The guide was pleasant enough, but Ruth, Phyllis and Carolyn thought that my version of the history of the farm was much more interesting. After all, Bob and I had first hand knowledge of the farm when we stabled and raced Trillium Reflection on these very grounds 15 years ago. Both of us have visited and toured the farm many times since then and had watched its restoration from the beginning. Each time we came, we acquired a little more history of the majestic model farm that once totaled more than 4,000 acres.
Everyone was awestruck by the Mule Barn with its inner courtyard that equals two football fields and the large corner turrets and copper roofs that stand boldly on guard against the blue sky. This building once housed more than 100 mules in its day. Now it is home to one the country’s finest cheddar operations, with the cheese made from the farm’s own prize dairy of Brown Swiss cows.
There was one special tour of the farm yet to be taken and that would prove to be one of the highlights of the trip. The Breeding Barn or horse barn was now opened for tourists and so we horse crazed ladies boarded a van for the spectacle we were about to be treated to.
I had heard the stories of the magnificent riding arena that was a marvel in its day and still is today. The story goes that Dr. Webb imported the finest Hackney stallions to be put at stud for the local farmers to improve their stock. What Dr. Webb didn’t understand, was that Vermonters already had what they considered the perfect horse – the Morgan, durable and strong enough in the mountains and in the fields, fancy enough for a carriage. Why fix something if it isn’t broke. His kind offer of his prized Hackney stallions’ services for little or no stud fee, had no takers. The proposed breeding program of Dr. Webb for the local inhabitants was a failure. Adding insult to injury, the advent of the car, eventually over-shadowed the horse and its prominence in transportation and farm labour. His beautiful stable and dream was abandoned.
The stable had fallen into disrepair over the years and was sadly neglected. However, funding was found to restore it and what a prize it is.
As you enter through the mighty stone arches of the building, it is the immense size of the structure that literally takes your breath away. Imagine if you will, a riding arena more than 400 feet in length and over 140 feet wide. Imagine that facility filled will 60 box stalls, tack rooms, coach rooms, a balcony overlooking the arena, and a hay loft that goes on forever. Imagine the hustle and bustle of grooms and trainers doing their daily routine. Once again, just imagine life with the horse and carriage and how it must have been in this place so long ago.
The great stable is looking for a purpose as the tour guide explained. They are thinking of hosting special events and market type activities. Being the horse people we were, we simply blurted out with all the enthusiasm we could muster – "it should be used as it was originally intended – it should be used for horses!" Novel idea, the tour guide suggested. "We’ve never had that idea put forth, but then again, we never had horse people before." She must have thought us a little strange, but the more she lingered on our proposal for horse events, the more she seemed to like it. She must have thought those people from Canada have some good ideas! We suggested a number of activities from polo matches for charity fund raising, to a Vermont showcase show for the Morgan Horse.
We said goodbye to Shelburne Farms and headed south to Middlebury and the UVM Morgan Horse Farm. It would be our final destination of sightseeing for the day. One quick stop at a tack shop along the way, and then on to UVM.
The young lady giving the tour (which happened to be the last tour of the day) was rather lackluster in her presentation. Her "ho hum" guided tour was met with just as much enthusiasm by her guests. She seemed a little off guard when I filled her in on some bio of some the farm’s famous residents, such as UVM Dexter (Moonraker’s sire) and the great world champion stallion, Royal Fleetson.
Off to the famous Middlebury Inn. We decided to dine in the inn’s pub room. We chose the room because of its name – "The Morgan Room". Photos and paintings of famous Morgans hung on the wall. The food was excellent and the evening most enjoyable. Take Charge Phyllis took charge all right and stumbled on her way up the grand staircase to the ladies room. After dinner and a quick walk about the historic town, we headed back to Shelburne and our new accommodations for the evening.