Volunteer Award Winner Julia Reilly: Being a Hero for Horses in Maryland

May 7, 2024 1:20 PM ET

Julia Reilly, senior legal analyst, has turned her lifelong passion for horses into purpose with the Fair Hill Emergency Response Team (FHERT). Since 2019, Julia has spent countless hours working with the all-volunteer team, bringing a humane and dignified approach to large animal rescue in Northern Maryland, Northern Delaware, as well as Eastern and Lower Pennsylvania.

Through her volunteer work, Julia earned Exelon’s highest achievement for volunteerism and community involvement, the Powering Communities Employee Volunteer award, and FHERT a $5,000 grant. We spoke with Julia about the organization, how it serves its community, and of course — her horse, Finn.

Why are you passionate about Fair Hill Emergency Response Team (FHERT)?

It’s a blend of my passion for horses and the convenience of being nearby. Firstly, I own a horse, and with that comes the necessity of having a well-thought-out plan for when things inevitably go awry. I don’t own a truck or trailer, so I’ve always needed to have a plan in the event that I would need to transport my horse to an equine hospital. Since 2019, I have boarded my horse with Jo Ann Bashore who leads FHERT and just by being around the barn, I was exposed to the organization. For example, we planned to ride on New Year’s Day, but a call came in about a calf in distress. Without hesitation, we jumped into the ambulance and rushed to assist. Working with FHERT is not just about passion – it’s also about being in the right place at the right time.

In the horse community, we all pitch in to support one another. Whether we’re going for a ride or handling emergencies, we ensure everyone is taken care of, and that nobody gets left behind. It’s an extension of my commitment to caring for the community I’m part of.

What is the horse community like in your area?

Maryland has a very large horse population. At one point, Maryland had the highest number of horses per capita of any state in the country. We also have large events, like the Fair Hill International Five-Star Event, which is one of only two events at its level in the United States, and one of seven internationally.

What kind of services does FHERT provide?

We handle a wide range of situations. For instance, if a horse gets cast, meaning it’s lying down in a way it can’t get up, we have the tools like ropes and straps to assist in getting the horse back on its feet. Additionally, we respond to various other issues and emergencies, such as transporting horses that need medical attention or surgery. Our organization is equipped with diverse equipment and skills to address a variety of equine-related needs, as well as other large animals. We will also go to horse shows and serve as emergency personnel in case of any issues, and we host obstacle course clinics and de-sensitization classes to help people train their horses.

How does the organization engage with the local community?

We engage in extensive outreach efforts with members, the public, and first responders. We recently received a grant from Maryland to provide Large Animal Technical Rescue training for first responders, helping them understand how to handle animal emergencies. This training is crucial because many first responders and even veterinarians need more expertise in technical rescue for animals. We also conduct outreach for children and youth, including school visits and working with local 4H clubs.

Can you tell us a little about your horse?

I met my horse, Finn, when his previous owner had been told by doctors that she was no longer able to ride. Originally, I just started riding him to get him out of the barn, but I fell in love with him — it was very serendipitous. He is a total rock star and is absolutely perfect for me. He is a seven-year-old Bay Roan Quarter Horse, and I’m looking forward to a long time with him.

How has this organization impacted your life?

It has deepened my appreciation for the effort required to manage these situations. I’ve had horses for a long time, but I’ve been fortunate to avoid major issues. However, there have been instances where we needed urgent assistance, which wasn’t readily available, underscoring the importance of having a solid plan and access to resources, especially as I age. There’s a growing need in our community for this type of service, which is evident from the significant increase in our call volume. Initially, we barely received a handful of calls in a year, but now, we’re surpassing that in just a few months. The word is spreading among the community, EMTs, and police about our availability as a resource. Assisting someone in distress holds immense value for me, especially knowing that support would be reciprocated if I were ever in a similar situation.

What is one call that stands out to you?

We had a horse that was hit by two cars and lived. We were able to get him on the ambulance and to New Bolton, the premier equine veterinary hospital in the area. Not only did he live, but he’s actively enjoying a happy and fulfilling life.

As part of your Exelon Powering Communities Employee Volunteer Award, FHERT received a $5,000 grant. How is that being used?

We were able to purchase a dedicated truck for the ambulance. We’ve had a trailer for some time, but relying on individual member’s trucks wasn’t ideal for a variety of reasons. The truck is a reliable way for us to answer calls quickly and transport horses and other large animals when needed.

Exelon’s strong support for volunteerism is truly inspiring, and it’s incredible to be recognized with this award. I’m deeply grateful for the company’s commitment to empower employees to get out there and champion causes that we’re passionate about.