Keyana Lee, front left, and Haley Laflamme work with members of the Maple Hill Creative Horsemanship Team at Maple Hill Farms in Auburn. Members of the team will participate in the Special Olympics Maine Equestrian Competition on Sept. 28 in Skowhegan. Athletes have been working with Johnny Bee, a 20-year-old pony, to get ready for the competition. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Darby was a well-cared-for, New York City carriage horse, retired and in need of a new home.

Johnny Bee was at risk of being shipped for slaughter.

Joy, a breathtaking Gypsy Vanner, was neglected by a previous owner, found thin and covered in lice, but with her flowing mane set in beautiful braids.

“So the hairdresser effect was in, but not feed. Not food, not understanding the basics,” said Nancy Cecil, who helped found Sanctuary at Maple Hill Farms and is a volunteer and managing director. “That’s people wanting things but not understanding there’s 24/7 care component. That’s why we’re here.”

Nancy Cecil helps a member of the Maple Hill Creative Horsemanship Team with her riding helmet at Maple Hill Farms in Auburn. Members of the team will compete during the Special Olympics Maine Equestrian Competition on September 28 in Skowhegan. The athletes have been practicing at the sanctuary to get ready for the upcoming competition. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Formed 10 years ago, the Auburn nonprofit helps owners struggling to care for their horses and takes in homeless, distressed and unwanted horses. With a public barn, a main barn and eight foster homes, Maple Hill Farms has cared for up to 126 horses at once — more at the time than the better-known Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals in Windham.

Maple Hill Farms is home to 56 horses, and expects to find adoptive homes for about 40 this year.

“Sanctuary is a lot of what we do,” Cecil said. “We don’t feel we need to push horses on ahead of their time. We didn’t need to flip them when they weren’t ready. Sometimes when we’re bringing in a horse, it takes a year to make them OK, to make them suitable. To have them become what we call a useful horse.”

Sanctuary is not the only thing. And it is not just about horses.

During its earliest days, Maple Hill Farms offered therapeutic riding to children with disabilities. As it grew, it opened to volunteers with physical or intellectual disabilities. And then, three years ago, it began training a team of adults for the Special Olympics.

On Sept. 28, a dozen members of the Maple Hill Creative Horsemanship Team will compete at the Special Olympics Maine Equestrian Competition in Skowhegan, participating in showmanship, trail obstacle courses and other events.

Six horses, all residents or former residents of the sanctuary, will join the team, including Darby, the retired carriage horse, Johnny Bee, who once was at risk of being slaughtered, and Joy, whose mane had been intricately braided even as she went hungry.

As part of the Special Olympics team, the horses get love, attention and training. The humans get to learn leadership skills, think through problems, practice teamwork and adapt to ever-changing situations.

“We’ve had some people who have come and who are anxiety ridden, physically disabled and unable to do certain things,” Cecil said. “Here we put out the welcome mat and let them rise as high as they can.”

Ethan Grotton, 20, of Turner, has been working with the horses intermittently for several years and is expected to be on the Special Olympics team next year. He likes the horses, he said, “because they’re kissy.”

Keyana Lee, left, and work with a member of the Maple Hill Creative Horsemanship Team as she trains with Johnny Bee at Maple Hill Farms in Auburn. Members of the team will compete during the Special Olympics Maine Equestrian Competition on Sept. 28 in Skowhegan. Johnny Bee, a 20-year-old pony, is one of the animals at the Maple Hill sanctuary that the athletes have been working with to get ready for the upcoming competition.

Even if, ironically, his favorite horse is named Snapper.

“Snapper is a wise guy, that’s why he likes him,” Cecil said.

Maple Hill Farms has alliances with about half a dozen other horse groups around the country, partnerships that allow them all to more easily transport horses from other states, get assistance in emergencies, mobilize to help horses in need and collaborate over horse training. But while the alliances are helpful, Maple Hill Farms is on its own when it comes to the everyday work.

The sanctuary is run by a staff of five core volunteers and another dozen or so other volunteers who serve as barn helpers or supporters. Its public barn is leased. Its main barn is at Cecil’s house. The group relies on donations, grants and fundraising to pay the $3,000 a year it costs to feed and care for each horse.

“I call it the ‘boring hay fund.’ Everyone would rather save a horse.  … but the ‘boring hay fund,’ they need that hay every single day,” Cecil said. “So when people ask us, ‘What do you need?’, well, they want to go shopping for treats. Until there’s tons of hay, I can’t even think about treats.”

Shortly before the Special Olympics competition, Cecil remained concerned about renting the trailers needed to transport the horses, paying for gas and having enough people to drive. To save money, she’d already curtailed the number of horses they were bringing, but she still had six animals to drive up to Skowhegan.

“Right now, we need a little extra push financially,” she said.

They would, she was sure, find a way. They always do.

“Miracles happen every day here,” she said.

Animal Tales is a recurring Sun Journal feature about animals and their people. Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].

Shakespeare walks into the stable at Maple Hill Farm in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Volunteer Jennifer Hanson brushes Joy at Maple Hill Farms in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Jennifer Hanson, left, Nancy Cecil and Renee Cyr guide a member of the Maple Hill Creative Horsemanship Team as the athlete rides Eddie at Maple Hill Farms in Auburn. Members of the team will participate at the Special Olympics Maine Equestrian Competition on Sept. 28 in Skowhegan. Eddie is one of the horses at the Maple Hill sanctuary that the athletes have been working with to get ready for the competition. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

 

 


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