Discover Horse and Rider Happiness at Northfield Farm
by Nikki Alvin-Smith
Regardless of your age or riding discipline you will find a warm and friendly welcome at Northfield Farm. Owners Anneliese and William Gilchrist have made that part of their mission at their beautiful equestrian farm located at Otego, New York that is home to twenty-three horses owned by the farm and several boarders.
"We try and offer a very professional yet welcoming atmosphere at our facility. We consider every client to be equally important whether they have a $90,000 equitation horse or a backyard pony. We are all drawn together for our love of everything horse. I am very fond of all our boarders and clients here and love how they support each other at horse shows and clinics. We have a very busy farm with so many different styles of riding with the Oneonta State Equestrian Team and Athelas Therapeutic Riding Program but somehow we all feel like one big family!" explained Anneliese, who grew up in Otego and moved back in 2004.
We love this area and the fantastic summers. It's such a wonderful place to raise a family with great community programs. Will is a band teacher at Schenevus Central School and helps out at the farm when he isn't working. He will be coaching Little League this summer."
Northfield Farm became the home of the State University of New York Oneonta Equestrian Team in 2010. The team average about twenty members per year and they are coached by Anneliese Gilchrist and Joyce Northup of Oxford, New York. Over the past few years the team has grown and become very competitive in their region. In 2012 the team had several 'firsts' in the history of the team, including Reserve High Point Team at the Fall shows and one of the team riders also qualified for Zone Finals. A prestigious achievement in a very competitive Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (I.H.S.A.) circuit.
The farm boasts many miles of trails for the avid trail rider across its one hundred and fifty acres; as well as a magnificent indoor arena with Airfoot footing and an innovative curtain system along one side wall that allows a mass of light to fill the space. The curtain system can be lifted in the summer to allow fresh breezes across the arena. This State of the Art innovation makes the arena a true pleasure for both working horses and auditors at the many clinics and special events that Northfield hosts each year in addition to a busy show schedule.
Recent clinics include Natural Horse Master Sonny Garguilo.
It is a testament to the training and family atmosphere at Northfield Farm, that many past students return to the farm whenever possible to reconnect with what they often term, "Their second family at Northfield."
Part of the process for the college students that participate on the I.H.S.A. team for Oneonta State is saying goodbye at the end of their four year college experience and heading on with their careers. 2014 college graduate Bridget Fitzgerald had this to say about her experiences at Northfield Farm:
"Ever since coming to Oneonta, Northfield Farm has been my home away from home, as well as my place of peace. For two years I couldn't have asked for a better place to keep my horse. Anneliese has been more than accommodating to my needs, as well as my horse Prelude. Prelude especially loves his big, grass pasture where he gets turned out, and all the good hay he gets to chomp on. Northfield has held such a special place in my heart, and welcomed me with open arms since day one. As this final year of college comes to an end for me next week, it breaks my heart to be leaving such a beautiful facility and all the people who make Northfield what it is. Thank you for making my time here one of the greatest times of my life, and making transferring to a new place so easy."
There is a wonderful Guest House, Evensong Dell which is conveniently located just a few minutes drive from the farm for those participants needing overnight accommodations.
The arena has dressage letters and jumps for the dressage/event and hunter/jumper riders. Anneliese teaches basic Western classes in addition to English riding. Northfield Farm also has a large heated viewing room as well as bathroom, washer/dryer and a wash stall with hot and cold water. The stalls are matted and range from 12 x 12 to 12 x 14; there is ample turnout available either in groups or solo depending on the individual horse's requirements.
Don't have a horse? No problem. Northfield often has horses available for half to full lease on the farm. Presently they have a Thoroughbred mare, Rosie, who is available for sale or lease.
"Rosie is super quiet and has been to many local dressage and hunter shows. Also this summer we have a few stalls opening up for boarders and we are looking for some new members to join us at Northfield Farm," said Anneliese.
The horses at Northfield all look well cared for and content and a happy and harmonious air exudes in the barn as the students and boarders go about their daily chores.
With a variety of horse and pony breeds, some mares and foals romping in the fields and immaculately turned out performance horses training in the indoor I was curious to find out more about the equines that call Northfield home and how Anneliese found that most elusive of creatures, ' the good lesson horse.'
"Whenever we need a new horse for a lesson program I always first look for a rescue. There are so many horses out there that need a second chance. While it's not a good idea to visit an auction or some rescues as a person new to horses and perhaps looking for a first horse (unless you have a trainer there to help you of course), there are many wonderful horses that just end up in bad situations who just need a second chance. Many of the riders in our therapy program form special bonds with our rescue horses; just knowing that the horses have been through hard times and have landed softly gives them encouragement that their lives can be the same. Sometimes rescue horses find us. I received a call a few years ago from a local rescue saying one of their clients had bailed a horse from a 'kill-pen' in New Jersey. The horse arrived there as it was labeled 'dangerous.' It had a bucking problem. It bucked the demo rider off in the arena and had apparently done the same with many people before. That mare is now a staple in our college lesson program, often teaching people to jump cross rails and in the summer she does walk/trot lessons with some of our summer campers. While not all stories end up this way, this little mare just needed to be restarted with love and kindness," Anneliese explained.
During the summer months you can also enroll your child in one of the Summer Camp programs at Northfield. This year they will be available for four day periods running from 9:00 a.m. through 3:00 p.m. Early bird discounts apply and the dates for these are:-
July 14th - July 18th
July 28th - August 1st
August 4th - August 8th
August 18th - August 22nd.
