Photos by Caroline Bonnivier /
Berkshire Eagle Staff

a love of horses

By Leslie Teicholz, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, June 24, 2005

LENOX - Dave Roche is what you'd call a modern cowboy. Though he's not roping steers or guiding cattle drives, he dons his black cowboy hat when leading overnight trail rides and running his Aspinwall Adult Equestrian Center here in Lenox.

Roche has loved horses since he was 6 years old, when his father gave him a pony. Now, 54 years later, he's never been without one.

But riding horses was not going to make him a living, so after earning a business degree at Stonehill College in Brockton, and a graduate degree in finance from Fairfield (Conn.) University, Roche went into banking in 1970; joining City Savings Bank (now Legacy Bank) in Pittsfield. He left as senior vice president in charge of lending in 1985 to form a partnership with Richard Mullen in buying the 380-acre Cranwell school from the Jesuits and turning it into a resort.

Berkshire Enterprises was next. Hired in 1992 by founders Al Robertson and Vicky Singer, Roche worked as a lead instructor and consultant. Still wearing a suit and tie, he helped train wanna-be entrepreneurs to either start their own business or "turn their business dreams into practical reality," as their Web site claims.

Berkshire Enterprises is affiliated with Berkshire Community College and boasts an 88 percent success rate; i.e. of those starting new enterprises, 88 percent have succeeded.

Roche learned his business lessons well, but always remembers what his mentor Sam Greenfield, former owner of the Aspinwall stable, told him: "If you want to make a small fortune in this business, start with a large one."

Roche owns both Aspinwall Adult Equestrian Center and Berkshire Horseback Adventures, which are two separate corporations.

That was not always the case. Aspinwall stable goes back to 1938. It has had several owners since. Rob McNinch (whose family owned Eastover Resort and Conference Center), launched Berkshire Horseback Adventures in early 2001.

Six months later, Roche joined McNinch as co-owner of the trail riding venture. They acquired Aspinwall stable in 2002. Last year, Roche bought both corporations from his old friend of 20 years and became a "trail boss," spending all but 20 hours of his work- week at the stables running both equestrian businesses. (The other 20 are at Berkshire Enterprises.)

"I love trail riding the most," he says. "It clears your mind and puts things in perspective. My father told me that there's nothing better for the inside of your head than the outside of a horse."

If you need a two-week vacation but only have 18 hours to spare, as this writer did, an overnight trail ride at Berkshire Horseback Adven-tures can be a perfect solution.

Though neither my husband or I are an expert equestrians, the hourly rides or half-day journeys that BHA offers did not seem adequate. We wanted to get "out of town" and the overnight ride gave us that opportunity.

We had the choice of going on a private ride, just the two of us, as many engaged or honeymoon couples do, or being paired with a group of people whom we didn't know. We chose the latter.

"The horses come first," says Dan Rodda, BHA's head wrangler, told us. "I'd rather get fired than mistreat the horses."

Cantering and trotting are allowed but only after the rider is assessed as to competency. Some-times clients are disappointed that they are not allowed to canter, but the safety of the horse and rider are paramount.

Generally, the pace is determined by the weakest rider, though a group is often divided to accommodate the different skill levels.

"But then again," says Roche, "often, folks from the city (no disparagement intended) sometimes think that a trot is a gallop."

Your vacation begins when you temporarily leave the world you know, so to speak, and mount one of the 12 well-trained horses and saunter into Kennedy Park.

With each forward step, you stop thinking about what you're going to make for dinner, where your kids are, or if you turned off the stove before you left. You just have to think about two things: staying centered and figuring out a way to get this 1,500-pound animal to stop ingesting every leaf on each passing tree.

Trail rides are usually limited to six people, although exceptions can be made.

If you happen to be riding with a self-taught naturalist, mycologist, environmentalist and local historian, as we were, then the 1 1 /2-hour ride to the campsite goes by in an instant, and you're sorry to see it end.

