By Francis LaBelle
Aimee Leach was born in California after her parents left the East Coast in what Aimee describes as “the last hippy migration to the West.” Her father had a successful career as a chef, but moved the family back east just a few years later.
They ended up in Northern Virginia, specifically at White Post, Va., about 75 miles west of Washington, D.C. It’s been Aimee’s home ever since.
Fortunately for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Aimee’s new home was also home to “Butch” Eastham III’s 500-acre farm in nearby Front Royal, which has been home to as many as 115 TRF horses at one time.
In August, Aimee will celebrate nine years with TRF, eight of which she’s served as the Farm Manager at Butch Eastham’s Farm. These days. Aimee and her assistant, Ellie Dalton, tend to 59 TRF horses at the farm as well as 26 other horses at Sunnybrook Farm, which sits about two miles away.
“We are a sanctuary farm,” Aimee said. “I love the idea of retraining Thoroughbreds for other careers. But as they get older, you can’t just keep kicking them around in the horse industry. There has to come a time when they can find a spot and they can just be horses.”
The farm is a pretty cool place to just be a horse.
Butch Eastham’s Farm, along with the TRF’s Second Chances Program at the all-women Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, Fla., received Accredited Status last November from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, or (GFAS).
According to GFAS, “Accreditation signifies that Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s two facilities meet GFAS’s rigorous and peer-reviewed equine care standards which are confirmed by a comprehensive site visit.The Accreditation status also provides a clear and trusted means for the public, donors, and grantors (sic) to recognize that these two facilities of TRF are exceptional organizations.”
Butch Eastham and Aimee are rightfully proud of this distinction, as it is further proof that they have upheld the high standards of the historic farm, which can trace its roots back to 1792 — 44 years before Warren County was even founded.
It is hard work, but it’s work that Aimee loves.
“When my family moved here, there were horses everywhere,” Aimee said. “As a little girl, I read The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry. I fell in love with those books. From then on, all I wanted was a horse. I was charmed by them.
“My mother once told me that if I kept my room clean for two years, I could get one,” she remembers “I didn’t make it, and later on, I asked her if I had kept my room clean, would she have gotten me one. She said, ‘Probably not.”
By that time, however, Aimee had befriended the neighbors at the Farnley Farm & Shenandoah Pony Stud, which bred Welsh Ponies, Dartmoors and Crossbreeds.
“I must have been there a thousand times,” Aimee said. “We would go hang out with the turnout horses. Of course, I would have a heart attack if anyone did that today. But I learned about horses and how to take care of them.”
Aimee never shied from work, but no matter what other jobs she had, she found herself wanting to be around horses.
“Fill in the blank,” she says. “I was a teacher’s assistant for special needs children, a nanny for a special needs child, worked in a greenhouse, did landscaping, worked at wineries and worked as a waitress,” she said. “But I wanted to work with horses and learn more about them. My horse training was organic, but then I got a chance I wanted. “
That chance came in August, 2012, when she was hired at Butch Eastham’s Farm as an assistant. Within several months, she was named Farm Manager.
After all this time, the routine has become second nature.
“Ellie and I get a lot done and she is terrific,” Aimee said. “It helps that the horses are all outside and only a few get grained. We start our checks every morning. We look at each horse from head to toe, make sure their eyes and noses are clear. We make sure they are all happy, make sure no one gets kicked or some other injury overnight. This time of year, it’s fly season and we make sure the horses haven’t rubbed their eyes and caused a corneal abrasion. We keep them happy.”
Two horses among all of the others who have resided here stand out to Aimee: Gold Seat and 15-year-old Supurb Suprize.
“Gold Seat was a mare who lived to be 30,” Aimee said. “She had been used as a broodmare, but she was unremarkable. She was stinky, lost her teeth and was not cuddly at all. She had lost the fire of her youth, but she was a good horse who was so wizened by age. We called her ‘Granny,’and she was smitten by little children. I loved to talk to her. She stayed so calm that you knew she had learned the secrets of the universe.
“Supurb Suprize was a rescue horse, and they fed her nothing at the farm she was at. She was starving, but she has done very well here. She is very fat now; she always looks like she’s pregnant. She is very fast, super athletic. We keep a halter on her because she is very difficult to catch. She is super intelligent and she looks you dead in the eye.”
Aimee points out that the farm’s success is traced directly to “Butch” Eastham.
“Butch is out here all of the time,” she said. “He loves the horses and makes sure that all of us have everything we need.”