A computer science teacher, web designer, and state representative from Rockland, Maine recently stepped out of the routine of her professional life to wade into the thick of the horse-rescue world.
Lizzie Dickerson, a teacher at Ocean Side High School and lawmaker in the Maine House of Representatives, officially founded North Star Horse Rescue, a certified nonprofit, last April after involving herself in a rescue effort that saved Thoroughbred ex-racehorses, and left an indelible impression on the Yankee.
“I’d always been connected with horses in some way in my life, on and off, and wanted to be a jockey when I was a kid,” Dickerson says. “But, I really didn’t have much to do with horses at this time in my life, until one night, I was sitting at home, and I got a message from my mother.”
Her horse-loving parent had discovered that six Thoroughbreds in New York State were at risk of being sold to a meat buyer if nothing was done.
Dickerson was galvanized.
Putting her Web skills to use, she kicked off a Facebook rescue effort to save the wonderful animals from shipping to slaughter.
Funds were raised, and notable personalities got involved, including Thoroughbred writer Liz O’Connell and Harry de Leyer, famous for purchasing Snowman, an $80 feed-lot horse who became the 1958 Madison Square Garden jumping champion, and star of the popular book, The Eighty-Dollar Champion.
And more than that: in January 2012, at the fundraiser’s conclusion, de Leyer himself agreed to take a filly, while the other five also found homes. And Dickerson, the teacher, lawmaker and web designer, found a new calling: saving horses.
She founded North Star Horse Rescue, Inc., organized a board of directors, and by April 2012 was officially certified as a 501 c 3 nonprofit.
Jumping in with both feet, Dickerson teamed up with California-based Thoroughbred advocate Deb Jones to locate at-risk horses, and with Maine horseman Debra Barry, of Grass Harp Farm, who offered space in her barn for rescues, and volunteered to be seated as Dickerson’s first official board member.
Dickerson completed her board with members Michele Jones of Martha’s Vineyard and Jessica Creighton of Prospect, Maine.
“As a result of getting the six horses safe and sound, we decided to keep going,” she states on her website. “We started with developing our website and Facebook page, and kept raising money for horses in need at other rescues or to get horses out of kill auctions.”
Dickerson quickly built a small barn on her property, and has planned to launch a new fundraiser aimed at purchasing a prefab barn to house more Thoroughbreds.
For a computer teacher, web designer and lawmaker, the work of rescuing and rehabbing horses has been a deeply gratifying addition to her already full schedule.
Although there have been moments when she has stopped and asked herself, “Oh, my God, what have I done?” she has only to look into the eyes of a rescue like her favorite mare, My Graduate, to know she is on a good path.
This mare was transformed in her care from a “pacing, rearing, covered-in-sweat” basket case to a gentle, trusting dressage prospect.
“When I think of horses like My Graduate, who easily could have wound up on somebody’s dinner plate, it makes all the hard work worth it,” she says.
“The horses are where it’s at for me, in so many ways. I can get back to the barn from a discouraging day in the state capitol, and they keep it real.
“Every day I look at our beautiful Graduate, and she reminds me never to give up, not on the disadvantaged children in my school district.”
And she doesn’t. Not on the children, nor on the intractable legislative battles, and not on a fledgling horse rescue begun by a free-spirt techie.
“In the world of technology, you have to be a very free thinker to be a good programmer or developer,” she says, noting that the same is true for teachers and for horse rescuers.
She has only just begun!