Nestled in Ramla Valley is a place desperate to be discovered – Dreams of Horse Farm. Here, Jo Caruanachats to owner (and veritable horse whisperer) Victor Muscat, about how this farm has made his dreams come true.
Victor Muscat extends a hand to help me across the watery path before us. “It’s a little slippery,” he says, almost apologetically. “The winter hasn’t been kind to us and the rain has damaged a lot of the work we’d completed recently. It’s going to be quite a job getting everything back to normal, and even then we won’t have scratched the surface!”
Victor isn’t kidding – if he is to realise his ambition dreams, then there is a lot to be done – but that doesn’t stop me from appreciate everything he has achieved already, as well as wonderful environment he has created at Dreams of Horses Farm, his farm in the Ramla Valley. And it is absolutely wonderful.
“I guess I have always loved horses,” he tells me with a smile, beckoning to the 12 horses each within their own, comfy space on the land. It is clear that he knows each of them, both by name and character, and that each is loved. He chats willingly about their individual stories – some were bought, others rescued – and quirks, and clearly has the utmost respect for them.
“I was raised in Gozo, but moved to Canada when I was 17, which was a huge change for me. For some reason I was always drawn to horses but, of course, I couldn’t afford one of my own over there, so I volunteered with a local organisation that helped children with special needs by allowing them to be around horses, either through specialised therapy, riding or other activities. It was such an eye-opened for me and I was fascinated by what could be achieved, and how much the children improved when they had been around these animals.”
As time went on, Victor seemed to have a real knack for working with horses, whether that was calming them, riding them or teaching them to work a carriage. “I realised that it is all about discipline, and it’s so sad how many horses are wrongly put down, simply because their owners don’t know how to communicate with them effectively.”
Victor dreamed of owning a beautiful horse and carriage and, after five years in Canada, he returned to Gozo. While he didn’t initially plan to stay, it was then that he met his future wife, Mary Anne, and decided to stay.
“Soon after I was able to buy my first horse – Lets-Go-Blue. His is quite a fascinating story, as well as a lucky one. He was being transported from Tunisia to France when the ship docked in Malta and I spotted him. He was probably doomed, but I immediately saw that there was something special about him and began to train him as a racing horse. He may have lost his first two competitions, but he never lost again after that. To this day he is one of the most famous racing horses in Gozo and something of a legend. I love him dearly and, even though it has been years now, he is still my ‘baby’.”
Never one to rest on his laurels, Victor continued striving towards his dreams of owning a real horse and carriage – one that was true to history and which looked beautiful. “I started to research what would be best and eventually began importing carriages,” he says, explaining the hobby that has now also become integral to his career. “Each carriage is designed with the horses in mind; with rubber wheels and disc brakes that make it much easier for the animal to pull them.”
Soon Victor found the right horses to go with the carriage and things took off. “I had always wanted to do something different, so it seemed perfect. I would travel around with my horses and first carriage, and people were amazed; they had never seen anything like it before.”
So things evolved pretty quickly, with Victor being asked to take part in weddings and on other special occasions. “Suddenly people wanted a second carriage, so I needed more horses to go with them – and it kept growing from there. It took a lot of investment but has done well, and I am thrilled with the results.”
And no wonder, as Victor now has numerous vehicles (and an ever-growing collection), that includes traditional Maltese ones, Victorian carriages and others in a more rustic style.
“Although there are many challenges to having horses on Gozo, this island was made for them, and there is no route they cannot take. Nevertheless, it hasn’t always been easy over the years – but I am lucky to have a family that supports me.”
As a matter of fact, back on Dreams of Horses Farm, Victor’s three children – Carmel, 16, Anette, 12, and Gabrielle, 9, regularly muck in with feeding and cleaning out the horses’ pens, as well as those belonging to the sprightly goats and friendly donkey. There is certainly a great atmosphere to the place.
“It was a few years back when I started to dream of owning a piece of land where I could keep my ever-growing number of horses,” Victor continues. “It was a tall order and one that took years to organise as land is so limited. It reached the stage where I had to either keep growing or stop what I was doing, and the latter option was unthinkable.
“Eventually this piece of land just below Xaghra came up for sale; coincidentally I would ride past it as a boy. It wasn’t easy to secure, and it’s certainly not easy to keep financially, but I got it and it’s worth it. “
Today the farm is alive with activities, whether that’s horse riding, team building events or – closest to Victor’s heart – the therapy sessions that the family holds for children with special needs. “Ever since my days in Canada, I have wanted to bring horse therapy to Gozo. I have seen, with my own eyes, the difference that interaction with horses can make to these children; horses are so sensitive and will go straight to the person that needs them most. Here these children can feel free, and can enjoy nature and the lovely atmosphere that surrounds them. It is a very inclusive project and one that I believe in so much.”
Victor never charges these children for their time at the farm or the sessions, but instead funds it all himself through the carriage and riding business, as well as through the organisation of special group events at the farm.
“Now that I have this land, the sky is the limit and I will stop at nothing to keep making as many people happy as possible. In many ways I have achieved my dreams and am living the life I always wanted to, and it feels wonderful. All that’s left is to keep sharing what I’ve learnt about the wonderful world of horses with as many people as possible.”
“I would ride past this land as a boy on my bike; now it’s mine to share with my horses, and with others.”
“I have seen, with my own eyes, the difference that interaction with horses can make to children with special needs.”