hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture September 2023


At a farm for horses, a spa for people

Luxury wellness center shares address with equine rehabilitation facility


Abby Melfi welcomes guests at the entrance to Sacred Spa, a luxury wellness center she created in a converted horse barn. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


Abby Melfi was in her element as she strode through the quiet hallways of her rural spa and wellness center and ceremoniously slid open the knotty pine door to a treatment room.

“This is our soaking room,” she explained to a first-time visitor who peered into the softly lit room with a copper bathtub and a massage table.

“The copper infuses minerals into the bath water,” she explained. “It’s a nice complement to a body treatment.”

The room is accessorized with an antique mirror and dresser set -- and above the tub, a framed portrait of a sinewy thoroughbred horse, a nod to the spa’s roots.

Sacred Spa and Wellness sits on 100 acres of rolling green hills about 10 miles east of Saratoga Springs and is part of GMP Farm, an equine rehabilitation and training facility owned by her husband, Anthony Melfi, and business partner Gary Gullo.

GMP, which opened last year, offers an array of therapeutic equine services for racehorses. Some are nursing injuries, but the point of the facility, Melfi said, is to optimize the horses’ function and stamina.

“We believe in preventive medicine with horses and not waiting until they’re injured,” she explained. “We get them at the front end and focus on prevention.”

Equine treatments include cold salt hydrotherapy (to treat afflictions such as sore shins, bursitis and hoof injuries), laser therapy for inflammation and fractures, vibrational floors for hoof growth, and cryotherapy, which is said to encourage the horse’s natural healing process. The thoroughbreds live in temperature-controlled barns and are exercised on a Tapeta training track that stretches out in front of the spa.

Melfi smiled at the irony of an equine rehabilitation center giving birth to a wellness spa for people. But she said this setting for a spa and events center couldn’t be more perfect.
The idea for it, she added, began with a chance encounter two years ago in Hot Springs, Ark., that led to her marriage.


Healer meets horseman
Abby, a native of Kansas City, Mo., visited Hot Springs in 2021 to avail herself of the spa experience for which the town is renowned. Anthony, an avid racing aficionado and thoroughbred owner, was in town for races at Oaklawn, Hot Springs’ casino resort. They met serendipitously at a popular local restaurant, and sparks flew.

Anthony, a native of Syracuse, was based largely out of Saratoga Springs, while Abby ran a thriving chiropractic and acupuncture practice in Kansas City.

“I couldn’t just leave that, so we did long distance for a while,” she recalled.
On her visits to Saratoga Springs, Abby familiarized herself with the region as well as Anthony’s plans to open an equine wellness center with Gullo.

“I saw potential for a spa there,” she recalled. “The property was an open palette.”
Melfi traces her interest in wellness back to her college days. She had been contemplating law school but opted instead to enroll in massage school after seeing firsthand the benefits of holistic medicine. She said she was inspired by a couple she knew who treated their autistic child with holistic therapies.

At the time, she also worked as a Social Security disability advocate and was shocked at the fallout for clients with chronic pain who became addicted to opioids.

“Seeing that inspired me to explore options other than big pharma,” Melfi said. “Massage school was the best thing I ever did.”

Along the way, Melfi said she noticed many of her massage clients’ ailments were improving markedly through chiropractic treatments, so she studied to become a doctor of chiropractic medicine.

“Chiropractic medicine works with the body’s innate intelligence, especially the nervous system, which is the master controller of all systems in the body,” she explained. “It’s like a power line: If it’s out, all systems are affected.”

Rounding out her wheelhouse of healing arts practices, Melfi became an acupuncturist after breaking her arm in 2017.

“The doctors wanted to do surgery, but that meant I couldn’t practice chiropractic medicine for six months,” she recalled.

When she underwent acupuncture and cold laser therapy treatments in lieu of surgery, and with favorable results, Melfi knew acupuncture was something she wanted to offer at her practice.
After becoming certified, she began offering mobile acupuncture clinics and acupuncture parties at parks, boutiques and breweries.

