“I not only wanted a horse; I wanted a ranch, so I could live with my horse. It was my dream and it’s come true.” – Stefanie Bourque
Even as a toddler, Stefanie Bourque knew exactly what she wanted. She remembers wishing she had a horse when she was as young as four years old, but her mother believes it goes back even further, all the way to when she was only one.
“I believe it started when I began to talk. My first word was ‘mom’ and I think my second word was ‘horse.’
I was more drawn to barnyard books and stuffed animal horses than anything else,” Bourque said.
“Each birthday, my mom would ask me what I wanted and I’d make her a list of five things and a horse was always at the top of the list. They would give me stuffed animal horses and Breyer horse figurines.
“I was six years old when I got my first pair of cowboy boots and horseback riding lessons. I wore the boots all the time and was in absolute heaven the first time I set foot in the barn. My mom is the best; every year she would make me a horse cake for my birthday. My friends from kindergarten and grade school all have said they knew I would own a horse and a ranch some day.”
Someday finally came when she was 22 years old and after almost two decades of dreaming and hoping, Bourque purchased her first horse, Dusty, a then-six-year-old, male quarter horse. “It was the best day of my life.” But there was one more thing that the Lab employee deeply desired.
“I not only wanted a horse; I wanted a ranch, so I could live with my horse. It was my dream and it’s come true.”
In 2020, Bourque purchased a five-acre ranch in Acampo, about four miles east of Lodi and her sister, Jennifer, a loan officer in Sacramento, brought a five-acre ranch next door to her.
“My backyard view is 7,000 acres of open pastureland. My ranch has great sunrise views and my sister’s ranch has great sunset views — so we compromised and named our ranching business High Noon Highlands. My drive to develop my ranch stems from wanting to help one more animal and to give back to my community,” Bourque said.
One way that Bourque and her sister have given back to the community has been by throwing their first-ever Harvest Festival last fall. With a minimal amount of advertising through social media, the sisters just opened the doors to their ranches.
Their first Harvest Festival in October 2022 drew about 200 people and featured a pumpkin patch; a photo booth with Waylon, Bourque’s miniature Highlander bull who is almost two years old; food trucks; and about 15 vendor booths.
This year’s second annual Harvest Festival, set for Oct. 7, will be highlighted by another pumpkin patch; an area where people can meet Waylon, some of the goats and Kady, the mini-horse; vendors; a very large food truck and a dessert vendor.
Beyond Dusty, who is now 23 years old, she owns two other horses, JuneBug, a 17-year-old mare who is a retired racehorse thoroughbred; and Rip, a three-year-old mustang quarter horse cross.
But the stars of the ranch show are Bourque’s Highlander cows, a Scottish breed of rustic cattle that originated in the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland and has long horns and a long shaggy coat.
Bourque currently owns eight Highlander cows — four red, two black and two gray. She hopes someday to have a total of 25-50 Highlander cows. In a sense, she is well on her way to having a larger herd. Her current herd includes two bulls and six cows, who are all pregnant and expected to deliver calves this fall. The Highlanders are four to four-and-a-half feet tall, about five feet long and weigh between 800 and 1,200 pounds.
Since she started her Highlander herd, Bourque has discovered that the native Scottish cows serve all kinds of useful purposes down on a ranch — in addition to being cute.
Once the cows have delivered their calves and the calves have reached five months old, the cows can be milked daily to produce a few gallons of milk. The Highlanders also turn out fertilizer and, in Bourque’s view, are the “best lawn mowers.” They’ve also been the focus of about 50 photo sessions of children and families, with the proceeds covering the ranches’ liability insurance.
Among the menagerie of other animals who call the Bourque ranch home are about 30 chickens, who produce two to four dozen eggs each day; 55 chicks and seven goats, including a new kid born on March 26.
In addition to the Harvest Festival, another way that Bourque gives back to the community is by rehabilitating horses that have encountered problems.
“As a child, I wanted to become a veterinarian, but I didn’t like seeing horses sick. Now I take retired racehorses, rehabilitate them and help them find forever homes.”
For the past five years, Bourque has worked weekends at Berkeley-based Golden Gate Fields, where she massages and strengthens racehorses, helping build up their abdominal and pectoral muscles, along with their endurance.
“When I’m working at Golden Gate Fields, some horses won’t make it because of their physique, build or ability. Sometimes, a trainer will ask me if want to take a horse to rehab him and find him a good home.”
It usually takes about a year to rehab a horse and, to date, Bourque has found homes for four horses.
At the moment, Bourque is rehabbing four horses – Midnight, a four-year-old thoroughbred who is about to give birth; Freya, a five-year-old quarter horse; and two baby horses, who are eight months and six months old, respectively.
Bourque calls her ranch a “very easy-going” place. “It gets hot, but there’s a breeze in the afternoons. I have great shade from a whole strip of eucalyptus trees.”
At the Laboratory, Bourque works as a contract analyst in High Volume Procurement, a division of Supply Chain and part of the Lab’s Operations and Business Directorate.
“I love it. I couldn’t ask for a better community of people to work with in my job,” she said.
As she looks back on how her dreams of some day owning a horse and her own ranch have come true, she said she wants to encourage others, particularly women, to follow their dreams. “And to know that anything is possible.”
Has the luster dimmed on her dreams now that she’s achieved them? “If anything, the luster has grown because I’d love to have some more animals and some more land.
“When I think about what’s happened, it brings tears to my eyes at least once a week. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to work and work and work and sacrifice and then see your dream become a reality.”