Home on the Range: Larry and Nancy Beck
Private pastures are a horse-lover’s paradise
Clearly, this horse does not want to go into its stall. She bows her head again and again, nearly crossing the threshold as the owner tries to pull her inside, but she retreats each time. She’s bumped her head before on the crossbeam and it spooked her. Now, the owner — a slight woman dwarfed by this animal — is struggling to get the 1,000-plus pound beast to behave.
After all, how do you make something that outweighs you by 10 times do anything it does not want to do?
Then Katie Colfer steps in, gently takes the reins and walks the horse down the hall, circles and comes back and guides her into the stall with aplomb.
Watching this magnificent horse tiptoe at the hands of this young barn manager and equestrienne at Birchwood Farm, it becomes evident why people do this — they make that connection, find that mutual understanding, arrive at that moment when a half-ton animal trusts you that she won’t bump her head this time.
Because horse ownership isn’t a roll in the hay. It exudes a pungent odor and dirties up your clothes; it demands a never-ending cycle of cleaning, grooming, exercising, and for some, training, traveling and competing.
It’s time consuming, for a pastime.
“Oh, it’s not a hobby,” says Larry Beck, a name that comes up repeatedly in the Northern Michigan horse scene. Beck and his wife of 54 years, Nancy, are the owners of Birchwood Farms and affiliated properties, encompassing the equestrian center, construction company, and 350 acres of pasture, trails and woodlands north of Harbor Springs.
The Becks’ personal property is a home and acreage at “Horseshoe Bend” on M-119, right at that hairpin turn along this state’s coastal highway. Among their acres of land, the Becks own 30 horses themselves and board 34 others.
It’s been a lifelong pursuit of Larry’s, starting when he was thrown from a horse on his aunt’s Texas ranch at 7. “I learned by the seat of my pants how to stay on a horse,” he recalls.
Since that first impression, he’s owned at least 100 horses, and while he has had a few favorites, he divulges that he doesn’t get emotionally attached.
“I enjoy them. I provide a tremendous home for them. But my job on Sunday on the farm (as a youth) was to get the rooster for dinner,” he says, going on to detail next the process of how he was responsible for initiating young bulls into the harsh realities of the world, too.
That farm, outside of Chicago and owned by his parents, introduced Beck to the labors of farm life. While they lived in the city, weekends were spent in the country, where he learned to drive horses and handle those previously mentioned tasks of managing animals. He also drove a milk wagon in the city, and made his first connection to Northern Michigan by spending a summer sweeping up manure on illustrious Harbor Point.
It’d be 30 years until he visited the North again, after a sister married into a family in the area. In the meantime, he worked to develop Waste Management, today among the giants in waste collection companies in the country.
When it came time to retire, the Becks looked for a place to build a second home for themselves and their children (Holly, Scott and Tom) and grandchildren to enjoy, and in 1980 they found the property that would become their home, at Horseshoe Bend atop the bluff north of Harbor. Twelve years ago, the couple bought the Smith Hoover farmstead and created Birchwood Farms; whenever adjacent land would open up for sale, Beck would buy it and they now have about 350 acres criss-crossed with trails and opened wide with pastures for the horses.
His focus now is to develop Birchwood into a premier equestrian center, with regular events and an emphasis on boarding, training and a driver’s program. Beck has also been instrumental in supporting the Harbor Springs High School equestrian team, offering horses for lease to some students who want to participate but who don’t have a horse; those students can work off the lease terms at the farm as well.
Beck also opens the grounds to handicapped children once a year, in partnership with the Christ Child Society, offering rides and interaction with the horses, including his own cavalcade of 30. Among them is Shots, a 24-year-old out in pasture.
Not that we’re saying he’s attached to the Morgan, but after our interview, Beck sends a follow-up e-mail noting Shots’ photo is on his desk, if we wanted to take a look next time we stop by.