Monday, January 30, 2006


The 2005 numbers are released!

I have just added another "first" to my life's list today. For the first time ever, Refuge Farms has released the previous year's donations and operating expenses on the world-wide web for the entire world to see! It's a bit scarey, I must tell you! I feel a little naked out there, but I know this is a critical piece of the puzzle that all involved with THE FARM must have access to.

The numbers are not why we exist, truly. But those numbers are how we exist. I have told you previously that Refuge Farms is not a fancy or frilly place. That we are down-to-earth and practical here. That we don't throw anything away - everything has a use around here! There is no waste at Refuge Farms. The numbers will show you just that.

In 2005, THE FARM experienced a full and active year with new faces and new Friends being brought in to the fold. The already existing circle of Friends remains supportive and for that, I must simply and honestly say I am grateful. Most sincerely. Straight from my heart.

The volunteers supported an enormous array of fund-raisers, each of which is detailed in those numbers. We sold everything from chocolate bars and pies to antiques and perennials! We talked to anyone who would listen about The Herd and our mission of healing. We kept our eyes open - and still do! - for any opportunity to expand our reach.

I must say, 2005 was exhausting for me! Not only was there just the normal care of up to 18 special needs horses, but this group of volunteers kept me running! My hand is still cramped from creating the TO DO lists! My head is still swimming from trying to absorb their ideas and comments! And my face is still aching from the laughter of just being with them and working side-by-side with them! It is a pure joy to be supported by this giving crew. If I had been enveloped by such enthusiasm and willingness to work in my corporate career, I would have had to nudge Bill Gates over a touch!

Yes, we begin 2006 with an amount still payable for 2005 services and goods. Yes, we must work hard to get to the even point. Yes, it seems a large and daunting task. It is! But no one is shrinking from the challenge. No one is saying "I quit" or "I'm done". Everyone shows up and continues to contribute in the way most fitting for them. What a glorious collage of energy there is on this little piece of land!

What is not reflected in those numbers is the spirit, the honest and absolute caring, the respect, and the hugs of everyday life at Refuge Farms. Hugs between humans. Hugs between humans and those equine ministers of ours. And hugs between horses. That "thing" that you can't touch but you sure can see - the feeling of the place. All because someone set a challenge out there for me to make a difference in someone's life with a rejected little horse.

Thank you, my dear Andy, for changing my life. For creating that challenge which set me out on this journey. I am forever indebted to you and expect you are smiling down on me and my efforts. Bless you for giving to me the greatest gift of all - your confidence.

And so with that gift from Andy, I freely give to you these ministers here at Refuge Farms. These remarkable horses! Each recover - as we all are! - from life's trials and events. Each doing their best - as we all are! - to live each day, not just survive! These horses showing us on a daily basis what forgiveness and trueness and persistence look like! Come and visit with these horses and with us! Find and share the Magic! Smell a bit like horse when you go! And know the peace and loyalty and caring of what it is we do. We heal. Everyday. Every chance we get.

Blessings to you all for your gifts in 2005 whatever they may have been! We begin 2006 with a smile and the continued determination to make a difference!

Enjoy the numbers and the journey of each and every day,
A Most Grateful Sandy and a Most Healing Herd

Sunday, January 22, 2006



I must say, this past week has been "typical"....kind of a scary statement, isn't it? But really, it's been "normal" around here....oohhh, I'm even starting to scare myself now!

Nothing big or extraordinary happened all week long - these rescued and healing horses stayed healthy and were relatively calm every day....the weather stayed in the very mild category....the Allis is still running....I'm still walking....and Kathy is still as dependable as ever. As you can see, "normal" and "typical" at Refuge Farms is outstanding to most everyone else!

And to top it all off, the week closed with a most glorious day! Yesterday was Saturday and THE FARM was closed to the public but volunteers came out so we could just get back together and regroup. Tara was back from a family vacation to Las Vegas, our Tracy was back from her holiday trip to the West Coast, Lambing Barb was dressed impeccably, as usual, and so very clean!, and Lynn and Kathy were, of course, present. We cleaned barns, refilled the cleaned stock tanks (in January in Wisconsin - amazing!), plowed the driveway, restocked the feed bin, and just enjoyed each other.

At about 2pm, Monica appeared for "the interview".

You see, Refuge Farms will be one of several rescues featured in a publication called Horse & Family, a free publication created by horse lovers for horse lovers. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to tell our story and was most excited about Monica's visit! So we all walked out to the barn and the introductions and stories began.

I do so enjoy telling the stories of THE FARM!....and watching the faces of the visitors as they absorb the history of the creature who is sleeping under their touch....the faces that realize the past pains and trauma and now see the gentleness and easiness of the creature next to them. Needless to say, the words "forgiveness" and "loyalty" and "trust" came in to our conversation frequently.

The afternoon passed quickly in the pasture surrounded by Beauty, Jimmer, Josephina, Lanna, Bonita, Big Guy, and the others. Sunshine and the easy 30 degree temperature had the horses a bit sleepy but not too sleepy to come up for pets and hugs. Monica is a horse lover and owner herself and loves draft horses. So it was fun to see her respond to the size of Jimmer and Bonita and Big could just see her face lighten up and her eyes widen as they came up to her!

