Hi, I’m Jenn. I’m 23 and I have always had a huge passion for animals. On the weekends and evenings you can find me spending time with my animals, which includes horses, goats, chickens, cats, and a golden retriever pup. I also spend my time working on projects around the farm, renovating our home, drawing and painting, singing, or lounging around the house with my husband. During the week, I work full time at a University on projects that support full inclusion for people with disabilities. I am also enrolled in a doctorate program, where I take graduate classes part time in the evenings. Sounds a little busy? While at times it is a bit inconvenient, I actually really love having my days filled with things to do. It keeps me busy and motivated! You can follow our farm adventure on our blog: sunshinefarmny.com and on Instagram and Facebook: SunshineFarmNY.
I was so excited when Taylor asked me to share my story on the blog. I hope my experience finding joy out of a scary and painful time, can encourage you no matter what you may be going through.
A Love for Horses
I grew up in Southern California and began riding when I was about 4. My older sister and I would take lessons together, and when I was about 10 and she was 13, we were given the opportunity to own our own horse. Her name was Ebony Star, or Echo, as we called her. She was so beautiful! She was a dark bay warmblood, Trakehner/Oldenburg cross, with a white star. For my sister and I, this was a dream come true.
Despite having cleared a vet exam, shortly after we got her, Echo began showing signs of lameness. Ultimately, after tests, treatment plans, and an invasive surgery, my mom had to make the difficult decision to lay her to rest; she was in debilitating pain, and there was nothing we could do. I was so young at the time that I don’t think I ever really understood what happened. After that experience, my mom and sister were completely devastated, and my sister decided to stop riding. Being only 10 or so at the time, I decided to stop as well. As the months went by I began to regret that decision, but after such an emotional experience my mom did not want me going back into that world. Without an option to take lessons, I looked for every chance I could to spend time with horses. And while I was devastated at the loss of Echo, I was even more affected by the loss of having horses in my life. Throughout middle school, high school, and through college, I dreamed of the day when I would be able to welcome horses back into my life again. While I found opportunities to ride friends’ horses, work at summer riding camps, and volunteer at therapeutic riding stables, what I really dreamed of was having my own horse right in my backyard.
Shortly after graduating from college, I married my now husband, who happened to be from the other side of the country, all the way in Upstate NY. Due to life circumstances and the low cost of living, we decided to start our lives together there. In the back of my mind, I knew the chances of having horses and living out my dream was much more possible, as the cost of living in California makes horse ownership difficult, and the possibility of owning a horse farm was completely out of the question.
We first settled in a little house that we bought in the city. It was a great first house, built in the early 1900’s, full of character and charm. I started working full-time and only a few months later I began developing a number of random and debilitating health symptoms, all at once. The list included digestive issues, muscle pain, headaches, neurological issues, and lethargy. It seemed like every day I had a new symptom. There were so many moments that I convinced myself that something was seriously wrong, and even believed that I was dying. I went to a number of doctors, spent thousands of dollars on tests, but ultimately, there were no clear answers as to what was causing my pain.
Around the same time, I started riding horses again at a local hunter jumper barn. The barn was a refuge for me. My body felt capable on a horse, and I was able to forget about the uncertainty I was facing and the pain I was experiencing. As time went on and I learned to avoid triggers for my pain, my symptoms slowly began to improve, but the experiences I had gone through gave me a new perspective on my life and my dreams. The feeling that my life could end at any time, encouraged me to pursue my dreams in any way that I could. As a young adult it is easy to feel like you have to achieve A, B, and C before you really live and enjoy life. It is also easy to believe that you have all the time in the world. Both of which may not be true. If you have the capacity to do what you love, why wait? There is absolutely no guarantee of having another year, or even another day. After dealing with a multitude of health symptoms and debilitating anxiety, I decided why not live out my dream now? That’s when I began seriously thinking about buying a small horse farm and living out my lifelong dream. It took a little while for my husband to come on board, understandably, since we had only lived in our first house for less than a year, and we hadn’t exactly hit the jackpot. Despite his concerns, he let me dream and we began looking at horse properties.
Starting Our Farm
At first we made an offer and it was accepted on an 1850’s farmhouse on 9 acres. As we were nearing our closing date, it all came crashing down and the opportunity dissolved. The home we were living in had already sold and we only had a month to find a new place. Although we were discouraged, the next day we went to see a little Cape Cod style home on 12 acres that we weren’t all that excited about, based on the pictures online and the location. Once we got there, we quickly fell in love with the property and the little home. We made an offer that day and after some negotiations we entered escrow. On December 16th, 2016 we moved into that little Cape Cod on 12 acres, and started our little hobby farm. Despite the rocky road finding our farm, it was a real blessing that the first home fell through. The first place didn’t have a horse barn or pastures, had less acreage, and the house would have been a lot of work. It turned out that where we ended up was the absolute perfect place for us to be.
When we first moved in we didn’t have any horses or other farm animals, but in the spring and summer of 2017, we quickly added to our farm.
Over the past year we have had lots of animal additions. It started with looking for a companion horse, which is how we ended up with the cutest little Shetland pony, Justin.
Then, after months of looking, and one heartbreaking experience, we found TJ: a solid paint gelding that has been absolutely perfect partner for me. This past summer I rode TJ almost daily, teaching him to jump, taking him on trail rides, and even trailering him to our first show together. Owning TJ has been the culmination of all of my dreams. We have also added chicks and adopted goats. One of the adopted goats even gave birth to an adorable little female goat that we named Noel.
It can be easy to forget how much I wanted all of this, thought about it, and dreamed of it. Some days I wonder what life would be like if we had stayed where we were; we would have more money to travel, to visit my family in California, and to spend on a number of other things. We may have more time to just relax, spend time with friends, and go out to dinner. But each day as I come home to that little red barn, see the horses waiting for me to greet them, hear our adorable baby goat calling out for attention, and know I had dreamt of this for so long, I’m reminded that all the sacrifices are so worth it. I often have to remind myself of that, in order to truly appreciate what a gift all of it is. This experience has made me deeply grateful for even the scariest times. If I had not gone through a time filled with physical pain, anxiety, and fear, I may never have decided to pursue my dreams. Wanting our farm to bring joy and hope to others, we decided to call it the Sunshine Farm. We want this place to become a refuge for others who have a love for animals just like we do.
Questions or comments? Jenn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!