School days! It’s that time of year again, when younger children return to school and older teens head to college. During the months of August and September it’s common to learn of a horse that is being offered for sale because its owner is going off to college; in fact when I graduated high school, I was one of those who had to sell my horse before I left for school, as my parents were not able to care for him nor could we afford to board him.
However, some students are fortunate to be able to take their horse with them when they leave home — especially if they plan to attend an agricultural school that has stabling on campus or, as in the instance with our granddaughter, at a stable nearby that offers boarding.
Having a horse to grow up with was a great experience and privilege; my parents bought me my first horse when I was a young teenager, at a time when many teens are ‘looking for something to do’ and often wind up experimenting with things their parents would frown on. The horse provided me with not only a “best friend” and an excuse not to have to join my thrill-seeking friends in ventures I wasn’t comfortable participating in; but also instilled a great sense of independence. Through the years I’ve described my experiences to other parents whose children have begged for a horse, and I’ve not heard of any who regretted making that decision.
During those teenaged years, most all of my free time was tied up with my horse: riding, taking care of his needs, and working to earn money for his upkeep and well-being. There were the daily chores of feeding, grooming and cleaning stalls, as well as tending to tack, barn and fencing that needed attention or repair. There were farrier and veterinarian visits to schedule, and feed and hay bills to pay in order to keep the horse in good healthy condition. The barn and pasture I rented for my horse was located up on the hill behind my house, and it was a good 15-minute walk up through the woods before school in winter, carrying two buckets of warm water to thaw out the frozen trough — and many a morning I returned home almost in tears after slipping and sliding in the snow, spilling my horse’s drinking water in the process, only to have to return and try again, hoping I wouldn’t be late for school.
Horse keeping can help youngsters mature in many ways — instilling a sense of unselfishness in taking care of something other than themselves, and fostering an interdependence that leads to responsibility, sensitivity, and good decision-making.
Our granddaughter Alana was one of those youngsters who got her first horse during her teenaged years and, after graduating high school, is preparing to leave for college — and is fortunate to be able to bring her horse along.
During the summer weeks before her first semester, she learned that although her course of study will be Animal Science/Pre-Veterinary study in the Agricultural program, there was no stabling available for her horse. Undaunted by the challenge, she was able to find a promising-looking facility within a relatively short drive of the college, that offered the alternative horse-keeping methods she was seeking, and we made arrangements last month to pay a visit and check out the facilities.
It was a very positive experience from the minute we pulled in to Hoofbeats Holistic until we departed for home a few hours later. Stable owners Melissa and George were happy to see us and to give us a tour of their beautiful farm.
The 120-acre farm has been in their family for 75 years; what interested us most was the philosophy of the farm — horses are raised and kept in a very natural and sustainable way, using a holistic whole-horse approach that addresses the horses’ body, mind, spirit and emotions. They focus on the horse’s true health and wellness. In addition to their own horses, Hoofbeats Holistic is a rehabilitation, retirement and therapeutic haven for other horses on a limited basis. The core group of their horses that lives on the farm year-round provide a stable, low-stress and positive dynamic to those horses that comes in for rehab, retirement or therapy. Running the farm (which includes producing as much excellent quality hay that their horses and boarders need, in addition to selling hay for horses throughout New England) is a full-time job, and it was easy to see that this is a labor of love.
They employ natural horse-keeping methods and are very much focused on the horses’ diets, and I found myself nodding in agreement — as the philosophies and methods used at Hoofbeats Holistic coincide with the methods and products I’ve used in caring for my own horses through the years.
Beginning with the diet — the emphasis is on excellent free-choice (unlimited) naturally grown quality grass hay, which they make on the property, and rotational managed pasture (turnout) with free-choice Celtic Sea Salt and clean water available at all times. Melissa provides a mixture of timothy grass pellets and alfalfa pellets, augmented with natural vitamins, trace mineral and hoof supplements tailored for each individual horse according to their needs. A number of healthful herbs such as ground flax for beneficial Omega 3s are included, as well as special mixes for the older horses that may have dental or digestive limitations.
The horses are provided with a number of grazing paddocks that they are free to enjoy, with large fenced-in wooded areas they seem to prefer to visit during the heat of day; and they can even cool off in the stream that runs through the property.
Melissa prides herself on her record-keeping system; she keeps a notebook journal for every horse on the property — which comes in handy to check on the horse’s progress or, if a problem arises, to be able to determine if there is a pattern of behavior that may have shown up. There are two veterinary clinics that the farm uses for horse health care or in case of emergency.
The older horses are brought into the barn and are fed first; the others follow and each has its own feeding station at the “breakfast barn” that they can come into at liberty — and yet have enough privacy to eat undisturbed. Melissa spends time in the morning giving every horse a thorough check — brushing and grooming and looking for anything such as a cut or wound that may need attention. There is plenty of hands-on care and attention each day, resulting in a herd of well-balanced horses that are easy to work around.
The farm is set up to provide the horses with clean travel lanes from feeding areas to water and shelter areas. The horses are free to move on their own and access each area of the environment whenever they desire — whether for food, shelter, or play — similar to horses in the wild. There is plenty of opportunity for physical contact and interaction with other, and yet each horse is cared for on an individual basis. Horses are given natural fly repellent and use of fly masks on and off as needed, and are groomed on a regular basis.
Melissa explained many horses who are brought to her facility that have health or soundness issues are able to recover and improve after spending time at her farm; she mentioned a horse that arrived in a greatly overweight condition had gradually lost a good amount of weight over a series of several weeks thanks to the use of the slow-feeder hay nets and a grazing muzzle, and was now in great physical shape. Due to the mixed terrain of soil, sand, gravel and rocks that the horses have free access to roam and the cleanliness of their environment (regular manure pickup and removal) they build strong hooves and are able to travel comfortably barefoot (unshod.) Special attention is paid to maintaining a healthy environment; truckloads of soil and rock are brought in on a regular basis to combat the mud that occurs in the springtime.
Scheduled for each horse’s Whole Horse Health Care is hoof trimming on 5-6 week intervals; an annual dental visit; an annual chiropractic adjustment; seasonal fecal egg count testing (to check for worms and possible de-worming) and of course the daily wellness checks.
A bright and airy indoor riding and training facility with a low-dust ground surface is available for exercise, rehabilitation and physical therapy programs. Additionally, a custom 80-foot round pen is used as part of these same programs; with a stone dust exercise and driving track on the property for riding and cart work. The farm offers number of trails on the property in addition to the rural country roads in the area for those who like to trail ride, and the indoor arena can be used for riding, lessons, and for fun when the weather outside is inclement.
For horses that are boarding at Hoofbeats Holistic, Melissa will schedule and stand for all health appointments, which are handy for those who live at a distance, (or in the instance of a student, like our granddaughter, who will be taking college classes).
In addition to this “paddock paradise” for horses, horse keepers can benefit by attending and participating in the clinics that Hoofbeats Holistic offers.
We are very much looking forward to bringing our granddaughter’s horse up to Hoofbeats Holistic and are happy to have found a facility that provides such excellent alternative care for her horse!