Hundreds of children have had their lives colored with memories of Duncan and Dennis and Bella and Tulip and all the gang at DelMar Farm, and more kids are clamoring to come for a visit “down on the farm.”
Evolving from a horseback riding center to a nonprofit animal sanctuary, DelMar Farm, located in Loxahatchee’s Deer Run neighborhood, is a place of hope for rescue animals and a place of therapy and education for children, adults and soon seniors to enjoy interacting with some 40 gentle farm animals.
The farm was founded by Claudia Campbell, who moved her home to five acres in the western communities when she transplanted from New York in 1997.
Campbell said that when you take on an animal, you make a commitment to them and are responsible for them throughout their life. When Campbell was just 13 years old, she rescued her first horse, Shalimar, who lived with her until his death 16 years later. After that, she acquired Delgamo, who lived another 20 years. These two special horses provide the name of the facility, DelMar Farm.
These same acts of compassion and sense of responsibility to animals who need a home remain and have become the beating heart of the farm, now and what Campbell always wants it to be.
Originally a full-time trainer in Wellington, who helped her students earn numerous grand championships, Campbell took a step back to devote her energies to her two daughters. After acquiring a few more horses and ponies, she provided teaching lessons from her own farm.
Recognizing the importance of children knowing how to properly take care of a horse, and also other farm animals, Campbell shares that experience with groups of children, some with special needs, their parents and soon senior classes as well.
“What better way to get out from being cooped up in the house and enjoy social distancing on a farm, with plenty of fresh air and all these user-friendly, loving, gentle animals,” Campbell remarked.
The well-seasoned cast of characters includes more than 40 animals with a pack of friendly dogs who don’t take part in the activities with children. “Dogs get so excited they can be overwhelming to kids,” Campbell explained.
Campbell and her team teach the children how to be good riders, matching them up with the right horse or pony.
“They enjoy loving on the animals,” Campbell said. “Even animals that their people didn’t want any more have been a great bridge to the visitors. They turned out to be fantastic with kids because they see the impact that they make on these children. When you see the videos or the pictures, it’s heartwarming that we found new purpose for these hug-adoring animals.”
However, running the farm is expensive. “It costs more than $3,000 every month just to feed everyone,” said Campbell, who admits to day-to-day financial worries to keep the farm and the programs going. “As a nonprofit organization, donations to us are tax deductible, and we always welcome volunteers for manual labor and donations, and grants from businesses and individuals.”
Volunteers are a key to making the whole venture successful.
“I try to get other people involved to help out with this commitment to maintain a place of education and therapy for children, and a place for animals to have a second chance at life,” Campbell said. “We’re not constantly trying to rescue and re-home animals. We take in animals that would be educational and therapeutic from the standpoint of our children who come to visit. We ask if this addition is going to help have a positive impact on the lives of the children.”
The visitor field trips to the farm are customized for the group from special needs therapeutic sessions to school field trips to birthday parties.
The undisputed star at DelMar Farm is Duncan the Donkey, who gets along with a quantity of donkeys described by Campbell in jest as “too many donkeys.”
There is also Dennis the Rescue Goat, who didn’t so much get admitted to the farm as he volunteered. It seems Bella the Sheep’s owners planned to let the sheep, who was being bullied by their aggressive cows, be rescued. Dennis refused to be left behind, climbing into the minivan borrowed for the trip and riding with his friend Bella to their new home, where they are roommates. The owners agreed to let him go along, as it seemed to be Dennis’ wish. He has since been saved from kidney stones twice and he’s on a special diet — no small task for a creature with the appetite of a goat.
There is also Winston, the miniature cow who stands at about a child’s eye level and is sweet and adorable, loving people as she was hand fed as an infant.
“I wonder sometimes if the parents at the Critter Corner interaction area are having more fun than the kids,” Campbell said. “The kids love it, and the animals do too.”
Of course, everything is not as easy down on the farm as one might think. Besides always on the lookout for funding, there are certain personality issues.
There is Tulip the Donkey, who despite having the same last name as Duncan the Donkey, wants nothing to do with him. She is too snooty even to associate with the other donkeys, preferring instead the company of the other animals at Critter Corner. Of course, she loves all visitors.
Campbell said that all the animals help the visitors in many ways. “Their kind souls continue to benefit so many,” she said. “They don’t ask for anything much in return… just for our love and care.”