Friday, July 28, 2006


It sure is good stuff!

These past few months the Refuge Farms Management Team has spent our Friday evenings in our first ever, formalized, planned, complete-with-agenda Staff Meetings! (Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?) And what have we accomplished so far? Well, I would say one of the most significant gains has been the development and documentation of the Refuge Farms Organizational Ethics. Sounds heavy, doesn’t it? You know, it is and it isn’t…

Just what do I mean by “Organizational Ethics”? The best way to explain them is to tell you that they are the values that Refuge Farms is founded upon. We operate this venture on a day-to-day basis following some very simple principles that govern our actions, reactions, and interactions. I would like to tell you just what these ethics are:

Honesty: Saying what is true. Being true to oneself. Being true to the Missions of Healing. Now, this is not intended to be an ethic that causes blunt and brutal communication between people or between people and animals. No, it brings with it the tenderness of caring and concern. Of acceptance and tolerance. But honesty is a must to the building or re-building of trust. So honesty is a foundation trait - a very core ethic -for all of us involved with Refuge Farms.

Conformance to The Ways of THE FARM: First you need to know that the Volunteer Handbook at Refuge Farms is called The Ways of THE FARM. This document is centered around safety, consideration for all living creatures, and reliable horse handling techniques. In order to insure that everyone – volunteers, horses, and guests – are safe we must know and conform to this handbook. Not easy for a free spirit! But obvious in it’s need! And it is a constant challenge to remember The Ways of THE FARM and to observe and tactfully remind those who may forget from time to time.

Leadership by Example: Oh, this one is so much easier to write about that to do! This ethic requires anyone who is leading anyone or anything to remain positive, polite, and patient. And that, dear reader, is a tough challenge in the heat of controversy or in the middle of a crisis or even when you feel like taking a short-cut just this one time! This ethic requires all of us to remember that everyone is a leader and everyone is a follower. There’s another tough statement of fact for some to accept!

Consistent Performance: I find this ethic most challenging of all. Personally, I am confident (usually) of my interaction with the horses and the public. But just when I’m getting a bit too big for my britches, one of the horses will do (or not do!) something that reminds me that without consistent performance, only surprises will result. And a 2500-pound surprise is not what I want on the end of a lead rope! That’s for sure! But this ethic of consistent performance also means that all of us are constantly aware of how our actions and words impact and affect others...part of that Leadership and Honesty thing mixed in here, too.

Spiritual Base: I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, that a Greater Being is a large part of who we are. Is it God? Doesn’t have to be. Could be the Great Spirit of the Native Americans. Could be Buddha. Could be Nature. Could be whatever it is that leads you and guides you and is your personal Greater Being. And I’ve seen it happen... someone comes to THE FARM without a firm spiritual belief and pretty soon they are referring to the Faith Bucket hanging in the barn. It kind of rubs off on you when you’re around it enough.... But the spiritual side of all this rescue and healing is the very driving force that helps us deal with illness and crossings and aging. Read our mission statement! It is truly a spiritual drive that mandates that this little non-profit keep on plugging! It is the honest and true faith that we are making a difference in our little corner of this big and crazy world! That Refuge Farms has a purpose! That life’s journeys have been as they have been in order to prepare us for this very mission! It’s taken me over 50 years to get here, but I would be no other place. And that statement is founded totally on faith in a Greater Power and the Master Plan!

So now you know of our discussions in these formalized staff meetings. Ethics. Organizational Ethics, at that! A big, big step for Refuge Farms to document such things and risk placing them on our website – right in with the organizational chart and job descriptions...!

So - why is my stomach in knots and my upper lip curling?

My physical reaction is strictly because of my personal history in “Corporate America”. I never did like Level-of-Service Meetings, Staff Meetings, or whatever you call them. Always seemed so trivial and unnecessary to me. Many times I ran my meetings in a room without chairs – you’d be surprised how quickly you can reach consensus when everyone is standing!

But as the Executive Director of Refuge Farms, I find it necessary to take the time to meet and plan and discuss such things as ethics and policy. It cements the Management Team and identifies areas that need our priority.

