Friday, March 31, 2006


The World of Rescue

This blog entry really won't have a new story to tell you. What this blog entry will do is update you on a story that we are about to close here at our website. Or should I say that we are closing a single chapter in a much larger story? Yes, that's much more appropriate! A single chapter, for sure, since the story continues on and on.

A little over a week ago, Refuge Farms became active in the rescue of several mares and foals and mares about to foal way down in Nevada. The roller coaster ride was just as impactful as always - funny how it never gets any easier - and the result was not what we had hoped for, but it was partially successful.

This Nevada Rescue Effort (NRE) caused Vincent, our Webmaster, to swiftly and expertly create a crisis button and a full set of supporting screens and functions to support such a crisis. Now, what is a crisis, you ask?

A crisis would be defined as the local government involving us in a rescue of 22 starved horses where all 22 need swift removal and immediate support systems.

A crisis would be defined as a natural disaster that requires massive, collaborative efforts to even make a dent in the recovery. Katrina? Massive snows? Record cold? Record hot? A year without hay crops?

A crisis would be defined as the uncovering of a grossly inhumane situation - no matter how close or far from Refuge Farms - where I could not rest if we did not become active and participate.

Hopefully, such instances are very few and far between. But when they do occur, Refuge Farms must act quickly, concisely, and firmly. We must adjust our priorities and act! And part of that action is to communicate to you and anyone else willing to listen and read and look... To tell you of the crisis, engage your support, and update you on the successes and misses as we move along.

The NRE created that business functionality for us. I am only slightly comforted that the technology and tools are there for our future use. Sorry, Vincent, that all of your hard work does not excite me or motivate me. It scares me. And worries me. And it's not your work - it's how your work will be used that is the issue. I would be only too happy to never have to contact Vincent and say, "It's time to rename the NRE. Let's go! We've got a crisis on our hands."

For a full view of the crisis tool, please go back to our homepage and click on that big, red, screaming button right at the top - the button that is imploring you to get involved! Note: For those of you reading this blog entry after April 2nd, 2006, the button will have been removed from the homepage. You will then go to a series of connections for the crisis blog, the adoption registration, the donation submission, and, of course, a reminder of why we do this - our mission statement. Our mission statement that says, among other things, "I will feed them in justice."

So this blog will close with the latest NRE blog entry so you, too, can close this particular crisis chapter but still leave the book open for future reads and actions.

Pray for calm. Pray for sensible heads. Pray for humane treatment of all living creatures. Pray for acceptance and tolerance and understanding. Just pray. Remember, all things are possible in the world of rescue!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd
Start of Nevada Rescue Effort Blog

Friday, March 31, 2006

It's cruel, but it's real and it's common.....

There have been many emails, telephone calls, and even telephone meetings over the situation in Nevada. In each, there is the sense of panic which seems always present in the world of rescue - regardless of the creature being rescued. Whether human, dog, cat, horse, cow, or bird we all feel the panic and the sense of urgency that the rescue needs to happen now and the crisis must be resolved now!

It is my assessment that the situation in Nevada is cruel. Indeed. It's real. For sure. But unfortunately, it's common.

The "holding area" where these mares and foals and pregnant mares were first sighted is just that - a holding area. These corrals and pens are found all over the country. In fact, there are 2 of the largest in the states within an hour of THE FARM. The people that operate these pens are sometimes called "horse jockeys". And not because they ride the horses, but because they "jockey" the horses around in an ever present attempt to achieve a financial profit.

These pens are where horses are kept until sold. It's who buys them that is the rescue part. Or the cruel part.

You see, anyone can purchase one of these horses for the price dictated by the owner of the business. The price may be reasonable or not - that's not a factor and the price is not negotiable. Typically the price is high because the business person knows that if you want to buy one of his horses, your heart is involved and your head is taking second stage. Remember, it's just a business to this person.

