Foxwood Farm, a horse riding and boarding facility nestled in between the border of Gilford and Bradford on the 13th Line has been a great escape for many during the pandemic as a way to connect with not only nature and the outdoors, but animals as well.
Owner Robyn Freer has owned the farm for 22 years, and has been riding horses since she was just seven-years-old.
She had an interest in learning how to ride so her parents signed her up for lessons.
“I started as a recreational rider and at 15 I got my own horse and started competing,” she said. She was so dedicated to the sport that when she went to Western University in London, Ontario, she even brought her horse along with her and continued to compete.
The passion to ride seems to run in the family. Her daughter who attends Trent University loves to ride and is on the school’s equestrian team. Both Freer and her daughter are currently doing their instructor certification through Ontario Equestrian.
“It’s something we can do together,” she said about riding, noting there are many families who come to the barn to take lessons together.
“I think what riding brings that other sports don’t bring is that you get the physical component of the riding, but you’re also getting an emotional component where people can connect with an animal,” she said. “And I think during COVID times it’s not just about the physical aspect that we need for our wellbeing, there’s a huge emotional need right now for people to actually be able to get out of their homes, keep fit but also have something emotionally that they can connect to.”
At the farm, Freer has both her own and boarder horses and ponies.
“When I first moved here it was just an old barn,” she said, but eventually as the business started to grow, she had the arena built, with six large stall boxes, a viewing room, an outdoor sand ring and a cross country course. At the back of the property, there is a track with jumps for clients to ride.
“We just kind of added a little bit as we needed to,” she said.
Freer started off the business teaching lessons then went on to develop a showteam, with riders of all different levels.
The farm offers both recreational and competitive riding programs, with clients riding anywhere from one to five times a week.
“We start as young as five or six and I have a 70-year-old client,” she explained. “We have beginner lessons and we ride year round.”
With COVID-19, Freer has seen an increase in the number of people interested in horseback riding.
“We had our busiest summer ever, and this is my busiest fall in 22 years,” she shared.
“A lot of sports activities are not running and parents want their kids to still be involved in something, they want them to have outdoor recreation with lots of free space and riding has been able to offer that to people.”
The farm has implemented their own COVID policies to keep clients comfortable and safe when riding, including a staggered reopening with smaller class sizes. There is also signage throughout the barn, reminding riders to sanitize their hands and wear their masks while inside.
“We’ve done a good job I feel in keeping people safe and healthy,” she said.
Some of the yearly events that take place at the farm each year have had to unfortunately be cancelled. Typically, the farm partners with the Innisfil YMCA to host summer camps and in the fall, they usually host a Halloween party where the kids get to come in the barn and decorate a horse in fun costumes.
Freer is hopeful they will one day be able to host these events again for her ‘Foxwood Family’.
Their nine week winter programs begin in January with registration opening the first week of November. Included in each lesson is a half hour grooming and feeding experience before the one-hour class.
“And we’ll probably be full for winter just because people want something to do,” she said.
When the weather is too cold, lessons are moved into the barn and doors can be opened for more ventilation to keep the air flowing.
“We will ride outside until the footing is too hard,” she explained.
Currently, Freer has a full time staff who comes in to take care of the horses, as well as five instructors who teach lessons.
Foxwood has close to 80 clients who come from all over the GTA, including York Region, Toronto, and Simcoe County.
To learn more about Foxwood Farm, visit their webiste here.