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Healing the Herd

Forgotten horses find love, attention, and rehabilitation at the MSSPA

What compels us to have a pet, to share our lives and routines with an animal? Animals provide companionship, unconditional love, and teach us fundamental lessons about responsibility and care. Committing to the care of a pet also means a commitment of time— some pets are with us for decades!

Horses are majestic, magnificent, engaging creatures, and many of us have had a love affair with horses for as long as we can recall. While a horse might seem like an awfully large pet, they make great companions. People who are lucky enough to own horses do so for a variety of reasons: to ride them, show them at horse shows, or drive them for pleasure. 

When pets of any size become too much for an owner to handle, they often end up at an animal shelter. Shelters across the country do the work of providing a temporary home for these pets, a safe place where their health concerns can be addressed; the goal is that these animals can be rehabilitated, cared for, and ultimately re-homed. 

The Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals (MSSPA) is New England’s premier horse shelter where horses who have slipped through the cracks, whose care has been forgotten, come to begin the road to recovery and good health. Many horses at the MSSPA have been seized by law enforcement from situations of abuse and neglect; these horses come to the farm needing love, attention, and patient rehabilitation. 

The MSSPA’s home is 124 acres in Windham, Maine, where a large, main barn consists of 25 stalls and a smaller barn hosts five. There are 19 paddocks, many with run-in sheds to provide shelter for the horses when they are outside. On any given day, the herd generally numbers between 35 and 40 horses, though that number changes constantly as horses come to the farm or are adopted to their forever homes. 

Pulling in the driveway to the MSSPA means the luck of a horse is about to dramatically change. Each horse is assessed by a skilled veterinarian and staff—most horses present with few medical records, if any, so examining the animals closely is done both immediately and over the subsequent weeks. Seized horses often arrive emaciated and starving, so creating a re-feeding program is one of the first and most fundamental parts of that horse’s recovery.  Horses (like people!) need routine dental and hoof care as well, and neglected horses often arrive with teeth and feet that desperately need attention. 

When this skilled and rehabilitative care begins, the changes are incredible to see. Horses respond to a diet that is tailored to their needs; our team of farriers tend to the horses’ feet, returning them to their proper condition and function; and any medical needs are addressed with appropriate medications and supplements.

Caring for a herd of 35 to 40 horses requires a tremendous amount of work, and the MSSPA is blessed with an army of volunteers who enable the farm to be a place of healing for the horses. Our volunteers arrive each day to clean stalls, pick paddocks, sweep the barn aisle, pick horses’ feet, scrub water buckets, and so much more. Corporate, community, and school groups join in the effort as well, by painting and repairing our miles of fencing, scraping the prepping the barn for painting, or cleaning windows. The thousands of volunteer hours donated to the farm enable our small staff to manage the care of the horses as well as the administrative tasks of running a vital non-profit.  

Everything that happens at the MSSPA—every email, every donation, every volunteer and staff hour, every meeting that is held—is all about the horses. The mission of the Society is to protect the health and welfare of abused and neglected equines, and for 151 years that work has taken center stage. 

If you would like to see the farm in action, learn more about the work that happens here, or sign up to volunteer, please visit msspa.org.

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