The owner and founder of the Shades of Blue Ranch for more than 20 years, Carol M. Swinford strongly believes in alternative medicine and animal therapy. She started her career as a certified nurse’s aide, lending her services to numerous nursing homes over the years. On the side, Ms. Swinford and her husband, Gary, decided to build and open a ranch because they wanted a couple of horses. Every time her husband built a new barn, it ended up being a new shade of blue, hence the ranch’s name. They started with regular-sized horses, but became enamored with miniature horses after buying one at an auction in 1997. She quickly realized there was a perfect way to combine her job with her passion, bringing her miniature horses to the nursing homes as a source of comfort and therapy. Her peers and patients loved the idea, and she’s been doing it ever since. Today, the Shades of Blue Ranch houses 21 miniature horses and four big horses. Four of the miniature horses are visiting horses and the rest are breeding mares. Besides nursing homes, they are also available for memorial services and school visits.
In addition, Ms. Swinford did not grow up on a farm, but in Chicago. Her father moved them out when she was four years old, and it was only a couple of acres in the country. She kept asking her father when she was in fifth or sixth grade for a pony. Her father did surprise her with a pony and she grew up with it, and later on, when she got older, her father got her a horse. Ms. Swinford’s big break that led her to have this incredible life came when she was working as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home, where they had just bought a couple of miniature horses. She broke the ice by asking the executor of the nursing home if she could bring her horse there for the patients because she saw the need, to give them something to look forward to and something different and for them to talk about. In the meantime, and up until that point, she had horses that she enjoyed. She has been doing it ever since, and it is rewarding.
When Ms. Swinford isn’t bringing her horses to various locations, she has a lot of other responsibilities at the ranch. The most important is making sure the horses are well cared for. She keeps track of all vaccinations and worming routines, as well as all of the breeding statistics. This includes logging when a mare comes in season and how long they’re in season so paperwork can be sent in. Ms. Swinford also works with her husband to contact hay suppliers and other equipment and service personnel.
In recognition of her efforts, Ms. Swinford has received many accolades. A particularly notable one was the Excellent Leadership and Ever-Present Dedication Award from the Heart of America Miniature Equine Club. If she could offer some advice to the younger generation of horse breeders, it would be to take the time to train them and gain their trust. Miniature horses are very intelligent animals; each of her horses can recognize their own name.
Looking to the future, Ms. Swinford intends to continue to raise miniature horses because of their personality. She would like to produce more therapy horses and to expand the number of hospitals and nursing homes they visit. Notably, three foals, Lolly, Duke and Bella, were born in 2018. People call Ms. Swinford the “mini guru” because she knows so much about miniatures horses and they can see it is a true thing with her.