The horses in the pen will be "thinned out" periodically where the weaker ones, the sicker ones, or the lame ones go in a steel trailer and off to slaughter. The stronger and more substantial horses are left in the pen until the next thinning when the evaluation and comparisons begin all over again.

Conditions in the pens may be good with hay and access to water. In fact, one of the holding pens close to THE FARM actually has pasture with trees! Or the holding pen may be a dirt corral-like area with minimal or no water and scarcely any hay.

The horses fight as all horses will do in a herd. Only these fights are more intense because of the lack of room to flee and the sense of panic the horses feel at being cooped up. The weaker horses may die due to injuries or from just flat out giving up. Sometimes an entire pack of weaker ones will "herd up" in a corner trying to get out of the way of the more aggressive horses.

Regardless, holding pens are a fact of life in a country where we raise so many horses and where, when we tire of them, we can easily discard of them to the local horse jockey. Out of sight, out of mind.

My first visit to a holding pen was one of those events that stamped me and impacted me for life. I still cry when I think of the big Belgian who pleaded with me to take him, too. In many instances, getting in the steel trailer is a gift. Getting out of the pen may a relief. Very seldom, do people purchase a pet from such a pen. Usually it's a hauler who loads his trailer or a rescue organization that comes to save as many as the trailer and the budget will allow.

In Nevada, the holding pen happened to be where mares, foals, and pregnant mares were deposited by a local horse jockey who happened to be in the right place at the right time - by the phone. A relatively close breeding farm needed to thin out it's population. This, too, is common, as well.

And to thin out their stables, the weaker horses, the accidental pregnancies, or the mares that weren't throwing the best foals were selected and sold to the jockey. Where these horses went was not a condition of the sale. Remember, the breeders, too, are in the business for the financial aspect. Thinning and fine tuning the herd is a part of producing a select line of animal.

Was this cruel? To me, it sure is. But I'm not a breeder. And my heart would overrule my mind and wallet, and I would ship none. And I would go broke in less than 12 months. And then my entire stables would need to be rescued!

So the holding pen had mares, foals, and pregnant mares in it. Yes. It happens. Yes, it's cruel. At least to me and those of us working in the world of rescue - public or private.

Will there be more mares and foals in this pen? Probably. In fact, I would bank on it. Most certainly the next time the breeding stables needs to thin out their stock.

In this particular case, a rescue organization in California was able to financially support a rescue of several of the mares - one just about to deliver - and one foal. Perhaps this organization will keep an eye on this pen for the recurrence of such a situation. Hopefully.

All funds received by Refuge Farms for the Nevada Rescue Effort have been sent to the organization who rescued this first group - "NorCal". Those of you that contributed will be sent a donation form from Refuge Farms with such information noted on the letter.

But do not take my message as resignation! Keep up the vigil! Do not become complacent! Do not believe there will never be an end to "it"! Remember, one life saved is just that - one life! Work hard in your local communities to rescue those in desperate situations and help to curb the explosion of horses being born every day!

Keep all in the world of rescue in your thoughts and prayers. It's cruel, but it's real and it's common....

Sandy Gilbert
Executive Director, Refuge Farms

posted by Sandy @ 10:10 AM


Monday, March 27, 2006


I slept like a baby last night!

Oh, I know this sounds a bit peculiar, but I slept so well last night! I crawled in between the flannel sheets about 11:30pm or so and once in bed, I stretched out... smelled the fresh pillow cases... and was out like a light!

This morning I awakened to moonlight and just enough of the early sunrise on the lingering snow patches to see that there were horses in the pasture - diligently searching out those new nubbins of fresh grasses. See!! The herd is as anxious for spring as me!

So, you may ask, just what is so special about all of this sleeping stuff?

Well, I slept in my bed in my bedroom last night. Winter is now officially over.

Refuge Farms operates on a budget of about $55,000 per year with donations and fund raising events contributing about 50% of that amount. The remainder falls on my shoulders to somehow find. That means a full-time job well after retirement and also a part-time job. The good news? I'm down to holding only 1 part-time job from holding 2 in previous years. This change is attributed to the volunteers and their devoted efforts at all of our events. Thank you, Volunteers!

