MOUNT DESERT — Holly and Jamie Riordan of Whistle Pig Farm received a call on Feb. 1 from a Maine Department of Animal Welfare agent who told Jamie he was in a jam. He asked if the farmer could take in a horse that very same night.
When Animal Welfare stepped in, the young horse was found starving and cold inside of a dog kennel. They seized her and drove her from somewhere near Bucksport to Whistle Pig Farm, located on the shore of Pretty Marsh Harbor. The Riordans will rehabilitate New Girl at their rescue farm by the sea and then rehome her somewhere safe.
“I just said to the horse, ‘You, my friend, you just won the lottery, you are under the Whistle Pig umbrella now,’” Holly said.
New Girl is the latest member to join the Whistle Pig family, which already includes five other rescue horses, three rescue ponies and three rescue dogs. A go-to for the placement of Animal Welfare seizures, Whistle Pig has been recognized by the Doris Day Animal Foundation for its work.
The couple came to the farm from Maryland six years ago to take care of Jamie’s mother, who owned the property. They ended up selling their house in Baltimore and moving to the farm full time. With the passing of Jamie’s mother, the Riordans vowed to maintain the farm, and to continue the tradition of having animals there and giving back to the community.
The Riordans soon after formed the Whistle Pig Animal Welfare Service Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to education, equine rescue, rehabilitation and placement to qualified homes.
And why Whistle Pig?
“I told a friend that the property had a lot of groundhogs,” Jamie said, to which his friend replied, “You mean whistle pigs?” And that is how the farm got its name.
Now Eddie, Addie, Charlie, Momma, Daisy and New Girl, and ponies Iris, Rosie and Whoopie Pie have come to enjoy Whistle Pig Farm, spending their days foraging, playing, learning new skills and healing traumas from their pasts.
“We climbed our own mountain with our dream and these horses,” said Holly, who never expected that she would begin running a 15-acre farm as an empty nester. Neither did Jamie expect it, nor that he would become an expert in organic compost.
In six years, the couple have played host to camp and school groups, provided a learning space for at-risk boys from Pemetic Elementary School, sent once unhealthy and terrified horses to protected and happy homes, created a commercial flower farm and taught many children to ride and love horses.
Holly has planted over 2,000 zinnias and created a successful commercial flower farm, while Jamie donates compost to local farmers. Whistle Pig has also hosted two aspiring flower farmers in the last couple of summers, helping them on their entrepreneurial journeys.
“He’s the numbers and I’m the sparkle,” Holly said of her husband. She said that the two are very different, but when they work together, they are unstoppable.
But running the rescue operation is expensive and challenging.
“These aren’t normal horses,” Jamie said, explaining that healing them physically is one thing, but training a rescue horse to trust people and follow directions is much more difficult.
“We rescue horses for anywhere from zero to $150,” Jamie explained. “We invest two or three years and anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 and then we give it away to a good home for a donation that generally doesn’t exceed $500.”
Jamie puts in the work to make sure adoptive families are prepared to take care of their new horse so they won’t return as rescues. He goes on site visits to meet with veterinarians and farriers and has each would-be adopter fill out an extensive application.
To add to the challenge, Whistle Pig can only run its after-school and therapy programs for four months out of the year because of the winter weather.
Now, the Riordans are looking to move on to a new chapter in their lives.
The 15-acre farm has been on the market for over a year, and the couple are dedicated to making sure the land, historical farmhouse and tradition of livestock are preserved. Perhaps most important to the couple is maintaining the roosting spot for a flock of swallows that return to their barn each year.
“This is the most beautiful farm on the island,” said Holly, “possibly in the world, and it is filled with animals that we are giving back to, animals who are saying thank you.”