Friday, November 23, 2007


Do Something...

Those of you that know me at all, know that I am a fan of Don Henley. His music seems to somehow reach right inside of my chest and express those feelings that are sometimes trapped way in there.

Well, the latest Eagles CD has a Don Henley song on it entitled, "Do Something". Here's a bit of it:

"But when I feel like giving up and I'm ready to walk away - in the stillness I can hear a voice inside me say, Do Something. Do Something. No, it's never too late. Don't just stand there takin' up space. Do Something."

And if you know me at all, you also know the Holiday Season is a most difficult one for me. It's all tied up in loss of family and with no immediate family on those special days, and the loss of some remarkable creatures on Thanksgiving Eve and right around Christmas. Even though I am surrounded by many who truly care, there is a void and I sometimes have trouble with it.

Several years ago I made a telephone call and bothered a kill buyer on Thanksgiving Day. I interrupted his holiday because all I could hear in my ears was my Mom's words telling me that when I felt the worst inside, I just needed to reach outside and do something outside of myself. Then I would feel better inside.

So on that particular Thanksgiving Day, I called and I traveled the two hours and brought home a sweating, pain-riddled mare we came to love as Miss Bonita. She healed me that day and I am eternally grateful. I will never forget her graciousness for that.

Later on in my life on a sunny, warm Thanksgiving Eve I held my Jerry's huge head as he looked me in the eye and traveled on without me. Thanksgiving Eve has never been the same since.

Soon thereafter, on December 23rd, big, gentle, kind, unassuming DukeDuke took that same journey and was happy to leave his hurting body behind. Richard arrived two years later on the same date that DukeDuke had crossed.

And glorious, playful Big Guy arrived the week of Thanksgiving. On a stroke of sheer luck that I was near the telephone and able to answer it when it rang. Meant to be, he was. Meant to be.

So you see, my heart is a bit uneasy during this season. Scared and worried. And trying so hard to find the joy of the season! So hard! And this year, I followed the advice of my Mom and Don Henley and I did something.

His new name is Handsome. A big belgian gelding with a history of horse pulling, being shrunk down to try to fit in the middle-weight class, years of plow work, and again back as a pulling horse. Gentle in spirit and big in body, he is carrying his baggage well and is a very social animal.

Last week I told you I could feel another one coming. Personally, I thought it was maybe me just hoping, actually. Wishing. But I put it out there and I even dropped the trailer a couple of times because I could feel, I thought, the new one on its way. Monday night the telephone rang. It was a horse puller that I had rescued horses from in the past. Horses in not very good shape. Horses that were helped on to their next lives after I had exhausted all the possible treatments for their injuries. Injuries that had never been treated. Ever.

Handsome is no different. He has an injury - not life threatening, I don't think - but an untreated injury just the same. His left eye is pretty much laying on his cheek. Untreated for several years, it is infected and smelly and oozing, but he manages to function all the same. I need to warn you that the sight and the smell is difficult for even the toughest of stomachs to endure. Be warned. But love him all the same.

The options for Handsome were simple - back to years in the plow with an untreated eye or I could come and get him. I drove to the familiar pasture and even I was taken aback when I approached the big framed horse. Even I was swallowing a bit rough at the sight and the smell of it. But I found his good eye and we talked for a bit. Yes, he would love to play with the mares. Love to really go anywhere other than back in the plow, please.

The men surrounded us as we walked to the trailer. He had a history of just dragging people around, they said. I walked with him a bit and then he dragged me around for a while. Finally, I stopped with him and we talked again. We talked about pride and showing off and being bigger than any of those around us. We talked about being connected and allowing me to load him so I could treat his eye and feed him. And bring him to the mares. We took it slowly, but he loaded. Step by step. Without the chains and without the ropes and the assistance that was offered. He loaded and I unhooked his lead rope to let him stand in the trailer. I was so proud of him I could barely keep myself contained!

Once here, he is in the corral until Dr. Brian can tell me if there is anything in his eye that may be contagious to the others. If not, he will be introduced to his girls and we'll work on getting that eye treated. And getting some of that huge frame filled out. He is full of burrs and his teeth are bad. Needs shots and deworming. But more than anything, he needs consistent kindness and care.

