Irish Luck Stables in Brookline, NH offers riding lessons, starts 4-H program

Kim Gagnon has been around horses all her life and is passionate about them.

She grew up in Tyngsborough, Mass., and by the age of 5, she was riding her beloved Shetland pony named Popcorn on the trails with her brother and parents.

“I had a great childhood,” she said. “My best memories are of riding and being in the hay.”

When her family decided to move to Brookline last year, she knew she wanted a place where her 4-year-old daughter, Madi, could have a horse. Little did she realize that she’d end up running a thriving business with 10 horses, an indoor riding arena for lessons, and a fledgling 4-H program, resulting in many new friends in the local community.

Gagnon worked for several years in philanthropic fundraising at Lowell General Hospital in Lowell, Mass., but after her older daughter, Kayla, started college, she decided to make some changes. This included giving up her commute to move closer to her extended family, and slowing down to enjoy her younger daughter’s childhood.

“When we moved, we tried to find a place to have a couple of horses for Madi,” she said. “I wanted to continue our tradition of riding, but we couldn’t find a place that worked. Either the barn was great and the house was bad, or the house was great and the barn was bad.”

She eventually purchased a property with a barn on Corey Hill Road and a separate house elsewhere to live in, and spent much of 2013 doing renovations prior to opening Irish Luck Stables.

“We started over from scratch,” Gagnon said of the barn, which had been empty when she closed on it. “A lot of the things we had to do were the basics, but we went through every stall and the core of the building to make sure everything was correct. We learned as we went.”

What to name her enterprise came easily to Gagnon, since she has Irish bloodlines. Her maternal great-grandparents came over from Belfast and Cork in Northern Ireland during the 1800s, and her father’s ancestors were from Kilkenny and Cork. Her logo incorporates a shamrock and horseshoe, to symbolize her Irish luck.

The highlight of Irish Luck Stables is the new 140-by-70-foot indoor riding arena. Gagnon hired Brian McNeil, of e=mcArenas in Florida, to help design and build the arena. Old materials were cleared out and geo textile footing was installed.

“Our arena is really state-of-the-art for the area,” she said. “I don’t think you will find a better one around here.”

Because it can get quite chilly in the barn, Gagnon also added a viewing room along one wall of the arena. The viewing room is heated in winter and air conditioned in summer, so parents can watch lessons in comfort and have a place to socialize with some refreshments. She plans to add a 100-by-200-foot outdoor dressage arena this year

The renovated barn has 16 stalls, each equipped with state-of-the-art cameras so those who board a horse or lease a stall can have direct access at all times. Clients who take lessons are given a secure log on, and their families can also log in to watch their lessons.

“I want to provide the most professional service I can,” Gagnon said. “If I sign a contact saying I will feed your horse so many times, keep him blanketed or anything else, you can hold me to it. You can see that we are doing what we said we would do.”

The stables are run by a combination of family and professional staff. Gagnon’s husband, Derek, who is “not a horse person but so supportive,” was instrumental in getting the cameras installed and running. He helps with stacking hay, mending fences and other repairs, as does her brother. Susan Callahan, her mother, helps out around the office.

In addition, those who come for riding lessons are encouraged to volunteer around the barn, and the children seem to love brushing and feeding the horses and five goats on the premises, as well as assisting with tasks like mucking out stalls. Not many other facilities allow for volunteers like that.

Barn manager and instructor Danielle Preece has a degree in equine science and outdoor education from State University of New York at Cobleskill. The other main instructor is Stephanie Paradiso, who will graduate in May from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in outdoor education. Cassie Clark-Heiter helps around the barn, is the unofficial photographer and updates the Irish Luck Facebook page. The animals are cared for by veterinarian Chad McGee, of McGee Equine Clinic in Townsend, Mass.

McGee specializes in horses, so naturally makes house calls for his patients. He travels to Irish Luck for routine care and vaccinations. He was with Gagnon last July 4 when one of the horses went into labor, and was there recently to check on Izzy, who seemed to be having trouble with one leg.

