As a Greg Fund follower, you know that advocacy to end racehorse cruelty is a major Fund focus. You also know that I have three rescued horses of my own — two of them formerly abused racehorses. If you’re not (yet) a horse person, you may have wondered what it takes to create a home for three rescued horses.
So here I share my brief story of purchasing a south central Pennsylvania farmette in December 2020 — and then working to turn it into a proper home for my three horses as well as my cats and dogs and me.
Before I begin, I should note that since adopting the three horses — Henry and Caroline in 2014, and Charlie in 2016 — I have covered all their costs with personal funds. However, the Greg Fund partnered with PETA in the initial process of rescuing Charlie from the racetrack — and the Fund’s continued focus on ending racehorse cruelty has been inspired both by Greg’s commitment during his final two years, and by my ongoing experience of living with Henry, Caroline, and Charlie every day.
My Search for the Right Farmette
Since 2017, I had lived with my horses, dogs, and cats on a 14-acre farm in Frederick County, Maryland — a lovely property, but too large for a single person to maintain for the long term. My goal from the outset was to downsize to a property with smaller house and shorter driveway, but still with ample land for horses — who ideally need at least two acres each — and for large dogs. Such a combination, however, turned out to be difficult to find — and in Maryland, seemingly impossible.
So in early November 2020, I expanded my online search to include south central Pennsylvania — and found several farmettes that looked promising. Then on the warm and sunny morning of Saturday November 7, I packed my dogs Marina and Christopher into my Honda Element, and took them across the border for a drive-by tour.
Finding Franklin Hill Farm
Franklin Hill Farm was my favorite — located in Dillsburg, a town I had never previously heard of. Driving by, I loved the look of the property: a modest ranch-style house set slightly back from a public road, with a large single-story barn behind. And the setting — amid rolling hills with wide open sky — gave me a warm and hopeful feeling reminiscent of childhood. By the end of that day, as news agencies across the U.S. were buzzing with news that Pennsylvania had secured the presidential election for Joe Biden, my real estate agent was scheduling me to return to Franklin Hill Farm for a formal tour.
Surveying the property the following Saturday morning, November 14, I gave perhaps 10% of my attention to the property’s potential for my cats and me, 20% of my attention to its potential for dogs — and the rest of my attention to its potential as a proper home for my horses.
My Scramble to Confirm Suitability
The property size was certainly ample: more than eleven acres total, including ten acres behind the barn for horse pasture, and an acre between the house and barn that could serve as a perfect dog yard. The plot plan showed full fencing and run-in sheds — but by now, all of that had been removed!
The barn was huge: 15 stalls altogether, including four large enough for horses — more than I needed, but the extras readily repurposable for storage of hay, stall bedding, tools, and other supplies. The electrical infrastructure was excellent, too: ample overhead lighting, and a heated feed room equipped with a full-sized refrigerator. But all the stall gates were made of slightly rusty metal, and opened inward — an accident waiting to happen for a hundred-pound human working with three animals weighing 1,000 pounds each!
Still more concerning: the only functioning water source — other than a tiny powder room sink with cold water adjacent to the feed room — was a single hydrant that pumped cold water straight from the ground, several dozen steps away from the horse-appropriate stalls!
In this sellers’ real estate market, I knew I had to act fast, so I worked with my agent to submit a purchase offer the evening of Sunday, November 15 — while taking care to include contingencies for fencing and water. The sellers accepted my offer, with a closing date of December 17 — and meanwhile, buyers who had been waiting to purchase my Maryland property asked to set that closing date for January 22!
So I began scrambling to confirm that Franklin Hill Farm could indeed be made suitable for my horses. I applied with the local government office for a fencing permit. I began searching for a contractor to install ten acres of fence at reasonable cost in potentially adverse winter weather conditions, and for another to install safe new stall doors in the barn. I began searching for another contractor to install a proper barn sink and water heater — and most important, automatic horse waterers with electrical lines, for a steady flow of drinking water in all temperatures. Each of my three horses drinks up to ten gallons of water per day — in other words, as much as 240 total pounds of water for all three. That’s too much strength training for me at this stage in life, on top of the work required to warm water during sub-freezing temperatures.
Somehow, all of this worked out. The local Dillsburg government office issued my fencing permit before I closed on the property, thanks to a letter from the sellers. I found a nearby contractor specializing in large animal fencing, who was just barely available to schedule my job prior to my planned January 22 move date. That contractor in turn referred me to his brother-in-law, who had the right expertise to install safe new sliding stall doors made of wood. I found a mechanical company specializing in automatic animal waterer installation — and they were available to do my work in early January, subject to weather conditions.
So I lifted my contingencies on purchasing Franklin Hill Farm in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. And back in Maryland, the buyer of my Frederick County property lifted her contingencies on that purchase.
My Scramble to Make the Move Date — and Beat the Snow!
And so the next phase of my scramble began: ensuring that essential improvements to Franklin Hill Farm could be completed — despite forecast snowfalls — before locking in my horses’ move date.
