A Bridge to Greener Pastures
“Eighteen years led up to this moment. Until now it had never been a consideration, but suddenly has become an unrelenting issue. My beautiful mare, Ballerina, was just diagnosed with a career-ending injury. She needs rest and pasture turnout time for the rest of her life but I don’t own my own farm. What she needs is a retirement farm to relax and enjoy her twilight years, but I want to be able to visit and groom her regularly. Does a place like this exist here in Ohio?”
by Regina Sacha-Ujczo, Ohio Equestrian Directory 2021 Issue, pg. 50-51
Yes, and one of the premier dedicated equine retirement farms is right around the corner in Hunting Valley, Ohio. Bridgehaven Farm has a rich history filled with synchronicity and destiny. This heartwarming story begins in 2016 when Cyndi Gale Roller, the mother of Lyndsey Roller, passed away from a horseback riding accident. With her mother’s loss, Lyndsey recognized the fragility and uncertainty of life and decided to pursue a more personally fulfilling career than her IT position at a major medical facility in Cleveland. Her vision was to create a unique equine retirement farm where the needs of the retirees are catered to in every way. Lyndsey and her brother inherited three of her mother’s horses, two of which were seniors and had a different set of needs than those of the active riding show horses. She explored the possibility of buying a farm but found most out of financial reach, or so run-down and in need of repair that it would take years to become operational.
Then – out of the blue, in February of 2017, Tom and Nadia Wearsch telephoned Lyndsey. They were the owners of the prestigious Eutrophia Farm, the Alexander home and foaling barns in Hunting Valley. A mutual equestrian jumper friend, Megan Bash, had communicated to them Lyndsey’s zealous search for a local farm to create a retirement community. The Wearsch’s were delighted to join forces with Lyndsey and pleased to envision the vacant barns on their gorgeous property full of happy and contented retirees. A lease agreement was drawn up and Bridgehaven Farms, Inc. was born, a retirement oasis nestled in Hunting Valley, Ohio with picturesque plush pastures.
According to Lyndsey, “the farm had three bridges and the name Bridgehaven was fitting.” However, “Bridgehaven also has a dual meaning of bridging the twilight years of horses to the Rainbow Bridge in Heaven.” How apropos!
Even for an avid equestrian, farm management is complex and challenging. Early on, Lyndsey was fortunate to work with Elias Del Val, who had managed the Alexander farm for many years. He willingly shared his sage farm management wisdom, including tractor operation, maintenance of automatic waterers, and a myriad of other farm management techniques. Together, they even grew and gathered 200 bales of grass hay to kick-start her feeding operation.
On September 1, 2017, five horses were welcomed as the first Bridgehaven retiree residents. Shortly thereafter, the main barn was full with a dozen horses in specialized senior care. It takes a village to keep up with running a top-notch facility, so Lyndsey engaged help and a year later hired Tana Fox, as Barn Manager, and several helpers. This allowed Lyndsey time with her wife, Kriss Petti-Roller, and children, Stella and Hugo. Her stepdaughter, Michaela Mekker, is currently involved in the farm as Night Checker. Bridgehaven was begot from family and continues in a family-focused operation.
In 2019, Lyndsey opened up an additional two-stall barn to allow for more occupancy. The total is now up to fourteen residents and is perfect for the 28 acres of pasture land. A wait-list is now maintained and those who have visited the impressive Bridgehaven Farm are anxious to add their name to the list well in advance of the need.
In short order Lyndsey has become an expert in the needs of senior horses and provides a quintessential retirement community for local equines. The science and art of retirees is specialized and requires knowledge that Lyndsey has acquired and often shares with fellow equestrians who turn to her for advice as a trusted expert in senior equine matters.
Lyndsey and her Barn Manager, Tana, pay close attention to the needs of her retirees and manage their weight, nutrition, supplements, veterinary care, and of course, their valued pasture time. As steward of these beloved horses “the care is tailored to the needs of each horse which comes first before all else!” Lyndsey emphatically states.
A typical day begins with early morning feeding in the stalls. Most of the horses have “in and out” access to their stalls. They can freely come and go all day. Two of the pastures, which are not joined to the barn, have run-in sheds for weather protection. All pastures have heated automatic waterers and supplemental buckets that hang from the fences. Weather permitting, the horses may graze upon the lush pastures up to eight hours per day.
Stall cleaning is provided seven days a week with free-choice hay, winter blanketing, fly spray management, grooming, and bathing as needed. Feed is tailored to the needs of each horse. For example, feeding low-starch food to Cushing’s disease or insulin-resistant horses. If necessary, grazing muzzles are used to limit sugar intake. A soupy mash can be provided for the elder horses who are prone to choke.