All of this leads to winter heating bills. Especially this year with heating costs so extremely high, there was just no money available to fill the propane tank for the furnace. Some pretty good thinking had caused me to purchase a pellet stove over a year ago and so that little stove became my furnace for the winter of 2005-2006. And that meant I had options. Many people do not have the luxury of options. I was blessed, indeed.

And so, blankets were hung to partition off the upstairs, water lines were shut off to prevent frozen pipes, and a single bed was placed smack dab in the middle of the living room. I now had my college efficiency apartment back! The only difference was that now I had a herd of cats for bed fellows!

It worked, I was warm, and the heating bills were doable. But I must say, last night was more than welcomed! My bed felt so good that I'm still smiling as I write this! I could stretch out without hearing cats protesting my movements! I could breathe without inhaling cat hair! Guests can sit on my davenport and not be staring at my pajamas and my bed! Kid (the 26 pound feline of the house) was downstairs moving around without suffocating me with his weight! And if I rolled over, I didn't have to catch myself from falling on to the floor!

The small things that we take for granted... Like a warm house. A clean bed. A little bit of private, personal space. Things that I appreciate now a bit more and a bit more intensely now that this past winter has taught me to make due.

Kind of like The Herd that lives out in my back yard. They appreciate the abundance of hay. The clean and open water. The shelter from the winter winds. Things that they appreciate now a bit more and a bit more intensely now that they have been rescued from their own personal hells.

Will I do this again next year? If I need to, yes. Of course. "I will watch over" is a part of the Refuge Farms mission statement that I take most seriously. I will do whatever it takes to care for those that I have been asked to protect. Just like some of you would do whatever it takes to protect your family. These horses are my family. And they are your family, too, if you choose.

You see, I'll share them with you! You can smell their smells, feel the velvet of their noses, thrill that the stand-offish one is coming up behind you! And patiently wait for her to come within touching distance. You, too, can be excited as a child again as you watch their playfulness and pure joy of being alive! You, too, can giggle and wrinkle your nose at the gift of horse drool on your clean shirt! You are welcome here...just as they are!

So, it's spring. Yes it is, indeed. We have made it through another winter here in the Great Northland. And just how do we know it's really spring? I saw robins this weekend. And ducks flying north. And geese, too. And the skunks are waking up (don't ask how I know that one!). And the fever for garage sales is gearing up! And I want my fingers in the dirt of the Memory Beds to pull weeds and look for returning growth! And the horses are shedding like crazy! And, oh yeah, I'm sleeping in my bed in my bedroom again.

Happy Spring!

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

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Come on, Spring!!!

It's that time of year when I am most impatient! You can actually feel the sun! You can hear the birds as they busily set up housekeeping for another season! And if you are very quick with keen ears and eyes, you can see a robin in the trees asking for help finding food! It is the season of new beginnings - of new starts - of new growth!

It's just about Spring in the North Country. And I love Spring! And so I want Spring. Now!!

To calm my nerves and reset my attitude, I did what always works for me - I spent time out in the fields amongst The Herd. At times when I'm feeling most jittery inside, I play a game - The Touch Game. I walk the pastures and touch all of their bodies. Every one of them. And it refreshes me completely.

So here are my thoughts as I played The Touch Game early this morning, the 19th of March...2 days before the Spring Equinox.....

Unit is sleeping after a night of eating more than her fair share of a round bale. She is plump and is so serene while she stands there and sleeps. This live wire is still just a little unit of a horse...doubt she will ever be full sized. But I am happy to have her and grateful for the sight of her eyes.

Babee Joy is downright huge for a yearling. Her large Fresian head is handsome and as she is shedding this spring, I see yet another coat color coming in! The story of Joseph and his coat of many colors comes back in to my mind...what a blessing she is to us here at THE FARM.

