Horse Motel is Keeping the Barn Door Open
A well-known motel has the slogan: “We’ll keep the lights on for you.” For Bud and Lelia Sikes, owners of Southern Star Farms in Madison County, it’s more along the lines of: “We’ll keep the barn door open for you.”
Like a layover station for the Pony Express, the Volunteer State is becoming an area where owners and drivers look for overnight lodging before leaving home. Fortunately, they won’t be disappointed. One website lists 48 overnight stables sites and another 65. However, some of those listed are places to ride or train. With the Interstate 40 corridor connecting the eastern and western U.S., equestrians choose this route when transporting horses.
The Dirt on Southern Star Farm
Location: Located in Jackson, 1 mile north of I-40 from exit 93
Hours: Check in anytime day or night
Nearby Lodging: Abundance of motels and restaurants on I-40 from exits 80 thru 85
Health Requirements: Current health papers, including a negative Coggins test
Phone: (731) 422-4512
Farm Bureau Membership: 30+ years
“After teaching and coaching football for 31 years, I retired in 2000,” Bud says. “But I knew retirement wasn’t a time to be idle. Lelia and I thought about opening our Southern farm home as a bed-and-breakfast. However, there was so much red tape that this wasn’t feasible. Then we thought, ‘Why not open a place where those traveling with horses could have a safe and clean place to stay overnight?’”
Since opening that same year, hundreds of horses, trailers and owners have beat a path to Southern Star Farm’s door … or barnyard.
Bud sees a correlation between coaching and providing a place for people to leave their animals. “Communication is the key – whether bringing out the best in young athletes or having people trust you with their horses,” he says.
The Sikes farm is nearing century farm status. In 1920, Bud’s paternal grandfather bought the land. Today, their daughter’s family resides just down the road, making their grandchildren the fifth generation to live on the land, which still grows cotton and corn. In fact, Bud and Lelia’s 14-year-old grandson, Jackson, helps out at the Southern Star Farm when needed.
“His plans are to be a veterinarian one day,” Bud says. “Just maybe he’ll be the one to carry on our dream.”
Being in the equine business was a natural event for a rural youngster like Bud.
“When I was about 11 years old, my father bought me my first horse,” he recalls. “I named her Dixie and rode her all over Law Road, through the woods, out in the pasture. The horse was an old veteran horse at the time, but she lived until I was in college. When she died, it was like losing my best friend.”
Today, their grandchildren ride horses and enjoy the same pleasures of country living.
Tales From the Guest Book
One of the best parts of overnight horse stabling is meeting people from all walks of life. That may be a traveler with a single horse, or it could be a whole herd.
“Teams of polo ponies are frequent overnighters,” Lelia says. “It’s not unusual for a trailer of 15 or 16 ponies to pull in our drive and unload.”
And it’s not even always horses. The farm has opened their gate to cattle, miniature donkeys – even a trailer of goats.
Most visitors plan their travels in advance, but some owners turn to the horse motel when there’s no other option.
Olivia Bennett has a home in Phoenix and a farm in Virginia, and traveling between the two means pulling a four-horse trailer over the course of four days. Mechanical difficulties are her worst nightmare.
“After breaking down on I-40, we called a wrecker,” she says. “I had contacted Lelia Sikes before leaving home but wasn’t sure if we would get that far. With this emergency, I called Lelia again. She graciously said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’ ”
That personal connection makes the interactions stay with them. Bud recalls the very first traveling equestrians they met 15 years ago.
“These two young Army men from Fort Hood, Texas, were pulling a trailer containing a Caission horse for a funeral. Headed to Arlington National Cemetery, they stayed at Southern Star Farm several times. The last time I saw them, one of the soldiers said, ‘You may not see me again. I’m shipping out to Iraq.’ Often at night, when I look up at the stars, I wonder, did he make it? Did he return?”
Location, Location, Location
One feature that draws equestrians to Southern Star Farm is their prime placement one mile from I-40. The farm’s fenced-in area has an easy access and turnaround for all size trailers. The facilities contain one large barn with six 12-by-12-foot box stalls, a covered round pen and three additional 12-by-12-foot stallion stalls. Included in the rental are shavings, outdoor grassy paddocks, well water, and available grain and hay. For a small fee, they offer electric hook-ups where guests can park their trailer and stay at the barn. Even dogs are welcome, as it’s not uncommon for blue heelers and border collies to come along for the ride.
The Sikes don’t advertise or belong to any organizations. “Other than the website, it’s word-of-mouth,” Bud says. “We’ve built a solid working relationship and have friends across the U.S. Our farm continues to produce income while meeting the needs of those who travel.”
And what do guests want when stabling their horse at a motel? Looking over the raving reviews from past guests, they appreciate the host being available upon arrival and friendly, clean facilities, security, adequacy of stalls and, according to at least one review, endless pots of great-tasting coffee made by Lelia. At Southern Star Farms, they keep the barn door open for you.