Friday, July 17, 2009

Tasting Farm Life

Even though we live in town, Loudoun County is well known for its horse farms and agricultural heritage. So, living in Loudoun, it seemed fitting that my daughter at least get to sample some aspects of this.

This summer, I found a nearby farm that offered a riding camp, one that had reasonable prices, and hours that worked with my schedule. My goal was for Rachael to learn a bit about horses and get a bit of experience riding. But, she learned far more than that! She got a little taste of farm life, and, as she discovered, it's pretty different from her "normal" life.

For seven hours a day, for five straight days, she was emersed in the everyday happenings on a horse farm. The kids at the camp cleaned stalls, fed and groomed the horses and, handled other farm chores. It was summer, and it was HOT, and the kids were outside all day.

If it's been awhile since you've been in a barn, I'll remind you - it is not just hot, it STINKS. One reader commented that the smell of a barn in the summer is like Christmas to horse lovers. I had to chuckle at that. I love my dog, but sometimes I do not love the smells she makes. And, I prefer Christmas smell more like cinnamon and pine. But, each their own!

After seeing (and smelling) Rachael at the end of the day, I was reminded that living and working on a farm is seriously hard work... I guess I had forgotten that when I told her it would be "fun".

You see, I used to spend part of my summers on my uncle's dairy farm. Looking back, I realize that I had been somewhat romanticizing my own memories of those times. But, it's something everyone should experience. On a farm, you get a true appreciation for work, for the land, for animals and how we're all tied together. Without the experience, you really just can't get it.

I am grateful for those times. I just wouldn't be the same person without them. The rule was, kids stayed out of the house during the day, from sun up to sun down. When we weren't herding, feeding or milking the cows, gathering eggs, cleaning stalls, or picking veggies from the garden; we had a lot of fun. Where else can you sprain your ankle jumping from the top of the silo into the grain, play hide and seek in a cornfield, admire momma animals with their new babies, chase chickens (and then by chased BY chickens), and wade in the river and catch trout with your bare hands?

Rachael's experience was quite different from mine, but she was just as dirty and sweaty at the end of the day as I used to be. And, just as tired.

Being as social as Rachael is, it was kind of a tough week for her. She was out of her element, and was probably the youngest in the camp. She really only bonded with one little girl. But, she definately bonded with the horses. She very much liked giving me the end of day tour and lectures on which horse likes what and who I can pet and who I can not. After 7 hours of being the one who listened and took orders, she had the opportunity to show off a bit and be the one to teach someone else. It was nice to be a bit of an "expert".

At the end of the week, did she like it? Well, there are mixed reviews. She wants to go back and see the horses, but she has not asked to go back the camp next year. Maybe she'll feel different in time, maybe she'll start to romanticize the memories, too. Either way, she may not be a true farm girl at heart, but she will carry with her special memories from the experience for the rest of her life.... THAT week, the week she tasted farm life.
* * * * * *

Main Tree charges only $335 per week and the hours are 9 to 4; and you provide all drinks, snacks and lunch. Although there is a house there; the kids don't go into it. They are out in the elements all day - no air conditioning at all. The bathroom is a port-a-potty outside the barn. There is a shed of sorts they use to store their foods and clothes and where they can change. They sometimes eat their lunch by the pond at the neighbors' place and feed the ducks. A few afternoons, they go swimming in the private pool there on the farm. On Friday, they have a bar-b-que and everyone brings a dish to share. Like I said.... a little taste of farm life.


  1. The barn is hot and it smells ... hmmm ... July heat + horses = ? For those of us who are serious about horses, barns do smell ... like Christmas! The kids were outside all day and not allowed to go in to the AC? They had to groom horses, clean stalls and, say it ain't so ... FEED them? Oh my! Call child protective services!

    It's horse camp not princess camp! What did you expect?

    Horsemanship encompasses the entire scope of work. Having a horse is a huge responsibility, and it is not easy, but we do it, because we love it. Not having the kids do the farm chores associated with riding does a great disservice to them. Maintree has one of the only all day camps in the area. The kids have lessons, ride bareback, go on trail rides, have grooming competitions where they can win ribbons, and they bond with the horses. You said yourself that your daughter enjoyed it and bonded with the horses. When I was a child, my parents couldn't afford to have me ride, so I worked at a local barn for my lessons. I mucked stalls for six hours on Saturdays for one lesson, but I loved every minute of it. (I was 10) I learned to work hard for what I truly wanted. I am 50 years old now, and I am still having a love affair with horses! I drive a pick up truck, throw bales of hay around, walk through horse "stuff", sweat profusely, wear a ball cap to cover my perpetual helmet head, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I keep my horse at Maintree, and I am afraid you have a not-so-informed view of the farm.

    I have friends moving to the area who ride. I am certainly glad you are not their realtor, because I am highly recommending Maintree to them.

