Mill Creek Farm wears some fancy clothes with its stone wall entrances and barns with wood finished interiors and sliding stall doors. Board fences crisscross the 110 acres of green landscape of the farm in Stillwater, N.Y., not far from Saratoga Race Course.
Painted black, the fence marks out pastures for some 130 horses to roam. It’s pretty as a picture – Barbara Livingston has taken several – yet there’s more to Mill Creek than just good looks.
“It’s all about the horse,” says Anne Morgan, who owns the boarding and breeding farm with her husband, Tim Little. “That’s our biggest thing here. It’s all about the horse, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Each of those horses at Mill Creek receive what Little calls “individual care.” They’re seen every day by both Little and Morgan, as well as checked several times a day by their eight employees.
“That’s why I tell people we don’t miss much,” said Morgan, though the horses can cause trouble. “They’re like little kids. It’s like having 100 kindergartners and they’re all going to go out on the playground and try to commit suicide, and it’s your job to stop them.”
Morgan wants to say they started boarding in 1990 with about 50/50 Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds. Then in about 1996 or 1997 they went primarily Thoroughbreds.
“Everything here that you see has been built since we’ve been here,” Morgan said. Little said the grounds were just pasture and woods when he bought it. Now there are six barns with a total of 80 stalls, and about 13 run-ins. Little built all but one of the barns with the help of their employees and Morgan.
Morgan said her father made the mistake of buying her a pony when she was a kid, and that was it, she was hooked.
“I started galloping horses when I was like 12,” she said.
She worked on a farm, and then at the track for the late Hall of Fame trainer T. J. Kelly for 10 years, and then she took out her training license. She still trained a couple horses after she and Little had the farm, “But we got to be so much bigger in the broodmares, and stallions, and breeding that it was hard to travel,” she said. “Plus we had two young kids. It was tough to travel, and have the farm, and train.”
Little started in dairy, his only childhood reference to horses a saddle horse in the apple orchard that you couldn’t catch.
“I bought a little farm for my own animals, and then a guy from the Standardbred track stopped one day and wanted to know if I would board his horse. And that’s where it went from, I guess,” Little said.
Now they have about 50 clients.
“We have some clients that have been here over 15 years,” Morgan said. “I’m in the fifth and sixth generations of mares with them. We have a couple Standardbred clients that have been with us over 20 years. It gets to be kind of like a big family.
“We don’t advertise for more horses,” Morgan said, adding that word of mouth is how they get their business. “And most people, when they call me, if I don’t know who they are, I’m like, ‘OK, who recommended us to you?’ Because it’s a funny business, and you want good people.
“We don’t actively pursue other accounts, they come to us. And then if we have room, fine, and if we don’t, we tell them we don’t have room.”
The owners take a very hands-on approach at Mill Creek.
“Everybody does everything here, including us,” said Morgan.
Employees arrive at 7 a.m. and are usually gone by 4:30 p.m., but Morgan and Little are typically still out and about before and after their hired hands.
“We do everything that the employees do, and then some,” Morgan said. “If you’ve got a bad horse or a problem child or something, one of us will do it. You try to keep people healthy, you don’t want anyone getting hurt. I’d rather take the black and blue.”
And they are there for the babies-Morgan’s favorite.
“We are both there for every foaling,” Morgan said. “Even though our guys are out there, we have a certain way we like to do it. Everybody does it differently, but our way works great for us.
“We give them all a bottle. We like them to get nutrition right into them right away before they even get up. Just makes them that much stronger.”
It’s foalings along with a hundred other things that capture Morgan’s and Little’s attention-from checking fields to finicky fillies.
“The horse business, it isn’t a job, it’s a way of life,” Morgan said. “It’s 24/7, and you never know when somebody’s going to be sick. You take the good and the bad together, but it’s a way of life. It’s not just, ‘OK, it’s 5 o’clock, I’m going home.’
“I like to farm it. I love the horses. I like racing. I like racing Standardbreds, Thoroughbreds, it doesn’t matter. You have to love it to do it. It’s a way of life.”
Mixed in among all those boarders and layups, the couple has a Thoroughbred mare and foal of their own, as well as four racing Standardbreds, but they don’t differentiate.
“Our motto here is, if they’re here, we treat them like they’re ours. And the clients know that we treat them like they’re ours. We think of all the babies as being our babies, our mares. Even though we don’t own them, it’s just like we own them.
“”And we tell potential clients that up front. And we tell them, you know, if you’re gonna not do the right thing, don’t come here cause I’m not going to argue with you. Because we’re protecting the whole herd, and protecting everybody’s horses the same. But we don’t have any problems with that. We have good clients, and they love their horses.
“And those are the kind of people that I like to be around, that are real people, that are fun. It’s supposed to be happy, and it’s supposed to be a good experience, not a bad experience.”
Morgan said the farm averages about 25 visitors a day during the annual Saratoga Race Course meeting. Owners come to check on their horses and bring bloodstock agents and trainers to have a look at their foals and yearlings. It’s a busy time of year, but nothing they can’t handle.
Little and Morgan have been together for 25 years, though Morgan wasn’t sure how many they’d been married. She thought maybe 20. But specific numbers and dates aren’t all that important to the overall big picture.
“When we got together we both had that love of horses,” Morgan sad. “I knew him for a long time just peripherally because he was primarily Standardbreds. We just sort of knew each other and it just sort of escalated, I guess. He’ll tell you I chased him. I tell you he chased me. It was so long ago no one really remembers the true story, which is true of most relationships.”
But it was always the horses for Morgan, who loves the babies.
“I tried a few things. I didn’t like it. I can’t stand being inside.”
“We tried a few things,” she said.
“Loved them all except the horse business,” Little said in jest.
Simply put, “I like animals. That’s all there is to it,” he said.
And no matter how busy things get on the farm, Morgan said, “If there’s a horse in that was born here or raised here, we try to get in and watch them race.”
By mid-meet they’d already had four or five winners that were raised on the farm.
“We always do have a few,” Morgan said, “but we’re not big limelight people. We’re just quietly happy that they did well for the owners.”
Read more about Mill Creek Farm.