As parents raising families in Lake County, my husband and I are keenly aware of having the best of two worlds in one place. We have the convenience of the suburbs pretty much in our backyard, and we also have the richness of open land, natural spaces and farms in our vicinity as well. And while many of those suburban perks and shops are widely known, the latter are not always on our well-beaten paths and remain just outside of our radar, gems just waiting to be discovered.
Briarhill Farm in Wauconda was one of those gems of a place that had remained just outside the radar of our farm-loving, local-shopping, ecologically motivated hearts until just this past weekend when my family and I attended its free Meet a Horse/Farm Animal Open House.
Upon on our arrival at the weathered yellow barn, we were met at the gate by a young man, 13, who takes horse riding lessons at the farm and also helps out around the farm tending to the animals and the new children who come to meet and great the farm animals during the open houses.
Our boys, 5 and 7, followed our guide and happily hopped over puddles and bounded across the stone path into the barn only to be met by the friendliest pack of barnyard animals we’ve ever come across! While my heart soaked up the sweetness of the boys interacting with the animals, I thought about how grateful I was for the heads up that Briarhill is a working farm and proper attire like boots/work shoes and clothes were essentials for a good time.
The goats greeted us by rubbing their heads against our legs and nibbling on my youngest son’s ear, sending him into fits of giggles while the baby cow happily approached my husband and began scoping out what was in his coffee cup. It was like a scene from Charlotte’s Web, except, of course, that the animals didn’t actual speak to us in human voices.
As we walked through the length of the barn, my youngest son adoringly cuddled a baby goat and pet the goat mama who was bleating for her baby to stick by her more closely. My oldest son wandered over to the peacocks and began admiring feathers that had fallen to the ground.
While my kiddos romped with the farm animals and heeded warnings to cease chasing the skittish sheep, I had a chance to talk to the farm manager, Beth Hampel, about Briarhill’s offerings.
The free Meet A Horse/Farm Animal Open Houses the farm hosts (next ones are slated for Saturday, May 2 from 10:00 a.m. – noon and Sunday, May 17 from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.) serve as an introduction to the farm and the other programs Briarhill offers. To name a few:
- the Saddleseat English Horse Riding instruction program
- Riding Summer Camps
- Weekend Riding/Farmer Program
Beth explained that children as young as seven ranging all the way to teens are ideal ages to be involved in the riding and farm programs, as the riding students are taught a good deal about the horses, caring for the horses and also caring for a sustainable, ecologically minded farm like Briarhill. The cost of the riding program is $150 per month, and students ride six times per month. However, Beth said, students who show up and help more often during the times she’s scheduled to be at the farm caring for the animals often find themselves privvy to more riding time.
“Our riding program teaches responsibility,” Beth said. “One student who rides here also feels more grounded when she comes here. She’s reminded of responsibility for the animals and others, and it grounds her.”
We had a chance to see riding in action and experience it ourselves at the farm, too, as part of the free introductory riding lesson during the Meet a Horse/Farm Animal Open House! My boys each helped brush the horse and then saddled up and took a ride around the barn led by Beth, whose decades of experience shines, and one of her teenage riding students, who was super helpful, patient and responsible with our boys and the animals.
“This is a relaxed setting,” Beth said. “It’s a place where kids can get grounded, learn common sense, build confidence and develop leadership skills.”
Both of my boys were smitten about riding the horses, and I could see them beaming as they rode. Beth and my husband stayed right next to boys as they rode, and Beth reassured them as they rode. And our boys, of course, had a great time and could not wait to do it again!
As we thanked Beth and her student helper for their time, we chatted briefly, too, about how the farm provides raw farm products (the eggs are awesome!) to its customers and also about how the farm is celebrating its fifth anniversary of being a sustainable working farm.
With how very very close Briarhill Farm is to my home in the western part of the county, we hope to return often!
Interested in seeing Briarhill for yourself? Here are some times you can go and check out the farm, meet the sweetest animals and learn more about the programs offered:
Meet a Horse/Farm Animal
- Saturday, May 2 from 10:00 a.m. – noon (rain date from last weekend)
- Sunday, May 17 from 10:00 a.m. – 2 p.m.
**Please note that the first 10 people to register for the FREE Meet a Horse/Farm Animal Open House on May 17th will be eligible to enjoy an exciting horse ride or drive as a free introductory lesson!
Cheese and Hard Cider Workshop
- Saturday, May 9 from 10 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Anyone who signs up for Summer Riding Camps or Weekend Riding/Farmer Programs on or by May 17 will receive 10 percent off! Please email Briarhillf@aol.com for more information, dates and to register for programs and the open house if you’d like your free introductory ride and discount for lessons!