NORTH HARWICH — When Jennifer Wiley of Brewster stepped onto the former Sea Horse Farm in Harwich during the winter of last year, the place had been in disrepair for a while. Snow was falling through the roof of the indoor arena, the paddock fences were falling down and the grass was overgrown “to our shoulders.” But Wiley and her husband Mo saw past all of that.
They saw potential.
Six months later, the Wileys' newly renovated Seahorse Equestrian Center is 5.5 acres of proof that if you want something badly enough and you're willing to work for it, you just may be able to make that dream come true.
Wiley's family summered on the Cape before she was born, and they moved to the Cape when she was only about six months old. Horses have been an important part of her life since her sister got her interested in them at about age 6 or 7. She worked on a thoroughbred farm in Virginia for a while, and managed some barns over the years. She trained with several different riding instructors on the Cape, and she remembered how Sea Horse Farm looked back in its glory days.
"It was a beautiful place," Wiley recalled. "I rode there myself in 2003. You'd go on the property and it had such a great atmosphere. Everyone loved Seahorse. But when we came to look at the place, it had been empty for 7 or 8 years and it was a disaster. I took one look and thought there was no way."
Where there's a will -- and some hard work and know-how -- there is a way.
Loving horses is all well and good, but that's not all it takes to own and run a successful equestrian center, let alone to bring one back from the brink of neglect and turn it into a showplace. Wiley, as it turns out, has more than horse sense going for her.
"I owned a business for over 20 years, and last year was the worst," Wiley said. "So I was riding one day, and things clicked. I said, 'We should do this.' Sandi Every, my instructor, said, 'If anybody can do it, you can.' A big part of running a barn like this is you have to be a business person. I studied communications in college with a focus on business. We didnt know if we could do it, but thanks to Heather and Lisa at Cape Cod 5 and SEED (South Eastern Economic Development Corporation), here we are. They really pushed for us. They were tenacious!"
SEED is a regional nonprofit economic development corporation with the mission of empowering entrepreneurs, strengthening local economies, and creating jobs by financing all types of small businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. With the help of SEED, the Wileys were able to realize their dream of purchasing Seahorse Farm and remaking it into the newly relaunched Seahorse Equestrian Center.
Now the shoulder-high grass is gone, the paddock fences are in perfect repair, the roof has been replaced and all 30 stalls are occupied, with a waiting list. The Wileys did all the landscaping work themselves, placed new kickboards in the indoor arena, hung new mirrors, and did just about everything except replace the roof and the arena footing, which they left to the experts. Wiley said they couldn't have made it all work without the wonderful students, boarders, instructors and the manager, all of whom feel like family.
"We have the best boarders, riders, teachers, kids," Wiley said. "Our live-in farm manager Maya Monahan is our backbone. She's amazing. We couldn't do it without her. We are blessed. Everyone says it feels like family. When we opened on Dec. 23, we had horses in by Dec. 27 and the boarders were there helping to clean, weed, blowing, power washing. Everyone worked to get it where it is. My husband is a paramedic/firefighter in Eastham, and he splits his time between there and the farm."
Instructor Sandi Every and her student instructor Bailey Potter teach about 15 to 20 lessons per day to about 40 riding students. Seahorse also offers a horsemanship camp program through mid-August, in which young students can attend as many days per week as they wish, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday.
"They ride, and they also learn how to take care of the horses, clean tack, pick paddocks, brush, and bathe, everything they don't learn when they just ride," Wiley said.
Among Wiley's favorite four-legged friends at Seahorse are Immie and Maximus.
"My big boy Immie was a rescue. I am a firm believer in rescues," Wiley said. "A lot of times they're not given the shot they deserve, and they are just thrown away. Immie was on his way to slaughter. My friend rescued him for $500, and he is amazing. He brought me back into riding. I don't know if I would have done it without him. Then there's Little Maximus, who is small but mighty. He is a little powerhouse. They are all special to me."
In addition to the lesson program, Wiley holds clinics at the farm, in which an expert in a particular area of horsemanship comes to the center to teach participants at a higher level of expertise and detail than they might expect in a typical riding lesson.
"Clinics will be open to the public free to come and watch," Wiley said. "I am a big clinic person, and I want to offer variety, so I am always asking the boarders what they would like in a clinic. It's important to learn new things and meet new people. You can never know everything. I learn something new every day."
Wiley gives credit for the great reputation the former Seahorse Farm has in the past, before it fell on hard times, and she is grateful for the opportunity to restore it to greatness.
"We started six months ago but the farm already had made such a name for itself," Wiley said. "Lots of people remember Norm and Trish, the original owners who started Seahorse Farm. It was awarded the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Horse Farm of Distinction for multiple years. Everyone loved Seahorse. People come in who used to ride there so happy to see it restored. We're bringing it back to its grandeur. Just wait until next year! Our goal is to hang that Farm of Distinction sign again."
Seahorse Equestrian Center is a premium facility offering professional instruction for the beginner to advanced rider. Training programs are tailored to the individual needs of each rider and their horse. The newly renovated indoor arena features professionally installed GGT/sub angular sand footing. In addition to a regulation size outdoor arena and a smaller working area, the property also abuts miles of riding trails through acres of conservation lands.