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High atop Petit Jean Mountain sits one of the happiest places on Earth. No, it’s not operated by Disney, but I’m pretty sure it has mice. Dogs, ducks and chipmunks, too, for that matter.
Barnyard Friends is a petting zoo like no other. Miss Helen, the owner, runs an open-air barn filled with free-range animals of all sorts: goats, calves, cats, dogs, chickens, sheep, rabbits – even a llama, a pig, a donkey and a peacock. For $5.50 per person you can stay as long as you like.
My family first found the place shortly after we moved to Arkansas in 2006. That day, we spent at least two hours there. My daughter Emily, who was 3 years old at the time, fell in love with a kitten named Boots and carried it around for almost the entire visit. Six-year-old Charles fed the calves and the baby deer. We sat in the middle of the barn, laughing at the billy goats head butting each other and the goose that loyally follows Miss Helen around the barn.
Barnyard Friends also has horses. Lots of them. And Helen and her staff lead trail rides all day long. Both of my children learned to ride horses there. The first time they rode, Emily’s horse was attached to the guide’s horse by a long lead since she was so young. Charles Jr. rode right behind Emily on a kind, gentle horse used for children. Both wore helmets, of course. I wasn’t worried a bit about their safety, and they both had a blast.
Since that first trip, we’ve visited at least once a year. The kids’ love for Barnyard Friends hasn’t faded as they’ve gotten older. They still love playing with the animals and holding the newest barn babies. One summer, Emily even attended day camp at the barn, learning how to muck stalls and saddle a horse. She absolutely loves the trail rides, often begging to go on more than one when we visit.
My most recent trip to Barnyard Friends was just a few weeks ago. I took some new friends with me who’d never been before, and it was such fun to watch them experience it for the first time. The 10-year-old boy immediately ran off to pet Puff the Llama. The 12-year-old girl squealed when she saw the baby bunnies and was so excited to get to hold one.
Helen saddled up three horses so the kids and I could ride with them. It was the first time for both of them. I knew they’d love it … and they did. The trails wind through the woods and pastures. The horses go at an easy pace so young riders experience the thrill of being on a horse without the fear of them going too fast.
When we returned to the barn, we helped ourselves to some homemade ice cream – a nice treat on such a hot day. Helen churns it herself and always has some on hand.
If you’re looking for a place to stay overnight on Petit Jean, Helen’s got you covered. A few years ago, she renovated the ranch house on the top of the hill behind the barn. It’s got three bedrooms, two baths and a full kitchen. We stayed there with friends a few years ago and loved it. It was such fun sitting on the front porch in the evening, listening to the animals talk and settle down for the night.
To this day, my blood pressure drops a little when I sit in the middle of the barn at Barnyard Friends and listen to the noises. It’s such a treat to watch my city kids roam free with smiles on their faces as they hang out with the farm animals. It’s been a wonderful place for my kids to grow up. I just know yours will love it, too.
Follow BarnYard Friends on Facebook to see what is happening in the barn!
Photos courtesy of BarnYard Friends neighbor @TheParkWife
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