Blount Co. Ranchers Like Healthy, Happy Stock
By Suzy Lowry Geno
Freida Burdette said of her husband Mark: "His horses are under the hood; mine are out in the pasture."
And while that statement sounds comical, at HorseNAround Farm, it’s really true!
Freida’s passion is her line of Spotted Saddle Horses descended from herd stallion, Patches Promise Land, and a group of mares she hand-picked specifically for their gentleness, their confirmation, and their smooth and easy-going gait.
While Mark enjoys the horses (as well as the ranch’s pygmy goats, chickens, dogs, cats, swans, ducks, geese and more!), his heart is literally "under the hood" in the special barn filled with the classic cars and trucks he restores and has restored through the years.
He looks out over the cross-fenced pastures at a group of mares, Patches’ son and grandson, and the 200 Canada geese that have evidently decided to make the ranch their year-round home, and laughingly called the horses Freida’s "lawn ornaments."
The couple’s easy back-and-forth banter exemplifies the easy-going personalities of their ranch’s animals and their farm’s atmosphere in general.
Married about 12 years, Mark noted, "I saw her driving a Ford pickup and knew she was the one for me."
In actuality, choosing the farm, like choosing each other, was a particular and painstaking process.
Mark was President of United Plywood and Lumber, Inc. for more than 42 years, overseeing operations in three states. He’d lived in Mountain Brook for more than 30 years and wanted a place to retire away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Likewise Freida had worked for the Birmingham Post Office for more than 30 years and had lived previously in Shelby County and then Center Point.
When Mark found the initial property off Ricetown Road in very rural west Blount County, he knew he’d found home. He bought the property in three stages: the original 80 acres with the house and rough areas which are now pristine pastures; then an additional 14 acres and finally more acreage which includes about 1,800 feet of frontage on the Mulberry River.
The ranch now includes 135 acres, about a mile and a half of vinyl fencing, the couple’s remodeled spacious home where floor-to-ceiling windows allow views of the pastures and barns, two small ponds whose water is carefully pumped by two windmills, the two larger barns, and several additional paddocks and outbuildings.
The couple is certain how they want things to look, how they want their animals trained, and the importance of quality in everything from the foals and pygmy goats they sell, to even the big brown eggs they sold until a predator "relieved them" of many of their chickens.
"I grew up on a farm in Shelby County and I ALWAYS loved horses," Freida explained. "But, when I moved out here originally from Center Point, I had no idea what I was doing in the country. Now you couldn’t PAY me to move back to town."
Likewise Mark noted: "I grew up outside of Meridian, Mississippi. We always had horses, dogs and cats. It really wasn’t what you’d call a farm; it was just a home in a country setting."
Freida makes certain her animals go to good homes.
"They don’t go unless ‘Mama’ says they go," she laughed.
"We were blessed a couple of years ago when a woman bought several mares and a stallion from us to start her own herd in North Florida," Freida stated.
"I want people to know that we put a lot into our horses (and goats). I’ve always tried to do more and take care of our animals. Even though it costs more, I like to see healthy and happy animals.
"We do a lot of hands-on when they’re born. I also check bloodlines and temperament.
"I had wanted a 100 percent homozygous stallion, but when I saw Patches and his temperament, I said I wanted him! Patches is a lot of horse, but he listens. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful stallion. All of Patches’ foals have good temperaments as well and are willing to please.
"We’ve had a lot of compliments from previous clients on how well our animals look and act, and we’ve also had a lot of repeat buyers and made a lot of friends.
"All of our foals have been clipped, groomed, farrier and vet-checked, and loaded on trailers, both two-horse and four-horse.
"We want anyone, whether you’re experienced or a beginner with horses, to be able to buy a horse from us, load the horse, take it and ride it, or train it or whatever you want to do, with that horse."
The Burdettes have developed such a close relationship with vet Dr. Jason Coe and farrier Kenneth McCormack that they feature them on their website and enjoy family visits.
Freida noted, "Our training process is slow and easy. It makes it easier on the horse and handler, which I think gives you a better relationship with the horse. All the work is done without a bit as well!"
Folks often ask Freida the difference between a "spotted" horse and a "paint."
"The Spotted Saddle Horse has a more easy-going walking gait," Freida said. "The Paint is more of your Quarter Horse."
That easy-going nature is what Freida also loves about the playful Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf goats she raises and sells. Some are sold as small dairy goats, others to begin breeding herds and some just as pets.
Mark laughed about the woman who visited the farm one day in a $80,000 Hummer and left with a Pygmy goat safely ensconced on the seat!
Both Freida and Mark, and their three ranch hands, scoff at the term "hobby farm," noting their ranch is a full-time job and responsibility. In fact, Freida spent much of the New Year’s holiday in the vet’s office trying in vain to save two small Nigerian Dwarf goats.
Freida noted it is the "many wonderful friends we’ve gained" through selling the horses and goats that really make life worthwhile.
Mark’s den has an entire wall featuring magazine articles and awards about the cars and trucks he has restored and you might find him at a national show or somewhere like the World of Wheels in February in Birmingham with one of his finest on display, but he makes sure everyone knows he is truly a "ranch hand" now.
Mark simply said, "This life in the country is just such peace and quiet. Although there’s an extraordinary amount of work to be done every day, our life now is lived not by the clock, but is set by the sun."
For more information on HorseNAround Farm, you can visit their website www.HorseNAround Farm.com or call them at (205) 590-1070.
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.