Gerry Scott and his horse, Hercules, and dog, Molly, visit with passers-by in Boothby Square and on Exchange Street in Portland. Staff photo by Jill Brady

A dark brown horse and a yellow dog stood in the sun on the green grass in the center of Boothby Square in Portland on a Saturday this spring.

Gerry Scott, donning a white cowboy hat, stood 20 feet away allowing Hercules, his 10-year-old Friesian horse, and Molly, his yellow lab, to receive the attention of dozens of onlookers dining outside restaurants in the square.

For the next couple of hours, hundreds of people went out of their way to get a better look at the horse. People in cars slowed down as they drove by, looking on with confusion and amusement. Many people were timid but eager to ask Scott if they could pet Hercules, and he happily agreed every time.

“It’s great. The people love it,” said Shaun McCarthy, owner of Dock Fore, a bar in Boothby Square. “It makes the whole square alive. I’ve seen him here a hundred times.”

After letting Hercules graze, Scott mounted him and rode him down Fore Street and onto Exchange Street, where he stopped outside of Mocean Skateboards. Soon thereafter, Scott let a woman, who was there with her son, sit on top of Hercules. “I’m so happy, this is amazing,” she said.

Hercules’ frequent presence in the Old Port and other downtown areas during the past year has gotten people wondering what a horse would be doing there and whether it’s even allowed.

Riding a horse on public roadways is legal, and Scott says he’s well versed in those laws.

Horses have had the right of way on public roadways since the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth. It’s based on British common law. You can’t ride in the middle of the street, you must stay on the right side of the street. You can’t ride fast, and you must give people the right of way,” he said.

According to the Portland police, there is no specific ordinance for riding a horse around the city. The city’s only laws pertaining to horses are that they cannot be housed anywhere but the two zones that allow for livestock and that the owner of a horse will be held liable if the animal puts someone in danger. State law states that a person riding a horse is subject to the same duties as a vehicle operator, according to Portland police spokesman David Singer.

Singer pointed to another state law that says: “A person may not allow an animal-drawn vehicle to be on a public way unattended unless the vehicle is reasonably fastened.” So it was technically illegal for Scott to have his vehicle – Hercules – unleashed, but police have not taken issue with it because, as far as they know, Scott stands near enough to him and Hercules isn’t blocking a public roadway by standing on the grass, according to Singer.

Scott says his purpose in letting Hercules hang out in public is the “mental health betterment of communities and to get law enforcement into the mental health game.”

Scott, 62, who lives in Saco, said he started working with horses while in the Army. He said he retired as a U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel after serving for 28 years and was also the chief executive officer of Wall Street Investor Forum Inc. out of Boston, New York City and London.

I was given command of one of the Army’s four horse units when I was a lieutenant. I got hooked. I figured out very quickly how to ride a horse,” he said.

The Army has a program called Soldier For Life, which calls upon soldiers to find ways to continue to serve their nation and community after their military service.

“When COVID kicked in, I said, ‘What can I do to help? I know what I’ll do, I’ll contact the chiefs of police in eight towns and cities.’ I’m up to 10 now. ‘I’m going to adopt their towns and make them the offer that none of them can turn down,’ ” he said. 

Those cities and towns are Portland, Bath, Kennebunk, Brunswick, Boothbay Harbor and Saco; Portsmouth, Wolfeboro and North Conway, New Hampshire; and Stowe, Vermont.

When Scott “adopts” a town, he takes Hercules and Molly and speaks with the police chief to schedule “mental health days” for the community, three to six times a year per town. He lets the chief decide where a visit from the trio would be most appreciated, and stops at 10 places, such as nursing homes, hospitals and homeless shelters, trying to reach more than 1,000 people in a day.

On those days, he meets with the police chief in the morning and is assigned a police officer to escort him.

In addition to those scheduled visits, he rides his horse around town as many as five days a week, as he was that day in Portland. “I just go to a town, and I do the same meaningful thing without a police escort,” he said.

Scott frequently visits the Boothbay region, where Hercules, Molly and Scott have become local celebrities.

“It’s amazing. He does so much for the community, it’s a breath of fresh air for us,” said Jen Mitchell, owner of Brady’s Restaurant in Boothbay Harbor. “People think about good things when he’s here. Hercules even has his own bucket outside our restaurant. Everybody sees him coming and they go, ‘Hercules!'” 

Scott is proud of his horse and what they do together.

My horse is extremely well trained and social. He enjoys meeting people,” he said. “I take him to places that are not dangerous and that are friendly and where there is grass and water and carrots. I must have had six restaurants give us carrots and apples today in Portland.”

As the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Horses Over America, Scott hopes to expand on the work he has been doing.

“I created the framework to expand this across the state of Maine, across the six New England states, and a budget to go with it. What am I most interested in is doing all 50 states,” he said.

Scott said he was “speaking with some very large financial players” to set up donations, which he hopes will come from private donors as well as large foundations. One town, which Scott wouldn’t name, is setting up meetings with potential donors out of gratitude for his service, he said.

Staff Writer Rob Wolfe contributed to this report.

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