WINDHAM, Maine — Misty and Michelle were skinny, skittish, sick and unhappy. The miniature horses had so little human contact for years that they were essentially feral.
They had been neglected by a Massachusetts veterinarian who found himself overwhelmed by the demands of a herd that had ballooned to more than three dozen mini horses. Most were malnourished and infested with parasites when they were taken in by a pair of rescue groups in March.
But a little less than a month after arriving at the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, Michelle has been adopted. Misty shares a stall at the Windham rescue with a pony companion and sometimes eats out of workers’ hands.
“If I go in and I’m very quiet, I can get hold of her halter,” Marilyn Goodreau, president of the MSSPA, said. “She’ll come to me.”
Founded in 1872 to take care of the horses that pulled Portland’s fire engines and streetcars, the MSSPA is now the largest equine rehabilitation facility in New England. It is currently serving about 40 horses at its Windham facility and another 20 or so at barns off-site. The no-kill, nonprofit rescue also serves other large animals, including goats, cows and sheep, as well as cats.
Despite its name, MSSPA is not a state program and it does not get state money. The facility is funded through grants, donations and fundraisers. Its animals, however, all come from the state animal welfare program or animal control officers who seized them from what were believed to be abusive or neglectful situations.
In March, the MSSPA learned the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Rescue League of Boston had taken in 38 miniature horses. The MSSPA offered to help, sending workers and goods to Massachusetts.
Grateful for the assistance, the organizations offered the MSSPA Misty and Michelle.
Michelle is black, 12 to 14 years old, and about 32 inches tall. Misty, a pretty paint miniature horse, is about 4 years old and a little over 32 inches tall. She was so underweight — even after intensive care in Massachusetts — that her ribs still showed when she arrived in Maine.
At first, it was all workers could do to get near them.
“[They were] very fearful,” Vice President Meris Bickford said. “You wouldn’t have been able to walk in the stall with them. They would have run to the far corner, showed you their rumps. And if you had pressured them and said ‘I’m coming over anyway,’ they would have kicked.”
With gentle moves, patience and food, workers slowly started to win the horses’ trust. Over time, they were able to stand near a low feed tub as the horses ate, then feed the horses from their hands, then get close enough to softly pat a nose. Goodreau, who has been rescuing horses through the MSSPA for more than 35 years, can now lead Misty from her stall.
Michelle was adopted a little over a week ago. Her new owner is experienced with horses and their socialization.
Misty isn’t quite ready for adoption yet. She needs to gain another 50 to 75 pounds, and she’s still feral enough that she will bolt if she gets the chance.
It typically takes six to nine months for the MSSPA to rehabilitate a horse. Bickford believes Misty’s stay will be shorter. The rescue hopes to find her an adoptive home in a couple of months.
Although they can look similar, ponies and horses are different species. While ponies can pull carts or be ridden by children, miniature horses aren’t built for work. Misty will need a different kind of home.
“She’ll make a great companion to another horse, and she loves other animals,” Goodreau said. “She’s really sweet.”
People have already inquired about adopting Misty. But if it can’t find the right home, Misty’s place will be at the MSSPA, in a stall with her name on the door, a special paddock behind the barn and a pony friend.
“The thing about Misty is it’s simple to get weight on her. What’s more difficult is getting her to the point where she trusts somebody,” Goodreau said. “But she’s come along good.”
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