Rita Mendel’s passion for horses shows in the hundreds of collectibles she displays at home.
People who know Rita Mendel know she loves horses. She surrounds herself with them at home, at work and even when she’s traveling. But those who haven’t been to her Indian Springs home might not understand how extensive her horse collection is. In Rita’s case, you need to see it to believe just how many horse items she owns.
“I have always loved horses, so I have decorated with them as other hobby collectors would do,” she says. She and her husband, Jack, moved to Alabama 34 years ago. “We are Virginians by birth and education, but moved here from New York, where we lived for 17 (years) with our three children, horses, dogs, birds, chickens and ducks. I learned my way around Birmingham with the phone book and a map scouting out antique stores.”
The couple sold almost all of their furniture before they moved, giving Rita an opportunity to furnish and decorate their home, built in 1965 on 4.5 acres off Alabama 119. It was one of the original homes in Indian Springs Ranch, which was developed by a Calvary Officer, Emmet Cloud, as a community of weekend homes for people who owned horses and could ride in Oak Mountain State Park.
“It was renovated once before we bought it,” Rita says. “We built a large addition designed by my husband, and added a large patio, swimming pool and tennis court. My favorite room is the ‘glass room’ that overlooks the pool, barn and tennis court. It is where I grow orchards and relax in the hot tub.”
Displayed throughout the home in various forms are more than 100 horse collectibles – artwork, figurines, stained glass, carousel horses, furnishings and miscellaneous knick-knacks – from places the family has visited in the United States and all over the world, including Israel, Italy, Germany, China, Vietnam, Singapore, France, England, Ireland, Greece, Canada, Saskatchewan, Norway, Denmark, Caribbean and Mexico.
“We have traveled extensively, so the collection is from everywhere,” she says. “I try to find something ‘horsey’ wherever I go. I just can’t help myself.”
In 1985, Rita founded Special Equestrians, a therapeutic riding program for people with special needs. She and several volunteers operated the program at the stable at Oak Mountain State Park. The program moved to its current location on the Indian Springs School campus in 1993. It has grown to serve more than 100 riders annually, and draws help from more than 250 volunteers. Rita continues to serve the program in an auxiliary capacity, on the board of directors.
“Besides raising those kids, the proudest thing I’ve done is start the Special Equestrians program,” Rita says. “I am very proud of this successful center and what it has done to change the lives of so many.”
She also stays busy running her equestrian clothing and gift shop, Carousel Tack Shoppe, in Indian Springs. And because she goes to market to find new inventory for the store, she has the advantage of finding more horse treasures for her house, a habit Jack has grown accustomed to over the years.
The couple has two live horses, Golden Princess and Demitasse. They’ve owned horses for more than 40 years. In New York, they lived next to a wildlife preserve and had ample space to ride.
Their three children grew up around horses—their son David competed in shows—and Rita has tried to impart her riding skills to her eight grandchildren, who lovingly refer to her house as “Camp Mendel” when they visit.
Rita and Jack have been married for 56 years. He plays the banjo and runs, and she rides her bike and horses. But together, they ballroom dance and enjoy peaceful living amid their ever-growing collection of horse pieces at home.
“Someone said, ‘Your house has soul,’” Rita says. “I’d like to think it does.”