And so last Friday night there was another Refuge Farms Staff Meeting. And after the meeting, I ventured out to the center of the pasture to await my medicine. The medicine to calm my stomach and uncurl my upper lip. And no, it’s not a pill or a chant or even an amaretto and coke. No, it’s any horse at all that finds it’s way up to me and reminds me to be honest. And consistent. And spiritual. And safe. And a good, patient, kind leader. Oh, the medicine of these Horse Ministers! It sure is good stuff! Good enough to make me start staff meetings at Refuge Farms!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day!
Sandy and the Herd

Friday, July 21, 2006


There is a difference....

Lately, I'm hearing myself say - outloud, at that! - statements like "I'm tired." "I need some sleep." "Is it Friday, yet?" and then that all telling line, "Oops, I forgot."

Now, please don't take this as me being weary or beaten up or totally overwhelmed or as a symptom of exhaustion. Nope! It is simply just what I am saying - I'm tired. Not tired of it all, not by a long shot! Just tired. There is a difference, you know.

Why so tired, you ask? This summer has been the summer of all TO DO LISTS. And why is that, you ask again? It's simple, I'm telling you. I'm tired because it never rains up here this summer!!! I have task lists that I created during the past winter months of things to be done during the summer when it's nice outside. Things like memory beds to construct and fences to repair and gardens to plant and garages to paint. All the things I noticed throughout the winter and can't wait to get to during the muddy season of spring!

And then summer hits! And we should have days of sunshine and the chances to get those outside chores completed. Usually, we get a week or so of good weather and then we usually get a rainy day or two. Then nice weather again and then a refreshing rainy day or two.

Not this summer!
Oh, heavens no! There is sunshine day after day after day after day... I have lists that I can throw away because the tasks are all done! And I have callouses and blisters and worn out gloves due to the constant outdoor work.

Now, it sounds like I'm complaining, I know. But wouldn't it be great to have a rainy day? A day when I could sit at my desk and make telephone calls and write letters and plan new programs without feeling that nagging guilt that I should be outside because it's nice outside....? Or better yet, a rainy day would allow me to be in bed by 11pm instead of finding me at my desk!

I know when the coming winter winds are blowing I will sit and write out another list of things to do during the summer of 2007 and I will be thrilled at my progress this summer! But really, I need a rainy day!

And the world around me needs a rainy days too. The crops in my neighborhood are ruined. Our yards are brown and crunchy and the threat of fire is scarey! And if it does sprinkle a drop or two on us, both Lady-the-Dog and I are standing in the driveway with our faces up to the clouds. Knowing full well that we look very silly, indeed, but doing it anyway! Right out in front of the barns for all to see! And the horses? Well, they are scooting outside trying to get the long needed baths they are used to and wanting so badly!

So yup, I'm tired. But more than that, I'm a bit worried. The price of hay is increasing each and every day. How many horses will be hungry or abandoned this winter because their owners cannot afford the hay? How many horses are hungry now because there are no pastures?

So whatever your beliefs, pray for rain. Join us in our Power of Positive thinking! Like the road sign in front of THE FARM reads:

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

Sunday, July 09, 2006


"And what do you do for a living, Sandy?"

It's been a glorious week! The week of the 4th of July holiday was a week of vacation from my full-time job for me! Oh, the wonder of time off! It gave me an opportunity to get close again with the horses, try some new feeding routines, spend quality time with Lady-the-Dog, and even sneak a few minutes to sit by the pond and listen to the fountain. The evenings have been glorious and the moon has been bright! How many of you can say that one of the highlights of your vacation was to walk through head high corn fields by the moonlight? Oh! I loved my week off!

And it only seemed appropriate that this week of vacation would end with an invitation to a cook-out at the lake home of some friends of mine. Our friendship began through my full-time job and has deepened and come in to a very special place, for which I am grateful.

Leaving for the gathering, I found myself well rested and calm. My, now that was a surprise! To not be jumping in to the truck and speeding down the road wondering if I had enough fuel to get there or if I would be later still because I needed to stop and get fuel!!! Oh, vacation is a wonderful gift! I was calm and deliberate and actually doing only the speed limit in the right lane of the freeway!

Upon arriving, there were hugs with old friends and introductions to new acquaintances. There was a delicious dinner (I actually cannot remember the last time I ate a full meal!) and a scrumptious dessert. I was content. And full. And sleepy! I needed conversation or the group was going to lose me, that was for sure!