Most horses wear various kinds of shoes for support but, if possible, back shoes are removed for safety. Lyndsey states, “we try to make sure our herd really gets along so no one gets hurt.”
The herd is diverse. The youngest is a chestnut Thoroughbred gelding who is 14 years old. The oldest resident has been a 32-year-old Appaloosa/draft cross. The largest was an 18-hand Percheron who weighed in at close to 2,000 pounds! They are all varying breeds, colors, sizes, disciplines, and accomplishments, but all have been equalized by the now peace-filled grazing and well-deserved rest.
It might be surprising to note that some horses who have spent their lives in private or limited turnout adjust quite quickly to the herd groups. Of course, the introduction is performed with care and caution, and sometimes they must make a decision to have a new horse join a different turnout group. And, if necessary, a horse may need solo turnout if all attempts to merge into the herd fail.
A local neighbor and photographer, Robert Glick, frequently visits Bridgehaven. He offers a great perspective. “Call it a ‘retirement home’ but most of these horses are active and truly enjoying life. The grounds are beautiful but the care is even greater.” Bob wishes he could convey the “amount of caring, kindness, special attention, and love that these lucky horses enjoy each day!” He especially adores witnessing the sonorous greeting given to Barn Manager, Tana, when she arrives for early morning feeding. Also, according to Robert, when they are first turned out, their “morning frolic is a hoot!”
Owners are welcome to visit and groom their horses, and most do on a regular basis. It is so serene to view the herd grazing contentedly on the lush pastures. One such owner is Betsy Krohngold, who shares her story of love and contentment.
The experience of boarder, Betsy Krohngold, her friend, Amy Ford, and Amy’s “heart horse”, Noble, is a shining example of Bridgehaven’s greater purpose. Like many equestrians, Betsy was a “horse-crazy’’ young girl who fell in love with riding and horses. She rode various horses all her life but never had the means to buy a “fancy” trained horse. She was ecstatic when she had an opportunity to lease Noble, a very well-trained and well-bred horse, and son of Olympic SF Stallion Quidam de Revel. The years of riding joy flew by but Noble’s physical issues worsened. That day came when Betsy “knew it was the last day she would ever ride him. He was done.” Betsy was “heartbroken.”
That was just about the time Lyndsey was readying her new facility for retirees. Betsy lived fifteen minutes from Bridgehaven and for years had driven daily by the famous Eutrophia Breeding Farm, replete with gorgeous pastures and beautiful steeds. How amazing that now Betsy was there picking out a stall for Noble!
Betsy selected an amazing stall that opened into a private 2-3-acre pasture. Noble is not friendly with other horses so it allows him run-out time in his own pasture without incident. According to Betsy, “This is the retirement that Noble deserved after years of hard work.” The day she moved Noble in was a bittersweet and tearful event. It was his time to be just “a horse.” No more show clipping, no more mane pulling, no more bridles or bits and lungeing or competition. Noble just had his own time to enjoy the lush grass and peace of Bridgehaven every day. Amy and Betsy “could not be happier that Noble is there.” Most importantly, they attest, “Noble is happy and he looks great as he moves through his senior years.”
They and the other Bridgehaven boarders are assured that Lyndsey and her Barn Manager, Tana, keep a watchful eye on each and every horse and, of course, always have the cameras to ensure that all is well. Lyndsey is fittingly pleased with the realization of her dream. She chuckles, “Most days I feel like the barn rat kid I was growing up. Only now I get to do it for a living!” Then seriously, Lyndsey sums it up in one poignant sentence. “These horses owe us nothing; we owe them for the lifetime of love.”
The decision to retire your horse varies as much as the diversity of riding disciplines and breeds. Horses can have a career-ending accident at a young age or work well into their 20’s, when they just need to rest and relax in their sunset years. Locating a retirement facility where your horse can graze and be cared for without worry is a decision which faces many non-farm-owning equestrians today or in the future. Whether you select a farm which allows retirees along with active riding horses, or you choose a dedicated and specialized retiree facility like Bridgehaven, it is never too early to investigate local facilities to build a bridge for your beloved horse from working life to greener and sedate pastures!
Bridgehaven Farms, Inc. is a non-profit.
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About the Author
Regina Sacha-Ujczo is a USDF Silver and Bronze Medalist devoted to the pursuit of dressage excellence and one score shy of her Gold Medal. Formerly VP of HR for FedEx Custom Critical, she now leverages her communication, equestrian, and people skills as a Freelance Writer for horse-related websites, features and reviews. Her writing has received national recognition from USDF. Regina is married to Ed Ujczo and is “mom” to a robust animal family of three dogs and three horses. She and her husband reside in Seven Hills, OH.