The horse is where the heart is…
By Mary Beth Galarneau
August conjures up the same image for many people in the Capital Region: horses. With the six-week meet at the Saratoga Race Course in session, hitting the track for a day of fun (and wins) with friends and family is a favorite pastime for many.
But did you ever wonder what happens to the horses once their racing careers are over? Lynn Cross of Little Brook Farm in Old Chatham knows all too well. She has been rescuing horses for the past 35 years and has seen the highs and the lows. Currently, she has 56 horses that she and her staff care for.
Of course, not all of her rescues involve thoroughbreds, and not all thoroughbreds are forgotten about once their racing careers are over. Some of her rescues include pets that can no longer be cared for by their owners. As a result, Cross offers some well-heeled advice: “If you take on a horse, it’s a thirty-year commitment. If you can’t commit, then don’t take the horse.”
Cross’s love affair with horses began as a child when she started riding. As a teenager, when her peers were out gallivanting with their friends and enjoying the freedom of their first cars, Cross was volunteering at the Columbia-Green Humane Society, a choice that would influence her career, whether or not she realized it at the time.
Her mentors were LC Powell, and Catherine Shields, then director of the Society.
“They took me on horse cruelty calls,” said Cross. “At eighteen and nineteen years old, I was making judgment calls on if it was a case of neglect–ignorance or intentional. I was way too young to be doing it, but they had no one else on staff who had any horse experience.”
Those calls were such a revelation for her that now, many years later, she will never sell a horse or let it go without strings attached. “I need to be able to check on it or get it back.” The horse leaves her with adoption papers and has to be within driving distance so that Cross can inspect the home.
After college, Cross had the opportunity to rent the farm where she currently lives and works. Thirty-three years later, the house may be a bit weathered and requires a fresh coat of paint, but she doesn’t worry about cosmetics. It’s the many bills that need to be paid that matter most to her.
“The vet bills are staggering,” she said.
A non-complicated case of colic, the most common cause of death among horses, will run about $500; if the horse needs surgery, its $5,000. A puncture wound in one of her horse’s knee cost her $800. And just like everything else that has gone up in price, the cost of feed and hay has doubled to $50,000 a year.
The farm, which she officially purchased in 1989, sits on 55 acres. She also uses an additional 50 acres from six satellite farms in Columbia County that allow her the use of their facilities at no cost. The farms are primarily weekend homes of people who live down state.
“They are so generous,” said Cross of the homeowners. And, they not only benefit from the peace of mind of having another pair of eyes are on their home when they’re not there, but the chance to enjoy looking at the gorgeous creatures when they are in town.
From the time she was still living at home with her parents during college, Cross was giving riding lessons and holding clinics on their land. When she moved to the farm, she expanded these.
“We are first and foremost an educational facility.”
She has a separate program for kids and adults. Her oldest riding student is a 70-year old artist; her youngest is a three-year old toddler. Cross finds that there are a lot of adults who used to ride as children that want to get back into it.
“Most of the adults are in their forties or fifties, empty nesters,” she said. Typically, they are well-educated middle-aged women who are finally well-off and can afford the vet bills. One 67-year old woman started riding again after 50 years.
And similarly, it is primarily girls who fit the bill for her kid’s programs.
“The horses fill those years between dolls and boys. It’s a healthy interest,” she said. But the lessons don’t just start and end by mounting and dismounting the horse. Students also have to groom the horses before and after lessons.
This hands-on work teaches kids responsibility, respect for the horse and verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
According to Cross, horses tell us all the time how they feel, it’s just a matter of knowing how to tune into those feelings. Like humans, a horse’s mood can be driven by anything – the wind, the weather, physical discomfort, hunger or fatigue.
“Horses are so parallel to us; they just have a harder time telling us what they’re experiencing.”
Not all of her rescue horses have a job to do. “I want the horses to be happy and ask myself,
‘Do they need a job or not?'” In the end, it comes down to the quality of life for the horse.
She gave an example of a mare that she rescued for $10 at an auction. It had been mistreated by its former owner and was in no shape to work with people. “She had her fill of humans,” said Cross. “We let her live out here and just be a horse.”
One of her proudest achievements is the curriculum she developed in 1986 that is still in use today. She works with approximately 2,000 students a year from 80 different schools and agencies from five different counties.
Her newest program is a three-week lab lecture through the Questar III Education Center in Hudson that involves a comprehensive look at everything related to horses combined with hands-on activities at the barn.
“It’s just awesome,” she said. “My toughest kids are the ones who shine.” And the kids love it too. One student who had missed 59 school days never missed a day of the program. Cross is hoping the program will expand to more schools.
Little Brook Farm is among one of the choices for freshmen students at RPI for their orientation week. Approximately 30 kids are bused in for the day and get to know each other while working various jobs on the farm.
“The more we do with education, the better,” Cross said. “You never know which kids this will have an impact on and might wind up doing the same thing as me.”
