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Early Fall HOWA 2009

Home for Horses

Utility work machine enables owner to spend more time with ailing "residents"

For more than 30 years, Kate Burgess' infatuation with horses was put on hold while she raised her family and worked. Then one day about 15 years ago, she took her youngest daughter horseback riding where they met a retired, broken-down harness racehorse named Skippy, and everything changed.

Kate Burgess

The Toolcat 5600 cargo bed is ideal for loading hay for Kate's horses. She says "Bob" — the 5600 — has made moving materials on her horse farm much easier than with a wheelbarrow or by hand.

The visit with Skippy set in motion a series of events resulting in Burgess purchasing a small farm that is home to Skippy and five other horses with varying degrees of health problems. Her Boys' Town Farm — named for the original all-male group of horses — is located on the outskirts of Selkirk, N.Y., nine miles south of Albany. It's the only farm on a road populated by small clusters of homes.

"I've always been crazy about horses," Burgess says. "My grandfather owned a dairy farm and had ponies when I was growing up. When I went to work, I was away from horses much of the time."

She was employed by the state of New York for 32 years, working for the legislature and the transportation department. Taking her daughter riding rekindled her interest in horses, especially after meeting Skippy at a stable in the Catskill Mountains.

"I kept going back to the same horse week after week," Burgess recalls. "He had recently come to the stable after being struck by lightning, which left a wound the size of a dinner plate in his side. Instead of heading for the glue factory, the owner of the stable decided to try to heal Skippy, who was a moderately good racehorse for 10 years."

Toolcat 5600

Kate Burgess affectionately refers to her Toolcat 5600 as "Bob." She says having the machine at her farm has helped her get more work done in less time. Twenty-year-old resident Sunny is pictured behind the machine.

After a few months, Burgess purchased the horse for $700, regularly visiting and riding him at the stable. About the same time her father had quintuple heart bypass surgery and, according to Burgess, "was just waiting to die." She began bringing him along on her regular trips to the stable. His health improved so dramatically that his doctor suggested he get his own horse. After buying one for her father — paying $1,000 for another broken-down horse — Burgess began looking for a farm. Once she found the place, her father sold his home and gave Burgess her share of the inheritance. She then purchased the 54-acre property.

"I spent days walking over every inch of the farm," she recalls. "It was horse-friendly, had great potential for developing pasture land, ample space for trail riding, and a good and plentiful water supply. Plus, it was close to my mother's nursing home and my father's dialysis center."

For the first seven years she owned the farm, she continued to work full time. Her father moved to the farm and lived for seven years after he got his own horse. "His interest in the horses helped prolong his life," she says.

Building a farm

Even though the property had a barn and some outbuildings, the previous owners did not operate it as a farm. All that changed when Burgess and her horses moved in. It took her a couple of years to clear debris from all the fields. She revamped the barn, creating stalls that open to the outside. A huge above-ground swimming pool was ripped out. She developed pasture and paddock areas, added a 50-by-85-yard driving ring for harness carts and constructed new buildings for the horses. The custom layout allows for the horses to move easily from barn to paddock to pasture.

Toolcat 5600

Burgess found her version of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — a Toolcat 5600.

That's important because all the four-footed residents have plenty of physical ailments. Skippy B. Franklin (remember he was hit by lightning, hence adding "B. Franklin" to his name) is 30 years old and is gradually going blind due to cataracts. Bucky, a 22-year-old retired thoroughbred racehorse, has leg and stomach problems. Spree is owned by a neighbor. He is 29 and has a serious heart condition and a tumor on his kidney. Ben, age 25, is a big, red Saddlebred with arthritis in his back legs. He was purchased for Burgess' father. Sunny, age 20, is owned by a 12-yearold girl who takes riding lessons from Burgess. He has Lyme disease and a metabolic disorder. Missy, an 18-year-old Shetland pony, is the only female horse at Boys' Town Farm. She has a disease similar to asthma.

"I never intended the farm to be an R and R place for horses, but after bringing Ben back from laminitis, I felt confident enough to be able to care for illnesses and injuries," she says. "After that, it just seemed like the ‘needy' ones found me and it makes me feel good to help them. Besides, where else would they go? Maybe it's kind of selfish, but after a career of diplomacy and catering to the powerful, these horses make me feel like I'm finally doing something worthwhile. Mostly they just give back 10 times the love I give them."

Making work easier

As soon as Burgess purchased the property she began to turn it into a home for her horses. When she was researching the type of equipment to use for construction and ongoing maintenance, she got help from an unexpected source — her 3-year-old grandson, Joey.

"He's very interested in equipment," she says, "and regularly looks at copies of WorkSaver® magazine that his landscape architect father receives. I had no knowledge of machinery; I worked in an office. But I was intrigued enough when I read about the utility work machine that I contacted my local Bobcat dealer, Robert H. Finke and Sons Inc. in Selkirk, N.Y. Once I test drove the Toolcat™ 5600, it was an easy decision. This is exactly the machine I needed to transform the property into a farm."

The unique Toolcat 5600 arrived at Boys' Town Farm in the Spring of 2007, and it was put to work immediately doing seasonal cleanup. Previously, Burgess used a wheelbarrow to transport four months' worth of manure to a composting area. "That twoday project was a horrible job," she says. "It took 10 wheelbarrow trips to clean out one paddock. With the 5600 it takes a half hour once a week."

Plowing snow is simple and much more pleasurable. "I have a large parking area and a driveway with a moderate hill, and plowing snow was always a miserable chore. Now I can push the snow where I want and stay warm in the enclosed, heated cab. And with air-conditioning I can work in the hottest part of the day in the summer."

With 14 acres on the front side of a creek, and 40 acres on the other side, the utility work machine has plenty of ground to cover when handling routine chores. Burgess hauls firewood to her house from the back of the property in the cargo bed, and cleans up brush and other debris from the riding trails.

"The 5600 allows me to do jobs I never was able to do previously," she says. "Work is being completed 75 percent faster. Owning a farm is nice, but because of all the work associated with it, you don't have much time to spend doing fun things. Now I have more time to spend with the horses."

Besides being able to do a large variety and volume of work in a pleasant environment, here are some other features of the Toolcat 5600 that Burgess likes:

  • Very fuel efficient. "I can plow through three or four snowstorms on just one tank of diesel."
  • Room for a passenger. "Not only do some jobs require a second person, at times it's just nice to have someone along."
  • Automatic glow plug. "When it first got real cold (single digits) I was worried that the 5600 might not start. No problem. The display panel provides a countdown, and when it's ready, it starts right up.
  • Cargo box. "When I am building fences I don't have to haul a trailer out to the field. I just load up the back of the 5600 with poles, cement and whatever else I need. Everything gets done in one trip. I've been able to install up to 600 feet of fence in one day."

Burgess will continue to use her utility work machine to improve the facilities for her aging group of ailing horses. She has no plans to add young, healthy ones, saying "they would just take up room that the sick ones need. Plus, it's easier for the younger horses to find homes. So I will continue to care for the ones I have, trying to make them comfortable and content, and that's what makes me happy. I guess it's just that simple."

Visit the Toolcat page to read more about the Toolcat utility work machine, see photos and watch videos of the product.