Get a moo-ve on!
When Suzanne and Rudi Vullers moved from the Netherlands to a 33-acre farm in upstate Naples, New York, a decade ago, they dreamed of owning their own bed-and-breakfast.
Unlike most of us with unfulfilled fantasies, they actually did it: opening Mountain Horse Farm in 2010.
The year-round wellness-focused retreat has since added new structures like a modern-barn-style carriage house with private hot tubs, a communal lodge and two traditional handcrafted Sioux teepees for private meditation.
They’ve also taken in a half-dozen rescue horses from nearby barns and, in early 2019, a pair of cows who provide therapy rather than milk or meat.
“We didn’t know people would be interested in being with the animals, we just wanted to rescue them,” said Suzanne, who, along with Rudi, cooks breakfast and tends to the animals. “But we got so many requests from guests.”
In 2017, Suzanne trained with a mental health specialist at the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) to become a certified equine-assisted mental health therapist, and in May 2019, with little fanfare, started offering guests the chance to cozy up to 4-year-old Stella and Bonnie for 60-minute therapeutic sessions.
“A lot of people have stress and anxiety, and the cows are very good at lowering your heart rate and blood pressure just by being with you,” she said. “They are warm and furry and just present and calm, free of worry. That rubs off on people.”
In the pandemic, the outdoor, socially-distanced sessions really took off, and the Vullers just began welcoming guests back to come snuggle — and they are booking out fast. Because the cattle are on a schedule, “cow cuddling” happens daily at 11am and 2 p.m. on Thursday through Sunday, from May through October, for up to four guests at a time, who must also be staying at the B&B.
Suzanne will introduce you, then take you out to the field and keep her distance, letting you pet, brush, hug, or just snooze on the wooly mammals. It’s not uncommon for guests to break out in laughter, smiles or even tears.
“Some people go inward and become really quiet, others cry because some trauma comes up,” explained Suzanne. “This hour gives you time to process everything you don’t have time for in your daily life. Cows are very good listeners — they don’t judge, they just breathe.”
After all that cleansing therapy, guests can finish the job of self-care with a massage at the farm, a hike through the Bristol Mountains or Watkins Glen State Park, a meal at a farm-to-table Naples restaurant or a soak in a carriage house hot tub.
Strategically placed Adirondack chairs also grant visitors moments of reflection as the sun bounces off the trees and fluffy clouds. Should you bond with the bovines, just come back: cows live an average of 20 years, and the Vullers plan to stick around for at least as long.
Rooms are from $180; cow-cuddling sessions are $75 for up to two guests, $125 for up to four guests (16 or over only) who must also book an overnight stay on the farm.