When Matt Neiswanger, just a few days shy of his 7th birthday, attended a hometown auction in Ohio’s Appalachian country, he fell in love with a little white Shetland Pony.
The pony was offered at $20, a large sum in those days, and while Matt wanted him badly, Grandma, standing resolutely by his side, said nope. The pony’s price ultimately dropped to $10 and Matt’s uncle, also in attendance, suggested the pony would be a great birthday present for his nephew.
The deed was done, the furry four legged arrived at his new home. Matt promptly and ingeniously jerry-rigged a contraption replete with an old fan belt and thick twine to create a bridle, makeshift saddle and hitched up a little red wagon. Thus began a love affair with carriage riding.
Matt now lives in Rappahannock with his partner Jeff Renzulli, a celebrated attorney, on a majestic farm in Flint Hill, historic High Meadow Manor built in 1790 with exquisite recent additions. Matt fondly calls the palatial property his Tara. It is a familiar venue especially to those who fox hunt with Old Dominion Hounds where foxhunting on the property is graciously welcome, as is the ODH pony club and where the recent annual ODH Hunt Ball with great fanfare was held.
It is here that Matt and his talented equestrian Barn Manager Kim Cameron, and instructor Amy Mungan gave the Ladies Lunch Bunch an amazing carriage riding demo and where the ladies, to everyone’s glee were offered carriage rides under the warm Rappahannock sun. Singing in carriages, and savoring Matt’s mighty acreage, they rode past a charming field stone chapel, poised high upon a small hill in view of a picturesque lake filled with all manner of waterfowl, including black and white swan, ducks with beards all complementing the creature filled pastures dotted with yaks, llamas, sheep, rare breeds of pigs, chickens, myriad horse breeds and more.
The Yaks and Llamas enjoy humorous names like Maniayak, Nick yak, Patty yak, Kayak, Obama llama, Dali llama and Osama bin llama.
Matt’s introduction of the sport of carriage riding to Rappahannock is part of a three pronged mission of his non profit Neiswanger Foundation.
The first is the preservation of heritage breed farm animals, all manner of which are housed on his over 1300 acres. Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by our forefathers. These are the breeds of a bygone era, before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice.
The second purpose of his foundation is the preservation of carriage driving and of fox hunting, the latter a sport introduced to Matt by Gus Forbush, Joint Master of Old Dominion Hunt.
As a third purpose, Matt wishes to introduce youth to these sports, especially to local underprivileged children, providing them not only with mounts but also the necessary equipment and riding apparel and lessons. His heart is the size of Texas, this wonderful man whose passion for giving back truly noble.