Under McGee’s watchful eye, Preece first walked Izzy around the arena and then mounted the horse. She followed his directions for pacing and reversing direction to observe her gait and limited range of motion. He determined it was a flare-up similar to tendinitis, and gave Izzy an injection for pain.

“Chad is famous in the area, and he is my hero,” Gagon said. “It has been a great partnership and I really appreciate him.”

To attract new clients, Gagnon offers a different promotion each month. From now through mid-April, new customers can take three lessons for only $100. Lessons are currently offered in English hunter, jumper dressage, Western trail and pleasure styles. There are many parent/child teams, as well as some couples who participate.

Lynne and Leo McNamara spent six years riding horses on a dude ranch in Montana, and moved from Arlington, Mass., to Pepperell so they could have horses of their own. They began lessons with Preece and are glad to be part of the Irish Luck family.

“We fell in love with her,” Lynne said of Preece. “She told us we are like her grandparents. She’s given us lessons and taken us out riding. This barn is beautiful, and this is the best footing.”

“They are kind to their horses and clients,” Leo added. “It’s always clean, and the horses are always groomed.”

Tiffany MacKay grew up riding horses in Colorado and now lives in Dracut, Mass. She and her 4-year-old son, Iain, take lessons together.

“The smile goes on his face the second he walks in here,” she said. “He asks me every day if it is a barn day. We knew Kim before she started, and he fell in love with it here and decided to take formal lessons.”

Iain said his favorite horse is Annabelle, and he loves to go fast. So far, he has learned how to balance, and has begun trotting. He is doing so well with his lessons with Preece that he will begin to participate in schooling shows this summer, at places such as Oak Rise Farm in Goffstown.

Lauren Rogers, of Brookline, had been riding for four years at Fair Winds Farm in Milford, and her mom, Stephanie, is glad to have Irish Luck in town. Lauren is enjoying her lessons and the chance to volunteer.

“I have cleaned up tack rooms, mucked out the goat stalls, got rid of cobwebs and watered horses and goats,” she said. “I want to volunteer more in the future. “

Rogers also participates in the 4-H program, which Gagnon started to fill a void in the area. She and her staff had to undergo testing and background checks in order to be certified for 4-H.

“There is 4-H for rabbits and agriculture but not for horses,” Gagnon explained. “We have had about 75 kids come through to check out the barn at open houses, and about 30 have signed up and go to meetings.”

Megan McLaughlin was the first official rider at Irish Luck Stables, and she serves as the president of the student-run 4-H program. She has encouraged friends to sign up for lessons at Irish Luck and volunteers extensively in the barn.

“I really like it here,” she said. “I get a warm fuzzy feeling from the horses and instructors. It’s a nice place to be. I like to do a lot of the jobs, feeding, cleaning, anything to help out.”

Megan used to ride in this same spot under previous ownership, and her mother, Carrie, agreed that the new place is wonderful.

“They have done a lot of improvements,” she said. “I didn’t realize a barn could be so clean. I like that it’s close by, too.”

The 4-H group will be doing a presentation at Milford Middle School on March 22. There will be a fashion show, photography exhibit and display of baked goods as well as posters regarding their activities.

Even though the group photo and morning chores are over, a few diehard fans still linger in the warming room, including Linda Riendeau, Gagnon’s mother-in-law, and Amy Cassidy, one of her best friends. Cassidy jokes that because Irish Luck has become so popular, her lesson time shifts from week to week depending on when there is an opening, but she doesn’t mind because she celebrates her friend’s success.

“For years, Kim worked in philanthropy and raised tons of money to help others,” Cassidy said. “I’m so proud that she is doing something for herself, something she loves like horses. In taking a chance on herself, she has brought much joy to other people and has met so many people in the community. Whatever she puts her mind to, she can accomplish.”

Anyone interested in joining 4-H or taking riding lessons can contact Gagnon through the Irish Luck Stables page on Facebook or by calling her at 521-5853.