Sunset Equestrian Park has new manager
The 70-acre Sunset Farm Equestrian Center on Blaine Road got a new manager and the Honey Do Farm on Lincoln Road got a new location when Whatcom County Parks & Recreation hired Blaine horsewoman Deb Highley as the new park manager last month.
Highley, 38, has been active in the Whatcom County Dressage and Eventing Association (WCDEA) for many years. The association has been working with Vancouver Island’s Steve Buckman on developing a cross-country course in the 50-acre meadow that comprises the bulk of the park’s public area.
“Buckman’s the guru of constructing cross-country event courses,” said Highley, a rider from the age of five, “so [our association] brought him down to help us make this into a good quality course.” A similar course was built by Buckman at Island Twenty-Two, a provincial park in Chilliwack, B.C.
Highley has been running a horse boarding and rehabilitation program out of her Lincoln Road Honey Do Farm for the past 15 years, but recently considered moving. “When the manager’s job came open again at Sunset I realized that my being there could also facilitate our association’s development of the property, something the parks department wants to happen as well.”
Highley will run her operation out of the three buildings closest to Blaine Road, a stable, garage and the main house, which she moved into last week. “These buildings are part of the park but not yet open to the public,” she said, “and by the spring I’ll have my own program up and running in there.”
Highley rents the main house and the other buildings from the parks department, who gives her a lower rate in return for her work. She draws no salary and said she plans to “keep my day job” as a Bellingham realtor at Prudential Kelstrup.
There are several permanent cross-country jumps, including a water jump, and a round corral that are available in the public area. Highley explained that arena jumps that you’d see in the summer Olympics, for example, are made to come apart when touched, much like the cross bar on a high jump stand at a track meet. “But these are cross-country jumps, permanently installed to not come apart, just like a tree trunk across a trail,” she said.
Trail riding and walking is also available in a wooded area on the west end of the rectangular farm which abuts the east end of the Birch Bay Golf Course, and with special arrangements the area can be used for activities such as bicycle trail riding that normally are not allowed when horses are present.
“Dogs that are under control are welcome here,” Highley said, “as long as we avoid the situation where a dog panics a horse.” Aside from several horses, Highley’s family will be bringing “our gang, all four cats, two Pygora goats and our retriever Trudy, a dog that brings friendliness to a new level,” she laughed.
Plans are underway to add a 37,000-square-foot (140 x 260) all-weather outdoor arena to the park next spring. “We received a substantial donation to do just that,” Highley said, “and we’re thinking about fundraising to go beyond what that bequest allows. We’d like to get the best all-weather footing we can to cover this clay soil, for example.”
The farm was operated by horse breeders Don and Kay Lowery for many years as Sunset Arabians. Highley said the Lowerys “knew their business. They built the stable, which has room for up to 18 stalls, on the proceeds from selling one very nice Arabian colt.” She sold the farm to the county parks department in 1993, donating half its value and, stipulating only that it be an equestrian facility and that the name Sunset somehow be retained.
Originally an Army brat, Highley still has the easy gregarious manner of someone who moved around a lot and needed to make friends quickly. She’s a 1984 graduate of Blaine high school, but began riding with her parents on Okinawa. “I had a pony named Peanut,” she said, “who had a lot of bad habits. He didn’t last long.”
Highley now rides Bem, an off the track thoroughbred she acquired through the Re-run program that provides placement for ex-racers. “He’s a grandson of Alydar,” she said, “but he’s really slow, so much that he didn’t really race much at all. He’d rather just be friends,” Highley smiled. Alydar was a well-known thoroughbred that won 26 races from 1977 through 1979, and in 1978 became the only horse to have finished second three times in the Triple Crown.
Highley said that with the shorteWith Highley on site, the parks department has a manager to coordinate projects and supervise park use, and although available for emergencies she often doesn’t see park patrons. She emphasized that she’s not there as a riding instructor or to rent horses, although she will have some space for boarding as a part of her business. “People should come in, look at the sign for our ground rules and enjoy the place,” she said.
The park is located at 7981 Blaine Road, about a quarter mile south of Birch Bay-Lynden Road, and can be reached at 371-4027, or through the parks department office at 733-2900.