Sunday, May 27, 2007


Hello, Andy -

I first met Andy Durco, Jr. in 1988 while consulting in Electronic Point-of-Sale for the Food Service Industry. Toward the close of my career, I actually worked with Andy as we built Chickasaw Technology, Inc. out of Oklahoma City, OK.

Upon retirement, we both secluded ourselves in our respective worlds - he in Texas and me in Wisconsin. Seeing what I was becoming, Andy gifted me a deformed Clydesdale colt in April of 2001. Handing me the lead rope to Charity Case, as he called him, Andy challenged me to "take this horse, Sandy, and make a difference in somebody's life with it."

Over the next two years, we discussed and finally formalized our goals of healing. Refuge Farms, Inc. was born. The following January, Andy crossed. There are times, now, when I talk with him...

It's Memorial Day again. My, but time does pass so quickly, doesn't it? Everyone is busy getting ready to go to the lake or go to a BBQ or to just go somewhere. Me? I'm sitting in the grass under your tree in the yard. I thought I would spend a bit of time catching up with you. I have much in my heart to ponder, Andy. So much to tell you. And so many things to talk over with you. It's been too long since we've talked, Andy.

Do you see what it is that we have become? Did you ever think it would be like this? Did you ever fathom when you challenged me that this would be the result? Did you know, Andy? In your wisdom, did you know? Did you think this is where your challenge would take us? I didn't, either, Andy. I sure didn't either. But do you like what you see? Do you see what we have become? Are you proud? Are you pleased to see us grow? Do you see the difference we are making, Andy?

Our Declaration of Purpose is still untouched and still serves us very well. I read it often. And I work so hard, Andy, so hard to follow it! To rescue the horses with no options and then to use these thrown out horses to make a difference in the lives of Human Beings. Just like we talked and like we planned. Oh, Andy, we both were so innocent when we wrote the Declaration of Purpose. So innocent and good-intentioned! So naïve, Andy! We were so naïve!

The horses, Andy! They never stop coming!!! We have no more room and yet there are more horses! We have a barn that's too small and falling down and yet there are more horses! We have too little money for feed and hay and shots and dewormer and hoof trimmings and yet there are more horses! Oh, Andy! We were so naïve, Andy!

But the few that we can take, Andy! Oh, Andy! How glorious! They watch me and test me and play with me and eventually they trust me. Oh, Andy! Sometimes it's years before they trust me! They are teaching me patience, Andy. Yes, me! Patient! But they do come around and then they begin to give back. They begin to give to me of all that they possess. And they give freely and honestly. Just as you said they would, Andy. Just as you said.

Can't you just imagine how big and beautiful Charity Case would be by now? Oh, I do miss him! Oh, how glorious he would be by now! But Andy, do you see Addie-Girl? Do you see her coming along? Do you see how shiny she will be? And do you see Babee Joy? Do you see The Roan Horse in her? He lives inside of her, Andy. His spirit is in her, I know it! Can't you see him in her? I sure do.

"Blessed is the horse that finds it's way to Refuge Farms." Do you remember when you said that to me, Andy? Do you remember what horse had just arrived? Well, she just crossed, Andy. She has left such a huge hole. And a still flowing line of tears on my face. Oh, Andy! We were so naïve! We thought only of the good part! We talked only of their comings! Neither one of us had the courage to venture in to the pain of what to do when they cross! We didn't talk that part over, Andy, and I'm here trying to deal with it! Give me some of your wisdom, Andy. Please? Help me with this crossing part, please? I feel so inadequate to deal with it.

The work is hard and it never ends. Just as you said, again. Yes, Andy, I know. You were right. You said it would be hard and never-ending work. And you said it would be honest work. It is. For sure! But you could have told me that you were serious about that part, my dear Andy! You could have warned me to buy work gloves when they go on sale, my friend!!! Keep on chuckling! I can almost hear you!

