Sue and Bill Immens help wild horses and humans at Grayce Wynds Farm in Holden Beach.
Education, connection and inspiration. This is the trifecta that lives and breathes at the core of Grayce Wynds Farm, nearly 30 acres of pines and beautiful coastal terrain where wild horses run in Holden Beach.
Sue Immen, a retired health and physical education teacher and guidance counselor in Columbus County, and her husband, Bill, bought the land in 2014.
“We had really started out by looking for like five acres and thought we’d have a couple of horses and that was going to be retirement,” Immen says. “We put some money down on a couple pieces of property and they would always fall through. So we had a serious talk with God about things and said, ‘You might not want us to go in this direction.’”
The couple was led instead to where Grayce Wynds Farm now stands, after an offer by Immen was accepted miraculously by the former owners of the land. Immen says that God took it a step further by using her background as an educator to form the educational nonprofit ministry and wild horse preserve.
“It was a God thing, because the same day we ended up with a whole lot more land than what we were thinking,” Immen says. “I heard God say, ‘Share it.’”
Immen was born and raised in Southern California, and her grandparents had a chicken ranch. “My best memories of growing up were going to my grandparents’ chicken ranch in the summer, so I guess I’ve always been a farm girl at heart and I totally understood deep down inside what really the Lord wanted us to do with this,” she says. “People are getting so far removed from farm life and just being outside; we’re such a digitalized society.”
For the next five years, the Immens purchased wild horses to run free on the farm, starting with Sunny and Jess, two Chincoteague ponies. The pair are also the star characters of two children’s books Immen published: Sunny and Jess Come Out of the Wild and Sunny and Jess Go to Boarding School. They’re joined by more than a dozen others, including Grayson Highlands ponies, Tennessee Walking horses, Wild Kentucky Mountain horses and Cedar Island ponies.
“There’s a serious problem in Kentucky and West Virginia, where people are dropping off unwanted horses in these remote counties where there are thousands of acres of vacant land that are primarily owned by mining companies,” says Immen. “They estimate 3,000 free roamers in each state. Now Kentucky realizes they have a potential problem and they’ve put the humane society equine division in charge of the wild horses. So through our connections, we found out they were going to round up 11 that were encroaching on civilization.”
Immen is beyond knowledgeable on the wild horse herds along the East Coast – the history, the breeds and what the descendants face today. In fact, she speaks to groups about these wild ponies and horses at museums, 4H gatherings and public libraries, sometimes with Asher, a Grayson Highlands pony, making an appearance. She and her husband also produced a documentary called In Search of the Wild Horses of the East Coast: Learn About the Herds and How to Find Them.
Back at the farm, a handful of the wild horses are trained under the saddle, with one older horse that is used for short, hand-led pony rides. Since Grayce Wynds’ official ribbon cutting in May 2019, the Immens hosted a successful Ponies and Pumpkins event every Friday night in October, which included a hayride, pumpkin painting and horse petting. They also host church groups and school field trips, gatherings Immen loves to customize from her background in education, and two-hour private farm tours by appointment.
“We teach people how to approach the horses, how to pet them and things to avoid, like their rear ends, and how you’ve got to keep a flat hand,” Immen says.
She says the horses are very friendly. “They like attention and they like to be scratched and petted and hugged. We’ve got one star, our boy, Levi. I have pictures of him standing there with 10 people around him just petting him and hugging him, and he just loves it, you know?”
The farm has about 15 volunteers on staff, and Immen says she feels so blessed for all that they do. “I’ve got a couple of ladies who just come once a week and help feed, but I mean, that’s so appreciated. And if someone gives us $50 as a donation for the farm tour, that buys a round bale of hay and that’s appreciated. … It’s not about us earning a living off of it, but maybe someday, if we grow.”
What Grayce Wynds what is about, and what it’s always been about, is enriching the lives of others.
“We hope that people embrace us and realize we’re here to enrich their lives,” she says. “It’s all about enrichment and connecting with our horses. It’s also very therapeutic! People who come here say, ‘Oh my God, my blood pressure’s dropped 20 points’ and there’s a reason for that! Horses make wonderful therapy animals.”
The Immens welcome visitors to their farm.
“We want to get people off their devices and out in nature, breathing some fresh air,” she says. “I want to have inspired people for another great family activity to get outside in nature and track wild horses because it’s good for the body and the soul.”
Want to visit?
For more information on Grayce Wynds Farm or to schedule a tour or special event, visit graycewyndsfarm.com.