Seeing the dilemma, my host gathered me up and introduced me to a woman that I had not met earlier in the day. He introduced her to me by telling me that this woman was contemplating leaving her career in the Twin Cities to start her dream vocation - to become a gardener and run a nursery of exotic plants. Maybe I could share a few insights and experiences with her? Were there any pitfalls out there that she could avoid by listening to some of my experiences?

Feeling a bit under-qualified, I began scurrying in my mind for the proper place to begin - formulating the business side of it? insurance? liability? advertising? product procurement? traffic monitoring? pricing? tracking of sales, inventory, and expenses? Oh, my 20 year retailing background, I felt, would be most beneficial here! So I opened my mouth to speak.

And this woman, then, simply asked me, "And what do you do for a living, Sandy?"

Before I could think. Before I even knew my mouth was moving. And certainly before I had formulated any type of response, I heard myself saying, "I'm living my life's purpose."

We both stopped and looked at each other. She, a bit taken back by my response, and me, totally perplexed at my honesty and total nakedness to this, vacation can work miracles, can't it???

Seeing that the two of us were about to begin a rather lengthy conversation, my host had quietly slipped two lawn chairs behind us. We sat. And the conversation began.

How did you find a good corporate attorney? That you could afford, by the way? How do you insure compliance to IRS regulations? What about Wisconsin Department of Revenue statutes? How did you find a good business accountant? That you could afford, by the way? And how do you insure you are keeping full and accurate records of sales (donations) and inventory and expenses?

How do you advertise? Do you do direct mailings? Do you do radio spots? TV spots? Do you do Internet emailings? Do you have a website? How did you find a good Webmaster? That you could afford, by the way? Would you be willing to share him, by the way?

How do you deal with the worries of unexpected repairs? Unexpected rises in costs? Of unexpected drops in sales (donations)? And how did you plan for the time when you will no longer be the Executive Director? How did you locate a Board of Directors? How do you motivate them and keep them involved?

As you can see, this woman's level of curiosity was most thorough and she was most persistent. We talked until we both finally noticed that the sun was setting. I commented that I really should get home and check on the herd. Her last question once again caused me pause, as did her first.

"How do you deal with all the death?" she asked. In a much softer tone and in a much gentler voice, I explained that I do not think of crossing as death. Instead, crossing is simply moving on to another life. A continuation of the journey. And how do I deal with it? I cry. And when I'm done crying, I am grateful for the opportunity to have known the creature. Whether the creature be a horse, a dog, a cat, or a Human Being.

It was time to go. We hugged. And we thanked each other. Her, for the information and insights she had gained and me for the opportunity to tell my story. A good listener and a rested talker made a great pair that evening. And it all began with a simple question:

"And what do you do for a living, Sandy?"

Monday, July 03, 2006


I saw the future...right in front of me!

Have you ever had one of those deja vue experiences where you know, you flat out know, that you've been here and done this before? That the conversation isn't new to you because you've had this conversation before?

Well, just last week, I had the opposite experience. I saw the future. Yup, I saw what will be happening at some point in the future here at Refuge Farms. And it happened right in front of me!

Last Tuesday evening, a group of 10 to 12 year old campers came to Refuge Farms for their first ever visit. The camp leader had attended a presentation made by myself and Kathy, my Operations Manager, earlier this spring at First Congregational Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

What do I remember about the presentation? I remember the absolutely delicious chicken salad that was served for lunch! That tells me that the presentation had no exceptional moments - either high or low. But then again, every presentation rejuvenates me and refreshes me. I just simply love telling the story of Andy Durco and showing pictures of what we do here!

Well, anyway, in late April, this camp leader called and reserved Tuesday, the 27th of June for her campers and their chaperones. We get prepared and right before the car caravan arrives, I look around me and I'm grateful again. The team that has responded to the call for support are the best we have - Tracy, Lambing Barb, Tara, Famous Barb, Kathy, and Lynn. We are choreographed and ready to go!

The tour is a blast! Kids and parents alike are beaming at the closeness with the horses and absolutely thrive on the simple chores of cleaning barns! There's a bit of horse drool from Big Bonita and some horse hair from Gracie and Jimmer. Miss April about fell asleep from the brushing and the barn is spotless! A bonfire begins and we all go out to roast marshmallows and talk and laugh and do what 10 and 12 year olds do!

I test the campers on the Three Promises, some of the horses names, and then we all read the mission statement from the marker board. These are well mannered campers and I am enjoying them as much as I hope they are enjoying their visit!

