PARIS — The Progress Center needed a new horse farm for its clients to volunteer at and Gerald Kilgore needed help himself and had just the spot for them.
It’s late Friday morning and a dusty dirt road leads down to the horse barns on Kilgore’s Paris property. Clients Darren Buker of Newry – who goes by Buker – Zach Weston of Paris and Bill Skillings of Otisfield are busy cleaning and resetting stalls with their Direct Support Professional Renee Chabe.
For the past six months, Chabe has brought two different groups of clients to Kilgore’s farm twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays to help with chores.
“We were going to another farm. We weren’t able to go there anymore,” she says. “That’s part of our deal at The Progress Center – going and volunteering in the community. … We were looking for places to volunteer and we’re lucky Gary let us come down.”
Kilgore considers himself lucky as well. His passion for spending time and working with horses began on his family farm where they always had a saddle horse to ride. This led to the development of his property where he erected two horse barns and built a quarter-mile track, which requires a lot of upkeep. In addition to his three horses, there are 13 boarded on the farm.
“It’s a big help to me. I know they’re coming. I don’t have to spend a long time [taking care of the animals],” he says. “I have COPD [chronic lung disease]. It’s just hard to do physical stuff.”
And the guys and Chabe don’t mind doing the chores around the farm.
“We get the barn all spiffed up, don’t we Zach?” she asks, to which he nods his head yes.
Chabe and Buker are on manure duty as they use pitch forks to clean out Weston’s favorite horse’s stall – Snowball. The group gave her her name.
“We pretty much named Snowball,” Chabe says, adding the mostly white horse with black patches came to the farm shortly after they started volunteering. “Me and the guys just started calling her Snowball.”
Even though she is a good horse, Chabe and Buker note her stall is always the dirtiest.
“She is a pig like Renee,” Buker laughs.
“I’m going to throw you in the manure pile,” Chabe jokes.
Buker throws a scoop of manure and pine shavings towards the wheel barrow, some of which overshoot the mark and almost hits Chabe.
“Incoming!” he yells.
While they’re cleaning out Snowball’s stall, Skillings spreads the fresh pine shavings in another stall that has already been cleaned. He uses a rake to move the shavings around. He doesn’t say much, but does say “thank you” when he is praised on a job well done.
Weston is in charge of the water buckets and Buker helps him take the hose down off the wall so he can fill the freshly cleaned pails with water.
Weston’s favorite horse is Snowball.
“I brush her, take care of her,” he says. His favorite thing to do on the farm is to “help Snowball outside.”
“She’s calm, cool and collected,” Buker comments.
But Weston isn’t the only one who likes Snowball. There is a colt the group has seen grow up over the past six months, as now he is a little more than a year old. He thinks Snowball is his girlfriend and he should be outside when she’s outside, according to Chabe.
“What does the colt act like?” Chabe asks.
“Feisty,” Weston replies. “I’m not taking care of that beast.”
Buker kicks the barn with his foot, mimicking the colt kicking the stall when he wants to go outside with Snowball.
Unlike Weston, Buker does not have a favorite horse.
“I have a least favorite,” he says.
That is 10-year-old Sign, who Chabe describes as “a grumpy old man.”
So grumpy in fact that he bit Buker last week and he shows of the black and blue mark that is now turning to yellow on his chest. But that didn’t keep him from coming back.
“I’ve always wanted a horse. I used to ride horses in my old program,” he says. His favorite thing about working on the farm is “just hanging out with the horses [and] trying to not get bit.”
In addition to cleaning the stalls, the group also brushes and feeds the horses. They get to walk down to the track to watch Kilgore and others jog the animals.
But it isn’t all work and no play at Kilgore’s farm. He occasionally takes the guys for a ride on a two-seater jog cart, pulled by the horses. He promises Weston they can go for a ride when he returns from camp.
Everyone enjoys their time on the farm.
“I look forward to coming on Fridays,” Buker says. “The rest of my things are boring except for Mondays. It’s wood shop.”
“We love it. It’s our working activity,” Chabe says. “We’re going to keep coming hopefully all winter.”