PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2014, and while it should still give you a great overview of the experience, please be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information.
Mandy and I have written about hundreds of destinations since we started our little blog way back in 2011 (which is 3 years and 2 kids ago, in case you are keeping track 🙂 ), and we can honestly say that we have loved every one. I mean, would we ever send you to a place we didn’t love? Of course not!
But still, every once in a while we feel beyond privileged to be able to tell our readers about a place that is extra special, like Ray of Light Farm in East Haddam, CT.
You may have heard of Ray of Light Farm before, especially if you’ve ever been to Gillette Castle State Park or done any research on an outing to Gillette Castle State Park (maybe you read Mandy’s post about her Gillette Castle State Park visit). These two destinations are often paired together because they are practically neighbors.
However, you may not know that Ray of Light Farm is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating abused, neglected, abandoned, and otherwise down-on-their luck animals. From horses to alpacas to goats, chickens, roosters, cows, and even Zedonks (that’s a zebra/donkey mix), Ray of Light Farm provides a caring home for them all. And the best part is that you can go visit with all these animals 6 days a week! No reservations required.
While there is no official cost of admission for touring the farm, donations are greatly appreciated (and needed–believe me, I saw the giant mountain of hay that’s required to feed all these animals for just a week!)
Ray of Light Farm also offers pony rides, no reservation required, on Thursdays through Saturdays from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm (for a $10 donation). In addition, they have a full equestrian program for children and adults starting with kids as young as 8 (for riding lessons) and registered weekly programs for kids as young as 3. (Find out more about all their programs here.)
As for our Ray of Light Farm adventure, we headed out there several Saturdays ago. It seemed like the perfect laid-back, low-key activity for a lazy summer weekend.
For us, coming from Glastonbury, it was a very easy drive down Route 2 East to Route 149 (hop off CT-2 at exit 16 and hang a right on CT-149), and then wandering south through back roads all the way to their Town Street location. TIP: You may encounter some detour signs for 149; they did not affect our route, and we didn’t need to follow the detour. But things may have changed in the past few weeks, so just a heads up.
As I mentioned, the farm is open to visitors 6 days a week (closed to visitors on Wednesdays) and this information is readily available on their website. Still, we got a little nervous when we saw the following sign, which kind of made it seem like we needed to have an appointment:
But now you won’t be nervous 🙂 Because I am telling you in no uncertain terms that you DO NOT need an appointment to come visit the animals any day (except Wednesday) between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (FYI- the Save-A-Buck Tack & Gift Store closes at 5:00, so if that’s your destination, you have some additional time.)
Once you pull into the driveway, continue around and up the little hill to the large parking area. You need to check in/sign a waiver in the tack shop before visiting with any animals or touring the farm.
The sign-in sheet is located far enough away that you probably won’t feel comfortable leaving the kiddos in the car unattended while you sign in (especially since there’s no way to keep eyes on your car while you’re inside the tack shop). At least, I would not have been comfortable with that. Lucky for me, I was with hubby that day, so I had the option of jumping out of the car and running in to sign in my family (only one family member needs to sign in) while hubby got the kiddos ready for our animal adventure.
To sign in, enter through the front door of the tack shop, hang a right past the check-out counter, and head towards the big sign that says “Sign In To Visit Farm.” When you sign in, there will be an option to select if you’re requesting a helmet. That’s for the pony rides (more on that later!).
Of course, it wouldn’t have been that big a deal to bring the kids in if I had been on my own. The tack shop is stroller-accessible and it’s just steps away from the animal areas anyway so it’s not like it’s a big trek out of the way or anything. The main challenge would be dragging the kids back out again after they caught a glimpse of all the fun toys for sale in there! So consider yourself warned 🙂
Speaking of strollers, you could probably push one around here without too much trouble. But you might want to consider a wearable baby carrier for your non-walker (or even your new, wobbly walker).
