Horses, farming and friendships

by Heather Spaulding

Sounder contributor

With their soulful eyes and graceful gallop, horses have always been a guiding force and a passion for Maggie Schmidt. Islanders may remember her as Maggie Shaw, a competitive equestrian at the San Juan County Fair nearly 20 years ago.

“I didn’t choose the horse life it simply chose me,” Schmidt said. “Showing competitively since the age of two, I’ve spent my whole life growing, maturing, and evolving in the saddle.”

Schmidt joined 4-H in middle school after learning there was a club all about horses.

In 2001, at 14 years old, Schmidt lost her leg after battling a second round of cancer. That loss did not stop her from riding horses or farming. In fact, she and her husband Lucian now own Forever Home Farm located in Lake Stevens. Forever Home is an 8.5-acre farm homesteaded in 1904, Schmidt said.

The couple were introduced to each other by mutual friends in 2009, according to Schmidt, and fell in love instantly. Nine months later they bought a small lot with a fenced-in backyard.

“We had big dreams of a life together where I could look out my back door and see my horses,” Schmidt said. “A place we could create the childhood we wanted for our future children. One that included the love of taking care of animals, playing outside and working on projects together as a family.”

In 2016, the couple bought the farm, and quickly acquired goats, chickens and other livestock.

“What else do you do with 8 acres but fill it up with animals?” Schmidt asked.

“Our goal was to provide food for ourselves as much as possible with the hopes of also providing for our family and the community,” Schmidt explained, adding that they also strive to raise quality meat from animals that are well cared for to provide for themselves and sell to the community.

Four years later the farm is home to goats, pigs, and cattle as well as free-range chickens for eggs and bees for honey, and of course, horses.

Although the couple doesn’t grow produce, the farm does have a healthy raspberry patch, Schmidt said, blackberry bushes and two 100-year-old apple trees.

When she isn’t farming, Schmidt is a busy emergency room nurse, inspired by her battles with cancer.

“After spending a good portion of my childhood in and out of the hospital and multiple areas of the medical field I felt a true calling for nursing,” Schmidt said. “It wasn’t until after I completed my nursing degree that I found my true home in the ER. Fast-paced, on your toes, critical thinking, critical lifesaving skills and a constant variety of patients and illnesses makes for a never dull moment.”

Being in healthcare amid a pandemic has been, “frustrating, exhausting, confusing and sad,” Schmidt explained.

“I wonder what things are going to change forever, will things ever be ‘normal’ again,” she added.

Schmidt was on maternity leave in February as COVID broke out across the nation. Her emotions were mixed, she said, grateful on the one hand for being home safe and isolated, and guilt for not being on the front lines helping her friends and coworkers.

“They went through … the hardest time of our career,” Schmidt said. “In the beginning, information was changing every day, Personal Protective Equipment — masks and gowns — were dwindling, the staff was dwindling as the patient loads were increasing.”

By the time Schmidt returned to work in June, a process had finally been set in place, PPE was readily available and health care workers understood better what they were up against.

Schmidt has never forgotten her 4-H roots, however, or the experiences the program taught her.

“From life-long friendships, ability to work and collaborate with others, leadership skills, and public speaking there is so much that 4-H has taught me,” Schmidt said. “I am forever grateful for and find myself using every day in my personal life, farm life and my job as a nurse.”

Summers spent practicing riding horses, attending shows, slumber parties with the entire club, watching horses race, bonding over their mutual love of horses formed lifelong friendships, Schmidt said she treasures to this day. As a 4-H member, Schmidt also participated in all the roles of leadership, including treasure and president. Those roles provided her with leadership skills, responsibility, planning and educating, she added.

“By being given responsibility over each other to learn, grow, and guide our younger members we were also building our confidence as equestrians and young adults,” Schmidt said. “I cannot wait for my son to join one day.”

The couple has worked with Future Farmers of America and 4-H to provide market goats in the past, according to Schmidt, despite the farm’s small size.

“I truly feel passionate about children joining 4-H, either joining an established club or making their own,” Schmidt explained. “For those kids who aren’t into sports there is so much more out there for them to experience with other like-minded kids.”

Schmidt added that it’s important for children to be active in the world, have new experiences rather than living isolated behind computer screens.

“4-H gave me confidence in myself, encouraged me to try new things, helped me find my voice,” Schmidt said. “Most importantly I joined a group of people where I could find support and friendship, two things I feel children can never have enough of.”