at Swan Creek to students at all levels and of all ages until just a few weeks before her death from complications of cancer.

As accomplished as she was in the world of horses, “she lived a full and varied life that encompassed so much more,” her family wrote. For almost 50 years she was a member of the Bridgehampton Club, where she played tennis and paddle tennis. She was often at the beach club there, “swimming in the ocean while never getting wet,” frequently in the company of one of her three granddaughters.

She was also an active member of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Bridgehampton. She enjoyed reading and history, and in the later decades of her life traveled the world with her sister, Deborah Miller, who lives in Hot Springs, Ark.

Her family said she will be remembered 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.”

“Mom touched, in the most positive and encouraging way, many, many people of all ages and from all walks of life, encouraging them to be their best selves, live their best lives, and to bravely step in to new endeavors, all the while connecting people who need each other or who can help each other, whether it was tennis partners, someone starting a new landscape business and friends needing help with their gardens, or helping to find the right home or rider for horse.”

In addition to her sister, she is survived by her daughter, Leslie McCauley of Los Angeles, her son, Stephen L. Clarke Jr. of North Haven, and her granddaughters, Nikita and Sasha McCauley and Allison Clarke.

A service will be held at St. Ann’s on March 15 at 2 p.m., with the Rev. Ron Abrams officiating. Interment is to be at St. Boniface Church’s St. Mary’s Outdoor Chapel Columbarium in Sarasota, Fla., on April 4.

Her family has suggested contributions to the Smithtown Hunt, online at bit.ly/4a7qyXN, or by mail to Christa Duva, M.F.H., 354 Eastport Manor Road, Manorville 11949.

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