So I did something. I did something for myself and I tried to fill the hole from Jerry and Richard and DukeDuke and Big Guy and Miss Bonita. I did something. And I am glad. Thanks, Mr. Henley. And thanks, Mom. Thanks to both of you for encouraging and guiding me to reach outside to heal the inside.

"Do Something. Do Something. Don't leave it up to someone else and don't feel sorry for yourself. Do Something. Do Something. No, it's never too late. On your honor, on your pride - you'll sleep better knowing you tried. Do Something."

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

An Update on 11/24/07 -

Dr. Brian was at THE FARM yesterday to perform an initial exam of Handsome, his eye, and start the vaccinations. "Oh my, that's quite a sight," this kind man said upon going to the "bad" side of Handsome's head.

Our plan is this: We will work on getting Handsome familiar with and comfortable in the shoeing bed (he needs to be in there anyhow to get his feet worked on) and when that is accomplished, Dr. Brian will return and we will sedate Handsome so we can biopsy that "thing" over his eye. And there are injections that we may attempt to cause the "thing" to die and shrink. Initial thoughts are that "thing" is some type of a tumor. And there is hope - slim, although it is - that there may be an eye under that tumor! I had assumed the eye was bad, but Dr. Brian says he has seen tumors removed and eyes still there...hhhmmmm. Anyhow, Handsome does not appear to be contagious, so he is out with his women and Josephina is standing guard over him like a lioness. This is her man. End of story.

We'll work on leading and access to the shoeing bed. Deworm him and give him his booster shots. Cute of Dr. Brian. When he gave him his shots, Handsome hardly flinched. "You're so big you don't even feel that, do you?" Dr. Brian said to him. I enjoy Dr. Brian and his willingness to love and care for anything we bring him. Good man and a good horse. I am pleased that Handsome has joined us. You will love him, too. He's a giant in all aspects. I am grateful once again.

Sunday, November 18, 2007



T is for true. I never really knew what it meant to be true until I met Jerry, the Roan Horse. Jerry showed me what true looked like. Every single day, he was happy to see me, came to me for affection, and only wanted to please me. I felt and knew that whatever it was that I asked of him he would do to the very best of his abilities. He protected me. And he remained true to his very last breath.

True is loyal. True is earnest. True is compassionate and includes the showing of affection. True is believing the best of the other.

True is not blind. True sees the shortcomings and accepts them as well. True sees the short-tempered days, and waits quietly for them to pass. True sees the need for knowledge and participates – even facilitates - in the learning. True sees the faults. But still remains true.

H is for heart. 2007 is just over three-quarters completed. And my heart cannot take too much more of 2007.

We have had much death and turmoil this year. Much sadness and much grief and much disappointment. It seems as though we have barely finished the crossing of one and begun the grieving for that one when another has crossed. Too many in too short a time.

But a true heart is strong. Sometimes the strength comes from some place we did not even know we had. Sometimes the strength isn’t really there; we just play the role until it reappears again. And sometimes the strength comes back when you can finally be weak enough to cry.

The heart of a rescuer sees much that it never talks about. Much that it must suppress and try very hard to forget. The heart of a rescuer sees a huge need and feels small in the ability to help. But the heart of a rescuer believes that saving one, just one, is worth the entire battle. Saving only one fills the heart.

A is for Andy. My dear, dear Andy. Whose simple challenge has brought together a collage of people who would otherwise have not known the others exist. Whose simple challenge has transformed lives and remodeled life goals and purposes. Whose simple challenge has created a small patch of land filled with the hope of healing and rescuing.

It is my personal belief that Andy knows. He knows how we have grown and he sees our good works and the Magic. And he knows of our struggles and our stresses and our tensions and our shortcomings. Andy knows and he does his best to mentor. I just wish that I had him face-to-face for fifteen minutes. Fifteen glorious minutes for him to tell me the way. To coach me and guide me and to warn me. And to refresh me. Fifteen minutes to bring the challenge to the front and to put the risks and the liabilities and the worries away. Just fifteen minutes.

I am grateful for Andy.

N is for never. Never in my wildest dreams did I fathom that a simple challenge would result in this! That this little patch of land would house over 320 people in a single afternoon! That business relationships would be developed and grants would be needed to sustain us! Never did I imagine, standing there next to Frances Andrew in the driveway, that Andy’s simple challenge would create this!

