George isn’t a real unicorn, he just happened to be wearing his horn one fateful day at Home Depot.
It didn’t take long for someone to notice the hip-high white pony and ask the owners nearby if George could attend a child’s birthday party.
Much like George unintentionally becoming a unicorn, Kate Nichols didn’t mean to buy a horse farm; she simply wanted a property with a guest house.
She didn’t plan on rescuing more than 40 horses, but she had a barn with empty stalls and a partner who made things appear – like unicorn horns, pens, shelters and food trucks – days after she wondered aloud what it would take to make it happen.
A landscaping company dumped mulch on the property and it became a playground. Fencing for parties at the playground became paddocks.
And all these fated happy accidents are, more or less, how Nichols and Rick DeBerry suddenly came to be the owners of a unicorn farm.
‘Twas the season
In the four years since Nichols purchased the property on Little Virginia Road in Fountain Inn, she has saved more than 40 horses. She started with miniature ponies and has worked her way up to Jupiter, a former carriage horse who has put on 150 pounds since coming to Hidden Pasture.
“When I was in my 20s, I very much wanted to have a visiting farm with mini horses and I baked pies,” Nichol recalled. “It was just a random thing but I never thought would ever materialize and it wasn’t in my life plan. It just kind of popped back up like a vision board over the years.”
Jupiter still has another 200 pounds to go before he’s a healthy weight, Nichols said, a task he tends to himself by stretching his long neck into the next stall and stealing hay from Willy when he isn’t looking.
The neighbors, part of what Nichols called a huge overpopulation problem, were both headed to meat trucks before their paths redirected to Hidden Pasture Unicorn Farm.
While selling horses for meat is illegal in America, it’s not illegal to ship them out of the country for the same purpose. Over 100,000 horses are sent to slaughter each year, according to the Humane Society of the United States, and most could be rehomed.
“(Buyers) have these contracts with these international companies where they have to bring so many heads of horses per year,” Nichols said. “Then they go to these auctions and they buy all the leftover horses for nothing and then they slam them in the livestock semi.”
Hidden Pasture would pay for a trailer of ponies in unknown condition – including whether or not they’d arrive alive to their new homes – and the pair did their best to rehab them.
Miniature horses easily become “lawn ornaments,” Nichols said, and are easily tossed aside when owners don’t bother to train them or work with the animals in any way. Four horses turned into six and, before they knew it, Hidden Pasture’s pens held 25 horses.
“I finally got to a point where I thought, ‘You know we have to do something with these animals. We have to make their lives better not just my caring for them but allowing them to be rehomed,’” Nichols told The News.
In an effort to rehome their rescues, Nichols and DeBerry went through the Clemson Master Equine Program, joined the American Miniature Therapy Horse Association and started training horses for a higher purpose.
It was while training George, decked out in the handmade unicorn horn DeBerry made as Nichols’ Christmas present, that the cogs started turning.
Before it closed, Nichols spent 13 years on the board of the Roper Mountain Holiday Lights. Her connections, decorating skills and love of crafting immersive experiences took over the six-acre farm for the first Yuletide Unicorn Festival in 2019.
“We weren’t open for visitors, we just wanted to see how it would go,” Nichols said. “We only did like four weekends and everything has evolved into what it is today.”
The unicorn farm marked its second anniversary last week, but the third year of the Yuletide Unicorn Festival just kicked off and runs each weekend through Dec. 19, complete with Santa visits, unicorns and a bounce house.
Fairytale farm in real life
Though she hasn’t found time on top of running the farm and maintaining her job to bake the pies from the vision board she’s been holding close to her heart for decades, Nichols has created a family-friendly experience one day and one dollar at a time.
There are 17 equines — including Whisper the hinny — at Hidden Pasture, along with miniature cows, peacocks, dairy goats, bunnies, chickens and pheasants. Nichols and DeBerry decorate for all the holidays to bring a festive feel for visitors, though a few skulls still hung around the coops as evergreen garland graced the fences in preparation for Yuletide.
The “big barn” is but a series of vertical poles that will eventually house six large horses as cash flow and time allow construction. Then she can add more rescue minis to the current barn, train and rehome them.
There’s never a lot of money sitting around when you’re in farming, Nichols laments. They’re cash-based and won’t take out loans to expand, so the rescue grows as unicorn farm income allows.
“It costs us about $2,500 a month in food alone. (Vet care) is very expensive. Preventative care is not, but the emergency care is where you rack up $6,000 in an afternoon,” Nichols said. “Last time that happened, we had to sell the truck.”
Baby Echo’s lifesaving plasma transfusion was worth it. She’ll do it again if she has to, though the summer camps, weekend festivals and other farming operations help maintain the bottom line.
The pair have perfected doughnut and pizza recipes for an on-site food truck, transformed a hay shed into a gift shop and turned Nichols’ office into a guest rental. They breed and sell dairy goats, one of whom serves as an unofficial greeter while considering whether to munch on an artificial Christmas tree.
DeBerry spends his days managing the pastures, maintaining fences, building structures tending to animals and whatever else needs tending. Nichols’ spare moments from work are largely the same, though DeBerry’s skill set is best used in the hands-on, day-to-day of farm labor.
If she wants to have a conversation while they’re working, she jokes, she has to walk and work with him. DeBerry is rarely still and there are always more horns to be made; the horses are harder on them than they expected.
Her marketing skills have helped tell the story of Hidden Pasture, her story and that of the evolving lineup of unicorns, unidonks and moonicorns — no four-legged creature is exempt from the magic.
“I always thought I was going to be a book writer, so I’ve been writing stories about unicorns my whole life,” she said. “We’re just bringing them to life with this.”
— Caitlin Herrington, local reporter and lover of alliteration, covers government and growth in the Golden Strip. Get in touch with her at email@example.com, support her work by subscribing and follow her on Twitter @GVLnewsCat.