OUR BEGINNINGS/OUR FOUNDER
From the time she was a little girl, Cheryl Spencer was crazy about horses. Her Mom said that she had to watch her when they came home from getting groceries, as Cheryl would take off down the street to see a neighbor’s horse. As Cheryl went through her teen years, she competed in many shows and boarded other people’s horses to help pay for her own. In her early twenties, after finishing university and moving to Kingston where she worked in sales, Cheryl eventually found and purchased a two hundred-acre parcel of land in Newburgh, with plans – at some point – to build a farm there. Then, in 1991, right across the road; an old, run-down farmhouse and ramshackle barn from the 1800’s became available through a bank sale. With the help of a couple of friends, Cheryl bought it as well, started to renovate and – Raspberry Ridge Farms was born! Plans to run a ‘B and B for travelling riders and horses’ came and went, but a lesson program and full camp offerings became the mainstay. Cheryl began to run overnight summer camps, and each year for the months of July and August, there were kids of all ages coming to stay for a week or for the entire summer! There were kids from overseas, kids from Rockcliffe Park in Ottawa and Rosedale in Toronto, and kids from the group home around the corner. All were expected to get along and all were treated as equals. The main focus was fun – but a lot of learning went on. Kids got dirty instead of always sitting in front of a computer. Needless to say, it was ‘all-hands-on-deck’ at the farm during those years, with many visits and work parties with her Mom/Dad and sister!
A new indoor arena was built around 2009, which increased the profile and services of the farm. In 2010, a high-school friend, Colin Weldon, touched base with Cheryl and arranged a trip to the farm to catch up and to see what she had built over the past twenty years. He found Cheryl doing exactly what she had wanted to do back in high school – running a riding facility with lessons and camps for kids! There were also quite a few other creatures on the farm at that time, such as llamas, donkeys, chickens, ducks, dogs and numerous cats. If help was needed, there was not an animal- two-legged or four – that Cheryl would turn away. Her door was always open and the tea pot always on.
Colin jumped into farm life with enthusiasm. Building fences, repairing anything that in need, tidying up, cutting firewood…even taking riding lessons! After a time, was obvious that Colin and Cheryl were an ‘item’. In spite of the two-hour distance between them, plans for the future were being made. One night in 2011, Colin called Cheryl and said, “Hey, guess what? I bought a farm in Almonte!”. Now this was quite something, as they were not even engaged at the time. Cheryl actually said, “But, I already have a farm!”. Not to be deterred, Colin proposed and they were married in September of 2014, with plans to rent out or sell the Newburgh farm location and move Cheryl’s riding business to Almonte. Since 2012, Colin had been busy renovating the Almonte farm, but things ramped up quickly with a deadline of the end of August, 2015 as a move-in date for all of the animals from Newburgh. Barn renovations, stalls, fences, troughs AND the Almonte farmhouse improvements – all being worked on at the same time!
The day came. Three long stock trailers filled with horses, llamas and donkeys arrived – along with various chickens and ducks in the back seat of the truck AND a U-Haul full of barn ‘stuff’. It was an epic move and everyone arrived safely, settling in nicely and in short order.
For two successful years, camps and lessons were held at the Almonte location. Plans for growth in the third year were in place when suddenly, tragedy struck. In April of 2018, at the all-too young age of fifty-five, Cheryl passed away in her sleep. Everyone was devastated. Family lost their daughter/sister/cousin, kids lost their mentor/coach, and Colin lost his beloved wife and life partner. The 2018 summer camp proceeded without her, and the farm survived the year with everyone grieving this tremendous loss.
As 2018 turned into 2019, it became obvious that the farm could not support itself in its existing incarnation. A decision was made to turn the farm focus toward being a boarder barn, with no more camps. Many of the former camp horses were retired to safe farms, re-homed with former Raspberry Ridge riders, or adopted by individuals looking for a companion horse to love. A new, revised lesson program was subcontracted and implemented in 2019 with great success. Having fewer horses on the property, increasing the number of paddocks and shelters, blazing new hacking trails on our 288 acres, as well as implementing a new herd-health program all contributed to the wellness of our community, and to the benefit and enjoyment of everyone and everything at the farm as we moved forward.
One thing is a constant in life – and that is change. It is difficult to change, but change we must – especially when change is forced upon us. Losing our Cheryl was the most difficult life-change ever. But – to the best of our ability, all of us here at Raspberry Ridge honor her memory by taking care of the animals entrusted to us in the way that we believe she would wish us to do. She would be pleased.