Step inside the horse barn at Windy Acres Ranch, and it's easy to forget that there's a gas station up the street, new subdivisions on all sides and traffic whizzing up and down what was once a country road to nowhere.
That road used to dead-end where Billie Heseltine and her husband, John, decided to start their small horse ranch more than 40 years ago on a couple of acres near a little place called Sandy. Today, the Heseltines feel lucky that their acreage was never incorporated. Otherwise, says Billie, "we'd have been driven out long ago."
"Some people complain about the smell," she says, "but we were here first. We used to be surrounded by sagebrush. Every year now, it seems we're fighting some regulation or developer, but we're not selling out. These horses are my home."
There certainly are worse places for a prize-winning stallion to retire than Windy Acres. Billie's old show horses live a life of luxury, with plenty of sweet hay and lots of attention. There are also usually plenty of newcomers in the barn, especially during the spring birthing season when Windy Acres takes in pregnant boarders.
An equine midwife, Billie, 66, sleeps on the couch like a nervous grandparent for three or four months a year, carefully monitoring cameras in each stall.
"Sometimes, I'll watch eight or 10 horses at a time," she says. "If you want to see one of the miracles of the world, come and watch a horse giving birth. To see those big babies coming out of those mares is amazing. In a couple of hours, they're up on their legs, running around."
Hoping to share stories of a lifetime in the horse business, Billie recently joined me for a Free Lunch chat in the warm red horse barn that has been her second home since 1965.
While her husband pitches in with chores and birthing duties, he also works as a purchasing agent, "so the farm is my baby," says Billie.
"Mending fences, cleaning stalls, hauling manure I do it all. You're up early and to bed late, but I feel blessed. This is the only life I know."
Born and raised in Murray on a small dairy farm, Billie remembers riding one of her dad's plow horses to the Murray Theater on Saturday afternoons.
"I'd tie the horse to an old post in back of the movie house," she says. "Try doing that today anywhere in this valley."
Later, she earned money for extra movie tickets by cooling down horses at a local race track for 50 cents each. "Horses have always been my best friends. Just like children, each one is different," she says.
She points to Domino, a favorite retired show horse with blue ribbons tacked outside his stall.
"He's an Arabian, a former grand champion," says Billie, stroking Domino's velvety brown muzzle. "Now he plays 4-H with my grandson. He deserves nothing but the best in his old years."1 comment on this story
A few stalls down, Mighty Max, one of 10 miniature horses at Windy Acres, whinnies for equal attention. Two years ago, Billie took Max in on Christmas Eve after a friend rescued him from an abusive owner."I said, 'Sure, he can stay until we find him a home,' " she says. "We found him a home all right." She pauses and laughs. "Can you see the word 'sucker' on my forehead?"
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