During a visit to the future home of her mother’s nonprofit organization, Jamie Davis hardly could contain her excitement.
“We are getting fainting goats,” she said of the variety that has become popular on YouTube. “When people make a noise, they freeze up and they fall down.”
Jamie was a special guest during the Oct. 11 signing of an agreement between the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair and Horses With Hope for the organization’s use of Gilfillan Farm for its equine therapy programs.
Founder Anne Davis made sure her daughter was on hand as, in essence, the co-founder.
“When I was pregnant with Jamie, I learned that she was going to be born with Down syndrome, and I learned about therapeutic riding through that,” Anne said. “I knew instantly that God had a different plan for me.”
Horses With Hope has been in operation for 13 years, the past six at a site off Brush Run Road along the Peters Township-Bethel Park municipal line. The move to Gilfillan Farm, a preserved piece of property within sight of South Hills Village Mall, provides the organization with plenty of room and greater visibility while also benefiting the historical society, which owns the land.
“We’re super-excited, because it actually helps us fulfill, we believe, all four of Margaret’s wishes for the property: operational farm, and historical, cultural and educational resource,” Rachel Carlson, society president, said.
Margaret Gilfillan, the final family member to live on the farm, died at age 100 in 2001 and donated the remaining 15 acres to the society. Her grandparents John and Eleanor Ewing Gilfillan purchased 135 acres in 1849 and subsequently built a house and a series of outbuildings, many of which still stand.
One is what appropriately is known as the Big Barn, in which the namesakes of Horses With Hope will be sheltered following some minor modifications by organization volunteers.
“They’re so willing to respect the historic status and nature of the property that they’re going to go above and beyond to get free-standing stalls,” Carlson said. “Nothing will be anchored into the walls or into the wood, continuing to protect the integrity of the building but bringing animals back in.”
A volunteer farmer previously had livestock at the farm.
“The fields were all getting really tall,” Carlson said about the aftermath. “I married into a family of farmers, and so I said, ‘This is a waste of good hay!’ I started looking for a farmer to come and cut the hay, but as you know, there aren’t a lot of farms in Allegheny County.”
An online search led her to Horses With Hope, and she recognized a name, Anne Wagner, among the board members. Tim Wagner, her son, serves as director of education for the historical society, and also happens to be Upper St. Clair High School’s principal.
The result is that farm animals soon will return to Gilfillan, with the goats, fainting or not, on hand for visitors to pet. Also on the way are two miniature horses, David and Goliath, to be housed in their own small barn.
“We plan on adding sheep back into the farm, as well. The Gilfillans always had sheep,” Davis said. “We’re looking to find out what breed they were and bring a couple of those back on the property.”
For Horses With Hope’s therapeutic programs, a field near the farm’s smokehouse and summer kitchen is being converted to a sensory trail area, and next to that will be a riding arena that, when fundraising allows, is to be covered.
The goal is to provide an optimal environment for programs including therapeutic riding, equine-assisted learning and team building.
“We want to make sure that everything we do is professional and safe,” Davis said, “and good for everybody.”