Family Farm raising kids, chaos, and Rocky Mountain Horses
South Forty Farms
He had a vision. Of rolling land, tended fields, barns full of livestock, and family growing up and growing together. He created a farm, redesigning barns, laying out fence lines, and building arenas. He dared his children (city kids at the ages of 20 and 18) to take chances, step out of comfort zones, and see what else may be out there. He believed in the farm and the family, and helped us find direction. And then he was gone, leaving us behind to look after his creation and dreams. We were handed this amazing gift of land and barns, and incredible horses, and the belief in ourselves that we could continue, persevere, and become more.
I still remember carrying his red wing boots out from the hospital on the day he died. The leader of our family, the foundation and the cornerstone of who the Cole family was. All I could think about was him propped up against the white plank fence, with the sun setting behind him, looking out over his herd of Mountain Horses, and his forty acres that lay on the south side of I-65, and his wife and children that had the strength to follow him in this direction. He left us with South Forty Farms.
Jason and I decided that we believed in the farm and family, and we needed to be with Mom (Diane), a unified three to take over where he left off. Instead of letting grief overwhelm us, and fear of the future shut our hearts and minds, we stood together, worked together, sweat together, and just kept on going.
We had some very successful show horses that helped teach us what to do, and we interacted and worked with amazing horse trainers and owners that were open and free with advice, guidance, and time. We were able to step onto other farms and be treated with gracious respect, and in that, find horses that would help follow the path our farm was creating, fit the future that we felt was laid out for us.
I literally stumbled upon my career as a riding instructor. A friends daughter asked if I could help teach her to ride (which I actually laughed at first - I wasn't blessed genetically with a lot of patience). The day I said yes, and helped that 3 1/2 year old onto a horse changed my world. I have been working exclusively with children ages 3 1/2-18 since 2003 as my full time profession.
Jason tried to follow in the direction that was laid out for him in college, by pursuing careers in banking, and then insurance, and always struggled to find the confidence and peace in the decision his career was in. He married his true soul mate, Lacey (yes, soul mates...they love Disney and history to a level none of the rest of us will ever truly appreciate) and he built a home on the farm at the same time I chose to, and soon had his first daughter, Avery. When Avery was around the age of 4, he finally talked with Diane, laid out his honest passion for the farm, and that he would like to try to make a career at South Forty for himself, and he quit his public job and began teaching lessons for youth and adults at the farm.
Both Jason and I teach based on the principles we learned. If you want to ride, you learn to do it all...yourself. In lessons, we work not only in the saddle, but with catching horses (and sometimes that's a true adventure!), tacking up and putting on the bridle, selecting the right tack and equipment for each individual rider, and then grooming them down, bathing them, getting them properly taken care of (slightly spoiled) to be turned back out comfortably. We work with bareback riding, western, saddleseat, obstacle work, balance and reflex games, and even ground work with young horses. We have a few riders in the ring currently that have trained their own horses from baby to adult! We approach teaching in a casual, "user-friendly" manner, where we understand that horses and humans mess up, have bad days, have amazing days, get hot, get tired and cranky, are buzzed on sugar cubes/caffeine, are freezing in the winter, or just plain terrified to learn the next big thing. We laugh at ourselves, and encourage others to do so as well...the mountain horses have provided our students the amazing blessing of patience, curiosity, and endurance. The horses love what we do, and wait at the gates if they've had too many days off!
Avery Cole, Jason's oldest daughter, has become the whirlwind of South Forty. Since her parents worked day jobs, Diane and I would sneak Avery to the barn, as young as 2 months old, and have her riding in front of me, on our two year old stallion, Circle of Life (needless to say, her parents didn't learn of any of her riding accomplishments until at least two weeks after she'd done it!). She rode all the time...either gently rocking into sleep, or giggling and making kissing noises to try to go fast. It has been one of my greatest accomplishments in life to see her mature into an incredible rider. The week of her second birthday, Avery rode Doctor Yankee, all by herself on the rail, with no one close by (I was far enough to take photos of full body shots of horse and rider). For her third birthday, she wanted to go get her own horse from the field to ride. For her fourth, she was riding at nights at the International shows, in the arena when the show was over for the night, and showing in the first solo classes. The year she turned five, she won the KMSHA International Grand Champion Trail Pleasure 11 and under, and Reserve Country Trail Grand Champion 11 and under. She's six now, and showing western pleasure and trail obstacle. And she "earns her keep". We have a foldable wagon that we take to shows so she can help haul her equipment to the barns, she likes to hose down her horses (and those humans possibly standing nearby) after workouts, and she loves to be the first one to warm her horses up! She can tack up her horse, bridle most of them, and with the right stool or fence close by, climb on up. She entertains DQP's, ringmasters, and judges alike with her stamina and determination.
Jason's youngest daughter, Avenley, is owning up to being the complete opposite of Avery. She likes to ride for fun, loves to wear helmets anytime she's in the barn, and will go through emotional overload when you try to take her off a horse, or remove the helmet. She doesn't care about showing...she doesn't even really notice it, she just wants to GO on the horse, with her fabulous helmet.
