The dog is not the least bit intimidated.
A tall grey horse enters the pasture, and the Jack Russell Terrier hops, barks once and wags her tail in anticipation. She obviously thinks the large animal is her playmate. The horse regards the dog for a moment, runs toward it but then decides to gallop off to the other horses in the field, much to the terrier’s chagrin.
If you don’t have much experience with show horses, they are surprisingly large once you get up close. To the uninitiated, it can be somewhat unnerving to stand in a field while giant horses gallop by.
However, Dottie the Jack Russell Terrier is not uninitiated. Neither is her owner, Cathy Johnson. Cathy, along with her husband Les, has owned Meadowview Farm on Vergennes Street for 32 years. “It turned into a bigger situation than we meant it to be,” Cathy says, explaining that the couple originally had no intention of creating the large equestrian complex that now meets the needs of so many area horsemen and women.
Yet here they are, with a farm that houses dozens of horses, serves more than 150 riders and provides stomping grounds for a handful of cats. Talking to Cathy, you get the feeling she wouldn’t want it any other way.
Diversified Programs Keep Farm Vibrant
The Johnsons have long had a love for horses, and Les played polo professionally in his younger years. When they were looking for property more than 30 years ago, they decided they wanted about 30 acres. They ended up buying an 80 acre dairy farm, which created opportunities but also challenges.
The land allows Meadowview Farm to meet the needs of a variety of equestrian enthusiasts, but horse care doesn’t come cheap. “Everything here is mass quantity,” Cathy says. “It keeps costs down.” For an idea of the type of quantity she’s talking about, consider that the Johnsons and their staff bale 15,000-18,000 bales of hay each year to help feed the approximately 90 horses currently stabled at the farm.
In order to pay for property expenses and weather the inevitable economic recessions – during which, horses are often the first thing to go in a hobbyist’s budget – Meadowview Farm has diversified its services over the years. In addition to boarding horses, the farm operates a riding school, trains competitive riders, hosts a polo club and school, offers day camps and holds more than a half dozen horse shows each year.
Lessons Available for All Ages and Abilities
Children as young as three can take riding lessons at Meadowview Farm, and the Johnsons have 16 school horses of different sizes that can be used during these lessons. “The first lesson is always a private lesson,” Cathy says. “[and] we help them find the appropriate horse.” Meadowview Farm offers its classes exclusively in the English riding style.
Johnson leads the way through what she calls the “magic aisle.” This is where the older horses are housed. Some are towering show horses that have been retired while others are diminutive horses that are the perfect size for the youngest of riders. What all these horses have in common is a gentle demeanor that makes them a good choice for anyone.
While Meadowview Farm works with dozens of riders who are competing at the Midwest and national levels, plenty of people also take lessons and own horses for pleasure riding. Overall, 150 students are taking classes at the farm at any given time. There are classes held every day of the week, including private lessons, group lessons and polo lessons.
All Horses Treated Like Family
Of the 90 horses at Meadowview Farm, 35 are owned by the Johnsons. The rest are boarded by owners. Regular boarding service includes feeding, daily turning out into the pasture, stall cleaning and vet and blacksmith management. Full care boarding offers additional perks such as daily grooming and regular riding to keep a horse in prime condition. It’s a level of service used mainly by competitive riders and long distance owners.
Regardless of the type of boarding, Cathy is clear that all horses are viewed the same. “We treat all the horses like they are our own,” she says.
It’s also evident they aren’t simply seen as numbers. During a tour of the farm, Cathy is quick to point out various horses, their quirks and preferences. As employees walk with horses to and from the pastures, they stop and chat with Cathy in a way that makes the farm feel more like family than a business.
Indeed, family seems to permeate everything about Meadowview Farm. The family members of students are invited to wait in a lounge overlooking an indoor arena during lessons. Spectators of all ages are invited to watch horse shows or polo matches. And family even helps run the farm as the Johnson’s two adult daughters are part of the team. “We are so lucky to have our kids work with us,” Cathy says.