If you happened to be passing through Hampstead, New Hampshire, in the past three months, and the timing was right, you just might have spotted a unicorn. Since COVID-19 lockdowns began in March, Karen Rudolph has been dressing up her Miniature Horses as festive unicorns and walking them through the mid-sized town on the Massachusetts border in order to spread a little good cheer.
Rudolph’s “unicorn sightings” started on a whim. Her main income is from her dog boarding and dog sitting business, Camp Cupcake Pup Resort. But with the coronavirus keeping people at home, all her dog boarders canceled. Used to walking dogs daily, Rudolph decided to take one of her Miniature Horses on an excursion.
“It was heartwarming to see the smiles on the faces of people we passed, while practicing safe social distancing,” Rudolph said. “I thought to myself, ‘I can take this one step further and walk UNICORNS instead.’ ”
By June, she had logged well over 100 hours of unicorn service. “The world needs a lot of unicorns right now,” she said.
Rudolph breeds and shows Miniature Horses in American Miniature Horse Association and American Miniature Horse Registry classes. While she’s serious about producing top quality horses at her Frost Hill Farm Miniatures, she also enjoys having a little fun with her herd. The unicorn costume was left over from 2018, when her oldest granddaughter requested a unicorn-themed 5th birthday party. “I ordered a realistic unicorn horn from a company in the UK, and a crafty friend created a flowered halter and neck sash for my light palomino, Remi,” said Rudolph. “He was quite the hit of the party.”
Once the unicorns started traveling around town, people began contacting Rudolph so they could meet them. In March, local resident Kate Fleming was in tears after her mom, Marcie Fleming, told her they had to cancel her unicorn-themed 6th birthday party. Marcie then reached out to Rudolph about a unicorn sighting as a surprise. The unicorns have done more birthday appearances since then, and more recently, Rudolph’s unicorns visited with more than 40 kids for the Hampstead Stepping Stones preschool graduation.
Rudolph’s farm is at the end of a cul de sac in a small residential neighborhood. “Our property abuts the middle school in town, so it’s just a short walk through the woods to meet people at the school,” Rudolph said. “We avoid busy streets and try to stick to places I can access through trails.”
Saint Anne Parish is also within walking distance, and Rudolph often brings the unicorns by the food pantry when people come to pick up their weekly groceries and before lunchtime when parents drive in to get lunches for children who would normally receive free lunches at school.
“The absolute joy in children’s faces, as well as parents and veterans, is priceless,” Rudolph said. “Many take photos from their car, and others ask if they can come out and pat the unicorn.”
One child told her that if you make a wish while touching the unicorn’s horn, it almost always comes true.
Jacki Colburn volunteers at the food pantry that serves about 30 families weekly and close to 100 on holidays, as well as daily breakfast and lunch since the schools closed. She said the unicorns have been a hit with families and staff alike.
“People were happy to see the unicorns, especially when the lockdown started,” Colburn said. “They hop out of their cars to take pictures. One local mom drove through just so her two young children could see the unicorns. Makes us all smile.”
Besides the school and the church, they have ventured as far as the local police station and town hall, which are all within a mile from the farm. Rudolph plans several sightings each week to accommodate all the requests. “I do it as community service to bring a little joy to people during this trying time,” she said.
Her original unicorn, LM Idols Remington Hawk or “Remi,” is a 4-year-old gelding with plenty of show ring accolades, including national and world champion titles in halter and country pleasure driving. “When he’s sporting his winter hair, he really is the perfect unicorn,” Rudolph said. “Clipped and show ready, he’s quite fancy.”
Remi is also spicy, so he needs to be exercised a bit before outings to burn off some energy.
Covergirl Idols White Knight Hawk or “Knight” is Rudolph’s other regular unicorn. The 2-year-old gelding is a kid lover who enjoys interacting with visitors.
This isn’t the first time Rudolph has shared her pint-sized equines with the community. She described LM Idols Cuervo Straight, who died in 2016, as the sweetest, funniest boy. “ ‘Lucky’ taught me that minis can really do anything,” Rudolph said. “He was not only the first world champion I trained myself, I also brought him to schools, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospice visits.”
Rudolph said it was a privilege to help provide that magical connection people have with equines. “A last wish for many horse lovers is to pat a horse, and minis are able to go inside buildings and through doorways much easier than a full-sized horse,” she said.
As a child, Rudolph showed in the hunters and on the American Quarter Horse Association circuit, and then she became a horse show mom for her daughters, but over the years she always kept a miniature horse on the farm.
In 2007, she added a few show quality AMHA horses to her herd. She shows on the East Coast, sometimes traveling as far as Texas, and breeds one or two foals a year, occasionally selling one. “I’m totally passionate about these little horses,” she said.
The unicorns are taking a break this summer to go back to their regular show schedule, but they will likely start appearing again in the fall.