Former Hermitage horses find new home

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TOWNSHEND — Two Percheron horses previously living and working at the now-bankrupt Hermitage Club have found a new home and jobs at the Plymouth Police Department in Massachusetts.

"It's a very happy ending," Plymouth Police Det. Paul Caraher said. "We couldn't be more pleased with these two horses. They're such wonderful horses, their temperament. They fit right in. There's not much they can't do."

The horses, Will and Bill, were used at the Hermitage for sleigh rides in the winter, hayrides in the fall and other special events.

In 2018, Hermitage establishments were shut down after state tax payments went unpaid and Berkshire Bank foreclosed properties including the private ski resort at Haystack Mountain in Wilmington. In May, the group filed bankruptcy.

"When everything started falling apart, nobody was really addressing what was going to happen to these horses," said Gerda Silver, owner of Gerda's Equine Rescue in West Townshend.

That is, except for one club member from Manhattan, who purchased the horses and tried to sell them.

One of the rescue's board members became aware of the efforts and approached him about taking custody of the horses. Silver said he did not know the rescue existed and donated the horses along with equipment such as a wedding carriage, a hay ride wagon, a sleigh and harnessing. The rescue sold the equipment to raise funds for its operations.

"When the horses arrived, they looked like Jurassic Park to me," Silver said, referring to the 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg. "They were so big. They're huge ... but gentle, gentle giants, well mannered, well educated. They weren't just pulling carriages. They were unique."

Under the rescue's care, the horses received dentistry work, physical exams and vaccinations.

Silver said some potential buyers were interested in using them for pulling contests but "no one really enamored me until the police department came along."

Officers from the Plymouth department brought a trailer in case they were ready to transport them. Silver allowed them a month's trial period.

"And lo and behold, they fell in love with them," she said, "because they were everything we told them they were."

Last month, the Brook Bound Inn in Wilmington hosted an event to celebrate the horses' upcoming graduation. They are about to go from being rookies to officers.

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"They now have badges they wear on their breastplates," said Silver.

She touted the role of the club member, who asked to stay anonymous in media, in finding a home for the horses.

"In this day and age, he was really a humanitarian," she said. "And I'm grateful for it. And so are the horses. They're living like kings."

"The boys," Caraher said Monday, "they're doing super. We rode them all day yesterday."

The horses were part of a training session that involved several other departments. They had been ridden for about five hours straight and seven miles, said Caraher, who is in charge of the department's mounting unit.

The unit once had about seven or eight horses but only Tobias had been left after a slew of retirements. He is a mix of Friesian and Percheron breeds.

"So Will and Bill have been in training with the other horse" for the last seven months, Caraher said. "Basically sensory, tactical, obstacles and what have you."

He said Will and Bill are "just about to graduate. They're going to go on the street. They've already been to downtown Plymouth."

Caraher described the downtown as "extremely busy during the summer times."

"That's basically where we'll be patrolling with the horses," he said.

Will and Bill also will be at parades, ceremonies and July 4 celebrations. Caraher expects about 90 percent of their work to take the form of community policing activities. They will be taken to places such as the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club and schools.

"They're pretty popular," Caraher said, noting that they are kept on an approximately 40-acre farm owned by the department and the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department, which has about eight to 10 horses.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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