Neigh! A Cowboy Museum in Connecticut?! Yee Haw!
Granby (Google Maps location)
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, a decent enough brewpub, the beautiful Enders Falls and even a winery, 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 maintained 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.