Once discarded, the senior-citizen mare Shiloh is surrounded by some of the Little Brook Farm campers she has taught to ride. Photo©Liz O'Connell
"Lynn, can we please pick up the manure in the mini's paddock?" Three little girls, eight and nine years old, were on a mission to do anything involved with the three mini-horses. Young girls and horses ... the stuff of stories and films. Lynn Cross, the owner of Little Brook Farm and its horse rescue, and I were two such girls about fifty years ago. Oy vey.
Today Lynn runs a horse and animal sanctuary, a special type of rescue. Animals come to Little Brook Farm, Old Chatham, New York, for life. Horses that are able are in the riding lesson program and the visiting-school programs. Those that aren't, have loafing down to a fine art, but even they are used in demonstrations - how to brush a mane, where the sweet-spots are for scratching.
"Little Brook Farm is the place where horses can be themselves." Frayda from New York, NY
Most of the horses and ponies at Little Brook are direct rescues from the horse-slaughter pipeline. Twelve years ago, Lynn bought a group of 23 camp-horses at Crowley's auction, Agawam, Massachusetts. It was the end of summer and the Girl Scout's Camp Laurel, Lebanon, Connecticut, was finished with the lesson horses that had given campers their first taste of horsemanship, and maybe their first blue ribbons. It's a sad fate for these camp-horses. No longer of use to the camp administrators, they are sent back to dealers or livestock auctions, many go on to slaughter. But not the gang bought by Little Brook Farm, these days they are a group of old geezers still teaching kids to ride.
"Little Brook Farm is the BEST farm because ALL the animals are treated the best. I really like that when we fall in love with a horse, or any animal here, that we know that they will never leave because they belong here." Elizabeth from Valatie, NY.
There are eighteen breeds of horses and ponies at LBF. There's a good representation of thoroughbreds, including a mare who is a sister to an Eclipse champion. That mare came to Lynn along with her yearling daughter by Freud. The breeder's veterinarian deemed the yearling too crooked-legged and not worthwhile, its fate was Little Brook Farm or euthanasia. Or possibly worse, that veterinarian is a proponent of horse slaughter. Instead of falling through the cracks, the yearling is now a strapping chestnut four-year old filly with a white blaze on her face and high white socks on her four straight legs. Her brilliant white markings are referred to as "chrome".
"What I love about LBF is how welcoming and how non-judgmental the people are. They do so much to improve the lives of not only the animals but people too." Gabby from New York, NY.
Every summer, weekly day campers are welcomed at Little Brook Farm. The campers are of an age where grooming, bathing, braiding and plaiting, riding, vaulting and basic messing-around-the-barn still hold allure. There are no helicopter parents on the grounds, there is plenty of supervision. The kids can roam from one activity to the next, with time taken in between to admire the chickens (the one rooster is from a failed backyard poultry project in Pine Hills, NY), stalk the barn cats, walk a dog or two, or make forts in the big barn's loft with bales of hay.
"Little Brook Farm has been the highlight of my summers and weekends for the past two years. It's a wonderful place, accepting anyone who is willing to help and join the community." Anna from New York, NY.
The programs at Little Brook Farm are inclusive, where a family might not be able to afford a full fee, accommodations are made. On the other end of the spectrum, some of the families could send their children to any camp or riding program in the country, but they send them to an animal sanctuary summer camp where kindness and dignity underlie the activities.
"Every single animal is rescued. They are so nice to their horses! In Paris, I can't wait to come here!" Lily from Spencertown, NY and Paris, France.
During the school year, the horses of Little Brook Farm are the stepping-off point for groups of students, many are at-risk or have special needs. Learning about and working with horses increases self-esteem and awareness, brings a focus to anger and emotion management, and sharpens observation and communications skills. All under the guise of an outing with horses on a safe-house farm in upstate New York.
"Winnie is my favorite horse. She is spunky, but beautiful and nice most of the time." Rose from Spencertown, NY and Paris, France.