Every morning, Sharon Whittle has to pinch herself to believe it: Her childhood dream really did come true.
Whittle is the operator of The Miniature Farm at 121 Mears Rd., home to mini horses, chicks, bunnies and goats. She moved there in May, after years of pining for a stable of her own.
The mini-farm boasts that and more: As soon as you turn up the gravel driveway, you’re greeted by a flock of Canada geese splashing in a pond. Up the hill is an impressive white farmhouse with columns and gables. The sprawling compound is rounded out with a giant blue barn, paddocks and a course for the hunter-jumper horses that board there.
But Whittle’s team is a bit smaller than those athletes. At most measuring 34 inches high from the nape of the mane, the mini horses look like their full-size counterparts, just smaller.
Minis were first bred in Europe to aid coalminers in their trade and were imported to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Whittle fell in love with them two years ago, after a series of surgeries set back her horseback riding hobby. She was living in Florida and met a woman who owned 130 mini horses. She visited them every day.
Beyond that, “I was bored out of my mind,” Whittle said. “I realized I never got my little farm I wanted, so I came back.”
She bought the Mears Rd. property after years of watching it on the market. Slowly the price dropped until it was just right, and she moved in May 10.
Whittle wants The Miniature Farm to be accessible to everyone, including children, seniors and people with disabilities. Whittle and her husband formerly operated The Whittle Home, a private respite care facility in Williston, and still cares for four people with special needs. She’s seen them blossom around the mini horses, taking on chores and bonding with the animals.
One of her charges used to get in trouble and become frustrated easily, but on the farm, it’s different.
“Now she’s up at 6:30, she’s checking out the rabbits and the goats. Now she’s getting into the horses as well,” Whittle said. “She loves bringing them in.”
Another resident, Raymond, prefers the birds, and Whittle has guinea hens, chickens and a pheasant for him to tend to. Chris likes anything with a motor, and there are plenty of those around the barnyard.
“They’ve all found their niche,” Whittle said.
Last Friday, it was all bustle around the farm as the midday heat beat down. Whittle and her helping hands refilled water dishes and checked on the birds and rabbits huddled in the shade. Only the curious goats seemed to take notice of Whittle’s activity, following her around as a loyal dog would, and inspecting her pockets for treats.
The horses lazily grazed in an adjacent paddock, blinking away flies that crowded their faces. The littlest one, Magic, is still too small for a fly mask but didn’t seem too bothered as she palled around with the blatting mama goats and kids.
Whittle thinks the farm has a lot of opportunity. She wants to add turkeys and miniature donkeys to her roster, host educational camps and birthday parties and provide employment for people with disabilities.
She anticipates the farm will be open every weekend, a sort of permanent petting zoo reminiscent of her childhood on friends’ farms.
“We’d go visit them and run around,” Whittle said. “They don’t have that anymore. A lot of kids have never been up close with animals.”
But Friday there was too much to do. Whittle had to oversee the construction of a new stable in the garage, bring in the horses from the heat and prepare for the farm’s open house this weekend.
She’s only gone swimming in her new pool a couple times, but running her farm is just as therapeutic.
“I sit there sometimes and just watch them,” she said. “It is more than I ever imagined.”
Visit The Miniature Farm’s open house Saturday, July 28 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 121 Mears Rd. Call 343-1447 for more information.