Steve Klausmeyer, the naturalist, and his girlfriend Laura Kendrick, both from Housatonic, joined us for the ride. Klausmeyer knew pretty much everything about everything (in nature, that is) and we were happy to soak up whatever he could tell us.

Kendrick worked for a landscaping firm, so she too, was quite informed.

We had never met before but after a few hours, we bonded over sightings of a scarlet tanager, a lone jack-in-the-pulpit, a wild geranium and scores of efts and toads that greeted us on the path as we passed by.

Kennedy Park's 480 acres are a passive recreation area. That means no motorbikes or ATVs are allowed. Although Roche leases his campsite on Lenox Mountain from a private owner, most of the riding is done in Kennedy.

The campsite is impressive. It's located next to an old reservoir available for swimming on hot days and for washing cooking utensils. There's a semi-permanent kitchen area covered by canvas in case of rain.

The best thing about it is that all the tents are already set up, the fire is stoked, the surf and turf is marinating and the cold beer, wine, or soda is iced and waiting along with a platter of jumbo shrimp and carrots.

While Roche gets dinner ready, a hike to a favorite lookout is suggested. Parson's marsh, the Lenox Club, the Morris Elementary School on Lenox road and the steeple on the Congregational church in Lee are some of the sites visible.

"I'm a damn good cook," Roche declares.

And he is, too. He works hard preparing the meal and the results are admirable though I'd stop short of saying it was gourmet. It was just good, simple food cooked over an open fire.

A group of six women, mostly from Connecticut, whom I met when they descended the mountain, on another ride, were more enthusiastic.

"Awesome," said one.

"Best steak I've ever had," said another.

Riders are given a choice of steak, salmon or chicken but can pay extra for lobster or to use real china rather than the blue metal plates that are usually in place.

Roche's son-in-law, Justin Pratt, is the produce manager at Guido's so the food quality is top grade. Even the really soft, overly sweet, store-bought cookies, filled with trans fats, disappeared rapidly.

"Most women are on a diet," Roche says, but they all make an exception "just this once" while dining around the picnic table.

On overnights, stories are told late into the evening. Roche talked about past trail rides, including with a man who planned to "pop the question" but was worried what would happen if his girlfriend said no.

Roche assured him that he would take the shortest path back but it would probably still be the man's longest ride home.

Another client e-mailed Roche every day asking if the place was pretty, if there were bugs and if he thought his think his fiancée would like the food.

Roche finally ended the correspondence by telling him: "If you asked me to marry you, I'd say yes!"

The man stopped e-mailing and went ahead with the overnight.

Much of Roche's business comes via from the Internet.

Jason Barnoski and Erin Greene from Providence, R.I., wanted to celebrate Barnoski's new job and found Berkshire Horseback Adventures by Goog-ling "horseback riding in the Berkshires."

Having ridden as a Boy Scout about 30 years ago, Barnoski looked pretty scared sitting atop Apache, a Paint.

"As long as this ride isn't any more difficult than a Stairmaster, I'll have no problems," he said.

"We loved it, added Greene, "and plan on returning for an overnight," she confided when I interviewed them after their two-hour trail ride.

"The best thing about the trail ride," said Sharon Marsie, one of the women who went with a group of friends on the overnight, "was just being together, away from the city, in the woods."

-- Leslie Teicholz

If you ride . . .

By Leslie Teicholz, Berkshire Eagle Sunday Magazine Article Last Updated: 6/24/2005 05:17 AM

Berkshire Horseback Adventures Aspinwall Adult Equestrian Center is at 293 Main St., Route 7A Lenox, 01240. Tel. 413 637 9090; E-mail: gohorseback@aol.com

Rides are designed for those of all riding ability levels (Ages 10+): One-hour ride -- $50; half-day journey -- $150; overnight adventure -- $225.

Suggested (and appreciated) tips: 10-15 percent for trail rides 20 percent for overnight adventures.

Tents, air mattresses, sleeping bags provided for overnights. Bring personal items only. Guitars welcome.

-- Leslie Teicholz