Jeri-Ann is snoring. Such a little lady!? Truly snoring as she lays totally spread out in the hay. Jeri-Ann is exactly what you see. No pretenses. No tricks. No gimmicks. She's here and she's the gift I really didn't know I needed. But the wheelchair accessible wagon is calling to her.... Wait until we visit our first Nursing Home with Jeri-Ann in the harness! Wait until I hand the lines to a farmer who hasn't been around a horse in years! Wait until I say, "Take us for a ride, sir!". I am waiting for that day of smiles.....The day that only the presence of Jeri-Ann can bring!

Blaise is sleeping, too, in the hay. She is resting on the ground which is unusual for her. So I check her breathing and see that she is just fine. The laying perhaps a sign, I think, of age creeping in to her aging rodeo legs. It's okay, girl. You can grow old here. We'll care for you.

PONY! is standing with his night blanket on - the blanket that he loves. Sleeping. I go over and awaken him and begin to unhook his blanket so he can get the full benefit of today's sun. Now, how do you think I know that PONY! loves his blanket? I know because as I take it off of him, this horse is licking me. He's loving me and saying "thank you" for the nightly blanket. Oh, PONY!, you are a character indeed!

Sweet Lady Grey has been standing by the barn this entire time and watching me. In order to play the game, I must touch her, too, and herein lies the challenge. So I walk past Sweet Lady and pause only when I am by her hind hips. I'm not a threat there. I cannot halter or grab her there. So it is here that I pause and say good morning to the whirlwind we call Sweet Lady Grey.

Off to the other side of the barn, and I am greeted by "The Old Man", Cole. Cole learns quickly. You see this past week, we have been battling pneumonia in his old lungs. These late spring snow storms that bring winds and moist, heavy snow also bring high humidity. A perfect time for Cole to start to cough and create fluid in his lungs. And this week, he actually fell off of his feed - now that was unnerving! So I put him on hot, wet beet pulp twice a day with daily penicillin doses. He loves beet pulp and so today he is standing in the barn and awaiting his breakfast. As he eats, I give him his meds and observe his body. He's down about 80 to 100 pounds - he's skinny, at best. But his 36 year old body has a good coat on it and once the pulp is gone, he's pushing on the gates to get back outside with his girlfriend, Beauty. Somebody tell him he's just too old for all that stuff! I am hopeful he will eat summer grass again this year.

Jimmer wanders in the barn to see if, by chance, he can get a treat out of me. Sorry, Big Jim, but you must lose a bit of weight. It really wouldn't hurt Jimmer to lose 300 lbs! My eyes desperately search the pasture to find Jimmer every single time I pull in to the yard this time of year. The sun is getting warmer and his big legs are getting tired, I'm sure. I am cautious of being away from home longer than 6 hours just in case he decides to lay down and rest. It would be critical to get him up after only a brief rest, so I am on guard until June or so. And I am sure to keep fuel for the Allis on-hand. I pet Big Jim and challenge him not to lay down this Spring....maybe????

Big Guy comes bonging in to the barn to see what's up? He is all legs and head and now big body. A good weight gain of about 200 lbs has helped fill this young man out a bit, but he has another 200-300 lbs to go before his hollow spots are gone. He is just a huge version of Jeri-Ann. He's just there. No hidden agendas. Just pleasant and ready to eat whenever the opportunity presents itself.

As I wander outside, Beauty is standing on the corner of the barn and has already been joined by her little shadow, Cole. She is gleaming in the sun and watches me closely. No lead rope or collar in my hands, so she allows me to touch her shoulder and work my way up to her neck. Then it's time for me to move on to someone else...A little at a time, I remind myself. Even though I would love to throw my arms around that big head of hers!

Josephina is a bit snorty again this morning. No more than usual, but audible as she tells the others of the predator (me) that has entered their field. She would be a great watch dog in the wild! You could sleep like a rock! I'm sure if even a squirrel wandered in to your camp, Josephina would snort and alert you!

