Title: Owner, Willow Hill Farm in Keeseville, NY
Family: 3 adult children, 5 stepchildren, and many foster children over the years.
Hometown: Hydesville, Maryland
Education: B.A. in philosophy from the University of Delaware
Community Involvement: 25 years of involvement with U.S. Pony Club – a national organization dedicated to teaching children about horses and riding.
In today’s world where cubicles and desk jobs are the norm, it is hard to find people who truly know what it means to put in a day of hard, physical labor. Julie Edwards and her crew at Willow Hill horse farm in Keeseville are keeping this old-fashioned work ethic alive and well. Furthermore, they are making a concerted effort to pass these values on to others as often as possible. Willow Hill has been in Edwards’ family since she moved to Keeseville with her late husband Gerald in 1970. Before settling here, the Edwards lived in five different states, following Gerald’s assignments as an Air Force pilot. “When Gerald retired after 30 years of service in 1970, we wanted to come back to Plattsburgh. That’s when we bought this farm,” Edwards recalled. Today, the 400-acre horse farm offers lessons, as well as boarding, selling, and training horses. Two out of three of Edwards’ adult children are still actively involved in the daily operation of the farm.
Edwards takes great pride in passing on the healing power of horses and farm life to children. She puts her values into practice by opening her home to children in need. Together with one of her daughters, she has provided a foster home for many years. In addition to housing one or two foster children, Edwards frequently hosts young adult boarders who are interested in learning about horses. “They are typically college-aged, and they come for the summer or sometimes the whole year,” Edwards explained. “They want to learn, and they work on the farm in exchange for that opportunity.”
At 81 years young, Edwards shows little signs of slowing down. She adamantly refuses to give up daily barn chores with her crew, and still heads out every morning alongside the younger generations of her family. She recently took a time out from her barn and horse training duties to share some of her life lessons with Strictly Business.
SB: When did you first become interested in horses?
JE: I have always loved horses. My mother noticed that I was interested in them when I was only two years old. My own three children all grew up wanting to ride horses, so when we bought this farm it enabled me to spend time with my children and build a business at the same time.
SB: How did you get involved with foster care?
JE: It is something that my daughter and I do together. I came from a big family and I was good at working with children. The house has always been full. I find it fulfilling to have children around. I have learned that horses are good for children. Working with the animals, being outdoors, away from cities and getting exercise is important. We enjoy passing that on to children and watching them change.
SB: How does living on a farm impact your foster children?
JE: It makes changes in them. They will come here and talk tough about chores at first. They are told when they come here that this family does farm chores every morning. They complain about it in the beginning, but after a while it becomes part of their routine. It helps them join the family. That is an hour of one-on-one time that I have with them. Working side by side in the barn, I talk to them about school and life. Most parents don’t get to do that, but living on a farm allows us to have that time.
SB: What habits do you have that contribute to your success?
JE: I have been blessed with good health. I’m over 80 years old and I will probably never stop doing chores on the farm. I don’t want to stop. My choice of farming as a lifestyle has given me good exercise all my life, and I like it.
SB: Tell us about your morning routine?
JE: I wake up before everyone else at 5:30 because I like my alone time. I wait to do chores until 6:00 or 6:30 when the whole family is ready to work together. Usually by 6:30 we are all out in the barn. Every day the horses need feeding, watering and hay. Then there is cleaning the stalls. That takes about an hour, and then we all come up to the house and have breakfast.
SB: What competitions are you preparing for currently?
JE: I’m doing dressage. For people who aren’t familiar with it, it is a six-minute memorized test of a horses’ obedience, in front of judges. It is like yoga for horses.
SB: Who is a local personality whom you admire and why?
JE: There was a well-known woman named Ruth Newbury in AuSable Forks. Ruth was an inexhaustible spirit. She started the Lake Placid Horse Show and she did a lot of community things. I met her when I was a participant in that show many years ago.
SB: What are you most proud of?
JE: Three years ago I earned a bronze medal from the National Dressage Federation. It is based on riding dressage in competition and receiving scores of a certain level. It took me 10 years to earn that level of achievement. Right now I am working toward the silver medal. That will take at least two more years, if I am still riding.
SB: If you could have dinner with any well-known person, who would it be and why?
JE: I would choose Carol LaValle. She is from Vermont and she has ridden on the Olympic dressage team. I’d talk to her about her experiences being a farm girl who made it to the top.
SB: What is something that no one would guess about you?
JE: I love to walk and to be outdoors. Seeing the changes in the trees and the wildflowers, they are just so amazing right now.
SB: What do we need to do today to make sure we have a prosperous future?
JE: We need to get the people to beautify the community and be proud of it. And that means giving their time to it. A good example of this is the river walk in Keeseville. The town has made it a nice place for people to walk and be there. Those are good things to do.
SB: When you find yourself having an ‘off ’ day, what helps you get back on track?
JE: It’s usually riding my horse. Riding and training makes me better, and also makes her better. With horses, you have to figure out their personality. You have to analyze what would make them happier and more relaxed. They are all different, just like people.
SB: What lessons can people learn from horses?
JE: That you have to find out more about yourself. It is amazing that horses do as much for us as they do, and that we are as close to them as we are. They have such a fabulous work ethic. They will work every day for us. People should appreciate that and work towards being more like that.
SB: What inspires you?
JE: The most important things in my life have been working with kids and helping them get better. I guess it is the same thing with the horses. I try and figure out what is wrong with them, and then train them to make them a better horse so that they can have a better life.
SB: How have you inspired or mentored others?
JE: Working together with them on the farm, doing physical work, eating family meals, working as a family all together. Most kids don’t have that anymore. You get to know them better. You teach them the real values of hard work.
SB: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
JE: Work hard and tell the truth.
SB: If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what advice would you offer her?
JE: Have goals, and work towards them despite hardships.
SB: What advice do you have for the younger generation just starting their career?
JE: Pick your goals carefully and head towards them.
SB: If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?
JE: I don’t know that I could have done anything any differently. I wanted to ride all my life. I had an opportunity to do that because I worked with Mrs. Newbury whose daughter was an excellent trainer. I got a lot of lessons from her. I could have taken more lessons, and maybe I’d be better today.