West Meadow Farm, a equine destination
At the sound of Melanie Defler’s voice, the big chestnut mare comes bounding across the field and runs to the gate to meet her.
“Good girl,” Defler says, stroking the small star on Gracequinnannamady’s forehead as the horse eats breakfast grains. The thoroughbred is one of 40 horses at West Meadow Farm in Shelby County, where Defler breeds and raises future racehorses while providing riding lessons and introducing visitors to the horses she loves.
“Horses have personalities just like people do,” Defler smiles. “And they exhibit their personality just by their actions and their moods and how they interact with people.”
Defler is keeping a close eye on Gracequinnannamady. A daughter of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, the mare is due to give birth around this year’s Derby Day. Defler will be on “foal watch” preparing to help with the delivery.
“I’m anxiously waiting and watching,” she says. “I want the mares to know me. I spend a lot of time grooming them, feeding them and caring for them. And they get a comfort level with me, knowing that I am there to help them.”
And when the mare gives birth, “it’s just something magical is the only way I can describe it,” Defler says.
Her love of horses is a lifelong passion, beginning with her first ride at the age of 2, a riding lesson at 4, and getting her first pony, Tumble, when Defler turned 5. The stars on West Meadow Farm’s horse logo are in homage to Defler’s first horse, Star.
Each day includes a check of every horse with attention to those on a rehabilitation layup or needing treatment. Despite a busy schedule of training and riding lessons, Defler opens her small farm to visitors by appointment so she can serve as an ambassador of Kentucky’s horse industry.
“They’ve watched the Derby for years on TV, they’ve always wanted to go, but they’ve never had an ‘up close and personal’ with the horses,” she says. “And a lot of times these people come out and then they end up getting involved in the thoroughbred industry, or they simply want to learn how to ride a horse.”
Again this year, tour companies and Shelby County have identified the West Meadow Farm as a destination for Kentucky Derby guests. Defler regards her tours of the serene farm as an opportunity to show the care and love of Kentucky’s horse industry for the horses it breeds, trains and races.
“My horses live in large fields where they have plenty of room to run and grow and develop,” Defler says. “They are well-taken care of and well-loved.”
Visitors can also see Defler’s commitment to “off the track” thoroughbreds. She trains retired racehorses for their next chapter, such as in dressage, jumping, or as trail horses.
“I look at the horse’s personality. And what he’s physically able to do,” Defler explains. “If the horse is doing something he likes, then he’s going to be happy and do well at it. So, I assess the horse and retrain him to whatever discipline fits best.”
West Meadow Farm also hosts corporate events, farm-to-table breakfasts, barn parties and catered events with the romance of thoroughbred racing and the horses’ diverse personalities an undercurrent of the visitor experience.
“I think there’s a lot of hopes and dreams wrapped up in thoroughbreds,” Defler says. “And they are just a majestic, noble animal. You have to win a thoroughbred’s trust. Once you have the trust of a thoroughbred, they just give you their heart.”