Pet feature: Horse sense

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When Maddy Gray was 12 she eagerly volunteered to walk 3 miles a day round-trip to watch over a neighbor’s pony. In college she took care of a polo pony and a retired hunter-jumper, almost exclusively for the opportunity to ride them. Now an adult, she owns three horses and runs 24 Carrot Horse Care, a small business she started to care for horses at their homes.

Gray loves the intensity of horses. The challenge they offer. Their intelligence. Their beauty.

“It’s kind of like having a big, tough boyfriend who’s also really smart and soft on the inside,” she said.

But it was never enough for her to personally, quietly admire horses. A former journalist, she wanted to write about them, too. So a couple of years ago, she started a small Web site dedicated to horses and her experiences with them.

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In February, NickerNews.net boasted 1.7 million hits.

“I look at myself as the guinea pig for all the world to judge or make fun of or whatever because it’s a learning curve (with horses), and there’s always more to learn,” she said.

Gray grew up in Harpswell and attended Brown University in Rhode Island. She worked as a sports reporter in Connecticut and then as a freelance writer for various newspapers, including the Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal. She returned to Maine in 2005, moving her family and their horses to Brunswick. Soon after, she started 24 Carrot Horse Care.

Gray was learning a lot with her own horses and with 24 Carrot. She wanted to share, but the online horse sites she found were either national ones geared toward promoting products or small local sites with broken links and few updates.

Gray started NickerNews with a few articles and blog entries. She slowly added guest columns, an events calendar and a section for visitors to post photos of their horses. She added information about horse abuse cases, drawing thousands of people to the site for discussions on the issue. A few months ago, after her beloved horse Phoenix died, Gray added a memorial page and a homemade video entitled “Hoofprints on Our Souls.”

But while memorials and animal abuse discussions are serious, other parts are just for fun. Gray set aside a section for humorous stories and videos. She likes to write about her adventures — sometimes misadventures — with her horses.

“I think where I am with my horsemanship, it’s pretty clear for people who read my articles that they come from an average horsewoman’s perspective. I am not a pro at anything,” she said.

Gray spends a couple of hours a day working on the Web site. Although NickerNews has a few ads, she hasn’t made a profit yet.

But money isn’t what’s most important to her right now, she said. Horses and their people are.

“I see myself investing more time in this rather than less,” she said.

Have an idea for a pet feature? Contact Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or e-mail her at ltice@sunjournal.com

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