"We're not horse people. We're business people," Matt said. "We surrounded ourselves with experts."
And that's what they've done to help launch Meadow Lake Equestrian Center and The Ashley Inn. However, it was the old house that sealed the deal for Meagan. It now serves as a bed and breakfast.
"When I saw the house ..." she said, trailing off. "I just love old houses."
Even though the home was in need of repairs, she said the charm still was there. It had been for sale for about four years before they bought it, she added.
"It's such a beautiful farm and it could be really nice with just a little bit of work," she said.
After some time and work, the house was refurbished. Some of the home's original furniture was kept for the decor while many other pieces came from various stores, thrift shops and yard sales.
Meagan used her imagination to guide the interior decorating, which seems to encompass the old South feel for which the couple was striving.
She came up with each room's distinct decor, which includes individual inn rooms for renting, a breakfast/informal dining area, formal dining area, formal living room, a kitchen, a library and an upstairs sitting room. Three of the four original fireplaces still work in the house, and a side carriage porch where passengers were dropped off during those horse-drawn carriage days remains authentic.
The house boasts four rooms available for rent, and a fifth detached room is available behind the main house offering a bit more privacy, but still given access to the main house. Each room is distinct and each has a name reminiscent of "Gone With The Wind," as does the name of the bed and breakfast itself.
Coming from the west coast, Matt said they wanted to include that nostalgic feel of the South.
"It's the idea of respecting the culture - not trying to make it something it's not," he said.
The rooms include The Savannah Room, The Dream Room, The Tara Room and The Secret Garden. All have private bathrooms. The fifth room is The Veranda, which is the detached room.
"People have come from all over to stay at the inn," Meagan said.
They host everything from bridal and baby showers, to weddings, receptions, graduation parties and family reunions.
"The response has been great," Matt added.
And that was the first question they asked themselves before moving on with the project.
"How can we do something that's unique that people will respond well to?" Matt asked.
And they believe they found the answer.
"You get a package when you come here," he said.
As mentioned, the Howlands do not claim to be horse experts, that's what their team is for. However, when they decided to buy the place and turn it into a business, they started self-educating themselves on everything they may need to know to run an equestrian center. Plus, they feel they have recruited the best experts in a variety of disciplines that will ensure they have something for everyone.
Matt said when they decided to revive the center and open it to the public, they were offered advice they should focus on one thing and do that one thing well. But that wasn't their style. And now that's what he says makes them stand out.
"We didn't want to be a specialty facility and compete with other facilities," Matt said.
They offer training for both horse and rider with group, private and one-on-one lessons, which all tend to be intense, he said. They have shows and clinics offering dressage, eventing and hunter/jump with world-class clinicians, said Facilities Manager Julie Levandoski. This includes Stephen Bradley, who does eventing for Rolex shows, and Tom Poulin, who specializes in dressage.
They also sell ponies and horses, plus offer a boarding service.
Provide an indoor arena
They offer one of the few public indoor arenas in the area. They also have two outdoor arenas, two round pens, individual and group paddocks, four horse barns, 52 stalls with additional stalls brought in for shows, and a gift and tack shop. They plan to set up cross country trails this fall, Matt said.