The famous Monastery of St. Clare Miniature Horse Farm has attracted tourists from around the world who were charmed by the idea of cloistered nuns breeding miniature horses. During a good year, 20,000 visitors would visit the quiet farm to pet the animals, purchase souvenirs at the gift shop or buy a tiny horse.
When the sisters moved from Corpus Christi to 98 acres west of Brenham in 1985, 20 nuns cared for a herd that would average 70 horses after spring foaling.
Now only Sister Angela Chandler, 54, and Sister Joseph Palacios, 89, remain. The rest of the nuns/horse wranglers have died. The latest funeral was in January for Sister Holy Spirit Aleman, who was 96.
It's too much work for the two women, Sister Angela said. They will close the farm Saturday.
Sister Angela has been running the horse farm with help from her brother and sister-in-law, Bill and Becky Chandler. It has been a difficult time for Sister Angela, Becky Chandler said. Not only has she watched her friends die, but she has to deal with the sale of the property, which has left her in limbo while the details are worked out.
Nuns from the Pax Christi Institute in Corpus Christi will take over the property June 1. The farm will be remodeled to use as a retreat, Sister Mary Elva Reyes of PCI said. The sisters will not raise miniature horses, but Bill and Becky Chandler will be allowed to keep their small herd at the monastery.
Last week, Sister Angela acknowledged she was tired, partly because she had traveled to Brenham that day to arrange for storage and moving to a temporary home.
But she is also weary of caring for livestock. "For 30 years, I've enjoyed playing with them, taking care of them, studying genetics, planning out breeding programs, talking with our customers about them. It's been very rewarding," said Sister Angela, who was fascinated by horses when she was a child. "God will give you what you asked for, but my appetite for horses has been satiated."
The miniature-horse-raising business was the 1981 brainchild of Sister Bernadette Muller, who had an outgoing personality and became known as the Cowboy Nun. The breeding program produced horses that would sell for $500 to $5,000 and provide a good living for the monastery. When Sister Bernadette died in 1992, Sister Angela took on management chores as business was flourishing. "We didn't expect to be a tourist stop," Sister Angela said.
Visitors are given maps for self-guided tours. There are picnic tables under the trees. The gift shop sells hand-painted ceramics (now half price) and altar breads. "We didn't have time for recruitment," she said.
She is ready to focus on a Poor Clare Nun's contemplative, cloistered life of prayer and spiritual growth, welcome more nuns and use her talents as an artist and writer.
"Art was my first love," Sister Angela said. "Now this is a chance to get back to it." A cookbook and children's books based on the lives of saints are on her to-do list.
Sister Angela will still have horses to visit. Some of her favorites -- Pizazz, Leading Lady and Honeysuckle -- are part of her brother's herd.
"What I won't miss is getting out in 15- to 20-degree weather, when it's raining and icy, and maybe have a few sick horses thrown in to boot. Or when you have the flu or something. When you have live animals, you have to care for them no matter how you feel or what the weather is.
"I won't miss that. I will look forward to staying safely indoors working on my computer projects."
For people who are interested in owning a miniature horse from the monastery, 11 are still available. The animals range from 2-year-old colts ($500) to a 30.5-inch stallion called Dun Deal ($2,500). The price is negotiable for Shadow, a 24-year-old retired black stallion who was born at the farm. "He's just a sweetheart," Sister Angela said.
And there are two elderly mares that the nuns want to keep together. Cherished Delight and Princess, both 25, bonded when they were 2-year-olds. Sister Angela will make a special deal to find the ideal home for the pasture mates, who would love extra attention and brushing, she said.
"They have been together all these years," she said. "They are happy together."