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Early Spring HOWA 2011

Sweet music fills the Connecticut countryside

A trio of horses helps make rural living delightful for musician

Schoolteacher and musician Mary Ellen Briga has to carefully manage her obligations in order to spend time with her horses.

"I try to make it a priority for my free time," she says. "They are living creatures that thrive on our attention. Let's put it this way: It's easier to play with my horses than clean my house."

Briga and her husband, Janis, own a 9-acre farm near Marlborough, Conn., a town of about 6,000 located just southeast of Hartford. She teaches elementary string music full-time in the Windsor Public School system; he is a psychologist for the state of Connecticut.

Homeowner Mary Ellen Briga

Homeowner Mary Ellen Briga

They both grew up in Toledo, Ohio. She earned an education degree from Bowling Green State University, and then a master's degree in violin performance from the University of Cincinnati. In addition to teaching in elementary school, she is a violinist with the widely acclaimed Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Connecticut's premier musical organization.

"Although we were raised in the city and now work in the city, we really like the rural lifestyle," Briga says. "Working around the farm is a partnership. Owning horses has been my dream since I was a little kid. We finally made it happen in the last 10 years."

With land prices higher than they were used to in the Midwest, it took the Brigas a while to find this property. Originally it was part of a 50-acre parcel of Arbor Acres, a farm that was disbanded.

"We visited just after the driveway was cut through the property, walked around and knew this was the place right away," Briga says. "We made a deposit and have been developing the property ever since."

They named the farm "Brigadoon." It is home to three horses, three collies (Rocky, Ruby and their offspring Remy), a flock of chickens, a couple of beehives and a cat. Two of the horses are retired thoroughbreds (Woody and Lily); the other is a three-year-old Cleveland Bay (Chillson Royalton), an English breed that is rare in the United States.

"I think there are only about 200 purebreds in this country," Briga says. "They are the horse of choice to pull the carriage for the Queen of England. The breed is suited for many activities. I expect Chillson to be trained in dressage, hopefully for competition."

Eighteen-year-old Lily has reached second level in dressage and will be retired for all but trail riding. "She is the best trail horse ever," Briga says. Woody had a successful racing career and is husband Janis' trail horse.

"I like to ride all my horses on trails," she says. "It is both mentally and physically healthy for them to regularly ride over the many beautiful trails we have in Connecticut."

Mary Ellen Briga complete chores faster with her CT225 compact tractor

Mary Ellen Briga complete chores faster with her CT225 compact tractor.

Time for a compact tractor

After doing farm chores by hand for a couple of years, the Brigas decided they needed a compact tractor, especially when the manure began piling up and was not being composted regularly.

"As a teacher who knows the value of homework, I tested all the brand name tractors," Briga says. "About this time the Homeowner with Acreage edition of WorkSaver arrived in the mail and my husband said I should take a look at Bobcat® tractors. We drove by the Bobcat of Connecticut location in East Hartford on a Sunday and liked what we saw. I contacted the dealership and soon thereafter purchased a CT225. To get all the same features on other brands, I would have had to spend $3,000 to $4,000 more. The Bobcat tractor was the best value by far."

The 27-horsepower compact tractor, when equipped with a front-end loader, is the perfect replacement for manual labor. With 19.5 PTO horsepower it delivers top-rated performance from 3-point hitch implements.

The arrival of the CT225 made routine chores around the farm much easier. It is used to move manure, drag the 80-foot-by-180-foot riding arena and the 5 acres of pasture, clean up rocks around the property and move materials, such as a truckload of stone that was delivered to be added to the driveway and to build up a footing under the porch. They purchased a manure spreader recently to spread compost over the pasture land.

"Using the tractor for all these jobs is way better than what we did previously — either using a wheelbarrow or not getting the work done," Briga says.

She notes that the work-saving benefits of the compact tractor are matched by the ease of operation. "I need to feel comfortable when I am operating a machine. The CT225 has all the controls in a logical place, which makes it both easy to operate and comfortable. Some of the other tractors I looked at came up short in those areas."

Briga, who uses the compact tractor most days after school and frequently during her time off in the summer, says, "It is wonderful for general maintenance around the farm. I will be keeping it busy later this year clearing another acre or so for additional turnout pasture."

As they continue to make improvements around the property, the Brigas look forward to many healthy and happy years at Brigadoon.

"It's our paradise here," she says, "work and all."