Landys embrace memory laps
MONROE TOWNSHIP, Middlesex County — Sam and Laurie Landy, owner-operators of Congress Hill Farm since 1986, are dedicated to making the world a better place through horse and goat therapy and committed environmentalists who purchased an additional 130 acres of woodlands surrounding the farm to ensure preservation of clean air, waterways and open space.
Congress Hill Farm sits on Federal Road in Monroe.
It boards about 150 horses, all involved in harness racing or retired from other occupations and used as therapy horses in Laurie’s Special Strides, a non-profit organization.
Sam Landy was raised in Tinton Falls and later, Rumson.
“I grew up behind somebody else’s farm, called Willowbrook Farm in what used to be called New Shrewsbury,” Sam said. Willowbrook raised and trained Standardbreds and thoroughbreds.
“My father and I used to watch horses train and watch the races there,” he added. “When I first did that from 1968 to about 1973, I never imagined we’d own horses one day and I’d eventually become a trainer and driver.”
Sam’s father Eugene grew up near Freehold Raceway, parked cars there in his youth and bought his first horse, Blue Sue, in 1976. His father founded UMH Properties, a builder of modular and mobile homes and began working as a harness racing driver at age 65. Eugene won amateur harness racing championships on two occasions as a senior citizen.
“Because he grew up around Freehold Raceway and knew a bit about harness racing, he bought a thoroughbred farm on the corner of Route 18 and Route 537,” Sam said. “We sold that in 1983 and bought this place in 1986.”
Sam and Laurie raise about 150 goats on pasture. Sam set up a system of fences, pastures, and gates so the goats, which are also used in therapy, can munch away to their satisfaction from April to November.
This year, he said he’ll harvest about 100 goats, noting the demand for goat meat by Central New Jersey’s Indian population, many of whom don’t eat beef.
Congress Hill Farm once belonged to legendary harness racing driver and trainer Herve’ Filion. Filion was one of the top-ranked harness driver-trainers in the history of the sport and used to take his helicopter from Long Island to Monroe to work with his horses on the track here and compete in races at Freehold Raceway, the Meadowlands and harness tracks in eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. Filion, raised in Canada, ranks second all-time in career wins in North America, with 15,180. He was voted the Harness Tracks of America Driver of the Year a record ten times. Filion died in June, 2017, but his son continues the family’s harness racing legacy, Landy said.
Of his three sons, Jeremy, 30, Harry, 28 and Daniel, 25, Harry caught the horse bug the most, although all three sons contributed their ideas, labor and sweat while growing up at the farm.
Harry has become an innovation-minded harness driver and trainer.
One of the ideas Harry had as a 15-year old was incorporated into their boarding practices for Standardbreds trained out of Congress Hill’s barns. Harry’s concept was to enlarge the windows in horse stalls so horses would be happier by being able to stick their heads out of a 4 foot by 4 foot window in the cinderblock walls to get more fresh air, as well as satisfy their natural curiosity about things going on outside their stalls. They built this design change into their newer barns at Congress Hill, and everyone enjoys the abundance of fresh air inside the horse barns.
Landy’s other two sons are involved in the family business, UMH Properties, a New York Stock Exchange traded company. Landy attended Curry College in Milton, Mass., and then went to Delaware Law School [now Widener University School of Law,] near Brandywine Raceway. He recalls, “I would be cleaning the stalls and working there and running to classes. When the heat went on, nobody would want to sit next to me, because my shoes would begin to smell. I was in a hurry, I had to train my horses in the morning, get to class and do everything else.”
Landy’s eldest son, Jeremy, makes drone videos for a living and he produced a video that showcases his brother Harry’s talents as a trainer and driver as well as the unique attributes that Congress Hill Farm offers for driver-trainers in the world of harness racing. His videos attracted attention from European and Canadian driver-trainers. Famous names in the world of harness racing are frequent visitors to the facility.
“Jeremy has done such a fantastic job for UMH Properties that we’re able to buy Harry good horses to train and drive,” Landy said proudly, adding all three of his sons came up with good suggestions to improve operations.
“Jeremy and Harry and Daniel came up with these ideas, so we have a swimming pool for horses, the barn in front of us was rebuilt a year ago, we have a track in the woods, and we have a straight half-mile sand track. All of these innovations are things other farms in the state don’t offer.
“Jeremy’s video on the Internet resulted in us getting the best tenants in the country,” Sam said. For the first time in more than 10 years, we have full barns.”
Congress Hill is also a center for Laurie Landy’s Special Strides program, which works with autistic and special needs children and adults.
“We have three different models for Special Strides,” Laurie said on a brief tour of the farm’s wooded areas.
“It started as a medical model because I’m an occupational therapist, so we use motion and the emotion of the horse for rehabilitation efforts,” she said. They also have an adaptive riding model, which teaches people with special needs the skills of riding and how to communicate and feel good about themselves.
“Then we have something called equine facilitated mental health and learning that involves working with the horse on the ground, learning about your communication skills and your sense of leadership and feelings of accomplishment.”
Another program just getting off the ground with Special Strides is a vocational program for people with special needs who’ve been working with horses here since they were toddlers. Special Strides’ slogan is “improving lives, one stride at a time.”
“They’ve learned all these different skills in taking care of horses,” Laurie Landy said. “So it is my hope these people who think differently and learn differently than the rest of us will have the ability to be contributing members of society and get paid, eventually.”