And Lady-the-Dog was out with us parading around in her K-9 Cart, showing off and barking each time a horse came just too close to her fence line....doing her job as usual! What more could I ask for?

Both herds enjoyed the day and I, in particular, could not soak it up fast enough. It is good to be where I am. It is good to have friends and visitors come to my back yard and find fun and companionship and laughter and enjoyment. It is good to see the creatures enjoy us, too. Healing at all levels....and of course, hugs when it's time to leave for the day....hugs are a must at Refuge Farms....even for Monica on her first visit!

I'm going to close this blog entry with a piece of an email from one of the volunteers who was at THE FARM yesterday:

WOW! SUPERB! EXCELLENT!! THRILLING! HEART WARMING! Can't find enough exclamations to express how wonderful the day was!! The HERD and the other herd enjoying each other and all basking in the sun!! Positive feedback from Monica regarding our wonderful HERD!! WHAT A WONDERFUL DAY!! A DEFINITE HIGH! I am thrilled to be part of the other herd!!

This is the part where I say that I am the lucky one to be surrounded by such people and creatures....I would be no other place....a "normal" week at THE FARM is a good thing....for all of us!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and The Other Herd

Sunday, January 15, 2006


...just because they are so appropriate!

Rod Stewart
Dennis Breck
Gary Stevens
Elvis Presley
Sandy Gilbert

What a list of names!!! Who are some of these people? What does this collage of names have in common???? No, we are not all musicians. No, we are all not politicians! And no, we are all not famous. What we have in common is our birthdate. We were all born on January 8th!

With that little tidbit tucked away in your head somewhere, I would like to talk to you about a very meaningful birthday present that was given to me by Lambing Barb, or "LB" as I have come to call her.

We were meeting to discuss farm stuff - Open Barn, fund raisers, auction, sponsorships. I was anticipating a most productive and business-like luncheon at the local Culver's. No emotional overflows. Certainly no tears!

But LB had a small gift to give me for my birthday before we left for lunch. A box with the tiniest gold foil bow that I have ever seen! So tiny that my farm hands felt enormous as I struggled to open the box without disturbing or damaging that little tricket of a bow!

Inside was a silver foil box with the "Silver Feather" shop decal on it. I've learned already from LB that this shop has unique and interesting gifts. Some day, I have promised myself, when I am in Eau Claire I will stop in and see this shop and introduce myself to the owner and see for myself.

Upon opening the box, I found a fact sheet on the artist. I read the sheet first to help me better understand the gift. I truly liked what I read....

Josef is a Native American from Minnesota. Starting out in water colors, he soon found his "niche" in handcrafted silver jewelry. One day while selling his jewelry, the shadow of an Eagle fell on his work. Now if you know anything about American Indian beliefs and folklore, you will know that the Eagle is sacred. And this shadow confirmed for Josef that his work and his style was fitting to him.

Opening the tissue I found a pair of earrings. Interesting, I thought. Different earrings. I should have known these earrings were much deeper than that!

Each earring is handcrafted which means that as you look at them closely, you will see that one is just a bit - a tiny bit - different than the other. Each is unique. Much like my philosophy of life - we are all so the same but so different from each other. Like I tell people about the horses - they are all horses, yes, but from there the uniqueness begins.

The earrings are drop earrings with a circular disk hanging from the silver wire. The top of each disk has four hoofprints on it and when you put the earrings together, the hoofprints are each facing a different way. So my earrings, when on my head, have hoofprints going in to me and out of me...

Then below the hoofprints is what caused me to sit down. And yes, the tears appeared.

On each disk, on the inside of the earring is the front part of a horse cut out of the silver. It is plain for you to see the head stretched forward! the mane blowing in the wind! the front legs reaching out as the horse is running in! And when I wear the earrings the horses are running in to me...

The outside of each disk is the back of a horse. Once again, it's plain to see the hind quarters with legs stretching out as the horse runs! and the tail being pushed straight out with the wind from the running! And when I wear the earrings the horses are running out of me...

"They are called "Horses Coming & Going", Sandy", LB quietly said. "And they had to be yours just because they are so appropriate. Especially now."

I feel, instantly, the intention of these earrings. Almost as if I have met Josef and he has read my heart and my head these past few weeks. People come and go in our lives. Jobs come and go in our lives. Kids come and go in our lives. Pets come and go in our lives. And for Refuge Farms, horses come and go in our lives.

And if you have been reading our blogs you know that a very big part of me has come and gone in my life recently. My Jerry, the Roan Horse.

I look at these earrings and I smile! I see Jerry as he arrived - so young! so big and strong! so happy to not be asked to pull! and so playful! And then I see Jerry as he left - still big, still playful, but not so young and trapped in a body that could hardly support his weight.

Before these new silver earrings, I wore a pair of gold hoops. Significant earrings to me. And so I wore them. All the time. Everywhere. Being with me had to be kind of boring because those hoops were always in my ears. Either these hoops or nothing at all.

