I Work With Animals: My Life on a Horse Farm

 Melissa Bradley of Greenhaven Farms
Melissa Bradley of Greenhaven Horse Farm.

Running a horse farm is an art, especially for Melissa Bradley, a former professional artist who put away her paintbrushes in 2000 to start the Greenhaven Horse Farm in Fond du Lac, Wis.

Hers isn’t always an easy job, particularly when she has to get up before day break only to find that the tools she needs to use for chores have somehow frozen during the previous night's subzero temperatures.

But Bradley wouldn’t trade time with her horses (and dogs!) for the world. Vetstreet sat down with the former horse-jumping competitor to learn about how she took the big leap — and why her wild ride has turned out to be such a blue ribbon experience.

Q. Were you always into horses?

A. Melissa Bradley: "I grew up in a suburb of Chicago called Lake Forest, where I rode horses for fun. My parents got me my first horse, Arthur, when I was 13, and from then on, I competed all over the Midwest — and wanted to be a horse person for a living. But everyone told me that wouldn’t be a good idea because it was hard work, you make no money and you have no time to spend with your personal horses. So I decided to become a veterinarian instead. The goal was to make a lot of money, so that I could have horses in my life."

Q. Yet you didn’t become a veterinarian. Why?

A. "When I got serious about being a vet, I transferred to Auburn University in Alabama. Once I finished my degree in zoology, I wasn’t really sure about my decision anymore. I had worked for vets all through college, but it didn’t feel like my calling. After graduation, I moved to Wisconsin, where my parents had retired, and got a job as a commercial artist, designing artwork and murals for commercial interior spaces. I really enjoyed my job, but I also knew that I really wanted horses in my backyard. I needed to be around them."

Q. What finally prompted you to buy your own horse farm?

A. "I still had my thoroughbred, Arthur. I still do: I’m now 38, and he’s 28. At the stable where I boarded him, people started asking me for lessons. Arthur was the lesson horse, and I soon had enough clients for a viable business. By then, I’d saved up enough money to put a deposit down on a farm. So my then boyfriend (now husband) and I started looking at places.

One of my clients actually found the property that I ultimately bought. I drove up the driveway and just knew that I wanted it. They were only selling 10 acres, but I pushed for 25 so that I could have a hay field and bigger areas for the horses to graze. Now we have three big pastures for the horses, a barn with 13 stalls and an old pole building that we fixed up with five more stalls. There’s even an indoor and an outdoor ring."

Q. You worked two jobs in the beginning. That sounds exhausting!

A. "For the first year, I still worked my commercial artist job, while I tested whether the farm was viable. Then I worked part-time for a while after that — and it was exhausting! I had to get up at 4 A.M. to start work on the farm because I had no employees. I was so lucky that my parents lived nearby — whenever I had trouble, my father would help me.

The property was an old dairy farm that we had to convert into a horse riding operation. We had to gut the barn, tear down the silo and put on an addition. That first year, the place flooded, so we had to basically start over again with the footing, dropping the floors to make room for the tall horses. It was a big project, but it’s pretty close to perfect now."


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