I quickly encountered an obstacle: the builder with whom I’d contracted to install new barn doors was not available to do the work until February 1. And I wasn’t willing to risk two weeks with rusty inward-opening metal doors. So I negotiated a board-back deal with my Maryland property purchasers, whereby my horses would stay at the old barn for an extra two weeks, under the new owners’ care. (This also gave my horses the chance to make friends with the new owners’ six dogs.) And though I was able to move January 19 with my dogs and cats, the horses’ move was rescheduled for Saturday, February 6.
Meanwhile, with a foot of snow forecast for Sunday January 31, the fencing contractor completed all ten acres worth of posts, boards, and gates in the nick of time on Friday January 29. A miracle!
But then another obstacle: there was so much snow on the ground by the barn door contractor’s projected work start date, that he wasn’t sure he could haul his materials and equipment to my barn. But after a one-day delay, his crew drove 1-1/2 hours with all this plus a skid loader, and plowed the snow off my gravel drive enough to bring everything in. They finished by Friday February 5, in the nick of time for my horse move the next day. Another miracle!
But then, yet another obstacle: the only horse transport professionals I fully trust — Andy and Lori of A&L Horse Transport — use what their clients call the “Cadillac of horse trailers,” but haul it with a two-wheel-drive truck. They were concerned, they told me, about maneuvering that truck on the gravel driveways of my old Maryland and new Pennsylvania farms, with piles of recently-plowed snow still lining both drives and just beginning to melt.
Nevertheless, Andy and Lori agreed to try. So on the late morning of Saturday, February 6, I met them at my old Maryland farm to load Charlie, Henry, Caroline, and a stall full of supplies into the spacious A&L “Cadillac.”
We decided to load Charlie first — both because he is the established herd leader, and because he had been the calmest of the three when Andy and Lori moved them from Virginia to Maryland for me in 2017. This time, his first dozen paces toward the trailer were uneventful enough — but then he began to panic. Andy somehow managed to guide Charlie into the trailer and secure him in a stall, despite a lot of aggressive kicking. Fortunately, Henry and Caroline were relatively calm this time, which eventually soothed Charlie somewhat — though he continued kicking periodically throughout the drive. “Maybe he’s having a flashback to his racing days,” Lori mused.
Upon arrival at Franklin Church Farm, Andy and Lori determined there was no prospect whatever of driving their trailer to my barn. Instead, they would park it on the public street in front of my house, put cones out on the road, and walk the horses up from the street to my barn. My heart was in my throat — but they assured me they had moved horses in this manner many times over 20+ years in the business, and this final phase of the move proved to be safe and uneventful.
Thankfully, the horses quickly adjusted to their new environment, seeming to enjoy their new barn and pasture.
But that February 6 move wasn’t quite the end of the story. The mechanical company with which I had contracted could only do its work once the snow was reasonably melted and the ground was above a certain temperature. So they had rescheduled their work for Tuesday, February 23 — and meanwhile, I would have to muddle through the next 2+ weeks, carrying 5-gallon pails of water and periodically taking an ice pick to frozen buckets.
That February 23 water project start date couldn’t come soon enough for me! But as luck would have it, snow fell twice more immediately before that date — first on the Friday before, and then again on Monday, the day before. The mechanical company was on the verge of postponing yet again — but agreed to try, and was ultimately able to move multiple trucks full of heavy equipment and materials to my barn. Another miracle!
But then — not one, but two major snags. The ground under and around my barn was much rockier than they had anticipated, so running water pipes and electrical lines was a far more challenging process. On top of this, the water line path had not been documented, so the crew had to spend days determining precisely where it was.
In the end, the water project took four days, and not the one or two days originally planned. I had hoped to have one waterer installed outside the barn — and now it appears that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. But by the end of the day on Friday, February 26 — and the mechanical company crew did stay until 8 pm! — they had successfully installed automatic waterers in each of four horse stalls inside the barn, one for each horse and one to spare. They had also installed a large new sink and water heater in the feed room, plus a new functioning hydrant just a few feet away from the horse stalls.
And while all this was happening last week, the barn building contractor was back onsite — this time to make some additional improvements in the pasture area just outside the barn. First, they erected an open shelter in the pasture, so my horses — who evolved as prey animals and whose first instinct is to flee from any perceived danger — can stay out of the elements while at the same time enjoying the security of knowing they can run in any direction. And second, they installed a manure bin just outside the pasture — so that yours truly has a place to dump all the horse waste she scoops on a daily basis.
Problems solved – right? Well, still not quite. Still in the queue, for later this month, are three-sided shelters in the pasture — with rationale similar to the open shelter, plus extra protection from the elements — and a high-traffic area pad in the walkway immediately outside the barn, so the horses have firmer and drier ground to walk on than the mud they are currently forced to navigate.
So I may not have all problems quite solved, but the solutions are finally all within sight.
Meanwhile, after today’s heavy rain, fine weather is forecast for the week ahead. Henry, Caroline, and Charlie should have a fully functional and comfortable new environment by the first day of spring 2021.