Now I wear my Josef earrings. And people comment on them and so I tell them the story of Josef and I point out all the details of the earrings. I'm sure most people are content with my first 2 sentences, but so far everyone has politely stood there while I go on and on about their meaning and how I have a tool that I needed that I didn't even know I needed.

You see, as Jerry was crossing, I promised him - outloud - that I would carry him with me forever. That I would not forget how he had changed my life and given me confidence and courage. I promised him that I would not forget him. That he was to stay here on The Farm and help me with this mission. And that I would find him here - I just needed to learn to find him in a different way.

Now each morning, as I put on my Josef earrings, I find Jerry. I take him up in to my heart and smile and bring him with me for another day. I bring his strength and his courage and his willingness to compromise and his playfulness! I bring Buppa with me and we go on our way. LB, in her innocence and kindness, gave me the tool to carry on Jerry's message as I had promised I would.

So horses do come and we all rejoice! And horses do go and we all cry. Me? Sometimes I rejoice more than most because I see the horse as it was in the spot it was in... I load the horse in to the trailer and deliver the 3 promises and I feel the relief. So I rejoice a bit more than most.

And when they cross I do cry more than the others. I cry in the barns and in the trailer and in the pastures. I'm soft, yes, but I can see them in all these places and I remember their journey. And I am grateful that I could have been there in between their coming and their going.... Each one has given me something very significant. Has taught me more and more about people. But mostly, has taught me more and more about myself.

Don Henley is a talented man, in my book. He writes, "I'm learning to live without you now, but I miss you sometimes. The more I know, the less I understand. All the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again."

So I take all of them with me with a simple act of putting on a pair of earrings. My sister. Suzanne. My parents. Andy Durco. And now Jerry. What a wonderful collection of souls! I am so blessed to have been somewhere in between their coming and their going!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd

Saturday, January 07, 2006


What will the New Year bring????

It's over. The big crystal ball in Times Square has dropped and has rested firmly on 2006. All of the parties and celebrations are done and the clean-up is completed. We are all, whether we like it or not, back in to our daily routines. The entire season of hosting and attending "get togethers" and gift giving and smiling at strangers and opening doors for other shoppers is behind us.

Not at Refuge Farms, it's not.

Each day is New Year's Day at The Farm. At least in my mind and heart it is. Every morning is a new beginning and every sunrise is another opportunity to start over. My dear friend Andy Durco told me once that I was born with a number - the number of heartbeats I was given for my entire lifetime. And, Andy cautioned me, don't waste even one of those heartbeats. Because once a heartbeat is over and past it's gone. Forever. Never to be used again.

When he told me that story, I politely smiled and nodded and let him go on. Now, years later, I see what my wise friend was telling me. He was passing on his conclusion after living his life. He was telling me his learning that life was fleeting. That an opportunity missed was gone and regret was not an option. That every single heartbeat was a chance to make a difference.

As I sit at my desk each evening pouring over numbers and counts and preparing to publish the Refuge Farms 2005 Financial Recap, I cannot help but review the year. The people who have visited us for the very first time in 2005. The people who returned again to see us and rekindle those original ties. The children who celebrated birthdays here at The Farm and made me feel 12 years old again as I ran through the sprinkler with them! The work of day-to-day tasks and the joy in seeing a clean barn and sparkling clear water in the stock tanks. The peace of surveying the herd in the cool of the evening. The joy of spending a night in the field with Jerry, the Roan Horse, under the light of the fullest, brightest moon ever.

I could go on and on about 2005. But this is my conclusion: We made a difference to people in 2005. We made a difference in the world in 2005. We taught a bit about tolerance and forgiveness and faith and respect for life. We laughed a lot in 2005. And lately, it seems we are crying a lot in 2005. But I would be no other place. I would have it no other way.

As I look forward to 2006 I see hard work and some worry and tensions, of course. Well, after all, that's just life! But overshadowing all of that stuff, I see smiling faces. I see eyes filling with tears of gratitude. I see sweaty brows of volunteers who give and give and give. I see plump bellies of salvaged horses who are our ministers.

But more than anything, I feel the hugs. The hugs I give and the hugs I get. THAT is why each day is a New Year's Day to me. Because each day I wonder who will be hugged today? Who will get a word of support and encouragement today? Who will spend time just resting on the shoulder of one of the ministers today? And find peace and acceptance and unconditional love on that shoulder?

So, here's to the very best for all of us in 2006! May we all know the peace of Big Guy, the determination of Bonita, the fire for life of Beauty, the spirit of Miss Bette, the softness of Josephina, the grace of Sweet Lady Gray, the tolerance of April, the forgiveness of Big Jim, the power to see of Unit, the wisdom of Cole, the health of Babee Joy, the youth of Lanna, the undying faith of Blaise, the playfulness of JeriAnn, the resilience of Halima, the spunk of PONY!, and the pure joy of living of Lady-the-Dog!

Enjoy the journey of each and every New Year's Day,
Sandy and The Herd

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