But Andy, the magic! When it happens, it's beyond description. I can feel it, truly feel it, when it happens! It is almost spiritual when that connection happens. And it is at those times that I miss you the most, my Andy. It is then that I want only to tug on your sleeve and say, "See? See, Andy? Do you see what we have done? It's good, isn't it? It is a good thing we do here, right? It's worth all the work and the tears, right Andy?"

I see magic in their faces, Andy. I see it in the face of a child giggling when Big Guy nuzzles her hair and drools on her face. The sheer enormity of Big Guy isn't even a thought to the child. The child sees only the gentleness of the giant horse. And that enormous horse that humans have shot and beaten and starved now only sees the innocence of the child.

I see magic in the face of a troubled but determined grown man as he focuses all of his energy on the task of Miss April's mane and making a difference in it. All the while, he's forgetting his worries and his troubles. Right now, he is a child again and enjoying his time and progress with Miss April.

I see magic when frantic young children stop still long enough to pet a horse. And the horse that stops for them is the one I affectionately call "The White Tornado". Two high-strung and highly active creatures stop and stand still to absorb each other. Quiet. Amazing. Peaceful. Unlike them both but happening just the same. It happens and causes us all to stop to watch.

I see magic in the hands of the volunteers, Andy, as they work hard to keep us safe and clean. I see it in their hands and their smiles and I feel it in their hugs. They are good people, Andy. You would love every one of them as I do. You would see the goodness of their hearts and admire their dedication. And you would be right next to them getting just as dirty and just as sore. And you, too, would be back the next time.

And I see magic in the flowers and the trees scattered all over my yard. Flowers and trees marking the ones that have come and gone. Your tree is doing very well, Andy! So tall! Just like you, you big Texan! I must walk past your tree every time I venture in to the barn, Andy. And you remind me to go in to the barn to play, not to do chores. You remind me to enjoy the horses every second that I can. You remind me that life is brief. That every heartbeat is precious and can never be gotten again. You remind me to breathe deeply of this air of life.

I miss you, Andy. I could use you here to coach and mentor me. I feel small at times, Andy. And sometimes I'm very tired. Sure do wish you were here to hug. Can hardly wait to see you again, my dear friend. Stay close by me. Please. Guide me. Remind me to stay true to The Missions. Our Declaration of Purpose. And help me to make wise decisions. Those tough decisions.

So, it's Memorial Day and here I sit talking with you. You, who changed my life forever. And today, I am grateful. The magic works with me, too, every day and I will count my blessings today on this holiday meant just for that purpose. And on my list of blessings, my friend, you are at the top. Bring the heat of the sun and the cool breezes of summer. And bring the peace that is so needed everywhere in this world. Help us to love and respect one another. Help us to remember with respect.

Thanks for listening, Andy.

I will enjoy the journey of today,
Sandy, Caretaker of The Herd

Sunday, May 20, 2007


What a Crew!

This Sunday is the 50% Off Sunday at Refuge Farms. Have I lost it? What in the world am I talking about? We’re selling the horses????

No, silly! This Sunday is the 50% Off Sunday of the 4th Annual Antique & Garage Sale. Every spring, The ‘Other’ Herd works hours and hours and hours to gather, clean, sort, price, display, and then polish items that we’ve accumulated in our own attics and items donated for this event. We then offer these items to the public at our Antique & Garage Sale for the money to help support The Herd.

Let me be the first to tell you - it’s a ton of work. I am sincere and mean it when I say we have over 80 hours of time in to just cleaning and sorting the piles of boxes! Then we begin to resort and display. Tons of work. But we do it! Willingly and with humor.

And that’s where my admiration just swells up in my chest and I simply stand and shake my head. We believe in our Missions that much. We love The Herd that much. We truly see and feel the Magic that much. And we want to make a difference that much.

Hours and hours are spent by many hands to do whatever it takes to prepare. Canopies to set up and anchor against the wind. Boxes to sort and pile – moving them yet once more!!! Glassware to clean. Bikes to clean. Toys to clean. Books to sort. And then more books to sort! Perennials to pot and mark with their identification tags. Oh, please do not underestimate the work needed to get ready for such a large garage sale!

