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Minis in the Monastery


The Carmelite Nuns of Holy Annunciation Monastery standing with one of their horses

Ora et labora is more than a motto, it’s a way of life for the Carmelite Nuns of Holy Annunciation Monastery. Simply translated the nuns live a life balancing work and prayer in everything they do. Located in Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania, the Sisters have devoted themselves to God, the land and all creatures great and small.

Although they are devoted to all of God’s creatures, it’s the small ones who have brought attention to the monastery through the Carmelites’ Mini Corral. Mother Marija, Superior at Holy Annunciation Discalced Carmelite Nuns, not only helped establish the monastery, she introduced the beloved miniature horses to the monastery. According to Mother Marija, a little over a decade ago, developers were starting to buy up surrounding properties in the area and rezone the property. “I knew if we could get some animals on the property, we could keep our grandfathered agricultural zoning and tax exemption,” she says.

Initially, Mother Marija dabbled with the idea of training miniature guide horses for the blind. However after looking into the details, most guide horse training programs gift the horses to the recipients once they are fully trained. “We’re a contemplative monastery, we spend 6 hours a day praying, but we need to make money to pay the bills so we can survive,” explains Mother Marija. “As much as we want to help others, we aren’t philanthropists and need to be self-supporting.”

It was during this time the Sisters heard about Piano Man, an Appaloosa miniature horse. “The Sisters didn’t know much about horses, but we knew that we liked appaloosas,” chuckled Mother Marija. Shortly after they discovered their love for the spotted ones, Reh’s Repeat Gene was bought as a 4-month-old colt and thus the Carmelites’ Mini Corral began.

One of the nuns walking with a prize winning horse

At first the Sisters sent their horses to outside trainers to condition, train and exhibit. They continued this practice for seven years until by happenstance the opportunity presented itself for the Sisters to get involved in the training and showing themselves three years ago. A few trainers missed the deadline for clients’ entries for a major show which resulted in disappointment and some backlash from their customers. Mother Marija saw this unfortunate event as a way to stand by their trainer, while at the same time enabling the Sisters to become more involved.

“I asked our trainer to teach the Sisters how to condition and show minis so we could stand with him publicly as a testimony to our faith in his integrity and expertise," explains Mother Marija. “And so we began, only to discover we had a Sister with a real gift and a senior mare that won first places and 2 World Grand Championships the next year.” This was truly an unexpected blessing for the Sisters as it was the first time they had ever shown horses on their own. Today each of the 13 Sisters plays a role in the caring for the 40 minis that call the Carmelites' Mini Corral home. Although five are dedicated to caring for the minis, they each pull their weight on the 40-acre farm. From shredding newspaper for stalls to farrier work to bailing hay to foaling out, the Sisters do it all. “We are so blessed to be living a traditional way of life through farming,” rejoices Mother Marija.

After the success at the first show, the Sisters really got into the swing of things training and showing their minis. As they show the minis in halter, it’s critical they have the best possible body condition when it’s time to enter the show ring. To do this the minis have a very regimented feed and conditioning program. Each of the show minis exercises in both the roundpen and hot walker, working each side to muscle up evenly. “We start them in the round pen for 5 minutes per session and work up to half hour session trotting and cantering as they get better conditioned,” explains Sister Kristina.

However, it’s not all work and no play for these minis. “We’ve found it’s really important to give them two or three days off a week,” says Sister Kristina. “They need time off to just be horses and hang out with each other.” The feed regiment is vitally important when it comes to mini care. “We slowly start to build up their weight during the winter as it’s easier to take weight off midseason than put it back on once they get into show season, remarks Sister Kristina.” Sister Kristina sings the praises of Yost’s Country Store and Rich Yost who explained the benefits of fixed feed formulas offered in both the Triple Crown® and Legends® lines.

“When we first started showing we just fed what the trainer was feeding, we didn’t know the importance of fixed feed and wondered why sometimes our minis turned their noses when we opened a new bag of feed,” reveals Sister Kristina. “With Legends and Triple Crown, you can count on the same feed quality each time you open a new bag.” Ever since they made the switch the Carmelites’ minis have been having no problems eating and look great. “Our minis don’t have the big bellies typically associated with minis because of the diet we have developed for them,” says Sister Kristina. Currently the Carmelites’ Mini Corral feeds Triple Crown 30% Ration Balancer, Triple Crown Low Starch, Triple Crown Growth, Legend Growth Pelleted and Textured as well as using Southern States’® EquiMin® mineral blocks.

Each year the Sisters aim to qualify for the American Miniature Horse Association World Championship show in Fort Worth, Texas and the American Miniature Horse Registry National Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. To qualify the minis must show at qualifying shows up and down the East Coast. Currently the Sisters are showing six minis, while two are off competing with a trainer.

One of the nun's show horses standing in a field

While the Sisters first got noticed in the show ring, they are now known for the award winning lines of minis they breed and raise. Carmelites' Minis are bred for good conformation, laid back shoulder, pretty head and to be under 34" (thus being AMHA registered). After years of working on their breeding program, the Sisters are consistently producing the show quality horses they are looking for. "We really take our time to carefully pair the sires and dams and get the best dominant qualities of each," explains Sister Kristina. "It's always exciting the first time we breed to a particular stallion because we don't know what we will get."

This year's crop of foals has been the best quality and easiest foaling group to date. "Right now we would love to keep all of the horses we are producing," notes Sister Kristina. Alas, there are only so many mouths the Sisters can feed at the Mini Corral. "We try to sell them to show homes as they are destined to be show animals," states Sister Kristina.

However as Mother Marija puts it, "God doesn't always give us exactly what we want." Although the goal is always to breed for excellence and show quality animals, sometimes God has other plans for the horses. It's these horses that go on to do either be companions or therapy animals. Notably minis have gone to homes to help autistic children as well as inner city kids who had never seen farm animals. "We like to use our minis to provide happiness to others," proudly states Mother Marija.

Happiness is just what the minis have brought to the Sisters. These little horses have strengthened the sense of community at Holy Annunciation Monastery. The Sisters who don't work with the minis are just as invested in them as those who tend to them on a daily basis. "One of the Sisters is elderly and she can't do physical work, but she loves to watch the 'nursery' out the kitchen window while she cooks," shares Sister Kristina. "Every night at dinner she shares what she saw during the day, who was playing with who and entertains us all."

Meanwhile, the other sisters go out and visit the minis on a daily basis and make sure they are well taken care of on the treat front. Through bringing minis to the monastery the Sisters have furthered their dedication to the land and each other. "We have learned that no one has to know everything about the horses, together we bring our strengths and work as a team," explains Sister Kristina.

For more information about Carmelites' Mini Corral visit http://carmelitesminicorral.com/.


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