And never would Refuge Farms be here, where it is now, if not for The ‘Other’ Herd and The Friends of THE FARM. Everyday people whose hearts, for some reason, stay behind each time they depart. Everyday people who find something here – Farm Sisters, the horse they always wanted, or just a place to ‘be’. Everyday people who give of their hands, their smiles, their time, and their talents. Refuge Farms would not be without the work of these everyday people. Never.

K is for a kiss. Kisses come in all shapes and all sizes - the deep kiss of a lover, the air kiss of Hollywood, and everything in between. There are two types of kisses that I love the best – the kiss of a child and the kiss of a horse.

The child kisses you when they leave. Sometimes it is shy and coaxed by Mom. Sometimes it just happens on its own. That Magic just appears. A child’s kiss from a new friend who may not really be sure of you yet but trusts you and Mom enough to pucker up for and give that gift of a kiss.

And then the horse kiss when you least expect it. When your fresh, clean shirt is on. Or when your hair is freshly washed. Or when you run to the barn on your way to work just to check the gates. The kiss appears and you need to change clothes. Sometimes you kiss them. And sometimes they kiss you back. How remarkable. The kiss.

S is for strength. I see sheer, overpowering physical strength from the smallest of them. The largest? The strength is visible in simply the size of their necks and the hardness of their muscles. But it is not this physical strength that causes me to marvel. No, it is their spiritual strength.

Horses appear to be, by nature, a spiritual being. Babee Joy continually impresses me with her wisdom and strong, quiet leadership. Her deep, throaty commands to the others. I speak to her as Ruby from time to time. Not because of my poor memory or by mistake but because, at that particular time, she is Ruby. I can feel his spirit in her.

April impresses me with her ownership of the entire place. She is a Foundation Horse, you know, and she takes that role very seriously. April learned much from Jerry and Jim. She was a good student. Her spirit hovers over the entire place. It is huge.

And Spirit? Well, you know I think that Spirit has been here before. She is so new here and yet she is right next to April and so calm around Addie-Girl. Maybe she is here for them. I don’t know, but her Spirit is wise and familiar. I’m glad she’s back.

I have witnessed horses plead for the presence of one who has crossed. I have witnessed a horse run and run and run, looking for the one who is no longer in the barns. And I have witnessed the silence of a horse as it grieves.

But likewise, I have witnessed a horse rejoice in the warmth of spring sunshine! I have witnessed a horse play and run and jump to celebrate the thrill of being here - now! Now! And I have witnessed this energy and playfulness as it becomes contagious and others join in the celebration!

Horses are strong. They endure. They live in the right now. No regrets or guilt. They let it go. They live in strength.

G is for growth. Now this could be growth in the size of The Herd. Growth in the size of our mailing list. Growth in the size of our attendance rosters. But no, to me, this growth is in our growth as Humans.

We are learning to accept one another’s differences. We are learning to look others right in the eye when we need to clarify something said or unsaid. We are learning to ask before accusing and labeling. We are learning to listen before judging. We are learning to share and to give and to trust. We are learning to be like horses by learning to grow and to adapt. Like the horse, we must adapt to survive. We must learn and we must grow.

I is for intuition. In these past seven years, I am learning to trust my intuition. Trust my first response. To be more like the horses and to react to what I see and hear, not what I suspect or wonder. I’m learning that my intuition is my instinct. And my instinct has allowed me to react more quickly and more naturally than if I were to dissect a situation and plan a response.

It is my challenge to learn to go with my instinct. Trust my gut. Use my intuition.

V if for validation. I am so fortunate. Every morning, upon entering the barn, I receive validation that what my life has become is good. I walk in to the barn and an entire assembly of living, spiritual creatures is awaiting my arrival and is happy to see me. Every one of these creatures is alive because Refuge Farms was here for them. And they are glad to see me. Glad that this small patch of land is here. Glad that they are here.

How many people receive such validation every single day? Is there worry and stress and tension and pressure here? Sure. But not when I’m in the barns. Then, and only then, do I get my validation of what this Mission is all about - this healing thing. This validation that what we are doing is good. It is hard work but it is worthwhile. Refuge Farms heals horses and gives Human Beings the very same opportunity. If desired, these horses can work the same magic on you. The same validation.

