Last Saturday, the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals in Windham threw its first-ever Christmas party for the 60 horses who live there.

Society staffers bedecked the Society’s River Road stables in holiday greenery. They welcomed a festive crowd to pet the horses and sample the homemade goodies. The River Road, Windham, landmark was aglow with holiday charm and good cheer.

Society members stacked huge tables with cookies, brownies, fudge, cider, coffee and cold drinks – but only for the two-legged guests. The horses were restricted to hay and oats.

Kids and parents meandered among the horses, petting, hugging and even kissing them. Some took candy canes from one of the several Christmas trees. The canes each had a “wish” from one of the horses attached. The guest could sponsor the “wish” with a gift to the Society, which is funded solely through gifts and bequests.

Kids and adults wrote holiday greetings to their favorite horses or to staff members of the Society on a huge message board at the stable’s far end.

Director Marilyn Goodreau good-naturedly deflected abundant praise directed at her for the Society’s work. The good hostess steered visitors along the rows of huge stalls and spoke gently about the horses and some of the sad lives bringing them to this happy place.

For many of the human guests the festive mood here in the barn quickly turned conversation to those horses less fortunate than these.

This holiday gathering for the Society’s fortunate horses stands in stark contrast to the bleak winter facing too many of Maine’s equine residents.

Realization is spreading that a state-wide emergency exists in the equine world. With increasing frequency horses are being forfeited by their owners or seized by state humane agents from abusive or neglectful people. The bigger problem is that there are no more rescue stalls to house the horses.

State officials, equine enthusiasts, and animal lovers are scrambling for solutions.

Literally born here in the barn a “hay-roots” effort sprang to life on Saturday. At informal spontaneous conversations beside Christmas trees and under the watchful eyes of the horses, clusters of people dedicated themselves to bringing horses in from the cold.

Guests Linda Walker and Debbie Hutchins from the Morse Road Open Gates Equine Rescue in New Gloucester offered their facility for an organizational meeting. Standish residents Cassie Fernald, Boundary Road, and Maryann Belanger, Route 114, are already immersed in rescue activities.

They started an Internet chat room to share ideas.

A food bank for horses including hay, grain, bedding, blankets to help horse owners who may be going through difficult financial straits, is in the works. A listing of available volunteers to temporarily take on chores, helping the sick or injured care properly for their horses has started. Respite care for horses and temporarily providing a secure home for horses in jeopardy are also planned.

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