Wellspring Farm Is a Home for Horse Riders in Delaware

Wellspring Farm brings joy and hope to generations of riders.

Nestled within the quiet confines of Bellevue State Park in Wilmington lies a cherished barn that has served hundreds of children and adults, passing down the joy of equestrianism from one generation to the next—a symbol of growth, connection and shared memories. From the first timid steps around a pony to mastering the art of riding, Wellspring Farm has ignited a passion for horses among its riders for decades.

As an animal science major at Cornell University in the mid 1970s, KC Van Dyck began teaching equestrian to fund her own riding. Upon graduation, she was torn between whether to go to veterinary school or pursue making a living as a rider.

“My parents were not fond of [the latter],” she explains. “But I wanted to try it, and I told them it would either happen or it wouldn’t.”

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Former farm owner KC Van Dyck and new owner TIffany Wallace wanted to create a space that is welcoming for everyone, not just the wealthy.
Former farm owner KC Van Dyck and new owner TIffany Wallace wanted to create a space that is welcoming for everyone, not just the wealthy.

Shortly after graduating, Van Dyck began working at the barn at Bellevue. In 1984, “it” happened, and she became the owner.

“My goal for the business was that anybody could feel like they could ride,” Van Dyck says. “They didn’t have to look a certain way or be wealthy. The whole premise behind Wellspring, even its name, was to be a source of good things that was welcoming to everyone. In riding, a lot of barns focus on winning competitions. But winning isn’t everything.

“I wanted riding to be about people learning that they could do something challenging, and to be empowered by that. In my teaching, I focus on creating good riders while instilling a take-charge attitude that will follow them throughout life.”

Instructor and horse trainer Lisa Sachs nuzzles Samson, a Nakota.
Instructor and horse trainer Lisa Sachs nuzzles Samson, a Nakota.

The farm grew under Van Dyck’s ownership, with riders learning to care for the horses and tend to their needs, forming a unique bond. As it turned out, Van Dyck’s attempt at making a career at riding worked, and the Wellspring community quickly became her extended family. Many employees, riders and boarders have been there for decades.

Today, parents who once rode at Wellspring watch their own children embark on a familiar journey. Van Dyck, who turns 70 this year, started to envision a future where she would not be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the farm. It was easy for her to identify a successor: Tiffany Wallace, a friend she had known for decades who she first met when Wallace’s grandfather brought her in for weekly riding lessons as an 8-year-old.

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Mia Zelo bonds with Bob and Baby, miniature horses Wellspring adopted this year.
Mia Zelo bonds with Bob and Baby, miniature horses Wellspring adopted this year.

“I never had kids. …Tiffany is very much my adopted daughter,” Van Dyck says. “I’ve put so much time and energy into this place from the beginning, and I knew she would continue with the same philosophy of helping people. …Tiffany understands the good things horses can do for people.”

Wallace describes her mentor as a serious person who holds her cards close to her chest. “But [KC] will go to great lengths to help the people she loves. If you are on her team, she is going to make sure you are never in trouble. She has always done this for me. She is like a mom to me.”

Cleo Gray stops for a shot of her reflection with Peppermint, who died this spring during an outbreak of the equine virus EHV-1 at the farm.
Cleo Gray stops for a shot of her reflection with Peppermint, who died this spring during an outbreak of the equine virus EHV-1 at the farm.

While Van Dyck remains a fixture at the barn, she doesn’t miss having to worry about things like ordering hay and paying the bills. Her 80-hour workweeks are now scaled back to a manageable 40 hours, and she looks forward to spending more time in her garden.

“I’ve put so much time and energy into this place from the beginning, and I knew she would continue with the same philosophy of helping people. … Tiffany understands the good things horses can do for people.”
—KC Van Dyck

Wellspring—now registered as “Be Well at Wellspring Farm,” with the goal of increasing mental and physical health services—is a family business Tiffany shares with her husband, Jim, who acts as chief financial officer. Their daughter Fiona, 8, has quickly become a regular at the barn, logging hours after school and on the weekends.