I is for initiative. Every day there are opportunities that must be decided and the future of this organization is mapped by those decisions. Those decisions must be weighed with the need for growth and the limited budget. Those decisions must also be weighed with the risk to The Herd and the very existence of the organization. And those decisions must be weighed with the anticipated reaction by the volunteers and supporters of THE FARM.

In general, Refuge Farms is a conservative growth organization. We take small steps very carefully. Always with the eye on the budget and the risk and the liability but also with consideration for the opportunity and the need.

We move forward with tempered initiative.

N is for now. I’m finding it to be very solid ground to think like a horse. To not focus on regrets or the past. To remember, but not be weighted by those remembrances. And to not worry about the future. And what might be. No, instead to think like a horse and live in the now. The present. And to enjoy the present to its fullest.

Horses are best examples of this philosophy when I call them to eat. Regardless of what is their focus at the time, one holler and it's heads come up and here they come! It is time to eat! Don’t worry about what it was we were doing! Don’t worry about the coming storm! Don’t think about the heat or cold of the day! No! It’s time to eat! Let’s eat now!

Big Guy was the greatest example of living in the now. Letting yesterday go. Forgiving the shortcomings of today. Letting them roll past sometime in the night and moving forward to now. Right now.

G is for goodness. I am surrounded by goodness. People who volunteer of every and all aspects. Horses that want nothing more than to be allowed to be a horse. Friends of THE FARM who want nothing more than to support our Missions of Healing. I am surrounded by goodness.

On my early morning ventures in to the barn, I look up to the FAITH bucket hanging from the center rafter and I am reminded of a question asked by a young guest to our Captain. “Which horses eats out of that bucket?” he asked. “They all do,” was her response.

It is faith. It is kindness and being true and it is now. It is initiative and growth with intuition. And it is validation and kinship and strength. It takes heart and it is pure goodness. It is Thanksgiving and time to give thanks. Thanks for being alive and in this place at this time. It is time to be thankful for all of you and for Refuge Farms. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Giving thanks...

Another blog! For those of you who know me personally, you know this blog has been very hard for me to do. I don't know whether it was because I have so much to say or it was the fact that I have nothing to say. If indeed I have nothing to say, then I have had many sleepless nights, for nothing, over this blog.

Since this is the time of the year we are reminded that Thanksgiving is right around the corner AND the fact food plays such an important part of "our" Southeastern Louisiana culture, I am going to do this blog like how I would make a good gumbo. For those of you who are unfamiliar with gumbo - it's a seafood (like) stew made with okra and a little bit of this and a little bit of that thrown into a pot and simmered. This blog will be a little bit of this and a little bit of that with the goal being, as in a good gumbo, it causes people to breathe in, taste, savor, and smile.

Thanksgiving, to me, has always been one of those holidays that encompass what families are all about. It is a delicate balance between happiness and chaos that, for the most part, ends up in people being content and happy to be around those they love and care for. Although I should leave the historical references to our beloved professor, it seems we owe the Plymouth settlers (who came to be called Pilgrims) a moment of gratitude for establishing a holiday immediately after their first harvest in 1621...a sort of autumnal feast to give thanks for what had been bestowed upon them. Isn't it interesting how the intensity in the family dynamics on this day parallels with our own day to day family experiences? Often we may try and give the illusion that everything is great but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Take time during this holiday season to be true to yourself and your family. It is a time for life!

November is National Philanthropic Month. Philanthropy happens to be a very big word to describe something really very simple. It's people giving what they have to benefit others; you could say it's benevolence in its purest form. Although usually associated with huge charitable donations, philanthropy can take on many forms. Look at the generosity displayed by Culver's® and Applebee's® - they are invaluable partners in helping to maintain our missions. But what about the volunteers? That is philanthropy!!! A group of people come together and give of themselves, unselfishly, for a cause that they "may" never benefit from. Back breaking, labor intensive, sweat pouring volunteers eager to do whatever it takes to make sure a group of animals are nurtured and cared for. In exchange for their Herculean efforts they get a few minutes of a soulful connection that, in some magical way, makes it all worth it. Simple, pure, and meaningful...isn't that what life should be! Sadly, that's not always the case in the world we live in.

