- Published on Saturday, 03 March 2012 21:56
- Written by AMANDA WILLIAMSON
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With more than 130 horses on 265 acres in Alachua, the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm shells out some $800 on hay per week.
ALACHUA – When US Army Sgt. First Class Possum retired, he faced an uncertain future.
During his 14 years serving, he performed at parades, rodeos, cultural and community events for the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard in Colorado. But despite his hard work and dedication, the United States Army doesn’t provide much of a retirement plan to aging horses.
Lucky for him and his fellow Color Guard, Master Sgt. Houdini, a space was available for both of them at the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm - a place where neglected, abused or overworked horses can retire in peace, roaming over 265 acres of green pastures.
The two arrived at Mill Creek Farm with certificates of appreciation signed by the Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama, thanking them both for their service. Houdini has since passed away, but Possum still calls the farm his home.
He can thank Peter and Mary Gregory, who spent $1.5 million from the sale of their hotel to open the retirement home. Most horses that retire from police departments end up being auctioned and eventually slaughtered, Peter said.
Today, Mill Creek Farm, which is located at 20307 NW CR 235A, Alachua, survives because of private donations from people who support the cause. On March 24, the farm will hold its only fundraiser, the Fourth Annual Spring Sale. In yard-sale fashion, the farm sets out 25 tables laden with donated goods, such as jewelry, cookware, tools, pet items and much more.
Mill Creek Farm is currently accepting items from the community until March 19. After that, volunteer Georgia Crosby will work to categorize, price and pack away the items until the day of the sale.
“It’s for the horses,” Crosby said. “That’s why I do it.”
Annually, it takes approximately $2,200 to care for a horse at the farm, and Mill Creek has 131 horses. Crosby hopes to raise $5,000 this year at the spring sale. Last year, they had an estimated 400 visitors and raised $3,500.
For those interested in donating to the spring sale, the farm is unable to accept items such as clothing, bed linens, computers, printers, exercise equipment and large furniture. Cash donations are always welcome, and each donation is tax deductible.
According to the website, donations are down, but the price of hay is up due to the drought. Peter said approximately $800 a week is spent on hay.
To keep the farm running year round, Peter estimated that it costs $250,000. However, the Gregorys no longer have to spend their own money to keep the place in business. They donated the land to the Retirement Farm for Horses, Inc., which places a conservation easement on the land and ensures that it will always be a place for horses to retire. Retirement Farm for Horses, Inc. is a non-profit that promises the horses who find their way to Mill Creek that they will never be ridden or worked again.
In a golf cart piled high with his dogs, the other four-legged residents at Mill Creek, Peter drives around the farm doling out carrots to the horses. He knows each horse by name, easily recalling the sad story that brought them to Mill Creek. The farm is home to previous show horses, circus horses and horses that were used in scientific experiments – all pushed beyond what they could handle.
When the horses do pass away, they are buried in the “Field of Dreams,” and a tree is planted in their honor.
“I would rather do something like this in my old age than sit at home, waiting to die,” Peter said.
According to the Mill Creek website, the farm is open to guests every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The price of admission is two carrots. After all, the retirees love them.