Pamela Rickenbach approached Punch slowly, lovingly stroking his neck and talking kindly to him.

The 12-year-old, 2,400-pound black-and-white American spotted draft horse turned his head toward her and nudged her shoulder.

The massive horse was beautifully groomed, well-fed, docile and curious about a visitor in his midst.

“He lived on Naushon Island, outside of Martha’s Vineyard,” Rickenbach said. “He got fired because he bucked off one of the grandchildren.”

The horse has an injury that causes him to feel a pinch when someone climbs onto his back, she said. The family on Naushon called to ask if she would take him.

“We decided to raise him, because he’s a love,” she said.


I was talking with Rickenbach on Sunday at Equiculture at Anam Cara Farm at 100 Salisbury Road in Canaan, where she and her farming partner, Cliff Atwood, care for retired, disabled and homeless working draft horses. They also help educate the public about the history of working horses and about environmentally-sensitive skills and methods for caring for the earth and forests with help from horses.

Pamela Rickenbach stands beside Punch, a 12-year-old black-and-white American spotted draft horse, on Sunday at Equiculture Anam Cara Farm at 100 Salisbury Road in Canaan. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Rickenbach, 62, a tall woman with blonde braids and a gentle demeanor, spoke knowledgeably about horses, having spent her life learning everything about them from native American elders, and from experience.

“Our heart is the size of a fist,” she said. “The horse’s heart is the size of a football. They’ve done some studies on horses’ hearts. Because of the size of their hearts, they have 10 times the electromagnetic power of ours, so their heart’s electromagnetic pulse goes out 50 feet. Horses are so powerful, they feel you before you even get into the picture.”

The sun was warm Sunday as a strong breeze blew across the pasture and fields at the 27-acre farm, which Atwood purchased last fall after moving the farm there from Massachusetts. The Canaan property had been in the Salisbury family many years. Rickenbach hopes to raze the old barn and build a round one to accommodate the horses’ needs and provide appropriate educational space.

She hosted visitors at the recent Maine Farm Days event and is scheduled to speak at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity this fall. She plans to start giving carriage and wagon rides soon, take part in parades and offer sleigh rides this winter.

“We have 11 horses,” she said. “They all are work horses and the majority of them are draft horses which mean they work in harness. They can do everything a tractor can do.”


Horses also have healing power, are very social and love being with people, according to Rickenbach.

“When you’re with them physically, that’s when the chemistry happens,” she said. “They regulate us, they regulate our rhythms and they make us feel better. One native elder said to me, ‘They’re the creator’s universal tool for activating the spirit and imagination in mankind.'”

Hers has been a life of caring for and working with horses, from the time she was a small child.

“I’ve always loved them, my whole life,” she said. “One of the earliest memories I have is of being outside and building pastures with little toy horses.”

Born in Manhattan, Rickenbach was adopted by a Persian family as a girl and grew up in the Amazon. She later attended organic horticultural school where she realized she wanted to farm sustainably with animals, not vehicles.

“Horses stimulate the soil,” she said. “They help maintain it and their manure fertilizes it.”


In her 40s, she was a horse-drawn carriage driver in Philadelphia, where she conducted tours. Before that, Rickenbach said she worked with an author for National Geographic and met and learned from native chiefs and medicine people.

Over the years, she has taken in more than 500 horses, found homes for about 300 and has placed seven horses in the last six months, she said.

The farm, which also is home to a handful of Normandy cows, as well as George, a 6-year-old blonde and white Guernsey, is sustainable through fundraising, membership sponsors, grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and donations from individuals and private foundations. The farm also gets proceeds from the sale of Feedback, a liquid compost and soil conditioner which Rickenbach says produces healthy, vibrant, disease-free plants and trees, lawns, golf courses, playing fields and crops.

Rickenbach welcomes visitors to the farm, whose name, Anam Cara, means “soul friend” in Gaelic.

“We’re living in a time with so much stress and distraction and fear mongering,” she said, “it gives people an opportunity to be with horses for a moment, which reconnects them with nature.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She is the author of the book, “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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