  2. While everyone's entitled to their own opinion, I wonder, Ms. Chrisner, if you regularly post such comments about other businesses in the area that don't perfectly match your expectations? As a local businesswoman, and someone who's been a
    "Maintree kid" for over 20 years, I know it is not only impolite, but also bad business, to slam another business...I might choose to not go back to a particular deli or drycleaners or kids' camp, but certainly never publicly make derogatory comments about it...

    Mrs. Bryan's comments are exactly spot on - Maintree riding and horsemanship camp IS riding and horsemanship camp....other camps in the area advertise that the kids do arts and crafts in the afternoon...or watch movies... REALLY? Could they not do that at home with a sitter or at Mom's side? The kids learn the realness of what it's like to be around and care for horses, and Maintree's outstanding record of producing real horsemen who know how to not only ride well but to also take care of horses and be responsible and knowledgeable proves the system works.

    I once was a summer camp kid, then was the counselor for all 4 summers when I came home from college, now as a parent, my ALMOST 6 year old son BEGS to stay at camp (next summer) when we come each day to check on our horse...He LOVES raking the aisle or picking things up and doing barn chores (favorite game is "Find the poop" when it is a mucking out stalls day!)...yes, he's grown up with this as part of his life...but there's no way to start but to start, if you want a "taste of farm life".

    Similarly, if you go out to Great Country Farms, do you just buy the strawberries, potatoes or pumpkins, ...or do you go out into the field and pick them??? The hay wagon driver explains a little bit about how they grow the plants, fertilize and educate about an agrarian lifestyle.

    Similarly to Ms. Bryan, I am grateful MY realtor is a Loudoun resident who understands and lives an agrarian and horse/hunt country lifestyle. I cannot think of a better place for a child to spend a summer day than Maintree Farm Camp...the happy smiles on the kids (and how they can memorize 70 horses and all their likes/dislikes) and the fat shiny ponies who carry our precious children each day is all the proof anyone needs.

    -Katrina Bills, 20+ year happy Maintree girl.

  3. My daughter had an excellent camp experience. We drive 45 minutes each way weekly for her lessons and we would not change a thing. She is so happy at Maintree.

  4. Thank you all for your opinions. You make the same point I did - the experience was good for her...not easy, not always fun... but very good. She learned a lot. My other point was it was not the princess camp that I think she would have preferred. Not everyone is cut out for such a thing.

  5. Vicky Chrisner what poor form you show in bashing a long established business on your site. I have never blogged before but when I heard about this I could not just stand by and let you put down such a wonderful, family oriented and special place as Maintree Farm. I have been an adult rider there for only 4 years but have observed first hand how they run the camp and believe me they take it very seriously and make sure the kids have fun while getting a complete feel for what farming and horsed are all about. They have a wonderful program year round for kids and adults.

    I agree with Sherry and Katrina hole heartedly and add that you got more than your monies worth at Maintree. Maintree folks are the embodiment of communal service. We ALL help out on a daily bases. That is what belonging to a barn is all about. It is a farm not a resort or a daycare. My daughter had to wait until she was 8 to go to camp and has gone to two for many years. Both cost a lot more and they only let the kids inside the AC at the beginning and end of the day. They rest of the time they are out side. That’s what camps are all about

  6. Since resuming riding lessons as an adult almost 10 years ago, Maintree is the third barn where I have taken lessons. The first barn, located in Great Falls had to sell much of their property for development and downsize because of rising real estate taxes and zoning changes. The second lost its lease and the property was sold and subdivided for residential building lots. I considered myself very lucky when some frinds recommended Maintree. The people are knowledgeable, nice, and bring a lot of value to the riding experience. The horses are well-cared for, loved, and offer challenges for many different levels of rider experience.

    Family-owned famrs like Maintree are getting fewer and fewer, causing a vicious circle in the equestrian community: in order to offer reasonably priced lessons and services, the farms must move farther and farther away from the metropolitan areas; but there isn't enough clientele in the more remote areas to support the business. It is very difficult to find a quality place to ride or go to pony camp for a reasonable cost in the Northern Virginia area.

    In the five years I have been at Maintree, I have watched many children and teenagers take responsibility, become more mature, and learn self-esteem - due in no small part to the Maintree family, both two- and four-legged.

    So yes, the barn isn't air conditioned and may not be the most up-to-date in Loudoun county.

    Whan my best friends' 8-year-old daughter needed a place to take lessons, I recommended Maintree. She has been taking lessons there for a little over a year, and this was her first year at camp. Her only complaint? She couldn't go all six weeks!

  7. okay, even though your child may have not LOVED the camp, you should not be blogging about how bad you think Maintree is. Maybe she just isn't the "farm" kind of girl. And even though some people don't like the camp, they don't go blogging about it.

