WINDHAM, Maine — At the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals - or MSSPA - the barns and rolling fields are home to dozens of horses that are usually brought there by Maine Law enforcement. These horses are the lucky ones, the ones that have found their way to this farm in Windham having left behind lives of neglect and abuse. They arrive in terrible condition – and here, among the barns and acres of land, they are fed, cared for and loved. Here they are safe and begin to heal.
“I know they’ve been through a lot and I understand some of their behavior sometimes. I know that they feel that they’ve gotten a second chance,“ says Nelia, volunteering in the barn.
Across the road from these horses is the Southern Maine Re-entry Center. The women, like Nelia, who reside there have been incarcerated and are preparing to transition back to their communities. And every morning, a van full of these women arrives at MSSPA to help with the rigorous day to day work of caring for nearly 50 horses. Each day begins with a morning meeting and check-in. The volunteers gather and get their assignments. Then the real work begins – mucking stalls, scrubbing and filling water buckets, and grooming – all the while stopping to visit with their favorites.
Claire, another resident at the Southern Maine Re-Entry Center, loves having the opportunity to work with the horses. “It gives me a chance to feel like I’m making a difference. I kinda think of them as my kids… I mean they need us, they can’t take care of themselves.”
What is not lost on anyone who spends a morning here is that these women and the horses they have grown to love are walking on parallel paths - finding some peace, some purpose, and some healing of their own. Everyone is going about the work of getting their lives that got off course – back on track.
“When the horses come here, they are beaten down, they’re often broken, they’re in ill health, they have been abused or neglected, they don’t have trust, many of them are pretty difficult. And honestly sometimes when the women arrive here, they have some of the same qualities. And the ones who are maybe a little more extraverted and outgoing over time? Will begin to speak to that,” says Meris Bickford, CEO of the MSSPA. “It’s very affirming to work here and see the horses make their recovery – it’s just kind of an added benefit to see that people can get so much from it as well.”
In two years, about 100 women have been involved in this partnership, volunteering at the barn, and invariably falling in love with the horses, and continuing to work through until the end of their term when they leave the Southern Maine Re-Entry Center and return to their communities. The MSSPA provides a refuge for the horses, and occasionally adopts them out to safe, forever homes.
Due to the current circumstances, the barns at the MSSPA are closed to visitors and volunteers. The horses are being beautifully cared for by a few staff members, they are enjoying the sunshine, and all are in very good hands. If you would like to know more about the work that they do, and when the barn will re-open, you can visit their website at https://www.msspa.org/.