ETNA, Maine — Raven Churchill was excited. She was having her one-hour horseback riding lesson at Tykenbay Acres in Etna.
The 12-year-old easily controlled the horse at a trot while weaving her way around the riding arena, her blue helmet bobbing with the rhythm of the horse.
Raven has been taking afterschool lessons and coming to summer camp for six years, but in 2008 the number of campers was very low compared to past years.
Tykenbay Acres has a full barn this winter. P.J. Woodard, the owner of the barn, took one of the horses in because the owner had threatened to euthanize him because the bills were just too much.
The problem of boarders not being able to afford a vet also has risen to the top of the list. Farriers, who take care of horses’ feet, may not be seeing their clients as often as they should.
“I haven’t seen any extreme cases,” said Nathan Calderwood, a farrier from Winterport, “but if people can’t afford to feed their horse, they aren’t going to call me anyway.”
Horses are coming down with seasonal illnesses such as bronchitis, but not being treated in time, causing the illness to worsen or be passed on to other horses. This puts the barn owners in a position where they feel obligated to call a vet and foot the bill until the owner of the horse can pay them back.
Woodard has experienced the bronchitis problem at Tykenbay.
“I had to have one owner pay for the vet,” he said. “Then I bought another dosage of treatment for the other horses because I didn’t want the owner to have to pay for an illness their horse caught from someone else’s horse.”
Woodard also commented on the usually full summer horse camp: “This year our numbers were way down. We usually have around 15 kids in a day, but this year the most we had in a day was around 10.”
Those who want to give away their horses to good homes can’t even find takers. Woodard gave away two of her horses in one week recently.
Boarders also are facing an increase in monthly board because of how much the price of grain has gone up, at least $2 more per bag since this summer.
Tykenbay is housing 17 horses over the winter, each eating quarts of grain at a time.
The Double B Rescue stable in Industry is experiencing the economic crunch in a different way. The nonprofit barn recently took in six horses whose owners can’t afford the bills anymore.
Brenda Dubois, owner of the Double B stable at 997 West Mills Road in Industry, explained how bills are paid at Double B Rescue: “We are a nonprofit barn, so all of the vet bills and care are paid for with donations.”
With the barn almost full and donations down, Dubois will be paying some of the bills out of her own pocket. Some horses must be turned away due to lack of space, and more calls come in every day from people who have spotted a horse that looks too skinny or is in poor living conditions.
The Double B Rescue barn usually has success through leasing horses free to dependable homes, but with former leasers returning their horses, tough months ahead are expected.
It may be coming down to one of the most difficult winters in Maine, but there always will be people who try their hardest to save and care for horses that have become victims to budget cuts.
Barn owners like Brenda Dubois and P.J. Woodard will put the horses first for as long as they can.
To make a donation to Double B Rescue, visit www.mainehorserescue.com. For information on Tykenbay Acres, call 269-3939. Mattie Porter is enrolled in the journalism program at New England School of Communications.