By Nancy Jaffer
January 28, 2017
It comes across as the type of meet-cute, made-for-TV movie that you’d see on the Lifetime channel.
Jolene Alala, a “Jersey girl” working at her family’s small Passaic County stable, traveled to Ireland to help a client buy a horse. There the 18-year-old, who had never been across the Atlantic, met Brian Cash, a seventh generation horse dealer.
“I love that last name,” she told him when he introduced himself. Brian quickly responded, “Well, if you play your cards right…” As Jolene put it, “I guess I played my cards right, ‘cause I got him.”
“We got on great and never looked back,” Brian stated
This is no fantasy rom-com for daytime viewing.
“It’s the truth and it’s our story,” said Jolene Cash, now the mother of four children between the ages of eight and two, all of whom ride. She just won the N.J. Horse Shows Association’s Trainer of the Year trophy, based on the total of high score points earned by her students at Hidden Acres Farm in West Milford. But she emphasized the honor belongs to her husband as well, her partner in the stable that specialize in teaching young people up through college age.
“It was not just solely me,” she said. “We really are a team and it’s a family affair.”
Brian put it this way, “it’s amazing what a team we’ve built.”
NJHSA’s Junior Equestrian of the Year award went to the couple’s student, 14-year-old Amanda Leone of West Milford, an eighth-grader at St. Catherine of Bologna School in Ringwood (and in case you’re wondering, no relation to the show jumping Leone brothers of Franklin Lakes). Amanda also was NJHSA high score champion in the pre-children’s hunter division with Master of Moments. (Read about another of the Cashs’ students, Mackenzie Suffy, in the On the Rail column at the left of this page.)
“Amanda never gives up. She’s a hard worker. She’s always last to leave the barn and she’s always there for her friends,” said Brian.
Hidden Acres’ success extends beyond the efforts of Jolene and Brian. Jolene’s , mother, Helen, and brother, George, also play key roles .
The 10-acre farm originally belonged Jolene’s late father, George, and her mother, both of whom were involved in rodeoing. Helen was a barrel racer, the 1982 rookie of the year for the American Rodeo Association. She finished in the top 10 for the following six years for the barrel racing finals in Harrisburg, Pa.
The Alalas team-roped together, with George as the heeler and his wife as the header. He was the New Jersey Roping Association champion in 1977, and the Aleppo Shrine Rodeo Calf Roping Champion two years later.
Not surprisingly, Jolene rode western and enjoyed gymkhanas as a child, but when trainer Tiffany Headley came to the farm and started teaching English-style riding, things changed. Jolene was fascinated by the jumps that appeared in the ring.
“The thrill was more in the hunter/jumpers for me,” Jolene said.
She made the switch with her western pony, She’s My Blue Angel, and was high score in the chicken little jumpers at Snowbird before moving on to her pre-children’s horse, Mini-Me.
But she needed a mount who could do more, so eventually, her father sold his prized 1961 Corvette to buy her a Holsteiner, Just George (named after her dad), enabling her to compete in the Ariat and Charles Owen classes. She was coached by Robert Beck, himself a former NJHSA trainer of the year.
Jolene was going to college with an eye toward teaching kindergarten or first grade when her father became ill and she had to drop out to run the farm. Another trainer took over when she wound up staying in Ireland for five years, until she and her husband came back to New Jersey and injected life into the business, as she put it.
Buying horses wherever he can is really a genetic inheritance for Brian, who comes from what he called, “the oldest horse family in Ireland.”
“I don’t mind traveling for a good horse; I’ll try a horse anywhere,” he said, explaining he emphasizes “honest and safe” when making an equine purchase.
Brian has an eclectic riding background that includes fox hunting, showing and eventing. As he explained, “In Ireland, everybody does a little of everything.”
He’s serious about horse sport, but has his own approach. When Brian first came to New Jersey, he said, “What I noticed was there was so much pressure put on the kids that the fun was kind of gone out of it. Our style of teaching is for the kids to relax and have fun. We teach all the kids to be soft and gentle with the horse, because you’re not going to win a battle.”