BATAVIA – “The girls” walked slowly into the small arena – some of the horses content with a casual stroll. Others rolled around on their backs and otherwise enjoyed an opportunity to stretch their legs.
After they exited, a group of “boys” hustled into the arena. A little more aggressive, the horses still were calm, content to get some exercise and hang out with some friends.
It’s the scene on a typical Saturday morning at Field of Dreams, a horse rescue and adoption facility that sits just south of the Dick Young Forest Preserve near Batavia. Teams of volunteers work at exercising the horses, cleaning the stalls, preparing their food and washing them. And the horses, the ones that have been rescued and are awaiting adoption, are going about their business as they wait for their special day.
Of the 11 horses housed there now, six horses are meant to be there temporarily, searching for their true home, their “field of dreams.” Five are boarded there, and some actually have been adopted by someone associated with the organization.
The nonprofit organization, based in St. Charles but with the facilities near Batavia, seeks to spread its message on at least three levels. It wants horse owners who are experiencing difficulty caring for their horses to know they have an option. It wants those who are seeking to purchase a horse to consider one housed at Field of Dreams. And additional volunteers always are welcome. Those interested on any of the levels can visit www.fodonline.org.
Craig Knight, president of the organization, said the horses come to the location through a process, and that officials field calls every week from those looking to bring horses there. He said part of the goal is education because some people interested in owning a horse aren’t necessarily familiar with the cost. He said the cost of caring for a horse at Field of Dreams is $530 a month a horse, and that cost could be higher for some horse owners.
“We want people to know that, yes, a horse is more expensive than a goldfish or a cat,” said Knight, who added that for someone considering becoming a horse owner, a stint as a volunteer can help one gain valuable experience and information about what it takes.
Calls come from the area, but also from throughout the country. He pointed out a few who were there, including TJ, a former thoroughbred. Knight said TJ, a 7-year-old with a chestnut color, raced at Arlington Park and got injured, then found his way to Field of Dreams.
“He might be the next horse to be adopted out,” Knight said.
There is Kallie, a rescued horse from Michigan who stands out with blue eyes and is ready to be adopted. A mare, Wildfire, was rescued from near Wisconsin and is expected to be ready for adoption soon.
There is a process. Potential adopters are met with, and there is an interview process to make certain they understand all that is involved. And horses, when they first come in, need time for recovery. Knight said that when horses arrive, they often have lost a lot of weight because they are underfed. He pointed out one 1,200-pound horse, Willie, who recently had been adopted by volunteers. Willie came in 500 pounds underweight.
Another horse, Jessie, is more than 30 years old and is one of the organization’s “ambassadors,” along with a 48-year-old donkey. Knight said Jessie had been owned by someone who had difficulty feeding her, and had resorted to feeding Jessie table scraps. The owner knew this wasn’t a good situation, and she called to have Jessie sent to Field of Dreams. Knight said that was the right call, as volunteers and those with the organization were able to provide Jessie the help she needed.
Knight said the organization has more than 130 volunteer workers, who operate in two shifts each day. Each shift has a supervisor. On Saturday, the shift supervisor was Sandy Ahern, who became involved in the organization five years ago, after reading about Field of Dreams in a newspaper article. She said her children were getting older and “leaving the nest,” and she was looking for a meaningful way to fill that time. She said she learned how to ride horses when she was young, but she never had owned a horse. Now, she owns a horse that resides at Field of Dreams.
Ahern, a South Elgin resident, said she works two night shifts and one day shift each week. She said some volunteers do more, and some might work one or two shifts each month. She said volunteers don’t need any previous knowledge of horses when they begin, as they can learn what they need to know.
She said “it’s amazing” to see people come in without any experience and then become leaders in the barn. One such volunteer, Montgomery resident Jill Davis, was at the barn Saturday. Davis works as a mentor, and a girl she was working with wanted to volunteer at Field of Dreams. Davis said she was intimidated.
“I never even had touched a horse,” she said.
She kept coming because she had to, but she learned the tasks and started warming to the place. She enjoyed it so much that she started coming even when the girl had moved away.
“Now, I feel like how could I have gone all my life and not have done this,” she said.
Davis said she would recommend it to anyone, adding that though it can be physically demanding, it also is highly rewarding.
“There is never a bad day here,” she said. “There are hard days, but no bad days.”
For information on Field of Dreams, visit www.fodonline.org.