Rider, horse to go bareback for a cause in Pownal, Durham

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DURHAM — When Chris Lombard learned a unique horse sanctuary was in danger of closing, he said he felt a “full-body yes” to the call for help.

Lombard, who works with horses and their owners all over the Northeast, will set out on an 8.2-mile ride through the back roads of Pownal and Durham with his horse, Rocky, on Aug. 11 to raise money for the sanctuary.

What makes “The Ride for the Rescue” unique and, hopefully, eye-catching, Lombard said, is that he rides Rocky bareback on trails, with no bridle or reins –”just man and horse.”

Although other trainers and riders around the world practice this, Lombard said it’s rare to see it done outside of an enclosure.

“One day I just felt (Rocky) wanting to go down the road and we just did. … That got us into something I had never heard of as far as someone riding a horse equipment-less on a full-fledged trail ride,” Lombard said. “There’s something about him and the look in his eye … when we do this together, you can really see him. You see more than a horse, you see Rocky.”

One would think while watching Lombard’s relaxed and casual demeanor around horses that he’s been riding since he was a kid. But that isn’t the case.

At 26, Lombard said, he found himself bartending in Portland and, ultimately, feeling a little lost.

“I was going through one of those harder times in life,” he said. “A bunch of things in a row weren’t going my way.”

The feeling subsided one afternoon when Lombard was at a farm with one of his friends.

“When I went out to the barn, I saw two horses and for the first time in a while forgot about all the stuff I was going through,” he said. “It was like I was waking up from a dream. … It gave me complete peace.”

It was then that Lombard decided to learn more about horses, realizing the effect of simply being around a horse was “therapeutic” for him. So, with nothing keeping him in Portland, Lombard decided to pack up his belongings and move out west to dedicate his life to learning more about the animals.

After a couple of years of working as a stable hand in California, Colorado and Arizona, Lombard came back to Maine to offer what he had learned to those who needed help connecting with their own horses.

“It’s a life-changing journey.  If people can open up to that and find a trust and confidence in their horse, it becomes something way bigger than horse training,” he said.

Shortly after returning in 2003, Lombard met a 5-month-old wild-eyed foal.

Rocky was a pregnant mare urine foal – his mother’s urine was collected to create the drug Premarin. Some ranches focus on keeping many mares pregnant at a time to produce the urine; they usually sell the unwanted foals to slaughter.

But, thanks to a program called FoalQuest and Open Gates Equine Rescue in New Gloucester, Rocky was saved.

Lombard was brought in by one of his clients to work with Rocky, who had had little interaction with humans.

Although Rocky was skittish and often feisty, the two connected and, in 2006, Lombard bought Rocky for $1.

Lombard now lives in New Gloucester, but boards Rocky, who is now 15, at two farms in Durham, depending on the season.

As his experience with horses has grown, so has Lombard’s business. He now travels as far as Florida to work with clients and do demonstrations with Rocky.

“Our main goal is to help all of our hearts become open to the idea that it isn’t about us training or dominating (animals) just to get what we want,” Lombard said. “It can be a partnership that’s based on freedom and choice.”

With no barn and by storing all his equipment in his car, Lombard said he avoids overhead costs.

“I live a very simple, minimized life as far as possessions and things that could own me, so I can spend much more time owning my whole life,” he said. “Nobody gets into horses in the Northeast to make a ton of money … (but) I wouldn’t be doing anything else if I could.”

Without using a saddle or bridle while riding, Lombard said he and Rocky can demonstrate how to feel safe around a horse without having to “force it.”

For a year, he said, he’d been brainstorming how to use his relationship with Rocky to benefit something big, but it wasn’t until he heard about Sarah Page and the Whole Horse Experience and Education Equine Sanctuary that something clicked.

Page’s nonprofit sanctuary in Woodstock is dedicated to saving horses like Rocky that are bound for the slaughterhouse, retired or simply unwanted. Page works a full-time job, but dedicates much of her time to nursing the horses back to health and finding new homes for the ones who can be adopted.

When Lombard stopped by to learn more about the farm, he said he was greeted by 29 happy, loved animals. But, with most in need of special medical care that Page pays for, on top of everyday expenses like food, the farm is at risk of going under.

Lombard is accepting donations for the sanctuary on a Gofundme page, www.gofundme.com/the-ride-for-the-rescue. On July 9, a month out from the benefit, he had raised more than $1,300 of his $5,000 goal.

Lombard said he’ll have experienced riders in front of and behind him and Rocky, slowing traffic throughout the route, which will primarily wind down Poland Range Road for two to three hours.

Though Lombard said he won’t be upset if he and Rocky can’t make the full 8.2 miles, he said he hopes they’ll raise awareness about Page’s efforts to help horses like Rocky.

“From the minute I met her, I could feel (Page) was very honest and authentic,” Lombard said. “She’s kept this running on her own for a long time.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Chris Lombard of Durham plans to ride his horse Rocky bareback without a bridle for more than 8 miles on Aug. 11 to raise money for an equine sanctuary that saves and rehabilitates unwanted horses.

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