More About Melissa Bailey
From the English Saddle to the Joys of the Trail-
One Woman's Journey
By Isabella Yosuico
Melissa Bailey was just three years old when she rode her first pony. Living in Indonesia, the daughter of a high-ranking CIA official serving Southeast Asia, Melissa pouted her way into her older sister's riding lessons. The memories are still vivid. 'It was a white horse named Jingles,' Melissa remembers, childlike and a little pixie even now, some 40 years later. 'They let me ride around in the ring, and nobody was helping me,' she pauses, reflecting, 'I've spent the rest of my life trying to get back to Jingles. My mind really began to focus at that point.'
Not long after that momentous event, Melissa's family moved back to the States, but riding lessons were soon forgotten. Then, when Melissa was in sixth grade, her parents eventually relented and signed her up for English riding lessons. Melissa took to it immediately. 'I can still remember the smell of that barn,' she says wistfully, 'The way it smelled was magic.'
Later, at boarding school in Pennsylvania, Melissa majored in horseback riding, perfecting her English riding and jumping skills. When she was home, she bankrolled her own rides by saving babysitting money. When she wasn't riding, she was enjoying the friendship of her imaginary horse Chauncey, even forcing kids on the school bus to make room for him.
Years passed. Melissa was as a corporate computer trainer traveling around the country and riding once again took a backseat. But it was never far from Melissa's mind. Fate stepped in when Melissa moved to Landover, Maryland. Her new neighbor, a rough and tumble woman, was boarding her horse at a dilapidated farm an hour away, and needed someone to ride her spirited Arabian, Storm Cloud. Melissa jumped at the opportunity. No sooner had she settled into the saddle on the sweet stallion, that she knew she'd come home.
'I went from being a city girl with long nails, big hair and thoughts of tennis lessons, to shoveling manure, hauling water, and picking up bales-a regular farm girl,' she smiles impishly. 'I never looked back.' A pretty blond, Melissa sits restlessly in the sun-filled dining room of her spacious rancher and remembers. 'I'd spend every Sunday in Little Bennett Park with Storm Cloud, and he'd startle at everything,' she laughs. 'Butterflies, people, just anything-but I didn't mind because I loved that horse.'
Sensing that Storm Cloud needed a companion, Melissa bought her first horse at 35. Lucky, an Appaloosa, was a trail riding horse, but Melissa never rode him herself, sharing him instead with her riding buddies. Then, her neighbor moved taking Storm Cloud with her. Melissa took over the farm and began riding Lucky. Everything changed. 'I couldn't believe a horse could be so smooth!' Melissa laughs. 'I was so used to reformed thoroughbreds that I assumed that's as good as it got,' she admits. 'Boy was I wrong.' While she kept Lucky, she soon bought another Appaloosa, her beloved Mr. Smoochie.
One Sunday shortly thereafter, Melissa was riding alone in the park when she noticed a handsome man on a Tennessee Walking Horse mare. 'Not only was he cute,' she winks, '-the man I mean-but he rode just like me.' Charlie let Melissa ride his beloved horse and she was forever converted to the joys of trail riding. Charlie Bailey and Melissa met in the park every Sunday for a 3-hour ride. Soon, they fell in love and got married.
Charlie, then a Ph.D. entomologist specializing in black widow spiders, was offered a biomedical job in Alabama, just over the Tennessee line. Melissa and Charlie packed up their Maryland homes and hit the rode, four horses in tow. Inspired by the vast landscape, they started buying horses in earnest. Charlie, who'd been raised on a Oklahoma dairy farm, got nostalgic for breeding. Before long, Charlie and Melissa were breeding Tennessee Trail Riding horses and their herd grew rapidly. Still working full-time at a research facility, Charlie headed up the breeding operation, but Melissa held the reins for the daily operations of the newly baptized, Bailey's Black Widow Farm. The Bailey's reputation for raising top quality trail riding horses and providing high-touch customer care drew clients from all over the country.
Later Charlie started working for George Mason University, commuting back and forth to the D.C. area. When Charlie was asked to develop and direct the National Center of Bio Defense, the growing Bailey family saddled up and moved their 40 horses, 8 dogs and 5 cats to Frederick County, Virginia.
While their 48-acre ranch was being built, Charlie, Melissa and the herd squatted in a 32-foot trailer on a dusty patch of land in the woods. Melissa is fighting the urge to burst out laughing. 'Charlie deserves a gold medal for this, let me tell you. It was just a step up from a tent.'
Charlie and Melissa's ranch is buzzing with activity. Her large, wedge wood blue rancher sits atop a slight knoll overlooking a barn and paddocks. Melissa now makes regular trips to Tennessee, where she buys the prime descendants of World Champion Tennessee Walking Horses, and helps them to be all they can be.
'We sell ultra-smooth, trail-ready horses of unique color,' she says proudly, with conviction. Riding lessons and boarding are growing areas of her business.
Known for her friendly and earnest ways, Melissa's personal mission is matches made in heaven for buyer and horse alike. 'These horses are my babies,' she says sweetly. 'I always make sure they're going to a really good home.'
Melissa thrives at sharing the joys of trail riding with her clients, many of whom are novice horse owners, or like her, are making the transition from thoroughbreds or quarter horses to gaited horses. 'Riding a gaited horse is really easy,' she asserts, 'but it is a change.' Melissa describes trail pleasure riding as relaxing, enjoying nature, the horse and her riding companions, without worrying if a horse will startle and bolt at a passing bike or noisy truck, like a thoroughbred might. 'Thoroughbreds are bred to go really fast in one direction,' she explains. 'Nobody ever worked on ‘whoa,' so they're really not made for outside a ring.'
She relies heavily on her own personal experience and intuition to ensure that horse and owner are well-suited. It's not unusual for her to turn a client away from their desired horse in favor of one that may not have the highly prized color, but is the client's perfect match. Her active and creative entrepreneurial mind looks toward a future that includes special riding programs for disabled kids and trail rides in the lovely Shenandoah countryside. Her vision also features the introduction of a new name for her farm: Walking After Midnight Ranch. A big fan of locally-born Patsy Cline, Melissa says she feels the name better reflects the tempo and spirit of trail riding. 'A good trail ride is like a mellow, smooth song on a moonlit night,' she says with a sigh. Trail riders know it's so.