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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Heaven is a Big, Red Barn

Two semesters ago, one of my animal behavior classes took a field trip to a farm in Brewster, New York called Green Chimneys. It's an incredible place where kids can go to learn when traditional teaching environments have failed them. Not only are they stocked with incredible staff members and teachers, they also have some extra special residents equipped with fur, hooves, talons and wings. Green Chimneys is a farm where many animals come to live out their days in peace while also helping these troubled kids learn compassion and acceptance. Nestled in the beautiful scenery of New York State, this farm is lush and green in the summer and painted white with snow in the winter. It's quiet, save for the sounds of rescued birds of prey and farm animals.

After only a few hours in this place, I knew I had to come back and spend more time surrounded by the magic. So I applied (through a rigorous screening process) to become a volunteer at the horse barn, where many semi-retired and gentle horses serve as therapeutic mounts for the resident kids. The staff like to have volunteers, who can ride, take a test to be a 'barn buddy' so that the horses can get some regular schooling. Horses are smart animals and they need to be challenged, and therapy horses often just spend their days walking in circles. As a barn buddy, I get to give the horses that extra mental stimulation and keep them from losing their manners, so to speak. My first buddy was Cash, a tall, handsome Chestnut gelding who once served as Mrs. Bloomberg's fox hunting mount.

He was a willing old chap, but couldn't do much more than walk and trot a little. When the equine dentist came to float the horses' teeth (file them so that there are no sharp points) he determined that poor Cash was actually significantly older than they'd thought, and probably well into his 30s. That's quite old for a horse, so they decided then and there to retire him for good. He'll stay at the farm for the rest of his life being pampered and loved, but that left me without a buddy. My new mount, and the fellow I rode today, is Chewie, short for Chewbacca. You can see the resemblance.

Chewie is an old man as well, and he can only walk when I ride him, but we do challenging patterns and work on his ring manners. Truth be told, even though I am a fairly advanced rider, I'm so happy to be sitting on a horse that just walking quietly with Chewie in the big indoor ring is perfectly acceptable.

In recent months, thanks to a light work schedule and a rough economy, I've had to cut back on my visits to Green Chimneys. After all, it takes a Metro North train and a $15 taxi ride (each way) to get to the farm from Queens. I have to wake up at 6:30am to make the 7:47 train, and I get home around 6pm, utterly exhausted. I spend the days shoveling saw dust, mucking stalls, scrubbing manure stains from the stall walls, hauling hay bales, sweeping the aisles and hayloft, moving horses from place to place, and completing various other odd jobs. What many people get paid for, or do in exchange for board, I essentially pay to do. When I'm waking up in the dark, piling on my layers, I often ask myself why on earth I'm volunteering if it's such a hassle. But then I get to the farm, and I'm greeted by the sight of the huge red barn nestled in the rolling hills, and a sense of pure joy rushes over me and I remember why I do this. These horses feed my soul. The least I can do is feed them lunch.


  1. Once you drink the Green Chimneys Kool-Aid, there is no going back....

  2. Green Chimneys sounds amazing!!! What a wonderful place!

    I didn't know you were a horse person too, Lisa! We're sooo kindred spirits haha we should get together for a ride sometime :)

  3. let's do it, Danielle. for real. I don't have enough horse friends in the city. one of Zach's family members manages a barn in Westchester.