The farm also hosts clinics for a minimal fee. Recent topics involved a local vet who covered horses from head to toe, an “open barn clinic” where those interested in horses came to learn everything about them, and a clinic with Linda Tellington-Jones, describing the “Tellington Method”, first developed in the 1970s, which employs a variety of techniques of touch, movement and body language to affect behavior, performance and health, and to increase an animal’s willingness and ability to learn in a painless and anxiety-free environment.
Although Cross is devoted to caring for her horses, she doesn’t seek out rescues. Perhaps it’s because her heart is just too big – she once bought 23 rescue horses at once, not wanting to let one of them go to slaughter. One had a hernia that cost her $1,200. (And the rescue doesn’t end with horses. She also has a cat rescue and while on vacation with her husband in Puerto Rico she wound up bringing home a stray dog that she found in the market. That act led to seven others dogs being shipped over from a woman she met while there.)
She receives calls daily and declines the ones from people who can and should be taking responsibility for the horse and is often able to persuade them into keeping the horse or finding another solution. She advises the owner if they are going to get rid of the horse, they need to know exactly where the horse is going. Many of them are sent to auctions where they are purchased and sent to slaughter.
“It’s unfathomable that people can send horses away,” she said. “The minute they get on a trailer they are traumatized and can be in transport 28 hours without food or water.”
What many people may not know is that horse is sold as meat to Japan and European countries for food. “America would go berserk if this happened to dogs,” she said.
Spending her whole life on farms and working with horses, it’s hard for Cross to imagine it any other way. Stepping onto her property, you get a sense of the organized chaos of farm life.
She has a staff of two paid employees, between 20-25 volunteers and 12 working students who trade riding lessons for volunteer work. And, cats can be seen everywhere – from the roof of her house to lingering around the barn.
Obviously, she relies on donations to keep her non-profit running. While she isn’t one to seek out charity, she is grateful when she receives help. In fact, she welcomes anyone interested in donating to visit the farm first. “People have total access to the vet bills and medical records,” she said.
Her hope is that more people will want to get involved, from sponsoring a horse, to volunteering at the farm, to assisting in fundraisers.
Lately, Cross has been rescuing horses from other rescues and is very involved with a cat rescue in Hudson.
“If youre looking for charity to donate to, you should come see mine. By supporting us, you’re also supporting so many other places.”
Little Brook Farm is located on County Route 13 in Old Chatham. For more information call 794.8104 or visit www.h-o-r-s-e.org.
Saratoga’s Mineral Springs
By Sabrina Katrayan
Below the historic city of Saratoga Springs lies a very treasured secret: the only naturally-carbonated mineral springs east of the Rocky Mountains. Once seen as a sacred gift to the Native Americans, Saratoga Springs’ mineral water has changed the lives of many people as it has provided many different uses, each shaping the Spa City’s rich history.
Mineral water comes from a layer of dolomatic limestone that lies beneath the shale and glacial drift of the sea. The original “springs” surfaces through faults or breaks in the shale while the mineral springs trickles down in a highly-charged carbon dioxide atmosphere; a process still not completely defined. The shale creates a solid cap as its faults make way for the release of gaseous waters and pressures, pushing the waters to the surface through these cracks. To be considered mineral water, it must contain 50 grains of salt per gallon, carbonation and a small amount of radioactivity (all waters contain a certain amount of radioactivity). All waters flow from the ground at a usual temperature of 50 degrees.
The illustrious story behind the history of the famous Saratoga Springs’ mineral water dates back to the 14th century when the Iroquois Indians were originally interested in the Saratoga region for its hunting. Little did they know that it was the high content of salt in the region’s waters that attracted many animals. When the Iroquois discovered the area’s first spring (now called High Rock Spring), they guarded it with secrecy, believing that it carried special healing powers and was a gift from the Great Spirit. When early settlers like Sir William Johnson began visiting the Saratoga region, the Iroquois introduced the springs as a cure for his gout.
According to a NY Times article published in the 1900s, Johnson was carried by the Iroquois to the spring to bathe and drink from it. After doing this for a few days, Johnson was able to walk the 30 miles to his home, in what is now called Johnstown, in Fulton County.
By the 1800s, bathing in mineral spring waters had become a popular health treatment in Europe. Now that the secret was out about Saratoga’s springs, several bathhouses opened up, including the Roosevelt Baths and Lincoln Bath House, still in operation today. These drew the very wealthy, such as the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys and J.P Morgan. At one point, Saratoga Springs became known as the “Queen of Spas”.
In 1872, a family discovered another use for the mineral waters – bottling it and selling it. After discovering the Sweet Water Spring they started the Saratoga Spring Water Company, bottling and shipping up to seven million bottles a year. The company is known for being the only non-imported, American spring water (you know them for their plastic bottles with blue and silver writing on it and their popular blue glass bottles that say Saratoga in white). To this day, they continue to collect its water from this spring.
In the late 1800s, a private industry discovered yet another use for the springs: to extract carbon dioxide gas to create things like ice cream soda fountains. They drilled over 200 large wells that extracted the carbon dioxide and let the water run. Fearing that this could cause the mineral springs to fail, the New York State government intervened by creating laws that limited excessive pumping in order to preserve the mineral water. In 1912, they also declared 800 acres of that area as state reservation which became Saratoga Spa State Park.
