SAUGUS — A mother-daughter horsewoman duo is keeping its Saugus stables pristine, but raising racehorses is getting more difficult without a nearby race track.
Indian Rock Stables, at Walden Terrace is hidden in a private, wooded neighborhood just off of Route 1 and the 2,200-acre Lynn Woods Reservation. Boarding and horse training services, and lessons are offered by owner Karen Benson’s daughter Paige. The University of Findlay graduate is a Level 2 OSHA Carded Judge, and an American Paint Horse Association professional horsewoman. After returning home from college, she began running the day-to-day operations and has a show team that has been successful.
“Paige moved here in 1994 and went through the public school system,” said her mom. “She went off to college and she came back. She’s running this Saugus business and contributing to the Saugus community. Coming home to do this was her ultimate goal.”
Indian Rock Stables received the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation’s Horse Farm of Distinction Award for the third year in a row.
The farms are judged on everything from the appearance of the horses and the equine health program, to the condition of stalls, turnouts, pastures, riding surfaces, tack and equipment.
“We’re honored because it’s a prestigious award,” said Benson. “We are here 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s our life and we love it. It’s not about the money. If we’re making enough that the bills are covered and everyone is happy and healthy, that’s all that matters.”
The distinction was created more than two decades ago to recognize Massachusetts horse farms that achieve a level of excellence in overall horse health, farm management, and compliance with public safety. It was awarded to 32 farms in the state for 2018.
Karen Benson’s favorite part of the job is mare and foal management. She has delivered countless foals at the farm, and said each time is unlike the one before. Some mares know that she is there to help and welcome it, while others shy away.
The horses born at the farm don’t always stay, but they often return to the state to race, because they are documented as Massachusetts bred, said Benson.
“It’s very exciting to see a baby born and see that baby go out and race and win,” said Benson. “It’s an incredible feeling when you see that horse cross the finish line.”
It started with one horse shortly after she and her husband moved to Saugus in 1994. They used to run circuit with him from Suffolk Downs, the now-shuttered thoroughbred race track in East Boston, to 170-acre Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H.
The business expanded when their daughter was old enough to fall in love with the sport, and demanded her own pony at age 6. She took the idea her parents had, made it her dream, and excelled, said Benson.
Suffolk’s last regularly scheduled race was in October 2014 and Rockingham Park closed in 2016 after 110 years.
Benson’s husband died unexpectedly in 2008 and she and her daughter took on the task of running the farm together.
The biggest hurdle has been operating without an active race track, and Benson said she fears for what will happen if a new one is not erected.
“We didn’t know 25 years ago that we wouldn’t have a track,” said Benson. “That’s an issue when it comes to keeping our breeding program going.”
Horsemen get a percentage of the money brought in under the Gaming Bill, which keeps the program flourishing, she said. But if they’re not racing in the state, the aid isn’t there. Right now they are using a track in Finger Lakes, N.Y.
“We don’t want to buy hay out of state, but if nobody’s going to produce it, we’re out of luck,” she said.
She believes creating a new track would have a trickle-down effect and encourage agricultural businesses in the state before all the farmland is sold to developers.
As a board member of the Massachusetts Breeders Association, Benson is working to create funding to keep breeding programs going in Massachusetts, and looking at potential new sites for a track and equestrian center.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.