For as long as she can remember, Kim Johansen loved horses. “When I first started talking that’s all I wanted to talk about,” she recalls. Johansen started riding when she was five years old and took her horses to shows well into adulthood, only stopping when she handed the reins down to her daughter. These days, she passes that love on to other kids, almost 200 of whom attended camp this summer at her Livery Horse Farm.
Johansen purchased her Hinesburg property 24 years ago and spent the winter renovating the old cow barn. That summer she started her first camp for kids and began boarding horses. The boarding part of the business has waned, but the camps are going strong, and Johansen has added a number of other programs including therapeutic riding, adult lessons, a Mommy and Me program, and even yoga on horseback. While some of her students just come for recreation, others become quite serious and take Johansen’s horses on the show circuit.
There are 18 horses at Livery Horse Farm. Most are retired show horses of the Hunter/Jumper variety, but there are also American quarter horses, which are gentle, calm, and good with kids. Those horses are used for trail riding and for the camps. One of the reasons Johansen has so many horses is that most of her equines retire on the farm. “When I get horses that work out for the kids I won’t sell them,” she said. “The ones that work out get to stay here forever.” One of Johansen’s horses is almost 40 years old, and many are in their mid-20’s. “We’ve had horses that I’ve owned for 20 years,” she said “and they’re like family.”
Johansen runs a 4-H program called the Midnight Riders, a drill team and an afterschool program. The 4-H kids compete from beginner to jumping level. “I’ve taught a lot of them since they were five years old,” she said, “and to watch them move up the ranks is awesome.” The program involves caring for the horses as well as riding them so children can get a full sense of what it’s like to be around the animals. Johansen is also proud of the drill team, which includes beginners as well as older children. “Everyone has a role,” she said “and it’s really cool to watch because everyone can participate.”
Some people may think equestrian sports are only for the wealthy, but Johansen prides herself on the inclusive nature of her farm, which provides deep discounts to some Howard Center clients. “This isn’t a snobby barn,” she said. “We are welcoming to all kids including those who don’t have the same opportunities as others. All the kids do chores. Everyone comes in on even ground.” Johansen particularly enjoys seeing kids from urban areas who have never been around animals. “It’s so cool to offer them something they wouldn’t otherwise get,” she said.
Running a horse farm is hard work, but for Johansen, the rewards outweigh everything else. “I love what I do,” she said. “I love it even more now that my kids are grown up and out of the house. It’s nice to enjoy other people’s kids because I miss mine so much. It’s not a job where you get rich. It’s a labor of love.”