Wallace spent the last year learning how to manage the barn’s business with six full-time employees, 14 working students and 61 horses (some belonging to Wellspring, others boarded there by various owners). She faced one of her biggest challenges early on when the barn was hit with a highly contagious, deadly equine virus known as EHV-1 in the spring of 2023, which forced the farm into a month-long quarantine. The barn community sprang into action, raising more than $20,000 via GoFundMe and $10,000 from a private donor to help cover veterinary expenses.

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Wellspring Farm offers lessons for all ages, as well as weekly summer programs for children who want to learn to ride and care for horses. Cleo Gray, pictured here with Peppermint, is a regular rider at the farm.
Wellspring Farm offers lessons for all ages, as well as weekly summer programs for children who want to learn to ride and care for horses. Cleo Gray, pictured here with Peppermint, is a regular rider at the farm.

While Wallace works hard to preserve Wellspring’s rich history, she also looks to the future, understanding the importance of nurturing young hearts and minds, with an even sharper focus on mental wellness. The farm is expanding its equine-assisted services, including horsemanship, learning and therapy.

“The results of therapy are astonishing,” she says. “Kids who couldn’t talk will talk to a horse. Kids who couldn’t balance themselves have their balance naturally activated on a horse. I have seen the impact these animals can have.

“I’ve struggled with anxiety and, other than my home, the barn was the only place that I felt safe many times in my life. I know the benefit of therapy and medication, but I also understand the benefit of putting yourself in environments where animals help bring a sense of calm.”
—Tiffany Wallace

“I’ve struggled with anxiety and, other than my home, the barn was the only place that I felt safe many times in my life. I know the benefit of therapy and medication, but I also understand the benefit of putting yourself in environments where animals help bring a sense of calm. The horses don’t do this on purpose; it’s just how they are.”

Wallace is eager to expand Wellspring’s offerings, ensuring its longevity by continuing to implement programs that engage the community and provide opportunities for children from all backgrounds to experience the magic of horses. Two new miniature horses, Baby and Bob, recently spent time with students at Lombardy Elementary School in Wilmington as part of its Reading to Ponies program.

Wellspring Farm Pony Club
Wellspring Farm Pony Club.

“We are all so excited about the future of the new Be Well at Wellspring Farm,” Wellspring’s general manager, Cara Zelo, says. “Tiffany has amazing ideas for our future that I am so happy to be a part of. She has a huge heart, and it shows through her love and compassion for people and horses. Like many of us, she grew up at Wellspring, and it is a very special place that has a therapeutic quality. There’s something for everyone, any background, any circumstance, any level.”

Wallace also hopes to grow their already successful summer program, where students learn to read a horse’s body language and tune in to their expressions and feelings to determine if they are happy, sad or mad. “Kids, now more than ever, need to know how to tune in to expressions and feelings,” she points out.

Tiffany Wallace, daughter Fiona Wallace, KC Van Dyck and horse Drakkar (“Ducky”)
Tiffany Wallace, daughter Fiona Wallace, KC Van Dyck and horse Drakkar (“Ducky”).

Wilmingtonian Jen Davis, whose 13-year-old daughter Emery has ridden at Wellspring for six years, loves the benefits that riding brings. For instance, you won’t find kids scrolling on devices here. “Riders are either interacting with the horses or talking to other kids,” she says. “They don’t worry about what they look like or what anyone else thinks about them—they are in the moment. At the barn, it’s not about them, it’s about the horse.”

Here, lessons go far beyond horsemanship, Davis adds. “The most important thing Emery has learned is patience. I feel with technology and the need for everything to happen immediately, patience is something the younger generations aren’t learning. She learned very quickly that horses do things in their own time and each of the different horses she rides has a different timeline. The more rushed and impatient you are with a horse, the worse they perform.”

Another common lesson Davis notes: Perseverance. “Emery may have to try five, six or 10 times to get a horse to complete a jump after it refuses, but no matter how tired or frustrated she is, she can’t leave the arena until she and the horse have succeeded,” she says.

To learn more, visit bewellatwellspringfarm.com.

Related: 5 Things to Do at the Delaware Beaches Before Summer Ends

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