At 24 lbs and 12 0z, my (not so) little guy just squeaks under the weight limit for my beloved BabyBjorn (I guess it’s time to bite the bullet and invest in a carrier for bigger babies and toddlers). But a wearable baby carrier is definitely great for this outing. Even if your baby started walking at 9 months like mine did (much to my dismay and despite my best efforts to keep him sedentary for as long as possible–I learned my lesson with the first one! Ha!), put him (or her) in a carrier. You don’t want to have to worry about a waddler on this uneven ground and besides, chest-height is the perfect level for them to be at in order to come face-to-face with all their new animal friends.
Now, since I was writing this post, we were lucky enough to get hooked up with Cassie, one of the amazing Ray of Light Farm volunteers, for a little private tour of the property and its residents. Normally, tours are reserved for preplanned events like birthday parties and school groups (also a great idea for Moms’ Club outings!). So we were feeling pretty special 🙂
Of course, before we get started, I want to send a quick shout-out to Cassie who, I learned, has been involved in some way with Ray of Light Farm for over a decade. I’m not going to tell you her age because, well, it makes me feel really, reeeaaaaallly old by comparison. But I will say that she was practically a toddler when she started coming here.
In any event, I was overwhelmed by her amazing wealth of knowledge about the farm and all the animals, and also about the horrendous maltreatment that many of these animals have faced, the situations that perpetuate this abuse, and how the animals have been rescued and rehabilitated. She may be, ahem, less than half my age, but she sure taught me a lot that day. So thanks again, Cassie!
In perhaps the most surprising turn of events since well, ever, Boo decided that he wanted to try a pony ride before we headed out to the barn. What?! My timid little boy who’s still not fully convinced that riding a bike is a fun activity wants to get up on a real live horse? Hubby and I were speechless. We made our $10 donation at the tack shop register, got Boo’s pony ride ticket and headed for the indoor ring, all the while assuming that once Boo actually saw the horse up close, he was going to change his mind pretty quickly.
Guess what? He didn’t 🙂
The Ray of Light Farm staff will accompany your little one around the ring four times, which is a pretty good ride. If your child prefers to have a parent come along too, that’s fine. My second shock of the day came when I asked Boo if he wanted me to walk alongside him and he said, “No, Mama” like I had just asked the silliest question in the whole world. Okay, who are you and what have you done with my son?
As Boo’s Nana said after seeing this picture, “You’re going to need a bigger backyard.” 🙂
I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
Yup. That’s me. Age 8 maybe? I love that my little boy is so excited about horses because they were a very special part of my own childhood. Of course, now that I am a mom myself, I frequently ask my own mother how she managed to stay calm while watching her daughter fly over 3-foot fences with nothing more than a floppy pair of stirrups and lower leg strength to keep her from toppling earthward. My mom said that she always had full confidence in the ability of my riding instructor to keep me safe. And then she reminded me that she didn’t often stay at my lessons and watch. Ahh. Good tip.
Speaking of watching, there is a great viewing room with huge picture windows so that you can see all the action in the ring. It even has tables, chairs and kids’ toys to help keep your non-riders busy.
After the pony ride, it was time for our tour of the farm and to meet the animals. Now, because we were getting a special tour from Miss Cassie, she brought some animal feed around with us so we could A. Get the attention of the animals for the photographs & B. Keep Boo engaged while I asked her a zillion and one questions (poor thing). But normally, visitors are not allowed to feed the animals. Anything. At all. Unless, of course, it is part of an official farm tour with a Ray of Light Farm volunteer or staff member. Otherwise, do not feed the animals. Did I mention that you should not feed the animals? For their health and safety, and for yours.
However, if you feel comfortable, you can pet the animals. It’s not like a petting zoo, exactly. And you definitely cannot go into the animals’ enclosures. But these guys are all pretty friendly and they’ll enjoy a good scratch behind the ears or gentle pat on the forehead. They may think you’re trying to give them some food though, so just watch out for those little fingers 🙂
Ever wonder what a freshly shorn alpaca looks like? 🙂
Perhaps the farm’s most famous resident is Fancy Pants the Zedonk. That would be a combination zebra and donkey.
