To say the Colleys are polo enthusiasts is an understatement equivalent to referring to Harvard as a safety school. Since the 1980s, this family has been passionate champions of the sport, which requires three to six riders per game. The Colleys have been responsible for helping raise funds to convert this Dutchess Valley land that was once dotted with dairy farms into horse stables and fields. At a polo event at the prestigious Mashomack Polo Club, Bruce Colley proves why he was anointed an Ambassador to the Federation of International Polo: he is shaking hands with well-wishers after an exhilarating ride, beads of sweat on his face, when a guest remarks that he is from another town and loves riding. “Have you tried polo?” Colley inquires. The man responds with a simple, “no.” “Well if you can ride, you can try polo and there are teams here of all levels,” Colley says enthusiastically. “Call me any time and we’ll ride.”
Despite polo’s reputation as the king of sports, Colley, along with his brother Bryan, welcome all riders of all income levels and pride themselves on igniting interest in the sport. “If you don’t own a horse, you can pick up a scrimmage game with many of the teams,” adds Bryan Colley. The residents of this small but close community often offer their guest rooms or cottages to visiting polo players from around the globe. The sport is often subsidized by a team member or sponsors that have included Cartier, Moët & Chandon, Hunter Boot and Hermès, which isn’t surprising since Hermès heir Mathias Guerrand-Hermès was often galloping on his horse and scoring goals with his ever-present mallet. In the wake of his death, the club now offers a sportsmanship award in his honor.
The Mashomack International Polo Challenge is considered the kick-off summer event in Millbrook and, this year, teams from Great Britain, France and Italy trot across the emerald fields that seem to go on for miles and miles. This past June, the champagne bottles popped in excitement with the arrival of the 15th annual event when His Highness The Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur joined the fun. Maharaj Narendra Singh played for team India.
Spectator Karen Klopp, founder of the website what2where.com, is another resident who succumbed to the charms of Millbrook’s outdoorsy life years ago after experimenting with Martha’s Vineyard, Connecticut and the Hamptons. “If you go the Hamptons, you need 8 or 10 outfits for the weekend,” recalls Klopp. “It’s fun but I found the pace too frantic for us. The questions were ‘Where are you going? Who are you going with? Did you get invited to so-and-so’s?’ Here it is more relaxed. Children are welcomed everywhere. We live a busy life in the city and didn’t want our weekends to be only about cocktail parties without our kids.” And the rewards are just that; at the Annual Blue Jean Ball, the children who turn into college students and young adults return to the place they know and love. As Klopp observes, instead of knowing what merger or megadeal someone engaged in, Millbrook residents are far more in awe of who is the best equestrian or shot (which lately has been Parker Thorne).
But to say that style isn’t appreciated would be a misnomer. Yes, this is a place reminiscent of 19th century England in the Hampshire countryside, whereas Blaine Trump agrees: manners still matter and casual dinners and lunches of 8 to 10 people are the norm. Nevertheless, for certain occasions, especially for sporting events, people get dressed up. “It’s tweed jackets and stock tie for the pre-season cubbing months of August when they teach hounds to get ready for the hunt, and then for the formal fox hunting in October, out comes the traditional scarlet or black coats,” says equestrian Alex Hamer.
For those who aren’t as interested in hiking, clay shooting, fly fishing and riding, the small town without a Starbucks in sight has quaint antique stores such as Yellow Church Antiques. Nearby sandwiches and salads are savored from the town’s beloved Babette’s Kitchen. Lifelong friendships are also forged. Longtime residents like Barbara and Donald Tober often have leisurely lunches at their farm where conversation flows as easily as the award-winning French wines such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc from the Millbrook Vineyards & Winery. “This is a place where people love the land and animals,” says Mrs. Tober. “We’re able to relax and really talk to each other.” Wine tours including the Dutchess Wine Trail are also available throughout the area and often people spend languid days sipping local wines and reading books on their porches while enjoying their pastoral views or find hidden untainted places for family picnics.
Speaking of, the word “family” is emphasized often here which may be why there is an uptick in house sales, even though neighboring communities have been stagnant. “Millbrook is a place where you can still buy parcels of land in excess of 100 acres,” says Adam Hade, a broker at Houlihan Lawrence.
But make no mistake. Millbrook also offers something that money can’t buy.
When he leaves Millbrook to return to the city, friends sometimes ask Georgiopoulos what he did for the weekend expecting a long list of events. One time, Georgiopoulos shared with a friend how he taught his stepson to shoot a gun and fed a baby lamb with his five-year-old son. “Great childhood memories are made here,” adds Georgiopoulos. “It’s a great place for families who love the outdoors.”