Drivers traversing Bowditch Road in recent weeks may have noticed something different along the stretch near Midway Road — a black sheet of plastic covering the sign marking the entrance to Hampshire Farms Equestrian Center.
In what is perhaps a literal sign of the times, after more than 30 years of operation, Hampshire Farms shuttered its barns on December 31, 2017. It’s a sad ending for the generations of riders who have grown up there, but for Diana Malcolmson, founder of Hampshire Farms, the closure may have been inevitable.
“The horse business is not a money maker,” Ms. Malcolmson told the Reporter earlier this week. “Expenses are huge and you need a tremendous amount of help to care for the horses.
I managed to pay my bills, but that’s it.”
Ms. Malcolmson created the equestrian center in 1986 on 85 acres owned by Dr. Bernard Ryan, a retired surgeon who was happy to lease the property to her for that purpose.
In 2004, When Dr. Ryan was looking to sell the property in 2004, Ms. Malcolmson brought him four buyers who, with Mr. Ryan, purchased 68.8 acres of the property which was preserved as farmland. Dr. Ryan died shortly after the purchase.
Two years later, when Ms. Malcolmson retired, she handed the reins to Laura Tuthill and Erica Steindl, who began riding at Hampshire Farms as children. They continued to operate the horse farm until it closed New Year’s Eve.
Ms. Malcolmson believes the beginning of the end for Hampshire Farms came in 2013, when the owners decided collectively to put the property on the market. Horse farms depend heavily on boarding to make ends meet, and with the farm on the market, owners shied away from keeping their horses there.
In September 2014, the property sold to 60 Smith Street, LLC. The new owner, who remains anonymous, pledged that the horse farm could continue to operate. But according to Ms. Malcolmson, early last year, the owner wanted to upgrade the facilities with Ms. Tuthill and Ms. Steindl reimbursing him for the costs.
“He said they would spend whatever it takes to keep it up, but Erica and Laura didn’t feel they could possibly give back the kind of money needed to put it right and pay back the millions it would cost,” Ms. Malcolmson said, adding that the decision was made to close the farm.
Ms. Malcolmson remains hopeful that the owners of the property will find a way to make it work, and the horses will return to Shelter Island one day.
“They have to realize they’re not going to get someone in there to put in the kind of money needed to put it right and run it,” she said. “But I hope they’ll find someone, because we need it on the Island.”