There’s a new horse in town.
Our chestnut mare, Sal, now shares Salt Marsh Farm with Bob, a Suffolk Punch draft horse who arrived from Vermont on August 7. Bob is getting to know our farmers, too, and will assume much of the work that Sal has handled for the past 17 years while she enjoys her leisure.
Bob spent the past eight years horse-logging with Brad Johnson former Maine Coast Semester staff member and teacher (‘96-’00) and former Chewonki Farm and Woodlot Manager (‘01-’05). Bob has also been an important member of Johnson’s family, which includes his wife, Emily LeVan (MCS faculty ’97–’00, Camp Staff ’99, ’02–’03, Wilderness Trips leader) and their daughter, 14-year-old Maddie, who was born in Maine while Johnson and LeVan worked at Chewonki.
“It’s hard to let go,” says Maddie Johnson, who accompanied Bob to Chewonki and has spent a few days here getting him settled. “This horse has seen me through almost my entire childhood.” She was five years old and finally done with treatments for leukemia when Bob arrived at their Vermont farm.
Maddie doesn’t remember too much about Bob from the early days but over the years they became best friends. “I think I kind of fell in love with him,” she says, although she is frank about his cantankerous streak. “He’d had a lot of owners before he came to us, and they didn’t like him,” she says. “He has to know you are there. What he really wanted was relationship. I worked a lot with him–walk/trot/canter, jumping, standing on him, moving through his legs–and he was really willing to learn. He trusts me. He knows I wouldn’t do anything to him. Every person who works with horses has a once-and-a-lifetime horse. I think Bob’s that horse for me.“
She explains an important point about Bob to help us get to know him: “He carries his ears back. He always has! It doesn’t mean he’s angry, the way it does with most horses.” Sure enough, when she steps into his stall he gives her a fond nuzzle–with ears back. “You have to tell by looking at his face or feeling his mouth on the bit,” she says.
Johnson has an extraordinary amount of horse sense for someone so young. She has appeared several times with Chewonki Farm Manager Megan Phillips during horse demonstrations at the Common Ground Fair. “I have loved watching Maddie’s interest in horses go from “I’ve got my horse backpack and my horse coloring books and my horse necklace!”to favorite horse movies and video clips to deep knowledge of horses and confidence in working with them,” Phillips says.
Sal gave Bob a cautious welcome. “She stamped one back hoof and gave a snuffle,” says Farm Manager Megan Phillips, “as if to say, ‘I could kick you if I wanted to, but I won’t.’” Once Sal figured out that Bob’s luxuriant tale swats flies away when she positions her head near it, their alliance was sealed.
Saying good-bye to this horse stirs a mix of emotions in Brad Johnson, who has become an expert horse-logger as he’s worked with Bob. “As my wife says, I spend more time with my horses than with her,” he says. “You form a strong partnership, so there is always some sadness when that ends. But I know Bob can’t do what I need him to do anymore.” Johnson is glad Bob will continue to be in caring hands at a farm he knows well.
Bob is learning about Chewonki. We’re learning about Bob. Maddie has made sure we know he loves corn husks and carrot tops. We are excited about deepening our relationship both with him and the people who already love him, our longtime Chewonki friends.