The past two weekends I've volunteered at a local horse rescue in Mount Airy/New Windsor, MD. They're called HorseNet Horse Rescue.
I decided to volunteer because I missed being around horses, and there was something unsatisfying about the idea of just going riding, or leasing. I wanted to feel like I was not only getting "horse time" but was making some sort of positive impact.
The horse rescue is an hour and change from my house, but the drive is pretty nice on a Saturday morning. When you finally get to the New Windsor barn, a painted sign peeks out from the bushes.
The farm is fully fenced, of course, and the gate in has about a thousand signs on it. Keep Closed! By Appointment Only! But in the distance you can see horses so you must be at the right place...
The drive in is gravelly and usually a couple of horses are roaming around, mowing the grass as it were. Parking is pretty informal -- any spot on the side of the road seems to do.
Walk through a second gate and you're flanked by paddocks of horses. And they all seem like happy, well adjusted herds. And adorable herds.
The farm is really interesting. The horse rescue rents it from a man who lives on the property, but they are responsible for the care and ownership of all the horses. The owner of the farm is a tremendous help, though, helping to move round bales of hay around to the different paddocks.
The out buildings are neat and sort of old-world. It's the kind of aesthetic I like and reminds me of some of the buildings in Pennsylvania or Salem or something. A nice departure from the red-brick, particle board, or aluminum siding that seem like the horse-housing norm. To me, there's something magical about buildings made of stone, mud, and weathered wood.
The topography of the place is pretty interesting. Rolling, dipping, all over the place. The barn is nestled in to one of the hills like a cute red gem. There are only a couple stalls, but they have runs attached to them. The barn is mainly used for storage, so the horses can enjoy pasture turn out.
The two equine occupants are a mare and filly from a massive seizure of animals a couple months back. The mare was in rough shape, and while she is physically recovering nicely, psychologically she's still learning that people can be good. The filly is a love-bug, like baby animals tend to be.
When you enter the barn there's a mural with a white horse statue. It's sort of whimsical, and reinforces this feeling that you've somehow entered a magical land.
If they haven't greeted you by now, the barn cats usually make themselves known once you get near their food bowls in the barn. There are about 9 or so barn cats that roam the property. They are excellent mousers, and some of them are pretty friendly -- rubbing around your ankles for a scratch.
The barn is pretty cozy. Sort of dark, like barns should be, with dust and hay, and a satisfying and orderly clutter of tools and "stuff". The mare and filly who live in the run attached to the barn come in for a visit, and try to solicit treats. When learning to trust people, treats help.
There are more stalls, but they don't have runs attached to them. They're used for storage, including hay, stray, wheelbarrows and so on.
There's a gate inside the barn that leads out to a paddock where there are more horses. That way, they can come in to a part of the barn for shade, or have the run of the pasture on the hill. There are a couple of horses in this area, plus an adorable donkey.
He's pretty sweet and mellow and a little unsure. I've never been around a donkey before, but there's something really endearing about this guy. Maybe it's the silly ears? or the cool shoulder stripe?
If you walk down the short hill, there's another paddock. It comes right before a green lake, which as far as I can tell, is in the center of the property. The fences are all supported by a bramble of weeds and out by the lake there are white gord shaped community birdhouses.
This paddock has my favorite horse in it, Gobie. He shares the long narrow space with another horse named Queen. They're both actual ponies, coming in at about 14 hands tall, give or take. At one end of the paddock is a watering trough.
Near the middle of the paddock is the gate, where hay is chucked. This is usually where you can find the two horses.
I had liked Gobie from the start when I saw his picture online. When I went to visit him I noticed a bunch of burrs in his mane, thanks to those fence fortifying weeds. I was allowed to make getting all those crazy things out of his hair a pet project.
I'm sponsoring Gobie, meaning, each month I donate a dollar amount to defray the cost of his care. I'm glad I chose him. Hanging out with him in the paddock was really fun and reminded me of the good times I had with Cinder.
He ate hay, while I dutifully teased the burrs from his mane and forelock. We came to a happy respect for each other -- he let me move him around, I let him eat and bite at flies when he needed. It was a good balance that let us both do what we wanted. I appreciated his laid back attitude. He was mellow, but friendly and curious -- searching my pockets for treats, inquisitively nibbling the metal comb. He didn't try to run away, even when I asserted that he NOT eat the comb, and if he didn't enjoy the attention he at the very least didn't mind the interruption to his hay munching.
I usually spend about two hours at the barn. And with an hour commute each way, it eats up at least half the day. I'm massively out of shape so scooping poop in the paddocks, moving hay, folding blankets, and any other chores are a good work out.
When it's time to go I end up leaving feeling happy and healthy. Cody, the half blind black horse supervises the walk to the car.
On the drive out Viceroy, the draft horse who once pulled coffins at Arlington Cemetery, usually impedes the exit.
It's easy to not be in a hurry to leave. But at least there's always next weekend.