|Shannon, Daisy, Clayton and Cindy in the new horse stalls.|
Every home renovation story -- in real life or on reality TV -- begins with a list of “Must Haves”. That list can get quite extensive for someone’s dream home.
The list Shannon and Clayton Brooks created for their first home was just as challenging.
“We were looking for a very specific property,” Shannon, 27, explains. “We wanted a house that was in pretty good shape, a space I could run my business out of that wasn’t directly in the house. We wanted a lot of land and a decent size barn, and to be close enough to a city like Amherst, Oxford or Truro but far enough away. And we didn’t want neighbours right next to us.”
One might think there are plenty of those properties for sale in our area but Shannon says the houses were either a mess, the acreage was too small or the price was way out of their range.
“My work area is Cumberland County and Westmoreland County in New Brunswick so that’s where we were looking,” adds her husband of three years who works for a company that sells dairy farm management tools.
Then they discovered a 51-acre wooded property in the hollow at the western edge of Little River between Amherst and Oxford.
“We found this place online,” says Clayton, 28. “The main selling point was that the house was in great shape. I’d much rather buy an acreage and fix it up for horses than fix up an entire house.”
Wait, horses? Oh, yeah, Clayton fell in love with a horse girl.
Originally from a small town in eastern Ontario, Shannon was introduced to horses when she was a little girl.
“My best friend in Grade Two lived on a farm and she got a couple of ponies,” she says. “I went over and saw them and got the horse bug. I begged my parents and they found someone who would give riding lessons to someone that young. Once I started, I never stopped.”
Her parents bought her a quarter horse named Major Mister when she was 12 but Shannon admits she was always fascinated by the horses at Spruce Meadows, the equestrian facility and show venue in Calgary.
“The jumping horses,” she explains. “There were a couple of horses that I loved, their look, their athleticism, their willingness. When I looked into it, they were the Hanoverian horse.”
Also known as the preferred ride for the RCMP.
“My parents did everything they could financially to make my dreams come true,” says Shannon, “but a Hanoverian was just not happening.”
Knowing she wanted horses of her own but not a career with them, Shannon decided to become a massage therapist. Before starting that course, Shannon enrolled in a business program at what is now the Dalhousie School of Agriculture in Truro. That’s where she met Clayton, whose sister lived in Shannon’s dorm.
It can’t be said that Clayton didn’t know what he was getting into when he married Shannon in 2011: They bought “Daisy”, a Hanoverian, as a two-day old foal just before Shannon finished her massage course.
Hence the specific list for their dream property: Shannon wanted to work from home and she wanted Daisy to be with her.
After living and working in Sackville, where the Brooks family’s dairy farm is located, the couple moved into their Little River property in 2013 and began working to bring Daisy home from where she was boarded on the Island.
“The barn was described as ‘obsolete’. There was no value on the barn at all,” says Clayton. “The roof leaked – it has a new steel roof on it now – and the siding... The old saying is ‘You could throw a cat through it’. But if you look past the roof and the siding, the main structure of the barn is built so strong with those beams. All the beams were still in their original notches. It would have been a shame to knock it down. The house is fitted together the same way, post and beam construction.”
Clayton says the way the barn was built inspired him to reconstruct it the same way.
And it’s been a labour of love for these two who worked on their property when they weren’t working at their full-time jobs. The previous owners had turned the run-down barn into a garage so there were no stalls or hayloft. Clayton milled softwood timber from their woodlot to make the beams and floorboards for the hayloft as well as the fence around the pasture; Shannon varnished all the interior boards that make up the stalls and painted the fence around the pasture.
“We asked the guy who was selling the property what value he put on the woodlot and he said it wasn’t worth anything because he was just using it for firewood and softwood isn’t a good firewood. Meanwhile, I was seeing it for another purpose,” Clayton explains. “They were all mature trees ready to be cut for good logs. It was shame to let them die and rot in the woods.”
Of the time leading up to Daisy’s long-awaited arrival last October, Clayton says, “It was a sleep when you can situation. I don’t know what our neighbours thought of us because we had a chainsaw running even on a Sunday.”
But Clayton is proud of what they have accomplished in such a short time.
“You go to work and bring home a paycheque but when you go to work on your own place, at the end of the day you can see how much you’ve changed and how much more value you’ve added to your property.”
Daisy, who is now five, came with Cindy, a 15-year-old brood mare. Breeding a foal from Daisy paid for her board and inspired Shannon’s new venture.
“I’m taking a breeding course this spring to learn how to breed my own mare,” she says. “Instead of hauling the mares three hours to the Island, why not learn to do it myself? If we can do it right at home where they are relaxed, it makes a lot more sense.”
At the same time, Clayton will be clearing more pasture so Shannon can have a riding ring and he’s going to put new siding on the other side of the barn. Eventually, the entire barn will be refurbished with white siding and red trim.
“We found a way to combine both of our hobbies,” he says. “I like to build and work with my hands so basically I’m the groundskeeper and Shannon is the horse girl.”