Joyce Pomeroy lives alone on a 20-acre farm in Prentiss. Well, not exactly alone. Her resident family includes 28 horses; six cats; three dogs, one of them blind; a dwarf goat named Sophie; and Annabelle, the orphaned lamb.
You might think that sounds like chaos, but it is quite the opposite. The Last Stop Horse Rescue, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit licensed by the state of Maine, is as peaceful and serene as a meditation retreat center.
I left my three-hour visit feeling infused with love and hope.
In October 2006, Joyce took in her first horse, Emma. Emma had been shuttled through seven different homes in 10 years and was considered a “problem horse.” Joyce was determined to offer Emma the security of a permanent home. “I told her, ‘Emma, this is your last stop.’” That was the beginning of Last Stop Horse Rescue, a sanctuary home for 40 living creatures, one of whom is Joyce herself.
A native Mainer, Joyce married and moved out of state in the ’70s. She was the medical manager for a busy group practice in New York State for 28 years, got her EMT license, was a volunteer firefighter and taught medical ethics while she raised her three daughters. In her late 50s, divorced. An empty-nester, Joyce decided it was time to return home to Maine. She worked in a small medical office in Hampden for a while and spent free time on the property in Prentiss.
Then a severe illness affected Joyce’s memory and comprehension, leaving her mentally and emotionally exhausted. Her doctors advised her to quit her job.
It was about this time Joyce met Emma. Joyce had worked all her life, and without a career to define her she was struggling. She had lost her sense of worth.
“Emma saved me. I didn’t have to be smart or good at something. She gave me worth because she needed me,” Joyce said.
Joyce started taking in more horses that had been abused, abandoned, neglected or starved. She applied for and was granted a Maine horse rescue license and was granted 501(c)(3) status. Then she began reading and studying about horse care.
After attending a clinic given by Parelli Natural Horsemanship, she adopted their gentle, no-force method of rehabilitation. From what I can see, however, Joyce’s primary skill grows from her innate gentleness and intuitive connection.
A full-time resident in Prentiss, Joyce starts every day at about 5 a.m., when she makes the rounds with her tractor delivering hay bales all over the property. Then she just spends time with the horses — patient, undemanding time. In a large stall in one of her barns, four new miniature horses munched on hay. Joyce pointed to a small chair across the room.
“That’s where I’ve been sitting the last couple of days,” she said. “I bring music, my computer, my phone, and I just sit with them. That’s how they slowly come to trust me.”
Every horse we encountered looked up at Joyce’s approach without a hint of unease. They are home and allowed to roam at will. Most of the buildings don’t even have doors, because several of the horses become nervous when closed in.
“The best training you can give a horse is doing nothing,” she said.
We visited one new horse, particularly fearful, a black horse named Angel that was kept in a fenced off area for her comfort. Joyce explained to me how to read Angel’s behavior.
“There you see? She took a step toward me. That is huge,” she said. “Now look at her softened ears, and see, she’s licking her lips. That means she’s thinking about approaching. And, oh! She’s turning toward me.”
Then Angel leaned her head down to Joyce so she could touch the white stripe down her black nose. The glow on Joyce’s face was pure love.
“That, to me, is better than riding a horse on a trail,” she said.
There is an even deeper connection going on between Joyce and all the animals to whom she offers sanctuary. Joyce relates to her animal residents on a profoundly emotional level because in the distant past of her childhood she, too, experienced trauma. Though she is not secretive about it, she was reluctant to raise the subject for the same reason she doesn’t discuss her horses’ sad pasts.
“When they come here, they’re starting from scratch in a brand new life. I don’t want to define them by their past,” she said.
Whether horse, human, dog, cat or lamb, the residents of Last Stop are assured every day that they are loved and respected for the individuals that they are. Not surprisingly, that message of hope is not going unnoticed.
In my next column, I will tell the story of how the good work of Joyce Pomeroy is spreading far and wide.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.