- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) - Miniature horses can be a big deal to youngsters - especially ones that leap over rails, sit on command and clap their hooves.

Animal adorer Cheryl Shireman understands.

So sometimes, she lets children closely connect with the critters by allowing kids to direct the lovable little ones, Princess and Precious, through part of their entertaining routine crafted by trainer David Davis.

“There are no secrets here of how we do things,” she said.

But some repeat visitors to the 200-acre nonprofit Shireman Homestead, where the miniature horses and other animals steal the show at 7060 W. County Road 200N west of Columbus, swear the farm is among the area’s best-kept secrets.

That’s even through nearly 1,000 people have visited on its biggest weekends.

“I think all this is amazing,” said Amanda Smith, visiting recently with 3-year-old daughter, Makenna Smith. “Seeing Santa, the Christmas village, all the lights, the horses, the animals. And everybody is so friendly.”

You say Christmas is over? Someone forgot to tell Cheryl, husband Matt and her father-in-law, Steve Shireman, at the spread that has been in the family for more than a century. Their festivities, offered for seven years, still unfold from 5 to 7?p.m. Fridays through Sundays by appointment through mid-January.

On a recent evening when the temperature stood at nearly 50 degrees, Cheryl Shireman still wore her homemade, fuzzy red-and-white Santa jacket. A beaming smile merely added to her jolly demeanor.

Barely more than 5 feet tall but big on endless energy, she is a veteran crane and bulldozer operator who was part of construction projects such as Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. But before that, she was into reconstruction, helping injured animals.

“I was a little Elly Mae (Clampett) growing up (in Mitchell),” she said. “If a squirrel fell out of a tree, I was right there.”

She long dreamed of a place like this, one where she rehabs sick or wounded critters and either finds them a home or keeps them amid favorites such as Arnold the Pig, Lucky the Duck and others. Plus, she takes animals for visits to nursing homes, schools, adult day care facilities and elsewhere to spread love and education. A folder full of thank-you cards plus children’s drawings of gratitude offer proof that she can bond with humans as well as creatures.

In a world in which many city-oriented children are unfamiliar with a “Green Acres” life, many families list the 70-animal barnyard stop as their favorite homestead element.

“We loved being able to see all the animals up close,” said Mitch Stam, who recently visited with his grandson.

“I just don’t think there’s a place quite like this,” Cheryl Shireman said, “where people can see all the animals right within their farm atmosphere.”

Not to mention holiday atmosphere, in which even the miniature horses sport colorful Christmas ribbon on their tails and handmade elves astride their backs. Or consider the postcard scene of beautifully bedecked April and Penny, Cheryl Shireman’s Belgian draft horses, clippity-clopping along while pulling a wagon full of people. The exuberance of the homestead leader runs in the family.

Cheryl Shireman’s adult daughter, Andrea Short, distributes hot chocolate at one of the tiny, wooden treat houses along a trail that eventually snakes through a path of luminarias to a decorated Western town. Like her mother, warmth - including the fitting drinks - obviously is her thing.

“I just enjoy seeing all the smiles,” Short said.

Matt Shireman reigns mostly behind the scenes, or under the cover of a Santa suit. As a builder of attractions such as the farm’s covered bridge, blown down by high winds Dec. 23 but destined for a resurrection, he serves as the sturdy undergirding, along with his dad, for his wife’s dreams.

“I couldn’t do any of this without them,” Cheryl Shireman said.

Yet, with lights seemingly stretching from here to the North Pole, more than one youngster the other night hardly thought even for a second when asked what they liked best.

The hot chocolate.

On Christmas Eve, though, children from a local group home fell in love with the animals and Cheryl Shireman, who shared some of her own childhood pain with the kids. By visit’s end, Holiday at the Farm became, well, Family at the Farm.

“They had tears in their eyes,” she said. “I was absolutely bawling. They hugged me and told me they loved me.

“It was the best Christmas blessing ever.”

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Source: The Republic, https://bit.ly/1NW3SbQ

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Information from: The Republic, https://www.therepublic.com/


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