In 2020, Melfi opened Sacred Chiropractic and Acupuncture in Kansas City. A resident chiropractor and acupuncturist now runs the clinic, with Melfi overseeing operations from a distance.


Converted horse barn
After a whirlwind courtship, Abby and Anthony married last year at Sacred Spa’s 15,000-square-foot event space. Abby relocated permanently to Saratoga County and began putting her vision for a spa in motion.

The to-do list for transforming a massive horse barn into a luxury spa was daunting, but Melfi was as enthused and she was determined. Renovations began in earnest in February 2022, and by August, the spa was ready to open.

The spa’s decor is a mix of simplicity and opulence, from the blonde knotty pine walls to the ornate, multi-tiered chandeliers. Melfi furnished the common areas as well as treatment rooms with antiques from Sumptuous Settings in Bolton Landing, N.Y.

To retain the integrity of the barn’s original purpose, she kept the horse stalls and their sliding doors intact, turning each into a particular treatment room.

“This room is where the hydrafacials are done,” she said. “They’re plant-based, organic and clinical-grade medical facials that feature skin boosters, LED light and lymphatic drainage.
There’s a larger room for couples massage, as well as treatment rooms for laser treatments, facials of all kinds, Swedish and deep-tissue massage, cupping and acupuncture — both the traditional Chinese medicine variety and cosmetic acupuncture, which Melfi describes as a “botox alternative.”

Med spa services include various laser therapies for skin resurfacing, acne and pigmentation issues, micro-needling for collagen production stimulation, and heated body sculpting to remove fat. There are also infrared sauna cabins as well as table saunas, which can be experienced in a supine position.

Services begin at $60 for saunas. Group “happy hour” acupuncture gatherings are $75 per person. Hydrafacials begin at $199, and massages start at $150. Melfi said the spa offers monthly specials for different services.

Between treatments, guests can sip infused water in the relaxation room in reclining chairs under dim lighting. It is in the relaxation room that NuCalm audio treatments for anxiety and PTSD are administered, complete with sleep masks, weighted blankets and noise-cancelling headphones.
The spa also has an apothecary with skincare products from Paris as well as Melfi’s own Sacred line of products, made stateside. And many visitors opt for a coffee or tea break at the coffee bar before heading back out into the world.


Event space, offsite lodging
At one end of the spa sits an enclosed 15,000-square-foot horse arena that doubles as event space for concerts, theatrical productions, and weddings.

“My husband and I were married here,” Melfi said with a smile. “We can host parties of all size, from big weddings to elopement parties to baby showers.”

The events-planning branch of the business, Sacred Saratoga, books special events year-round.
The spa features an array of salon offerings for big days and special pampering parties ranging from hairstyling to pedicures.

Although larger events are held in the arena, more intimate events take place in a wing known as The Divine, which features a long wooden dining table as its centerpiece as well as a gathering area with chairs, couches and a bar.

Although there are no onsite guest accommodations, Melfi considers Sacred Spa and Wellness a destination spa because the couple own two bed-and-breakfast inns in Saratoga Springs: Union Gables and The Brunswick, both on Union Avenue. Guests there can be shuttled to and from the spa and can also opt for in-room treatments.

Linda Elovich, founder and owner of the Saratoga Springs-based One With Life Tequila, recently collaborated with Melfi for a sunset yoga event on the spa’s lawn featuring Elovich’s signature tequila-infused lavender lemonade, a stimulating round of asanas, and Vitamin B12 shots administered by Upstate Drip Bar, owned by Tika Shuttleworth.

“It was great to support another woman-owned business whose mission is similar in terms of helping people enjoy a balanced lifestyle,” said Elovich, whose tequilas are certified organic, sustainable and crafted in clay ovens. “Plus the views are magnificent, and the energy at the spa is so tranquil.”

Tranquility is a word her clients often use when discussing the spa, Melfi agreed.
“There’s actual silence, and it’s healing,” she said. “The spa gets a lot of tourists visiting the area, but this place is also a perfect stay-cation for those who live locally.”