- PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBIN HANLEY
- HOME AWAY FROM HOME Judie Garnsey has owned an operated Meadow Creek Farm just outside of SLO since 1971, which has been a haven for horses and people alike.
At the age of 82, Judie Garnsey is living out an exaggerated version of her greatest childhood fantasy.
"When I was a kid all I ever wanted in my life was a horse and a dog," Garnsey said with a laugh.
As the sole owner and operator of a 27-acre ranch and horse boarding stable just outside of San Luis Obispo, Garnsey now has 24/7 access to a menagerie of horses, dogs, peacocks, and other animals. But it's the human bonds that have made Meadow Creek Farm a staple among SLO County's equine community for nearly 50 years.
"It's a horse boarding facility," she said, "and, you know, so many people use it for so much more than horse boarding."
Since Garnsey purchased the land in September 1971, Meadow Creek Farm has blossomed into a home away from home for countless people and animals. Some of Garnsey's customers have boarded horses in her stables for decades. She's stood alongside some through battles with breast cancer and emotional turmoil. Some attribute their success in healing to the peaceful atmosphere at Meadow Creek, a spacious plot of land that's dotted with ancient sycamore trees and a century-old barn.
The farm became even more important throughout the pandemic, Garnsey said, when so many people were stuck inside, isolated, and facing financial and health challenges.
"I think it was a savior over the COVID for so many people," she said, "because they could be outside and be with their horses."
Meadow Creek Farm is celebrating 50 years of operation this year, and longtime Meadow Creek boarders are using the opportunity to applaud Garnsey for her work as the matriarch of what they say is a haven for horses and people alike. Although Garnsey—being the humble farmer she is—said she's had help from her kids, Cal Poly students, and other young assistants over the years, customers say she's always at the wheel, ensuring everything and everyone is taken care of.
Robin Hanley said she knew she wanted to board horses at Meadow Creek Farm before she even had a horse. She still remembers the first time she drove through the entryway to the farm with her daughter and saw Garnsey dismounting a horse, white peacocks strutting around behind her, and other women chatting casually while grooming their horses.
"Seeing her welcoming smile made us feel like we were coming home," Hanley said.
When Garnsey purchased the ranch, she had no intention of turning it into a stable. She just loved the quiet nature of the country. But eventually Cal Poly agricultural students convinced her to let them board some of their horses on her land, and she realized such stables were needed among folks who loved horses but had nowhere to keep them.
So she quit her job as an X-ray technician to operate the farm as a horse boarding stable full time, and that's what she's done ever since.
For Debbie Lujan, Meadow Creek became a sanctuary during the pandemic.
Although Lujan just started boarding her Spanish mustangs at Meadow Creek Farm a little less than a year ago, she's known about the facility for years. Usually the stables are full, Lujan said, because once you get a spot at Meadow Creek, you stay.
Now Lujan goes out twice a day to feed, ride, and play with her horses, or to hang out with Garnsey and the boarders. It's like a little family.
"This was especially true during the COVID pandemic," Lujan said."To have a place to go and visit with all the other friendly boarders and their horses just became a real joy. For me it helped to lift the emotional burden of the pandemic shutdown."
Gina Sears practically grew up on the farm, seeing it and meeting Garnsey for the first time as a 6-year-old when her family moved in next door around 40 years ago. Sears left for a while and eventually became a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in equine psychotherapy. She largely credits Garnsey and Meadow Creek Farm for where she's at today—it's where she first learned to ride and care for horses.
"They took me under their wing, and I came back after 20 years of growing up to find the same loving community that greeted me on my one-speed bike down that driveway," Sears said. "The place is a treasure, and the people are too."
• Transitions-Mental Health Association is operating a new program, CalHopeSLO, that's designed to improve access to mental health resources in the community. Through the program, which is being paid for with COVID-19 response funds, community members can participate in Zoom meetings on meditation, communication skills, boundaries, and ways to handle difficult emotions. The program will run through August. Δ
Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to firstname.lastname@example.org.