The summer camps include a daily riding lesson in a fun and safe environment where children are taught how to care for horses, enjoy arts and crafts Children ages five to eighteen are welcome. If you would like to take advantage of this program please contact Assistant Barn Manager Cheryl Parisian on 607 287 0946.
A specialty at Northfield Farm is the re-training of off the track Thoroughbred (O.T.T.B) horses and the starting of young horses under saddle. There are many success stories here for the gentle re-start of horses that have gone on to lead productive lives as hunter/jumpers and dressage horses. By providing a balance of Natural Horsemanship techniques, hunt seat, and dressage training; the horses themselves quickly provide evidence to any knowledgeable horse person, that they are building confidence in a positive working environment.
In the summer months Anneliese is out competing in the dressage arena on the local show circuit. In 2013 showing at first level with her well-bred Oldenburg mare Farah, the pair garnered over 65% and won their classes at Stockade Dressage Show.
The operation of Northfield Farm is very much a family affair. Anneliese and William have three children, Amaya age nine (who recently participated in the dressage clinic), Liam, age seven, and Rowan, age two.
"Amaya is very involved with the horses and can always be found in the barn. She loves caring for them and knows the feed chart better than anyone! She has two ponies and one of them she started showing this summer. So far she has seen three foals born. She is my little shadow. Liam hasn't decided if he likes horses or not. He enjoys the occasional trail ride and riding bareback around the arena for a few minutes, but always seems to decide they are more work than they are worth. Rowan loves all animals and can often be found 'helping out' in the barn," said Anneliese.
When asked about the happiest and saddest moments with horses Anneliese reflected,
"It's hard to say what my happiest moment is with horses. There have been so many. From success in the show ring, to watching a foal born or a student get their first blue ribbon after hours and hours of hard work, to watching our daughter ride a pony I grew up with and the joy on the face of a child whose whole life is spent in a wheelchair as they ride a horse in the sunshine and steer it through grass, weeds and mud. Places they don't usually go. My saddest moments with horses have always been when you have to let them go. They are such noble, regal creatures. Whether they are struggling to cling to life as a youngster when something has gone terribly wrong, or they are calmly embracing death at an old age after a life well lived; it is heart wrenching every time."
In addition to managing all the daily operations at Northfield, this location is also home to The Athelas Therapeutic Riding Program. Several events are held as fundraisers throughout the year for this program and coming up June 7th, 2014 is the wonderful Open House.
"It is an emotional and at the same time very fun day, "Anneliese said, " All are welcome to attend."
Recent fundraisers for Athelas included a raffle with over seven hundred and fifty dollar value in horse lover tack, riding apparel, donated by the online equestrian store, TheHorseStudio.com, a regular contributor to the program.
When asked what encouraged Anneliese and her family to devote part of their time to this worthy cause and what made her decide to take on the rigorous process for qualification as a PATH certified trainer, it was clear that the decision was heartfelt.
"As far back as I can remember I loved horses. I remember riding on my rocking horse in my living room at home; jumping and running through the fields on my faithful steed. I recall asking and asking for a pony. There were horses outside the office where my dad worked and I remember going there and trying to get on them. They were so gentle. My dad would let me sit on them bareback and I was just in heaven. There were two young Lippitt Morgan horses there and a foal and yearling. Eventually my dad bought them and their siblings, for me and my mother. Both (horses) are now in their late twenties and they are the foundation of my therapy program today! When I was in High School I taught a horse camp for children with special needs. I was nervous at first but after a few moments with the first child I was hooked. One young lady came in a wheelchair and her aides told me she was catatonic. After some time of her watching what was going on I brought over a little Arabian mare to her wheelchair. The mare gently breathed on her hands as they lay still in her lap. The girl smiled....and raised her eyes to look into the mare's face. She opened her mouth and attempted to talk to the little Arabian. Her aides were speechless; one of them had tears in her eyes as she told me this young girl had never attempted to communicate with anyone. I knew then horses could change lives and I wanted to somehow help make that happen. I left for college that Fall and started my pre-vet major courses. However, during my sophomore year I saw an ad in a horse magazine for a college in North Carolina offering a degree in Therapeutic Horsemanship. I applied right away and transferred there the following year. When I graduated I moved back to this area to be near family and planned to work for a program close-by. There were no programs in this area! So, Athelas Therapeutic Riding Program was born. In 2013 we taught over one hundred and fifty lessons to seventy-five different students from Otsego, Delaware and Chenango Counties.
Growing a horse business from scratch in a rural area is not an easy thing to achieve, as many can attest. Anneliese offers some advice to would be horse business owners.
"Take your time. Visit other farms and ask lots of questions about what they like and don't like about their farms. Know your area and make sure you are starting a business that can be supported. Start small and grow as you need to."
Future plans for Northfield Farm include the building of a 'Sensory Trail' for the Therapeutic Riding Program and currently in the works is the start of a new chapter of The Pony Club.
As with any business, it is a team effort to develop and operate a successful facility like Northfield.
"I would like to thank my parents (Stephen and Jane Seitz), for all their support over the years. All the board bills paid, vet bills paid, lessons paid and taxi services. Thanks to my husband for always allowing me to do my "Horse Thing," and for always helping in the barn when I need it. Thanks also to fellow horseman and longtime friend, Joe Langan; for always believing I could do this and telling me I would be just fine... and for helping me make this dream a reality. Thanks to all the trainers I have ever ridden with. You have inspired me in some way to be a better horsewoman," said Anneliese.