Two friends from Louisa County team up to start two different businesses, a horse rehabilitation center and a wedding and events venue, on a farm near Gordonsville.
Katherine Johnson, who has operated Veterinary Rehabilitation Services of Virginia for the past several years, needed a larger facility to expand and found it on 140 acres off Route 15 in Orange County. She invited April Haase, whom she knew as a co-parent at Trevilians Elementary School in Louisa, to help build the late 18th century house. They have hosted a number of weddings so far where Haase could demonstrate her skills as an event planner.
In addition to working as a veterinarian, Johnson and her husband Bruce run Dragonfly Farms on Ellisville Drive in Louisa, raise cattle, and sell their produce in local stores such as Nourish and the Mineral Farmers Market. Haase and her family live in Blue Ridge Shores; She has worked part-time as an educator at Trevilians in recent years and has professional experience in decorating wedding cakes.
Johnson’s veterinary specialty is horse injury rehabilitation. She graduated from Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003 and recently enrolled in the Equine program at the University of Tennessee, one of the few places that offers a major in this area.
“For some reason the human world claims the term ‘physiotherapy’,” she said. “[My work] it’s all about mobility to give a horse as little rest as possible. ”
A more conventional horse rehab program would be the opposite, as most of the time a horse is kept at rest while trying to recover from an injury. But new research shows that light exercise is the best treatment for achieving a good range of motion in the animal’s joints.
For example, a horse under Johnson’s care can take three to six months to recover from an eye injury. Typically, a diagnosing veterinarian will refer a client to Johnson for long-term care. In addition to injury management, Johnson offers laser and vibration therapy, chiropractic, and other services. The newest tool in Johnson’s arsenal is an underwater treadmill.
“I’ve been riding since I was five,” she says in a video that was recorded for her company website. “After all these years trying to help horses achieve their best possible athletic function, it was a natural development to become interested in rehabilitation work.”
When Katherine and Bruce first considered buying the farm property, they found that it came with the 1782 Clifton House. They didn’t have time to run a venue, but neither did they want the house to be empty. So they hired Haase, who was thrilled to take part.
She and Johnson have come up with lots of ideas for non-wedding events, from yoga retreats to horse riding lessons to farm-to-table dinners. People can rent horses from Oakland Heights, the farm on Route 15, and explore the back paths, horse barn, and riding arena. Johnson wants the people who live in the house to visit the barn to get a taste of their work with horses.
One inspired artist even asked if he could use the Clifton House, which is well renovated but retains some of the qualities of a creaky older structure, to film clips for a horror movie. Johnson and Haase were happy to comply.
“People come to us with ideas that I would never have thought of,” says Haase.