But show up, they do! And smile they do! And set an example they do! We treat everyone with respect and help all of our shoppers to their vehicles with their packages. We tell them of our Missions and invite them back to visit during public hours. In fact, at last year’s event, Kate and Mary were two of our shoppers and they both are now two of The ‘Other’ Herd! See? Magic even at a garage sale!

So I must go and get back to the sale. We have much to do before we reopen this morning. The wind has shifted and picked up – 30 mph gusts! The temp has dropped 30 degrees - we were overheating yesterday and today we are wearing our winter jackets! But we will be resorted and redusted and rearranged so our guests will find the neat and clean and safe surroundings that are what we are.

If you haven’t made it to The Sale yet, you’re missing it! Not just the bargains, of course. You are missing a chance to meet some great people – a crew of people who work so hard to make a bit of monies to use for The Herd. What a crew! What a Mission!

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

Sunday, May 13, 2007


May, the Merry Month of May!!

May, the Merry Month of May!! May is the season of new beginnings. May is the time of celebration: life, mothers, renewal and remembrance. May also marks a new season of connection between humans and the "Herd of Refuge Farms."I love writing the phrase, the "Herd of Refuge Farms", as it reminds me of one of my favorite childhood prints and books, "Rebecca of Sunnnybrook Farms." Rebecca was a lucky little girl who lived on a farm surrounded by the beauty and grace of the animals she loved. Now, Refuge Farms renews those memories. The many gifts of May boost our spirits and give renewed joy to daily activity. May Day and Mother's Day; both a time to share love and gifts between families.

On 05/01/05 Refuge Farms received a marvelous little Belgian foal, Jeri-Ann. Dear Lanna gave the farm this beautiful little girl as a May Day gift. Lanna exemplifies motherhood. Blindness did not hinder her in nurturing this magnificent healthy baby. Lanna protected and nursed her foal for 6 months. Lanna gave Jeri-Ann the gift of confidence and well being. Jeri-Ann joined the herd with spirit and curiosity. She is fearless and is always first in line to greet new visitors!

THE FARM is also blessed with Josephina and Babee Joy. Josephina arrived at THE FARM with a little fuzzy brown foal at her side. It is THE FARM'S good fortune that Josephina had an infection and could no longer be on the urine line. Josephina is a beautiful blond Belgian, who is fine boned and elegant. Babee Joy is now 3 years old and is a gorgeous black dappled mare with a larger than life appearance. She is a friend to all who share the pasture with her.

On a April day several years before, Sandy rescued Ima, a neglected starving mare who would not leave the little pen she was confined in. Sandy discovered a tiny foal just hours old in the manure pile. Ima was unable to make milk for her foal. The first thing Ima did during the trailer ride home was eat hay and eat hay, not only because she was so hungry but to produce milk for this tiny creature. In spite of her own adversity her need to care for her foal was first and foremost in her mind. The story of Ima continues thru the memory gardens at THE FARM. April, is a gleaming beautiful 9 year old mare, however, because she lacked proper nutrition before birth, she is very fragile and walks slowly, but proudly. Ima left April with her gentleness, courage and determination.

April bonds with many individuals who also have mobility issues and yet persevere and lead their lives to the best of their ability. In this season of new beginnings we invite you to come meet the herd, hear their stories and feel the "MAGIC" of Refuge Farms.

As always, "For the love of horses",
Barbara Gramenz, a.k.a. Lambing Barb

Sunday, May 06, 2007


A Week of Magic!

This past week here at Refuge Farms has been like most weeks in the Spring of the year – frantic! We have begun the yard work – always a tough one after the winter season – and we have readied the barns for the Summer traffic and we have located and retrieved hay and we have prepared for and hosted events and we have held our Staff Meetings and we have created mountains of paperwork and we have the pond filled and the fountain running and Donna’s swing is outside and the birdbaths are readied for the birds and …. Oh, heavens! I get overwhelmed at the list of what we’ve done!

