Upon entering The Ford Plantation Equestrian Center—a romantic, pristine facility woven seamlessly into the fabric of this sporting community—one may wonder where the horses are. Anyone who has spent time on a farm or around livestock knows they have a certain “air” about them. Yet here, there is little scent of horse in the air. But a few steps further in confirms that there are in fact many horses here, freshly groomed and quietly standing in their custom stalls. Each stall is equipped with individual custom fans, cushioned floors and a view outside that also provides fresh air.
The horses have been brought in for the day, and one by one they’re enjoying a grooming before their feeding. It all seems very serene for a barn. The horses and staff are clearly comfortable and familiar with each other—as well they should for the amount of time they spend together every day.
Kate Jones, the equestrian director, describes a day in the life of a kept horse living at The Ford Plantation. The level of tailored care and attention to detail rivals the level of pampering one might expect at a day spa. But for the equine residents here, every day is spa day.
To begin with, the barn is staffed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 365 days a year to provide a premium level of care. Kate says, “You can’t skip grooming a horse for two days just because it’s a weekend.” She and her assistant, who both live about five miles from the facility, are also on call 24 hours per day. Even at times when one of the equestrian staff is not on property, Kate and her team have trained the security team to recognize signs of colic and stress. They are also familiar enough with the horses to notice anything out of the ordinary during nightly security checks that occur every two hours.
“My expectation is that we know the horses better than the owners do,” Kate says. “We know their quirks, how they eat, how they feel, even their own unique personalities.” While this may seem a bit unusual, it’s important to remember that Kate and her full-time staff of five aren’t just caring for a someone’s horse, they’re also responsible for managing a significant personal investment. “From a numbers standpoint,” Kate notes, “we manage about $840,000 of livestock with just the 14 horses we currently have.”
Kate doesn’t take her responsibility at the Equestrian Center lightly. People associate a certain level of quality and have high expectations for the amenities at The Ford Plantation. This means providing a top-of-the-line customized experience to meet the needs of the horse and the desires of the rider. “I consider the care we give on a daily basis to be Olympic-level,” Kate says. “We pride ourselves on being in tune with the horses’ needs and also the owners’ needs. There’s never any hesitation or anxiety for the owner when they leave the facility because they know their horse is in the best hands.”
A Day in the Life
- 6:30 a.m. Morning feeding
- 7:00 a.m. First grooming session
- 7:30 a.m. Leisure time in paddock
- 10:00 a.m. Exercise and training
- 3:00 p.m. Second grooming session
- 4:30 p.m. Evening feeding
- 6:30 p.m. Evening hay
- 7:30 p.m. Lights out
The Ford Plantation standard of care extends far beyond what other facilities may consider reasonable. The 14 horses that call The Ford Plantation home come to coastal Georgia from different parts of the country, just like their owners. Horses, like people, have different dietary needs and preferences, so each horse has an established dietary regimen to meet health needs and keep them feeling as good as they look.
Each morning the horses receive hay and grain specific to their individual dietary needs whether that be a low-sugar, no-sugar or higher-protein program. The coastal grass blend, for instance, is locally-sourced, but other varieties are shipped in from as far away as Canada.
After breakfast and receiving necessary medications and supplements, the horses are given a light grooming. Then each horse is adorned in turnout blankets and other protective gear which can include anything from bell boots, leg wraps and fly sheets to fly masks, shoulder covers, rain sheets or UV sheets to prevent sunburn.
“Turnout blankets can vary from four to seven different kinds depending on the weather and the horses’ needs,” Kate explains. “And because a majority of these horses are from Northern climates, they naturally have more allergies, so we really try to protect their skin and coat from rashes or insect bites that commonly occur when you live by the water.”
The sweet life gets even sweeter once the horses are released to the paddocks for eight hours of “playtime” on the center’s 20 acres of turnout—also entirely customized to each horse’s nutritional needs. Some paddocks are lusher for horses with higher metabolisms, and while those that are insulin resistant still need something to eat, it’s much less. “We regularly test all our paddocks, sending the samples to labs to test the sugars, proteins, and starches to help maintain each horse’s nutrition program,” says Kate.
Hot to Trot
Once the horses are brought back into the barn, they receive a second, more intense grooming which now includes brushing, picking the horses’ hooves, examining for cuts, scrapes, and bites and applying the necessary ointments, and spraying and oiling hooves for protection. And at least two times per week, the horses are brought in from the paddocks early to receive a more extensive hour-long grooming session or “the full-spa treatment” as Kate calls it.
In addition to the regular grooming, the spa treatment includes brushing with a series of special brushes beginning with a stiff brush, medium brush, soft brush and face brush; clipping and treating the mane and tail with detangler and other products to keep them healthy; and finishing off with a hot towel wipe down to remove any fine dust and to make the hair lay nicely. Pampering can even include massage therapy, equine chiropractic treatments and weekly visits from a veterinarian.
But what’s a spa without a workout center? In addition to customized meal plans and grooming, the horses at The Ford Plantation also enjoy personalized daily workouts and training sessions. Show horses follow a fitness program while their owners are away. Some younger horses are transitioning from the racetrack to become a pleasure or hunter horse. “We provide exercise programs that can include full training or light training,” Kate says. “But all the horses here are in some type of training program.”
The variety of riding disciplines at Ford is as diverse as the horses. While most barns are equipped to serve a single discipline, the Equestrian Center caters to hunter and jumpers, dressage and western-style disciplines such as ranch horse work or reining patterns. It also offers a lesson program for riders, whether they own a horse or not.
Training and lessons happen on the barn’s outdoor arena outfitted with a custom-blend of semi-synthetic sand to meet the needs of diverse riding disciplines, assure horse health and drain after the frequent and heavy rain in the Lowcountry. “Within 30 minutes of a hard Savannah rain, we can go out and ride,” says Kate, “That’s unheard of at other locations in this area.”
“Our irrigation system can interlace the sand in such a way that we can tighten the footing for jumping rides or we can decrease the amount of water and change the dragging tines to fluff it up for dressage,” Kate explains.
She also sets up standards for jumps, making sure they’re correct for each horse’s stride. “Then we might have a dressage rider coming in two hours so we have to remove the jumps, re-drag the surface and fluff the footing for that horse and the rider,” Kate said.
Above and Beyond
Other above-and-beyond services Kate and her team offer include flying in world-renowned farriers and saddle fitters, finding and purchasing horses, traveling to shows, events, and off-site trail rides, and hosting rides along the 12 miles of trails that are integrated throughout the property. “The sky’s the limit for what we can do and how creative we can be,” says Kate. “From birthday parties to riding one of our Club horses for the first time to getting engaged on horseback, we really try to customize everyone’s experience.”
If you ever wondered what it would be like to have access every world-class resource available to care for your horse or to help you improve as a rider, you can see it in action at The Ford Plantation Equestrian Center. “It’s a blessing,” says Kate. “It’s like a teacher who has the appropriate time and resources to teach for maximum impact—it brings everyone up.”