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Happy trails: Kimberly Farms offers chance to get on horseback, stargaze

Horses graze at Kimberly Farms. Photo provided by Craig Clemow of Arplais Imagery.

By Anne Archer, Vermont Country correspondent.

NORTH BENNINGTON — The sweet scent of hay warming in the sunlight. Infectious giggles of new friends riding horses. The spectacle of a summer night sky lit up by stars. These are just a few sights and sounds creating childhood memories at Kimberly Farms summer horse camp.

Kimberly Farms, in North Bennington, started 35 years ago when Valerie and Bob Shemeth moved to Vermont from New York. As they stood on their newly purchased property admiring the view, which includes three mountain ranges — the Berkshires, the Green Mountains, and the Taconics — in three states, they turned toward each other and said, “What a shame not to share this with other people.”

While the Shemeths never intended to start a business, it was the view from their rustic 1798 farm coupled with their hospitable spirit and love of horses that led them down the entrepreneurial trail.

Today, the 60 rolling acres of lush green grass and deciduous forest host year-round trail rides and riding lessons, family and corporate retreats, and summer day camps and sleepaways popular with local residents, families from around the country, and participants of Gallop to Success, a nonprofit organization that serves at-risk children.

A bunkhouse at Kimberly Farms. Photo provided by Kimberly Farms. 

During the 10 weeks of summer camp, two of which include girls-only sleepaways, kids spend their days learning to care for horses, enjoying nature walks, and making art from materials found on the farm.

Summer campers goof around at Kimberly Farms.
Photos provided by Kimberly Farms.

Twice a day, campers ride horses on the trails or in the outdoor arena. Morning rides include saddles, but in the afternoon, the saddles are left in the tack room, giving campers a chance to challenge their balance by riding bareback.

Morgan Martin, a Kimberly Farms certified riding instructor who has been associated with the property for over 25 years, said riding bareback builds confidence by putting the rider more in-tune with the horse. To truly test their balance, Martin has campers do a 180-degree turn on the back of the horse before dismounting.

Girls hold hands while riding horses at Kimberly Farms. Photo provided by Kimberly Farms.

“Seeing the children progress and their confidence grow through the week is my favorite thing about summer camp,” Martin said in her playful voice that fills with joy every time a rider succeeds at a task.

During the two weeks of overnight camp, evenings bring games of flashlight tag, late-night cookouts, and sleeping in a green shuttered bunkhouse that sits on a dirt road up from the horse barn.

The bunkhouse can sleep up to 25 people, but during summer sleepaway camp, Kimberly Farms limits the number of girls to a maximum of 14 who can occupy the bunkbeds lining three walls of the bunkhouse.

“This place has a homey feel,” said Martin. “It’s laxed. You don’t have to wear your best riding gear.”

“We’re a pleasure barn,” added Valerie, emphasizing Kimberly Farms is available for anyone who wants to visit, no horse experience necessary. “Our purpose is to help kids make a connection to the horses that is kind and humane. It’s a relationship.”

When campers aren’t riding horses, they are doing barn chores, learning how to groom and tack, or participating in horse clinics where they learn the anatomy of a horse, how to take a horse’s temperature, and how to listen to its stomach, lungs and heart.

“We are teaching them to be horse people,” Martin said.

To accommodate summer campers, the 18 permanent horses on the farm, many of them rescues from kill pens, share their pastures and fresh summer hay with six temporary horses.

While there is a variety of breeds and sizes, according to Martin the most important trait of each horse is their ability to tolerate children and to be handled by different people. “They pick up on people’s energy,” Martin said, referring to the horses. “They have their core of who they are.”

Chief the horse at Kimberly Farms. Photo provided by Craig Clemow of Arplais Imagery. 

Kimberly Farms is pastoral beauty swathed in an environment void of chaos. Yet, the fresh air and the pleasant scent of hay and horses stimulate all who come, especially the overnight campers who are tired by lights out — 9 p.m. — but perhaps too excited from a day of learning and playing on and off the horses to fall asleep. To help settle down, they can look to the stars in a Vermont summer night sky and start counting.

If you go…

Kimberly Farms

1214 Cross Hill Road, North Bennington, VT

Phone: 802-442-5454

Website: Kimberlyfarms.org

For information regarding horse lessons, trail rides, or retreats call or visit their website.


Anne Archer lives in Manchester, Vt. She is a regular contributor to the Manchester Journal.

Vermont Country magazine

Vermont Country has a hyperlocal focus on the Green Mountain lifestyle, its personalities, events, attractions and culture. The magazine appears six times a year, designed to complement the state and four-season living. VtCo magazine is a Southern Vermont publication of Vermont News & Media.

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