MAINE–The outskirts of Biddeford, Maine, are perhaps not the most likely place to find a center devoted to the care, training, and rehabilitation of wild horses. Nor is Mona Jerome, a 70-something native New Englander who hadn’t laid eyes on a wild horse until she was 40, the most likely owner. But nothing about wild horses–also known as mustangs–lends itself to likely outcomes.
Jerome and her husband Bradford, who passed away in 2012, got their first horse in the early 1980s, and soon became interested in mustangs. “I love what they stand for,” Mona says. “The freedom and the survival. They have come through all kinds of adversities, and continue to thrive.”
And also because, she admits, “They seemed to need a lot of help.”
The Ever After Mustang Rescue and Training Center was formally established as a nonprofit in 2002, and serves as home to as many as 30 horses at any given time. The center offers its residents stables and indoor space to run, as well as several dozen acres of field and pasture.
“I think people were kind of shocked at first,” Mona says about Ever After’s early days. “How does a woman, especially, work with wild horses? People thought I was working with lions, tigers, or bears.”
Over time, she silenced her doubters. Chris Lombard, a professional trainer who works with some of the Ever After horses, testifies to Mona’s standing. “If you have a horse in Maine, you’ve heard of Mona and the Ever After Mustang Rescue, because they’ve just done an incredible job as far as the care and rehabilitation of horses.”
It hasn’t been easy, as mustangs present a unique challenge. Descended from the horses brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, mustangs developed into a distinct breed over the centuries–one that lives in herds and fends for itself in some of the least hospitable areas of this country, especially in the southwest. The horses are strong and intelligent, but not always amenable to living near humans. As a result, they were often rounded up and removed from their habitats. Some horses were sent to be slaughtered; others taken in as pets.
“We’re not saving every one of them. We’re just a drop in the bucket…But we are saving some of them, and every one we save is very important.”
Ever After’s mustangs often come from the well-intentioned horse lovers who’d been enchanted by the idea of owning a wild horse but clueless about their caretaking. “People were adopting them knowing little about them–their mentality, their needs, or how to train them,” Mona says about these horses, many of whom were abandoned. “They were falling through the cracks.”
Once they’ve checked in to Ever After, however, mustangs work with professional trainers and other specialists to help become acclimated to the ongoing presence of humans. It can be a long, painstaking process, but one that Mona and her volunteers find deeply rewarding.
Still, while Mona’s goal is to find a lifetime home for these horses, it’s not always possible. Some horses have behavioral issues that are too difficult to fix; some are simply too old to be very desirable. Those horses are allowed to spend the rest of their lives at Ever After. For them, it’s a bit like winning the wild-horse lottery.
Mona is realistic about the mustangs’ prospects and her mission. “We’re not saving every one of them. We’re just a drop in the bucket,” she says. “But we are saving some of them, and every one we save is very important.”
Standing next to one her charges in the barn, Mona gently runs her hand across the horse’s temple. Even after 30 years, she still marvels at these incredible creatures. “This is a wild animal who could take care of himself,” she says. “And here I can stand with him, put my hands near his mouth, pat him. What a privilege to be in his space.”
In the winter, snow blankets Ever After’s barn and pastures, and the grounds become perilously icy–far from ideal conditions for horseplay. Once spring arrives, the fields and pastures are open to the mustangs. “They run and they frolic,” Mona says. “They have a great time out there, just being horses.”
For more information about the Ever After Mustang Rescue, to become an “in-house adopter,” or to donate to their building fund, please visit: http://www.mustangrescue.org.