Miss Bette is laying down and this causes me concern. I go over to her and she gets up as I work my way across the field to her. Bette is very aware of me and won't be caught off guard. She, too, has legs that are weary from years of work in the fields and perhaps a bit overworked now due to her overweight condition?

Lanna is resting quietly and sleeping. So happy to be without a baby this year, she sleeps and dreams of whatever big, blind Belgian mares dream of....mares that know they are safe and finally home. Really home.

Miss April is up. I'm happy to see that. And her feet are somewhat under her where they should be. It's been a tough 2 weeks for April. Her feet this winter are giving her much trouble and just 5 days ago, she moved to only grassy hay and water for food. No feed or treats of any kind. We must find the culprit to her sore feet. She seems better but still ouchy. But at least she's up! In the last 2 weeks, I put her in her stall for the 2 worst storm nights thinking I was doing her a favor... Keeping her out of the winds and the wet snows and rains - especially since she was not being able to move very quickly. Each time, I came in to the barn in the early morning to find her cornered. She had laid down and gotten so close to the wall that her legs were up against the wall and she couldn't get up if she had to. Each time, I tied ropes to her under legs and, using barn posts and muscle I didn't know I had, I got her rolled over so she could get up. Each time she nicked her right front ankle and each time I felt very guilty. Even the best of intentions..... So now she's outside and I will blanket her if the weather gets that icky...I must find the secret to her feet!! Time to call Dr. Jen....

Bonita is up and standing at her feeder. She is strong this Spring - separating her from the majority of the herd was a good move. She has gained a bit of weight and is ready for her morning feed with MSM. What a giant she is!

Halima is tender bodied this morning, but I am pleased to see that she is also up. Like Miss April, twice this past week I have had to get this dear mare up from the ground. The first time she, too, got herself cornered trying to lay in the barn too close to the wall. And just last Friday, I came home from work to find her in the field laying in the mud and rattling - the fluid in her lungs was accumulating fast. She had decided to rest in the sun a bit and when it was time to get up, her body just couldn't do it! I used all my muscle, but she did not help in trying to get up...she was too tired. So I went out and stood in the middle of Highway 29 and waved down a man in a pickup and asked if he would help? He did, and we righted Halima. Her hips are impacted by the tumors and the arthritis in her knee is aggravated by the weather. She loves the heat of summer and I pray that she sees those coming summer days.

And then my final touch is for our little Gracie. Dear little gift, Gracie. Dear little kind one. Her head high! Her eyes wide open even though no sight results! Little Gracie who has befriended the giant mare, Bonita. Gracie who is the size of Bonita's head! Gracie, who has no judgments in her. Just acceptance and an unending willingness to try.

I sigh. The Touch Game is done...or so I thought. I stand in the field and assess my attitude. It's is righted. My heart is good again. And then I get the nudge that tells me that the game isn't over yet - I'm not quite done. Lady-The-Dog is standing next to me in her K-9 Cart and reminding me that there is one more touch to be had - her. So I kneel and hug this little creature who struggles with a body that just doesn't work anymore. And again, I am rewarded with a lick of gratitude! Oh, it is so good to be here! It is Spring here! Every day!

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

Saturday, March 04, 2006


The 'Other' Herd

When people visit THE FARM, whether it is for the first or hundredth time, we undoubtedly will end up talking about forgiveness, and trust, and respect, and determination, and the will to live, and faith. Each of those topics is bubbling right under the surface of every single visit while we tell the stories of The Herd. The stories of how the horse got here. The answers to the ever present question, "What's the story with this one?"

How can you tell Bonita's story without talking about determination and the will to live? How can you show off little Unit without talking about faith? How can anyone every tell the story of Miss April without talking of patience and the fight for life? And when we get to dear Beauty, we really don't have to say much of anything - just the sight of the deep, deep sway of her back and the kindness of those big eyes shouts forgiveness and trust!

