AUBURN — People who struggle to find just the right gift for dad should try their hand at figuring out what to get a horse for Christmas, instead.

Turns out there are some similarities. Just make them a meal, with some special fixings.

On Saturday afternoon volunteers and members of the public prepared a special dinner for the 20 horses housed by Maple Hill Farms, a nonprofit equine welfare organization in Auburn.

Normally, horses chow down on a diet of grain and hay. On Saturday, however, they were treated to a holiday spread of sliced apples and carrots.

“This was good because it gave a chance for some children to get a chance to feed horses without being part of a crowd. … They had a chance to prepare the meal and take it out to a couple horses,” said Nancy Cecil, director of the nonprofit.

According to Cecil, a few children traveled three hours to spend some quality time with the horses at the farm and eat a few cookies for their efforts.

None seemed more satiated then Sarge, a tan and white horse whose festive attire – reindeer antlers – could easily cause someone to mistake him for one of Santa’s accomplices.

Every horse at the farm has a story, said Cecil. Sarge was sent to auction and on his way to becoming butchered for meat. Maple Hill Farms gave him a second chance at life.

“We saw him, liked him and thought he had possibilities. … He became very good at standing quietly for disabled people,” said Cecil.

Cecil said Maple Hill Farm aims to find horses in trouble – rescued from auctions where they are sold for meat, from neglectful owners or from owners who can’t keep them for physical or financial reasons – and give them another opportunity to be useful.

Zippy was one such pony who got a second chance.

A few Christmas seasons ago, the elderly black pony arrived at the farm. His owner was ill, but before he died, he walked out to his barn with Cecil and introduced Zippy to her. By the end, Cecil said, the man seemed comfortable with where Zippy was going.

“That happens; it’s a comforting thing for horse owners to know that their horses will be going somewhere good,” said Cecil.

Now 20-year-old Zippy will live out his golden years at the farm.

And Cecil said events like Saturday’s special dinner are important for helping the farm – and the total of 52 horses housed both on the farm and through foster farms – to stay afloat. As a nonprofit organization, Maple Hill Farms relies solely on donations from the general public.

But on Saturday, the winter solstice, the resident horses at the farm received a festive treat.

“They come out here, and we find out what they’re good at. They become useful horses again,” said Cecil.

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