    I am only 14 years old, and Maintree camp was how it all started. I was 8 years old, and for some reason I fell in love with all of it. Even the poop scooping! The following summers I went back. And even still to this day I look forward to going to camp and helping the kids have fun while learn about horses, and all of the responsibilities of it. About 2 or 3 years ago I wanted to start lessons, and now I'm even going to horse shows with Maintree, and i love every second of it. And yes, sometimes it is extremely hot outside, or it's a little smelly. But I love it so much, and I have spend my own money to pay to go to shows, because that's how much I love it! I would never trade it for any other barn!

    Maintree farm camp shows you how to actually take care of a horse, and how hard it really is to own a horse, and what a usually day would be like if you owned a horse. while the other horse camps just do arts and crafts and then they let your kid sit on a horse for half an hour! That sounds like a daycare to me! Maintree actually shows you what it's really like. And well, if you don't like it, then please, don't come back!

    14 year old girl+dirty barn with amazing horses=LOVE&LIVE

  8. I am so proud of my daughter. She is kind to everyone, doesn't need to be in the spotlight and looks out for all underdogs. Popularity or being the center of attention is not something she is interested in. I reward her for that with her lessons at Maintree where she is surrounded by thoughtfuland caring people.

  9. I noticed you changed your blog entry to make you seem a more sympathetic mother. Readers, please realize this was not her original blog, which was removed after many comments of differing opinions. Now her blog tries to hide HER complaints about her daughters camp. So you changed your opinion so you would not look like a selfish brat. Shame on you. You should have left it deleted.

  10. I've been to two barn's as a "regular" in my life. One of them being Maintree, another being another barn in Leesburg. At Maintree, you learn so much more. At Maintree, you actually take care of the horse and bond with it, instead of just riding it.

    You feed the horse. You muck the horse's stall. You groom the horse. You tack it up. And THEN you ride. If I hadn't gone to Maintree camp, I wouldn't have a clue with how to take care of the two horses I have now.

    At the other barn, they feed the horses, muck the stalls, and groom them. When you get there(unless you trailer-in like I do) the horse is tacked up and standing in it's stall waiting for you.

    I've ridden at Maintree for almost 7 years now. I've made true friendships with the students, and the trainers as well. Maintree is a truly amazing barn that should never get a bad rating. Especially on a realtor's blog. I mean, seriously? I guess most city girl's just can't handle a taste of the true farm life.

  11. I'm sorry that your daughter went to camp for a week and didnt fall in love. But so many other kids do, ever single week. So I don't think you should be bloging about this to try and make other parents not send their kids to camp, because youre really depriving them of an amazing oporitunity. I've been riding at maintree for 7 years now, and I went to camp when I was 7. And I was hooked. I still love looking back at my old pictures of me being led around by one of the counslers on a fat little pony, and it feels weird to me that now those counslers are in college and I'm the one helping little kids at camp. So I've seen it first hand how kids ride their first horse and just fall in love, and from then on theres nothing else that feels the same for them.

    Now I know our barn isnt perfect, but if it was that would take away from it being what it is, which is maintree farm. A very special place that allows something extradorinary to happen, a little kids whos probably never even seen a horse before can now put a saddle on and tell you the breed coloring and name of any horse you point out. Maintree creates real riders. People who know how to handle themselves around horses, and other horse loving people. I'd recommend Maintree farm to any child who wants to try something new and by posting this blog you might have discouraged some child from trying something they would have loved. I honestly think thats just sad. I love Maintree farm and I wouldnt trade my time there for anything in the world.

    Sophia Meudt.

  12. I've been at maintree for almost 10 years now, and started out as a camper, then moved onto being a counselor. And barn life I hate to say is not just 5 days a week 9 to 4 it is 7 days a week all day long making sure your horses are ok. Just because you didn't like it for your daughter does not mean bash it. I'm sure your child had alot more fun then you let onto but the only thing you see is a stinky child getting into your car making it dirty. If you don't want her to experience real life on a farm then please dont come back. If you don't want your daughter in the heat gettin dirty hire a nanny and put her in front of a T.v. all day.

    Considering you would not like your daughter getting down and dirty and stinky go to some barn where you only ride and learn NOTHING about how to keep a horse alive, healty, and happy. But guess what your kid will not have as much fun as I'm sure she had at camp. I've never seen unhappy kids at camp they love experiencing everything with the horses even mucking stalls. I've seen many of them make games out of cleaning them all on their own and they enjoy it. It takes alot of work to own and care for a horse, and we all LOVE it even the STINK!!! We live and work towards having a happy, healty, and well trained horse. Please stay in the city!!!!!

  13. Okay, horses are like any horse, they eat, sleep, poop, and pee, Oh my gosh! I didnt know that a barn would stink because of that!! I have been there my whole life with my 2 horses, and no one talks bad about maintree!! But I am glad that your daughter had a good time!

  14. Why is this blog entry so different then your other blog entries about the exact same topic?

    The term two faced comes to mind. I hope your clients are aware of your real opinions. If you sell real estate the same way you blog, clients should be very afraid.