I married Nick in a way that truly captures my lifestyle...scheduled around show season! We've been married since 2006, and became foster parents in October of 2010. We actually got the approval phone call on the way to the KMSHA International show! We've had many infants through our home (and we are truly beyond the thrill of baby drool and diapers), and are blessed with the opportunity to adopt our little girl, 20 month old Amelia (aka "Bink"), on 8/3/2012. She's been traveling to most horse shows with me, rolling along in her car seat or jogging stroller, and rides as much as I can get her on. Her brother, known as "Dude", will be making his horse show debuts in 2012 as well, but at 10 months old, he's more interested in playing with the horses hair than entertaining the audience!
Between Diane, Jason, and I, we all have our roles on the farm. Jason, as said before, teaches adults and youth, and is in charge of all green machines (John Deere tractors, bush hogs, spreaders, etc). He keeps the fields as tip top as they can be in spite of drought seasons and then pouring rain. He is certainly in charge of Bud Light, his champion Trail gelding, and has taken over the reins of training and handling Circle of Life, our versatility horse. He works with other horses, and with Avery's excitement, has stepped back into the role of working with younger horses, which has been one of his true gifts all along.
Diane is the organizational pro. Without her, we all are creatures of self-doubt. Diane manages all the diet and nutrition of the horses on the farm, as well as keeps up with what show clothes need to be repaired or designed and made (yes, she's making some of our show clothes and is AMAZING with the horse costume class!), record keeping on registration and vet work. She's also the mediator between Jason and I, as we are true siblings, and sometimes let our nerves get the best of conversations and communication at horse shows! And finally, she's the best co-pilot in the world. If we get lost (and yep...it happens often), she's always ready to work her truck GPS, and if that doesn't work, find my GPS system, then she resorts to the Atlas, and when all else fails, we head to the nearest Wal-Mart or McDonalds and ask for help!
I hesitate to say that I'm the "attitude" of the farm, but believe it's the closest description. When horses decide to push our buttons, I'm the one that pushes back. When a rider decides to doubt and panic, I'm the one that lectures them back until they've forgotten what was wrong and just want to get in the ring. I'm the ring side coach, and love to figure out the dynamic of each individual horse, how they match with different riders, and how to present them best in front of different judges. I also am the "hauler". When all else fails and Diane and Avery want to show, I'll drive them wherever they need to go, so long as I get to take my horse Playboy, and show western pleasure, my favorite class. Jason hauls as well, and does a good job at it, but with my passion for audio books on my I Pod, I can usually go for hours without getting sleepy.
We travel and show as a family, and when at shows, our family isn't complete without our "adopted Aunt Milsie", novice rider, Amelia Watkins. Amelia grew up in lessons with me at South Forty, and when it came time to choose a college and direction for the next step in life, she was blessed with scholarship opportunities, amazing grades, and many options. Amelia may never know how deeply we appreciate her as a part of the family, and when she confessed that she'd like to stay local at Western Kentucky University, so she could come out and continue to play with our horses, we couldn't deny the connection as family anymore. Amelia and I have ridden side by side for many years, trying to master the other's riding personality and seat, so that we can share horses at the shows, and help encourage each other in the right way. I like to joke that Amelia is the "skinny me", but can't deny that she's become her own, individual, amazing horse woman that we are blessed to have around. Upon adoption of my baby girl, Bink on August 3rd, 2012, she will take the name of Amelia, in honor of Milsie...she just means that much to us.
We have other youth that travel and show with us, and we hope you get to meet them all. The youth that travel and show own and handle their own horses, and when they’re in the ring or warming up, I am very proud of who they are, and how much they've taught their individual horses. Each tale is different and amazing in their own ways, and continue to write the story of their lives together with each new adventure. And I feel blessed to know that they have grown and learned with us, so much, that they appreciate that when we travel for shows, we never show for the ribbon or title...we show to demonstrate our love and passion for what we do each day, and the incredible love the horses show us back, by faithfully carrying us with pride and beauty.
His Vision in Our Hearts, Our Family Carries on the Dream - article written Fall 2012
by Amanda Cole Kohnen
Tommy Wilson Cole
To an amazing man, one dedicated to community development and contributing to the creation of a better life. To a magnificent husband, who made life seem so incredible and renewed, one who made each day an adventure, and every moment something to cherish and hold onto forever. To the truly devoted and absolutely "World's Best" father, the one who sculpted the lives of two individuals, molding them into somebody who could stand strong, do anything, and have unfaltering faith. To that one human being who did so much, in such a short time, and made such an impact in the world that it feels earth-shattering. To Him, we give our undying love, devotion, hearts, lives, and future to.
The Story of South Forty
It all started when Tommy suggested that the family buy a pony for the great-nieces and nephews. So, Pepper the pony joined the family. Pepper was a very experienced 4-H pony. She was a mean little speed machine who loved nothing more than to home in on the competition and "go in for the kill." Yes, looking back, Amanda now laughs and says that Pepper was a little above their beginner level, but they fell in love with her and couldn't look back. Pepper then took up permanent residence at South Forty. However, in looking at the size of Amanda and Jason (as they were well into their teens when Pepper came home, 5'11" and 6'3" respectfully), one might realize how odd it was to imagine them riding Pepper (she was 12.2 hands tall). So the search continued for that perfect horse for the Cole's and a new best friend for Pepper.