On a regular day, visitors can feel free to wander around the farm and visit with all these wonderful animals. Everything is pretty self-explanatory, and it’s easy to take a self-guided tour. Don’t worry, there are plenty of signs letting you know where you are not allowed to go, so you won’t wander into any trouble.
On most days, the animals are all out in their paddocks or coops, but you are also free to wander through that nearby big red barn. Around 3:00 p.m. they get turned in for the night.
The main animal area with the goats, cows, sheep, etc. is pretty well contained so you can easily keep an eye on the kiddos as they wander through and visit. We did see one or two horse paddocks that were clearly marked as electric fences, but not in that main area.
The grounds are a great place to bring a picnic, and you can find cold drinks and even ice cream treats for sale in the tack shop.
There is a restroom facility. It’s an outhouse, but I give them major points for gussying it up. This is definitely the cutest little outhouse I’ve ever seen! 🙂 And there are hand sanitizer dispensers inside, which may come in handy after all that animal petting.
At this point, we had to release Cassie so she could attend to her other duties on the farm. We’d been monopolizing her time for over an hour! But the kids were getting a little cranky and restless anyway. Good thing we had a 40-minute drive back home. Guaranteed nap!
Ray of Light Farm is such a special place. Wether you make a day of it and couple your visit with a stop at Gillette Castle State Park, or just come for an hour to hang out and visit with friendly animals and wonderful people, definitely put this unique CT destination at the top of your outing “to do” list.
Phone: (860) 873-1895
Follow them on Facebook!
Open 6 days a week (closed on Wednesdays) from 10:00 to 3:00. No reservations are needed to visit the farm and see the animals.
Pony rides are available Thursday through Saturday from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. No reservations necessary.
The Save-A-Buck Tack Store is located on-site and offers tack, gear, a full line of riding apparel, toys and gifts for animal lovers. Hours: 10:00 – 5:00 daily except Wednesdays.
Visits are free but donations are always welcome.
Pony rides are a $10 donation.
- Stroller Friendly: YES. You can use a stroller if you would like to, but I would recommend a wearable baby carrier for your non-walker or early (wobbly) walker.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: YES.
- Restroom: YES. Outhouse. You can find hand sanitizer in here too.
- Baby Changing Station: NO.
- Parking: YES. Lots of convenient parking in a large lot just in front of the main building/tack shop.
- Food for Sale: SOME. There are cold drinks and ice cream treats.
- Outside Food Allowed: YES.
- Cash Required: NO. Checks and credit cards accepted for donations & purchases. You can also use cash, obviously.
- Dress Code: No need to wear anything special for the pony rides (Boo was in shorts and sandals). You can bring your own riding helmet or borrow one there. The riding ring is a soft surface, and the ground in general is a little dusty and uneven (of course; it’s a farm), so sneakers might be a better footwear choice.
- Evening/Weekend Hours: The farm is open on weekends.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- Please do not feed the animals.
- You can pet the animals, just use common sense caution.
- Ray of Light Farm is a fun place to have a picnic!
- Combine your visit with a stop at Gillette Castle State Park for a longer outing.
- Ray of Light Farm also offers kids’ classes and adult programs, as well as traditional riding instruction.
- Check out their monthly calendar for programs and special events.
- Ray of Light Farm hosts birthday parties, school groups, Moms’ Club events, etc. More information here.
- 4D Vision Gym – A vision training center located in Cromwell, CT where Dr. Juanita Collier, MS, OD and her staff show members how to utilize Vision Therapy to correct visual issues and make learning and playing easier and more fun.
- NEW Imagine Studio – Under the direction of Karla Kress-Boyle, opening this fall at 97 South Street is West Hartford’s only Creative Arts Studio. Focusing on building imagination and self confidence, our wonderful staff will be sharing their talents in Dance, Art, Music, Yoga and Theater programming.
- The Independent Day School – Located on a rural campus in Middlefield, CT this private pre-school, elementary and middle school serves families from over 20 communities.
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