• Amadeus and Dakota II gobble up their carrots at the fence, while Harmony, who distrusts people, stays in the background. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader

Mill Creek Farm, a retirement home for horses

I’m amazed that I never heard of the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm in Alachua near Gainesville, Fla. I go to Gainesville often, ever since I earned my Ph.D. in zoology at the University of Florida in 1992. I am interested in and love all animals and nature, but it took a Fernandina friend – Marlene Pollock – to introduce me to this wonderful place.

The Retirement Home for Horses is just what its name denotes. All of the more than 130 horses there are kept with the commitment to each that they will never again be ridden, worked, mistreated, or harmed in any way and will live out the rest of their lives in peace and harmony.

The horses all have their own histories. Some retired from military, police, or circus work, like “Sergeant First Class Possum,” who came complete with a retirement award certificate signed by President Obama. Others have much sadder histories. None are accepted from private owners.

A few horses were previously used as Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU mares) and spent most of their lives pregnant, in small stalls, hooked up to urine collection devices to produce the estrogen ingredients for Premarin and other drugs prescribed to ease uncomfortable symptoms in post-menopausal women. Others were severely mistreated, starved, abandoned, etc. and rescued by humane services groups. They were deemed unadoptable due to their condition, mental state, cancer, lameness, blindness, etc., but all now live the life of Riley in open pastures with shade, veterinary, hoof, and dental care, and the best of diets and love.

At my expression of interest, Marlene notified Paul Gregory and his mother, Mary, who operate the farm and manage the more than 130 horses, as well as vet care, feeding, land management, volunteer coordination, fundraising, and all the other activities needed to keep this place going. Paul welcomed me with open arms, a five-pound bag of carrots to supplement the two-pound bag I had brought, my own golf cart, and a map to help me navigate the 335 acres of roads and trails by myself.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier than I was this recent afternoon. I drove my cart at the edge of the pastures and many of the horses, seeing my bag of carrots, came over to the fence wanting their treats. I talked to them, petted them, gave them carrots, and laughed at their antics with no one watching me. All pastures had laminated signs detailing the horse residents and their history. In one pasture, two retired Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office horses, Amadeus and Dakota II, rushed over to the fence, but a third horse, Harmony, kept her distance, so I had to toss her a carrot, which she happily ingested. It turns out she was severely mistreated and never saw humans as friends. She is only now getting adjusted to being around people.

Other horses had problems chewing their carrots, and it turns out they are so old their teeth are too worn down. (“They’ve outlived their teeth.”) No problem, because the volunteers and staff give them bananas and cut up apples instead. Each of the 44 large pastures has two or three horses, grouped with their friends from their previous lives, and other horses with compatible personalities and special needs, including even a small group of blind horses. I loved them all, and five pounds of carrots turned out to be not nearly enough.

In the center of the farm a 50-acre nature preserve also drew my attention, and I happily drove my cart on a trail through the woods, admiring the spring flowers in bloom and the clear water of the Mill Creek stream that passes through it. I also spent some contemplative time in the Field of Dreams, where those horses that die are buried amid azaleas, live oaks, and a tree planted in each horse’s honor. The ashes of the farm’s founder, Peter, are also buried here among the horses he saved and loved for most of his life.

If you too love horses, you can take part in Retirement Home for Horses activities in a number of ways. You can visit them for free on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – just bring carrots. 

You can volunteer to groom horses (all are groomed once a week), maintain fences, or do other farm tasks. Or you can donate funds or even co-sponsor a horse to help contribute to the $400,000 per year it takes to run this place. To learn more, go to millcreekfarm.org.

I highly recommend this place and hope that other Amelia Island residents will step up in some way to help them in this noble mission.

News-Leader

Mailing Address:
PO Box 16766
Fernandina Beach, FL 32035

Physical Address:
511 Ash Street

Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

Phone: (904) 261-3696
Fax: (904) 261-3698