Two Louisa County friends are teaming up to launch a pair of distinct businesses on one farm property near Gordonsville, a rehabilitation center for horses and a wedding and event venue.
Katherine Johnson, who has operated Veterinary Rehabilitation Services of Virginia for the past few years, needed a larger facility to expand into and found it on a 140-acre property on Route 15 in Orange County. She invited April Haase, who she knew as a fellow parent at Trevilians Elementary School in Louisa, to help turn the late-18th-century house on the farm into a place to tie the knot and more. They have hosted a few weddings so far, giving Haase a chance to show off her skills as an event planner.
Besides her work as a veterinarian, Johnson and her husband Bruce operate Dragonfly Farms on Ellisville Drive in Louisa, raising beef cattle and selling their products at local stores such as Nourish and the Mineral Farmers Market. Haase and her family live at Blue Ridge Shores; she worked part-time in recent years as an educator at Trevilians and has professional experience decorating wedding cakes.
Johnson’s veterinary specialty is in rehabilitation of equine injuries. She graduated from the Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003 and more recently enrolled in the equine program at the University of Tennessee, one of the few places that offers a focus in this area.
“For some reason, the human world claims the term ‘physical therapy,’” she said. “[My work] is all about mobility, giving a horse as little stall rest as possible.”
A more conventional equine rehab regimen would be the opposite, keeping a horse at rest most of the time as it tries to recover from an injury. But new research shows the best treatment is light exercise to achieve a good range of motion in the animal’s joints.
The recovery time for a horse in Johnson’s care can be lengthy three to six months for an eye injury, for example. Typically a diagnosing veterinarian will direct a client to Johnson for long-term care. In addition to injury management, Johnson offers laser and vibration therapy, chiropractic care and other services. The newest tool in Johnson’s arsenal is an underwater treadmill.
“I’ve been riding horses since I was five,” she says in a video recorded for her business web site. “Through all those years of trying to help horses reach their best possible athletic function, it was a natural progression to get interested in rehabilitation work.”
When Katherine and Bruce first considered buying the farm property, they realized it came with the Clifton House, dating from 1782. They didn’t have time to operate an event venue, but they didn’t want the house to sit vacant, either. So they enlisted Haase, who was thrilled to be involved.
She and Johnson have come up with many ideas for events beyond weddings, from a yoga retreat and horsemanship classes to farm-to-table dinners. People can rent horses from Oakland Heights, the farm across Route 15, and explore the trails behind the house, horse barn and riding ring. Johnson wants people staying at the house to visit the barn to get a sense of her work with horses.
One inspired artist even asked if he could use the Clifton House, which is well-renovated but maintains some of the qualities of a creaky older structure, to film segments for a horror film. Johnson and Haase were happy to oblige.
“People are coming to us with ideas I never would have thought of,” said Haase.