But one discussion The Herd usually doesn't invoke is a discussion of commitment. No, that discussion comes when the guests and I talk about The 'Other' Herd - the Herd of Volunteers.

A new button has been added to the Home Page of this Website and is simply called "The 'Other' Herd". When you visit that button, you will be most pleasantly surprised to find pictures of these volunteers - their smiling faces there for you to see! And each volunteer has contributed a brief bio so you can know something about them. Please take the time to read and look at this new feature. Their personalities come right through in both the pictures and the bios!

You'll find our Ops Manager, Kathy, who is single handedly supporting the mission with her heart and her works. You'll find Tara who I have had the distinct pleasure of watching grow and mature in to a beautiful, fun young lady. You'll find Famous Barb who is changing right before my eyes and becoming a "Big City Girl". You'll find OS Rose who is a hoot! You'll find Suzie the Gardener who is taking care of one of the most important tasks of all - caring for those that have crossed. You'll find Lambing Barb who is just always there and giving gifts that you really didn't know you needed. And you'll find Vincent, our WebMaster Extraordinaire, who has gifted us with his talents and this very internet tool for reaching you! You'll find many, many more. Each with their reason for being here and each with their exceptional talent and never-ending enthusiasm.

Without this other herd, there is no Refuge Farms.

You see, "we" wouldn't be here on this hill, clean and orderly, open to the public free of charge as "we" are if it weren't for a whole team of people supporting "us". "We" would be quietly rescuing but always behind in cleaning barns, mowing lawn, brushing horses, cleaning stock tanks, and everything else I could possibly list! "We" would not be open to the public but would accept an occasional and curious drive-by guest from time to time. "We" would not be having the impact - making the difference - that we are today if it were not for The 'Other' Herd - the Volunteers.

Their story is a collective story of commitment. They see the need. They come. They see the opportunity to make a difference. They come. They see the fun of it all. They come. They see all of the work involved. And they still come.

Bless their hearts! And their hands and their strong backs and their commitment to THE FARM! One of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my entire life is the gift of The 'Other' Herd. What a treasure they each are!

Last Saturday at about 2pm or so, I took a minute and knelt beside Lady-the-Dog in the barn during our monthly winter public hours. The barn was packed! The head count was right around 20 people or so and it was thrilling! I knelt deeply next to Lady so I could rest my arthritic legs on the floor mats. Then I closed my eyes and listened. Really, really listened.

What did I hear?

Well, directly behind me I heard the story of Unit being told to a young child and I heard Unit showing off, as she does. I heard the story being told so the child could understand the very complicated medical procedure and that the bottom line was the gift of sight.

To my left I heard conversations between young girls who are so in love with absolutely any horse and a volunteer about volunteering. The conversation was upbeat and happy but included topics like training and safety and proper barn clothes and boots.

Somewhere in the barn I heard hard work. The hard work of cleaning a horse who must lay during the day and who's coat was caked and dirty. It was nasty work and hard work. But the horse stood like a statue and the volunteers dug in. I heard the sound of the giving of comfort and caring. I heard the sound of gentle, strong hands on an ever grateful body.

In front of me was laughter. Tons of it! Laughter and shrieks from the girls and the volunteers as the nose of Big Guy was being touched. That velvet part of a horse. But on a horse who's nose is about the size of my face!

Off to my right I heard silence. And I knew what was happening. A volunteer and a horse were together. And the silence was loud. They were sharing and the volunteer was getting what she was there for - her comfort and her reward for all of the work she had done today.

And then by the doorway I heard hugs. It was time for someone to head home to get ready for an evening with their family. And so the customary hugs were given and good wishes for the coming week.

I listened to all of this and tears rolled. Very softly in to the ear of Lady-the-Dog, I whispered, "It's magic, Lady. It's pure magic in this barn." And it is magic. Because of a ragged herd of rejected horses and the volunteers that love them and see our mission.

Visit the new button and in that way you will visit THE FARM. Meet all of the herds of Refuge Farms and see just how special we are!

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

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