But yesterday, we took five hours out of a frantic schedule and did our very best to perform our Missions. We took our herd of rejected horses and offered them to some very remarkable women from around the world. We shared the things most precious to us. We shared the horses and ourselves. We shared THE FARM.

Yes, yesterday Refuge Farms hosted women from Kenya and Ethiopia and Puerto Rico and other countries from across the world. Women who now live in our neighboring state and had an interest in spending time with us. The initiative of one of The ‘Other’ Herd resulted in this kinship visit. We are organizations of similar missions – missions of protection and healing. Remarkable!

The women of THE FARM who were their hosts were equally as remarkable as the guests – considerate, interested, humorous (as always), and willing to share what they had personally found here. The Sisterhood, one of them called it. The Fellowship, another one said. “I come back for the friends I now have here.” Remarkable!

Part of the afternoon we spent eating, of course! And then we moved to the barns. Our Josephina and Unit and Blaise and Cole were as generous with us as they always are. Willing to allow strange hands to touch or to brush. Willing to let strange faces hug them and tell them they are beautiful.

And on this day, for the first time, our Beauty was a part of the barn. Still with a stall around her, but a part of the event, just the same. And what a lover she is! That huge black shiny head of hers easily comes over the top of the gates and pleads with us to pet her. Slow we must be! No sudden movements or noises! And then when Beauty desires another part of her remarkable body brushed, she simple turns that side to the gates and grants us – no, allows us – to touch her. A Human Being is touching Beauty and Beauty is not retreating or defending herself. Remarkable!

And of course I just had to show off our Addie-Girl! Coming to us a mere few weeks ago, this young lady is filling out and developing quite a personality! She holds her head high! And she talks to me when I am late with her meal! And she lifts her feet to trot with me! If she had wings she would fly with me! Oh, how remarkable!

Here is Addie-Girl upon arrival. I know it’s a tough picture. It’s the type of picture I typically do not show the public. She looks rough and sore and so, so thin. Her ribs, her hips, and even her spine were right under her skin.

But I show you that “old” Addie-Girl so that you can now rejoice with me in the picture of Addie-Girl at her one month mark! Here she is on her one-month anniversary:

Look how high she holds her head! How interested she is in the world around her! Look at the shiny jet black hair coming in on her shoulders! Look at the fine, fine layer over her ribs and shoulders! Look at her! Remarkable!

Fun with the horses. Telling horse stories. Time for brushing and petting. Time to wander the Memory Beds and tell more stories. Time to visit Big Jim and Miss Bonita. Time to talk of love, true love.

We ended the afternoon by sharing desserts and more talk. Laughter. And we formed a line for the hugs. Sincere hugs of now friends. Big waves so long, since we did not say good-bye. Promises to return. And invitations to come again. Please!

We, as hosts, enjoyed the afternoon as much as our guests. We relaxed and shared and truly reaped some of the Magic of THE FARM ourselves. In a way, we were our own guests. And it felt good. It was a remarkable afternoon.

I sit here at the start of our sixth season at Refuge Farms. Six years of worrying about the paperwork and the legalities and the liabilities and the weather. Six years of caring for the special needs of The Herd. Six years of struggling to somehow make ends at least come close, if not meet. Six years of smiling and greeting the new ones. And six years of crying and grieving and putting the crossed ones to rest. And six years of meeting strangers and making friends. Six years. Remarkable!

And so on this windy and cold Spring Day, I ponder all of this and the things in my heart. And I have another silent conversation with Andy. “How are we doing, Andy? Do you like what you see? Is it what you had in mind when you gave me that challenge? Me, neither! But Andy, do you see what we have become? Can you feel the impacts and changes that occur? Are you proud? Are you pleased to see us grow? Do you see the difference we are making, Andy? Sure do wish you were here to hug. And Frannie, too. Oh, how glorious he would be by now! But Andy, do you see Addie-Girl? Do you see her coming along? Do you see how shiny she will be? Love you, Andy. Miss you, too. Stay close by me. Please. And thank you, my dear friend, for changing my life. For giving me the Sisterhood and the Fellowship and the Missions. Because of you, my life is remarkable!”

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

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