The Cole's bumped into the Rocky Mountain Horses at a 4-H demo and were immediately hooked. Diane was fascinated with the chocolate body coat and stunning white mane and tail, the temperament with children, and the overall presence of the horse. The search began immediately to find more of those amazing horses. Needless to say, that search was successful. Now, several years down the road, South Forty Farms is home to 35 Rockies and have customized their life to their friends. They have a diversified herd, with horses trained in western, pleasure, pleasure driving, trail, obstacle, and poles.
"We are amazed to walk out to the barns everyday and find that those first horses we purchased, the yearlings we found and fell in love with, are now more mature, wiser, and absolutely as stunning as they were the first day we laid eyes on them. There's a sense of pride to know that we were an integral part of who they are now. Those fillies we bought, in what seems like so long ago, are mothers, raising their babies just as wonderfully as we could hope. They walk around the farm as if they know that they are the foundation of our farm, for they strive to maintain the true nature of the Rocky Mountain, whether they are under saddle, in the barns, or just gaiting through the pastures with the foals."
The Cole's have been fortunate to find Rockies to join the farm that are one of a kind. Cricket's Little Buddy and Choco Two Socks are the cement that bonded Jason and Amanda to the farm. Bud and Jason will always be a team, whether they're strutting though western competitions or racing through poles. Socks showed Amanda the unity between horse and rider, and once they found that, they were able to enter a horse/human friendship that outlasts any other kind. Through learning with these two outstanding horses, South Forty has reached out farther and found even more horses with their own unique story that make lasting impressions on their lives.
Doctor Yankee entered the picture as the perfect lesson horse for Amanda's business. Yet, to the joy of the farm...he turned out to be the perfect horse for Diane and Tommy. He just likes to go with the flow and have a good time, and that's what they had been hoping for, and keeping an eye for when at other farms. The day Diane saw and rode him, she called Amanda and said she was bringing him home. Doctor Yankee is the horse used for demonstrations and beginner riders due to being of perfect temperament.
"South Forty has had it's share of ups and downs in the horse industry. Loss of loved ones, struggles with current ones, it's all part of the story of life. But to be able to share that life with the horses residing at South Forty is a gift. We're not in this to make a profit. We're in this adventure to help make life more enjoyable. The horses that come to South Forty almost always have a change that can be detected the first year they are here. It seems as if they find something inside themselves that *clicks* and they come out of their stalls and paddocks every day to give us their all. It's amazing to ask so little of them, and receive so much in return. But then again, maybe it's not so amazing...seeing as how they just ask us to share some time with them, and it ends up being so much more that just a ride..."
We hope that you take the chance to meet our horses. These are our friends who make our days complete. They are here to display the wonder of this breed, the Rocky Mountain Horse, and to demonstrate why they are truly remarkable.
Amanda Cole Kohnen, Diane's daughter, is a full time juvenile riding instructor at the farm. Amanda has worked with training a lot of the "extras" into the horses, and truly appreciates the gift of being able to teach youth to train it into their own horses. Amanda loves the art of working with horses and riders, and loves to see when the magic happens and the riders and horses become a team. Amanda's children have made a few appearances at horse shows, but prefer to stay in the background and play in the dirt, help feed the horses, and love to ride them. When Amanda's lucky, the whole family gets to escape with Momsie Diane and trail ride! Amanda's husband is Nick Kohnen, and her children are Amelia and Aiden.
Jason Cole, Diane's son, is a full time riding instructor at the farm. Sharing his family with the farm, it's not unusual to spot his oldest daughter in the show ring or in the lesson barns. Avery loves to do it all on the farm, including (but not limited to) raising and training her very own horse, Flash, and learning to drive a cart with mini, Charlie for parades and parties. Jason's youngest likes to ride "her" pony, Matt, work on the obstacle course for horses, and ride the tractor while bushogging with her "pa"(Jason). His little "ladies" are amazing equestrians, and he's always the proud "Pa". You can find him out on the bush hog, running the spreader, riding or teaching. Jason's wife is Lacey Cole, and his daughters are Avery and Avenley.
The Cole Family greatly enjoys spending their time on the farm in Bowling Green, KY. The homestead, originally built in 1839, is the basis on which they have built the farm around. Since 1994, they have dedicated their time to making the farm a home, a place to enjoy being together and to bond with their animals.
Keeping the crew all in line, Diane Cole, owner and "Momsie" the amazing, is the backbone of the operation. She's up at the break of dawn, and does whatever it takes to get the job done. In 2011, when a foal needed to be bottle fed, she was up every four hours, taking the night shift and then out in the morning running the grain and riding her horses! She loves to spend time trail riding, showing, and coaching her grandkids through all of their adventures. When she's not on the farm, she's out and about, volunteering in the grandkids classrooms during school functions, exploring Lost River Cave, shopping for the latest and greatest tack (and bargains/tack sales), and custom designing and sewing show clothes for the family or costumes for the horses!