The first surprise I have in my hind pocket is a visit to the group by Lady-the-Dog. Our dear canine member is getting older and crowds sometimes now scare her. But the kids were just great with her and even threw a stick for her! Lady was happy and glad to be amongst us! Wonderful! It was great to see the smiles of the campers and their sheer wonder at how well she moved with her cart.

"Kinda like a wheelchair!", one of the campers decided. You are exactly right, young man. Kinda like a wheelchair. But soon no one saw the cart. They only saw Lady-the-Dog and her big ears and beautiful face and eager eyes. They soon forgot about the physical side of Lady and focused only on the dog part of her. Just like it should be with kids and a dog. A life's lesson through the miracle of a dog.

Then another surprise came out of my pocket. Well, not out of my pocket, actually, but I gathered their attention and here came Tara with her surprise! Everyone was thrilled! Tara had brought DaVinci with her. Who in the world is DaVinci? That's where the future comes in.....

Tara sat on a straw bale and the children all touched little DaVinci. Meanwhile, Tara spoke very plainly and clearly and told the story of this little itty bitty kitty and how it had been thrown away in the gutter of a dairy barn. The kitty was so tiny it's eyes were still shut. The mama cat had abandoned the kitty and so he was just tossed in the gutter to die.

Tara's boss saw the kitty and brought it back to the Vet Clinic where Tara works. This little guy was to be Tara's project. "Do your best", she said they all told her, "to keep him fed and warm and nutured so he has a chance to live!"

So, Tara brought the kitty home and started the routine of feeding him every 2 hours - round the clock! His eyes soon opened and his first vision was of his mama - Tara! As he grew, Tara taught him how to go potty and how to clean himself and now he's even using a litter box! And remember, this little guy is barely 4 weeks old!

As I stood to the side and watched, my heart was just about bursting!!! Here was Tara telling her own rescue story to young guests of THE FARM. Tara herself, it seemed, had just been 12 years old and wanting to come and help me with the horses. Tara herself, it seemed, had just been one of the listeners as I told a story of rescue and healing. And now I was watching this grown up young lady tell others her own personal story of rescue and commitment and healing.

I knew what was happening to the insides of Tara. I knew it first hand. I knew that now Tara felt for herself the pure joy of doing what is right. Even when it makes you tired and weary. The peace that comes from within when you tell the story and share your treasure with others so that they, too, can heal from this little bundle of life.

I watched the children all petting DaVinci and Tara allowing them to do just that. She was sharing her heart and sharing her DaVinci, just as I was sharing my horses. My, I thought, the circle is in fact complete. I felt a piece slip in to place.

I saw the future right there. The future of Refuge Farms in that story told by Tara to these young campers. The story of rescue and healing and sharing. Of allowing everyone to feel a part of the good that is done. I saw the future and it was right in front of me that night.

Doesn't seem like much to each of you, I know, but you need to understand that it causes me peace. And allows me to rest a bit. I can rest a bit because I know that if tomorrow is my day to cross there are younger and stronger ones to pick up the mission and go forward. There's Tara and MaKenna and Taylor and others I don't even know about yet. But there is a second generation of Human Beings who have been touched and healed a bit themselves here at Refuge Farms. And they want to give back, too.

I can ask for nothing more. To know that someone has heard and felt the power of what we do. And that someone is studying to heal animals. And that someone has rescued her own minister and has already used him to show others the power of doing good.

When Hannah, one of the campers, left for the evening, I knew that Tara had gotten through to the kids. How? Because Hannah came up and thanked me for letting her brush horses. And was she coming back, I asked her? Her reply was simple and direct. "Will DaVinci be here?", she asked?

To many, that glimpse of the future passed right by. But over the past few days I have paused to feel the comfort of knowing that all of this hard work and commitment and sacrifice and dedication will continue. And it will continue not because of me or some financial paperwork that's sitting in a box somewhere. No, it will continue because what we do here helps people. We help horses and the horses open doors for people to enter. Doors of laughter and curiosity and sharing and even doors of pain and suffering and loss. Doors of friendship and belonging. Doors of responsibility and doing something that matters.

Without these horses here in my back yard, many of those doors would remain closed. How wonderful are these gifts of rejected and thrown away horses! And how wonderful to stand in the back of the crowd and watch your life's meaning - the future - happen right there in front of you!

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

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