Fifty years later, the “Spa Complex” was created in the Saratoga Spa State Park, which included the Victoria Pool and the Peerless Pool and the famous Saratoga hotel, the Gideon Putnam Resort. These facilities were modeled after popular spas in Europe and drew in many patients seeking medical treatment for heart and internal problems. The springs also caught the attention of the wealthy who were looking for preventive therapy or just a social spot to relax.
The final part of the complex was the creation of the Saratoga Water Bottling Plant. From 1935 to 1970, the company bottled water from four of Saratoga’s springs including the Hathorn, Coesa, Geyser and State Seal. The former Bottling Plant is now home to the Saratoga Automobile Museum and is located across from the State Seal Spring that draws hundreds of visitors for fresh, direct-from-the-spring water.
So what are you waiting for? Grab a bottle and go tour the springs!
Historic military sites to visit in Saratoga County
Saratoga National Historical Park, 648 Rte 32, Stillwater, 664.9821, ext. 224
The Visitor Center – Open seven days a week from 9am-5pm. You can find information for each of the three sites mentioned below.
Entrance fees from May 1 to October 31 – Cars $5; bicycles $3, hikers $3, annual pass $10.
“America the Beautiful” passes also available: Annual pass $80, valid for one year with anyone eligible; senior pass $10, valid for a lifetime and eligible to any U.S citizen at age 62 and higher; Access pass with no charge, eligible to any U.S citizen with proof of permanent disability
The Saratoga Battlefield – The largest of three sites that make up most of the Park. Take a self-guided tour along the Battlefield by picking up a park map and brochure and using those interpretive stations along the way. The Battlefield tour drive time is about 30 minutes excluding any stops. Average tour time with a short stop to 10 exhibits along the road is about 1 to 2 hours. An abbreviated tour using only four of the tour road stops will take about an hour. The Battlefields are open to pedestrian traffic seven days a week from 9am-7pm weather permitting.
The Schuyler House – The restored country home of American General Philip Schuyler is approximately seven miles north of the Battlefield. Tours usually last about 30 minutes. The Schuyler House is open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, Wednesdays through Sundays from 9:30am-4:30pm.
Saratoga Monument – The third site that makes up the Saratoga National Historical Park is about seven-and-a-half miles north of the Battlefield. It is a 155-foot obelisk that celebrates the American victory of the Battles of Saratoga. Tours last about 30 minutes. It is open Memorial weekend to Labor Day, Wednesdays through Sundays 9:30am-4:30pm.
Grant’s Cottage – Located in Gansevoort, this Adirondack cottage once served as home to General and former President Ulysses S. Grant and his family. The cottage has pretty much stayed the same since they stayed there – there are original furnishings and decorations scattered throughout the home. Open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10am-4pm from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. Adults $4; seniors $3; children ages 5-12 $2; kids under 5 free. The Grant Cottage is located at Mt McGregor Road in Gansevoort. For more info: 587.8277; www.grantcottage.org.
Gerald B.H Solomon National Cemetery – It is New York State’s sixth national veterans’ cemetery and the 116th in the National Cemetery Administration. It was formerly known as the Saratoga National Cemetery before former President George W. Bush signed legislation renaming it to Gerald B.H Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery. It honors former Congressman Solomon who helped create the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Saratoga National Cemetery. Some of the cemetery’s memorials include the bell from the U.S.S Saratoga CV-3 and a carillon donated by The American Veterans organization. The cemetery also has a walkway that features memorials for different veterans and fraternal organizations in honor of events and fallen comrades. Open Monday through Friday from 8am-4:30pm. The Gerald B.H Solomon National Cemetery is located at 200 Duell Road, Schuylerville. For more info: 581.9128.
Stark’s Knob – One of two scientific reservations managed by the New York State Museum, Stark’s Knob is a basaltic pillow lava formation. It is said to have been formed over 400 million years ago and believed to be a volcanic plug. It has now been recognized as New York’s only volcano, even though it doesn’t have all the characteristics of one. Stark’s Knob also had a very important feature that helped in the final defeat of the British Army at the Battles of Saratoga back in 1777, an event with a significant impact.
Stillwater Blockhouse – A historically unique piece of architecture, the Stillwater Blockhouse was partially built with timbers from Revolutionary-era structures on the Neilsen Farm which was once part of what is now known as the Saratoga National Historic Park. It is a replica of the early 18th century blockhouses that populated the region, but it was actually built in 1927 when New York State turned the Saratoga Battlefield into a historical park. It once served as a visitor’s center and museum to the Battlefield. Since the Blockhouse was not part of the battlefield, it was donated to the town of Stillwater in 1975 and was placed in a small park on the Hudson River. Today it is dedicated to local history that includes Stillwater’s part in the French and Indian War to artifacts that help tell the story of the town. Open Wednesdays through Sundays from 12pm-4pm from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. Free. Located on Route 4, Stillwater. For more info: 664.2515 ext. 39.