- Kim Piekos
Equestrian Center Makes Jump to Lake Forest
By Kim Piekos
It’s a frigid day on the North Shore – too cold for the 57 horses that board at the Glen Grove Equestrian Center to head outdoors safely. So one horse is ridden by a trainer in a ring, another walks a treadmill, one is led to a different ring for riding and another stands between stalls on cross ties. Cindy Baffa, owner of the center, is devoted to the well-being of the horses that board in her new digs in West Lake Forest and to the happiness of her riders.
"Horses were like magnets for me as a child and still are today," says Cindy Baffa.
“These horses are athletes and need to be active and training every day,” she explains. “We live by a detailed schedule to manage and balance each horse’s physicality and their lives. We want them to be at their best and to ensure that they are available for our riders when they want to ride.”
Drawn to horses since she was a child, she left her successful career as a fashion coordinator with Spiegel and as a wardrobe stylist in television and found herself temporarily managing a barn in Barrington.
“I re-engaged with riding in my 20s and found it to be a total release,” Baffa recalls. “Horses were like magnets for me as a child and still are today. I’m happiest when I’m around them.”
She listened to her heart and in 1995 bid on the barn owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County at the corner of Golf and Harms Roads in Morton Grove. “I grew up five blocks from that barn, as did my head trainer, Paula McKinnon,” reflects Baffa. “We wanted it to be successful because we had an emotional attachment to it. It had a long history.”
Baffa built a thriving lesson program and boarding business at the barn over 26 years.
“Every time I rebid on the center, I asked myself, ‘How would you feel if you couldn’t put your hands on a horse today?’ The answer has been pretty obvious!”
Sadly, that journey ended on Feb. 15 of last year when heavy snow destroyed the wall of a 16,000-square-foot riding arena at the facility. “No one was hurt, not even a cat,” she says gratefully. “But our horses are performance horses, and, like any athlete, need to be kept moving. We had to do some quick thinking.”
After finding temporary boarding for most of the horses at Messenger Hill Farm in Mettawa and a barn in McHenry, Baffa found her current location on Riverwoods Road in Lake Forest. Two months later, she relocated the horses and reestablished their schedules. “I knew the only way I was going to get through the trauma of the barn wall falling in was to get working, get teaching lessons again,” Baffa says.
The new Glen Grove Equestrian Center features boarding in large, well-maintained stalls for up to 65 horses, reconfigured paddocks that are safer for the horses, two outdoor arenas, two large indoor arenas, two paddock turnouts and a round pen turnout. A small tack and gift shop offers horse-related gifts, wear and supplies. “We can provide an arena for our beginners and a separate one for an advanced rider who might be jumping,” she explains. “My challenge was in pulling this all together as one barn that serves all of our riders’ needs well.”
As the closest hunter/jumper lesson program to Chicago, Glen Grove’s program is full with a waiting list, much to Baffa’s delight.
“People stay with us for lessons for a long time,” Baffa notes. “I’ve been successful because I don’t have an agenda. I’m not concerned with whether they want to buy a horse or not, and I’m always happy to talk to anyone about any aspect of life with horses. There’s no pressure here.”
Summer camp registration opens, as it has in past years, on Valentine’s Day for children ages seven and older.
“Last year, we filled the camp in three days, and I expect the same will happen this year,” Baffa says. “Riding is a good sport anytime, but it works especially well during Covid times since it allows individuals to be spread out and mostly in fresh air.”
Camp consists of eight weeks of 3 ½-hour-long morning or afternoon sessions. Campers receive riding lessons in small groups, instruction on grooming and horsemanship and enjoy games and crafts.
She believes success in riding, especially with children, has everything to do with how often they do it, how much effort they want to put into it and how athletic they are.
“My best students are the ones who are physically strong and who diligently put in the time and the work in a safe manner,” Baffa says. “I’ve never had a safety incident in 26 years.”
In the past, Baffa has held her own timed schooling horse shows since she has enough students. Typically held in spring or fall, the shows are on hold due to Covid.
It’s important to Baffa that she keep a part of this business a hobby for herself. She owns 25 horses at the barn, 16 of which are school horses ridden for lessons. She is also the proud owner of Fifty, an exceptionally athletic stallion imported from the Netherlands that competes in national Hunter/Jumper competitions.
“Every time I walk up to this horse, I think to myself, ‘I can’t believe I own this horse’,” she says gleefully. “He does Hunter beautifully.”
More information about Glen Grove Equestrian Center is available at www.glengroveequine.com.