An Amish horse munches on hay while waiting for its owner in the parking lot of Home Depot in Waterville in October. A Morning Sentinel column at the time included a different photo of the horse in the lot, and it generated a broad response from readers questioning its treatment. A post to the Facebook page for received over 9,000 views, 365 shares and 662 comments. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Among the things I’ve learned from being a reporter and columnist over many years:

Things aren’t always as they seem, there are at least two sides to every story, and sometimes the truth lies somewhere in between.

To wit, I wrote a column published Oct. 28 titled “A reminder to take a foot off the gas,” about a horse and Amish buggy I spotted one day traveling along upper Main Street in Waterville. It stopped at Home Depot, the driver got out, retrieved a bucket of hay from the back of the buggy to feed the horse and then trekked into the store.

I shot some photos of the horse and then wrote a column reflecting on our harried way of life compared to that of the Amish and expressed a wish that I could hop aboard that buggy and head to Amish country to tend vegetable gardens, bake bread and read aloud to children before an open fire.

The response I got to the column was unexpected. Many people said they appreciated it, especially during a time when the world seems to be spiraling out of control and we don’t take the time to slow down or live simply, like the Amish.

But others, hundreds of them, emailed or commented online about the horse in the photo which they claimed was too skinny, abused and malnourished, and should be reported to authorities.


How dare I glorify the Amish, who abuse their animals and don’t care about them except as work tools, I was told. Some criticized the Amish religion and culture, painting all with a broad brush that I felt unfair. I answered each email and decided to do a bit of follow-up work.

I recalled the moment I saw the horse, trotting on Main Street amid a flurry of motorized vehicles. After it stopped in the store parking lot and I got a closer look at the animal, it did look thin at first glance. But as one who has had some experience with horses, it did not look abused or suffering. Its head and ears were perked up, it appeared energetic, and delved into the bucket of hay with verve.

With all the concern from horse people around New England, I began to second guess myself. But I also had to know more.

I reached out to the Maine Department of Agriculture, specifically the Animal Welfare Program, to ask if it receives complaints about horses owned by the Amish. Department spokesman Jim Britt was responsive, conferring with animal health and welfare experts there to provide answers.

I asked if the state receives complaints about horses being abused, mistreated or malnourished and if so, whether the claims are investigated, and the results. That data is not easily accessible and the resources required to compile the information required that I file a Freedom of Access Act request with the department, according to Britt. I did file that request on Wednesday, knowing it will take some time to get answers. I also asked how many complaints had been received in the last five years and from what towns.

Britt wrote in an email that the Animal Welfare Program does get complaints about Amish horses from time to time and responds to complaints with an attempt to provide education and resources to the Amish first.


“Our agents find that the education is well-received by the Amish communities. The work includes providing resources to the owners that might otherwise be inaccessible because of cultural differences. Also, nutritional education has been key to producing desired results because hay quality and long winters are much different than in other areas where Amish reside, such as Ohio or New York.”

I also asked whether, since Amish horses work in the fields and are used for transportation, they may appear thinner than other horses. Does being thin necessarily mean a horse is mistreated? I received what I deemed a thoughtful response.

“Just like non-Amish people, Amish people take excellent care of their animals,” Britt said. “There are certainly Amish animal owners whose care may or may not meet the minimum standard outlined in our animal welfare laws on any given day.”

As to a photo of the horse that I had forwarded to Britt, officials’ response was that it is difficult to tell, but it appeared to portray a horse as being slightly thin, with less muscle than desired on the topline/hindquarters.

“Questions remain, such as the age and breed of the horse, daily use, and how long the horse has been in this owner’s care,” Britt said. “A complaint made to the AWP would eventually delve into all of those unknowns and more, and hopefully result in the best outcome for the animal.”

In addition to reaching out to state experts, I explored online and read pieces written by those who spend time with the Amish and are knowledgeable about their practices, including the handling of animals.

I found particularly interesting a piece by Thomas Nye, horseman and author of the Amish Horses book series. In a 2017 essay titled “Starving?,” he writes about how, as with every group of people, there are those who are cruel to animals or other humans, but we mustn’t accuse all of doing so because we heard about a few who did:

“The first thing you should know about the Amish and why their horses look so thin: Amish use a breed of horse that is naturally thin. The best breeds for pulling a buggy are trotters and pacers, horses that have been bred for hundreds of years for use on racetracks. This would be much akin to the dog breed, Greyhound. What if you owned a Greyhound and your neighbors didn’t understand that these dogs are born looking hungry?”

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

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.