The antique buildings could stand a coat of paint, and the bumpy driveway heaves and dips where horse ambulances have rolled through over and over, carrying their load of needy passengers.
But when the ambulance door is gently opened, and a Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse clambers off to take a few tentative steps towards a low-slung barn that was built in a hillside in the 1920s, only the good life awaits.
Stalls are immaculately clean, and piled high with fresh, sweet-smelling shavings. And all the hay, grain and supplements they need to rebuild their strength are in ample supply.
Nevins Farm is a happy place.
Barnyard creatures rustle from many corners. A pair of overgrown potbellied pigs root around one stall, content with one another, but ignoring a third, smaller female, who lives elsewhere in the barn.
Outside, roosters strut with machismo, and hens approach visitors, quizzically watching the people, who are just as quizzically studying them.
And horses, so unfamiliar in a city such as Methuen, wander the grassy hills of their paddocks in an arresting scene more reminiscent of Kentucky than anywhere close to Boston. And as many sightseers are drawn to the fence lines, as are prospective adoptive owners.
“We get visitors who come just to look at the horses,” says Community Outreach Coordinator Heather Race name: Should Be Dancin’
Sire: Dance with Ravens
Dam: Lip Sing’s Affair
Foal date: March 22, 2007Robertson. As people bustle around paddock fences to watch the beautiful creatures, she notes that for many in the community, a visit to Nevins Farm offers a rare opportunity see a horse up close.
On this 55-acre property in the corner of Methuen, Mass., the MSPCA’s Nevins Farm sits almost improbably close to Route 213. So near in fact, that cars can be seen whizzing past from just about any vantage on the farm.
But the constant hum of activity seems a world away on the farm that has served as a horse sanctuary since 1917.
Things have changed a lot since Harriet Nevins first donated the farm to the MSPCA. There is no longer a need to provide respite to Boston’s carthorses, who were sent, back in the day, to the farm to enjoy time off from their jobs in the city.
Today, the facility serves horses of all breeds and backgrounds, but takes in more Thoroughbreds, proportionally, than any other breed, says Melissa Ghareeb, manager, Equine and Farm Animal Care and Adoption Center.
“The MSPCA actually got started with horses,” she explains. “George Angell, our founder, happened to see a horse race in which two horses, each carrying a rider over 40 miles, were raced until they dropped dead.
“He was appalled by what he saw, and he wound up founding the MSPCA shortly after that.”
Although some ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds who find their way to Nevins Farm have previously sustained injury, or have otherwise suffered neglect, there has again and again been happy results from their time spent at Nevins Farm.
“We’ve had so many success stories with our Thoroughbreds,” she says. “In the equine world, Thoroughbreds have a reputation almost akin the reputation of the Pitt bull: people think they’re crazy, and it’s so undeserved.”
One of her favorite success stories involved a racehorse they called Mission, who raced under the name Permissiontopass.
“When he arrived, he walked into the barn like a scared dog. He tucked his hind end and he trembled,” Ghareeb recalls. “At first I thought he had severe hind-end lameness; I had never seen a scared horse come in that way before.”
Over time, Mission relaxed, and then blossomed into a “big hit” on the farm. And one day, a local riding school instructor spotted him in a field.
“She pointed to Mission and said, ‘who is that horse? He’s beautiful!’ She offered to foster him, and I was a little worried because I wasn’t sure if he was a dangerous horse.
“Well, it worked out beautifully. She put him to work as a riding horse and he’s happy as a clam. And this just happened in March!”
Another favorite is the glossy bay they call Junior. Junior’s race name was Should Be Dancin,’ and given his lineage—descended from Black Tie Affair on the mother’s side and A.P. Indy on the father’s, he should have been fleet of foot on the track.
But, after a lackluster career that netted a total of $17,000 in winnings, he wound up at Nevins Farm with bone chips in his knees, and a scraggly coat.
“When he first came to us, he was a skinny, fuzzy, baby face. He was close to 17 hands, with the face of a foal,” Ghareeb says. “He was very underweight when he first came in … at the time, he was very quiet because he wasn’t feeling well, and he would just rest his head on your chest.
“We thought he was pretty sweet though, and we did surgery to remove the bone chips,” Ghareeb adds.
After successful surgery, the five-year-old was retrained by Hannah Maue at one of the MSPCA’s network of equine foster homes, and today is a beautifully turned out horse.
Although jumping is not in his future, dressage very well could be, she says, noting that he is up for adoption now, and would be best suited to an advanced rider, she says.
In general, Thoroughbred adoptions have been experiencing an uptick this year.
Six ex-racehorses have been carefully matched with new owners, and interest in the equine athletes appears to be growing, she notes.
Horses are placed with new owners after three appointments to determine the suitability of the match, she explains. Prospective adopters are asked to complete a thorough application, and are then observed working with the horse, on the ground and in the saddle.
“Sometimes people meet a horse they think will work, and it’s not the right match,” Ghareeb says. “We want to try our hardest to make sure these animals are going some place permanent, and our process is designed to make sure we have the right horse and human paired up.”
But until they do, the well-worn barn, and hilly paddocks of Nevins Farm offers the happy life to these deserving animals, just as George Angell and Harriet Nevins would have wished.