After being laid off in January from her database management job, Mount Airy resident Debbie Bird didn’t know how she was going to take care of herself and her family.
It was after a two-month job search, that the mother of three discovered her new career.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do [after I lost my job],” she said. “[Then] I saw something on Craigslist about pony parties, and I was like hmmm.”
It took six months for Bird, who has more than 20 years experience with horses, to open The Pony Place, a premiere pony party business, which she operates on her 5-acre farm on Sydney Road.
Bird said the business venture, which began operating in May, allows her to combine her passion for animals and love of children.
“I thought that [it] would be great to have people come here and have the experience of the ponies and the barn,” she said.
Party-goers are given the opportunity to do a range of activities during the themed celebrations, including everything from riding with assistance on one of Bird’s four ponies to dressing up and decorating the animals with themed costumes and washable paint, which Bird owned before opening the business.
So far, the farm has held two parties since it opened in May. Prices for parties range from $300 for a standard 10-person party to $450 for a party of between 16 and 20 people.
“The kids have [had] a blast,” she said. “They really seem to respect being here and being around the animals,” she said.
The children aren’t the only ones having fun, Bird said, her four ponies love the attention, something they lacked prior to coming to the farm. All of the ponies at the farm came from rescue situations or circumstances where they needed extra care.
Stormy, her 14-year-old quarter horse, was a former barrel racer. While the white and black speckled horse was well cared for by her previous owners she developed cancer resulting in a tumor as large as a fist on the side of her face. It was also later discovered that she was missing a bone in one of her legs.
Bird said Stormy is not in pain, but her condition has rendered her useless for the fast and hard riding needed for barrel racing, making the slow work of carrying children an ideal situation for her.
“She’s perfect for the light riding,” she said.
“She’s really lovable,” said Natalie Solomon of Frederick. Solomon is one of three volunteers who help Bird take care of the horses and run parties.
Bird bought her two miniature horses Twinkie and Prancer from a high-kill auction in Pennsylvania and her miniature donkey, Lil’ Donkey, who Bird suspected of being abused previously, was scared of people when she first bought her four years ago.
“She was not used to people. You couldn’t touch her, not even with a brush. She thought it was going to hurt her,” she said. “The outcome [for Twinkie and Prancer] would have been questionable [if I didn’t get them].”
The parties, Bird said, allow her and the animals to feel useful.
“They and I have a purpose,” she said.”They look forward to going to the barn because they know that they are going to be spoiled and loved by the kids.”
“It’s not just work. You get to experience [the farm] and hang out with the animals,” said Morgan Harding, another of Bird’s volunteers. The 16-year-old, New Market resident said she plans to continue helping out at the farm.
While initially Bird said she had some doubts about starting the pony party business, she said she doesn’t regret her decision to stop her traditional job search.
“I don’t miss [the working world], I don’t regret [leaving] at all,” she said. “The idea of making a dream come true, being able to play with kids and ponies all day, what more can you ask for.
Now, Bird said, the animals are doing great and have even developed barnyard romances.
“The two little ones are in love, and the two [bigger] ones are in love,” she said, as Twinkie and Lil’Donkey “the little ones” nuzzled noses behind her.