By Jessica Mozo
As sunlight peeks into the barns of Lodestar Farm in Buchanan, Tennessee at daybreak each morning, you’ll find Meredith Vajda mingling with a herd of handsome black Clydesdales. [Watch a video of Lodestar Farm's black Clydesdale horses.]
“The first thing Meredith does every morning is go down to the barn to see the horses,” says Jim Vajda, Meredith’s husband and co-owner of Lodestar Farm. “She wants to make sure she likes the way everybody’s looking. They’re like her own children.”
About the rare Black Clydesdale horses
Clydesdale horses, made famous by the Budweiser Clydesdales that appear in commercials and parades, are known for the feathery white hair on their fetlocks and are traditionally bay, or light brown, in color. Black Clydesdales are a rare breed, with fewer than 3,000 living in the United States.
Meredith and Jim started breeding and selling the unusual black Clydesdales in Washington state in 1999. They now have 10 of the black beauties: Bootes, Arcturus, Raspaban, Nova, Spica, Keira, Dutchess, Kimberly, Domino and Kaylee. Lodestar Farm is also home to Kitalpha, a Gypsy Drum filly, and Traveller, a Gypsy Vanner.
“We wanted a project we could do ourselves, and we considered miniature horses,” Meredith recalls. “But while vacationing in eastern Oregon, we saw a herd of black Clydesdales, and we were taken with their beauty and elegance. They look very regal, and they’re gentle and smart.”
Clydesdales originated in Scotland during the Middle Ages to carry knights in armor and arrived in the United States in the 1800s.
“The knights needed a big-boned, hearty horse to carry all that weight, and they appreciated the Clydesdales’ big feet because they were not likely to sink in the boggy land,” Meredith explains. “The breed almost disappeared from this country at one time, but Budweiser helped change that in the 1950s by offering free breeding to their stallions.”
Bringing the farm to Tennessee
The Vajdas moved their Clydesdale farm to West Tennessee in August 2007.
“Jim wanted to retire and move somewhere where it would be less expensive to buy property the size we needed,” Meredith says. “We looked at property in Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee, and found this 91-acre cattle farm that already had two barns on the property. It also has a 10-acre field of hybrid Bermuda grass, and we’re able to offer boarding here as well as horse training.”
To satisfy the public’s curiosity about their rare breed of horses, the Vajdas graciously open their farm to the public free of charge on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for open-barn hours, giving people a chance to get a close look at the black Clydesdales.
“We had 300 people show up at our first open barn. Most people who visit our farm say they’ve never seen a black Clydesdale,” Meredith says. “Having open-barn hours is our way of being a good neighbor. People can pet the horses, and if there are little kids, we try to give them a ride.”
Kids love Camp Clydesdale
Kids ages 6 and up can ride the Clydesdales and a whole lot more at Lodestar Farm’s annual summer horse camps. The day camps run Monday through Friday every week of the summer starting in late May or early June, and each week is limited to six campers so everybody gets one-on-one attention. In 2008, the cost of the summer camp was $275 per week.
“We have a curriculum for the week, and we do a little of everything,” Meredith says. “We start off with lessons on being safe around horses, grooming a horse and having students learn what to look for in a horse. Then we move on to leading a horse, trotting, bareback riding, basic Western and English riding, and trail rides.”
When the campers feel comfortable around the horses, they can even play games with them, as well as learn about bathing them, horse feed and horse first aid.
“We take clues from the students on how much interest and experience they have,” Meredith says. “Most are not horse owners, but I’m surprised at the number of kids who arrive with some horse experience. We only have two rules – everybody needs to be safe, and everybody needs to have fun.”
Campers leave with a new appreciation for horses – and for animals in general.
“What they learn here can be applied to other farm animals and even dogs,” Meredith says. “The one-on-one interaction between the horses and kids is so important. It gives them self confidence when a 2,000-pound animal does what they ask them to do.”
For the Vajdas, the best part about the camps is seeing other people enjoy their horses as much as they do.
“We get a kick out of seeing a little 6-year-old kid control an animal that big,” Meredith says with a laugh. “Our horses are well-trained, so if you touch the back of their foot, for example, the horse will lift it up for you.”
Meredith and Jim – and all those who visit Lodestar Farm – love the black Clydesdales for their gentleness, intelligence and beauty.
“We love horses, we love this breed and we love interacting with them,” Meredith says. “Going down to see them at the barn is the first thing I do every morning and the last thing I do before bed at night.”
Visit www.lodestarfarm.com or call (731) 247-3220 for more information on Lodestar Farm’s summer horse camps.
Horsing around in Tennessee
Our state ranks second in the nation for total equine numbers. That means more than 200,000 horses and ponies reside on 41,000 farms. Rutherford County is home to the most horses, followed by Wilson, Williamson, Bedford and Marshall.
Tennessee’s most popular breed, quite logically, is the Tennessee Walking Horse, followed closely by quarter horses. The two breeds combined account for more than half the state’s total equine numbers, according to the Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service.