I guess that's why I like animals so much. We should learn from them but we never take the time to digest everything they are showing us. Life lessons, which more often than not, will catch up with us at some juncture in our life. Regrets, that if we had only listened, would have never surfaced to cause us pain. There are no pretenses with animals, no games to play, no rules to follow - they just love you unconditionally. They are not critical, judgmental, or controlling. They just want to coexist with you and be happy. I have to wonder, given how mankind has evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective), will this ever be a possibility?

Well...I think it's time for me to put all these ingredients into the pot and let them start to simmer. This will probably be my "last" blog for this year and want to extend my heartfelt wishes and thanks to everyone for their support throughout the year. I hope you and your families have a safe and joyous holiday season. As we give thanks let us remember...we only have each other.


Sunday, November 04, 2007


letting him go

I planted Big Guy’s hydrangea yesterday.

That planter has been sitting in the yard for over a month now. The beautiful urn that Kathy and Cathi purchased the day of Big Guy’s crossing. An urn filled with vines and candy corn-like flowers and a huge, blooming hydrangea plant. It has been propped up with wood and tied to the corral fence, just waiting for me to plant the plant and store the urn for the winter. It’s been there since right after the Open Barn, in fact.

I’ve been working on planting some select perennials on DukeDuke these past few weeks. A huge, donated mum on his head like a crown. The rusty, tall windmill top behind him for an architectural accent with an Autumn Joy sedum in its base. Lily trees – eight of them that should each grow to six feet and bloom most of the summer – in front of him. A huge Allium at his feet. Select plants in select places for one of the original Giants.

And yesterday, Big Guy’s hydrangea, too.

It has taken me over a month to work up the courage. And finally, the threat of freezing ground convinced me that I could not wait any longer. Couldn’t avoid it or conveniently put it off for other things that needed to be done before winter. So I cut the plastic and dug the hole on Thursday. Everything was ready. And then late yesterday afternoon, I finally planted the plant.

Seems easy enough, doesn’t it? Get your hands in the dirt and plant the darn plant! But my heart was screaming as I tenderly placed the roots and surrounded them with new, freshly purchased soil to give this little blooming wonder its best chance at survival.

And that’s what my heart is screaming about. A chance for survival. I am still wrestling with my supervision and decisions and responsibilities and failures that day that Big Guy died. It seems impossible for me to accept what happened and to let him go.

I’ve talked with many of you and asked some of you what you think happened. Some of those that were here at the time say it was something else going on. Some of you looked me right in the eye and confirmed my fears that I had killed him. I have called several times and discussed the day, the decisions, the symptoms, and the results with Isaac and each time the man patiently listens as I search for an answer. Each time we conclude we will never know.

And I have re-called four of the six veterinarians that I originally called and re-discussed the events with each of them. One local vet, I actually made an appointment with and went for an office visit to discuss everything all over again.

Each and every one of the vets has concluded that it was not an overdose. That our steps may not have been preferred or typical but were not, in themselves, fatal. Each one has concluded that the horse had something else going on and the situation and other factors on that particular day simply triggered his death.

The bottle of meds is in a ditch somewhere.

And I hear them. Really, I do. It’s just that I can’t let him go…

Big Guy was a very sensitive animal. And I don’t know if he was like that before the shootings and the beatings and the starvation? Maybe he was always sensitive and shook whenever you put a lead rope on his halter. Or shook whenever you fed him. Or shook whenever he got his feet trimmed. I don’t know if he shook before he came here, but I know he sure shook after he got here.

Every time I brought feed to him, his shoulder flesh shook and his feet danced. Every time I put a lead rope on him and walked with him anywhere, his shoulder flesh shook. He was stressed the first Christmas when he was in the barn for Mr. & Mrs. Claus. And he was stressed in the trailer at Applebee’s® last December. Anything out of the ordinary or the least bit of excitement and his feet started moving and his flesh would begin to quiver.

Was this a result of his abuse? I’m tending to think not. The animal was unbelievably sensitive to touch and maybe he was like that his entire life. Easily stressed and so if that was true, the shootings and the beatings and the starvation would have caused tremendous stress on his heart and nervous systems. Maybe the damage extended beyond the flesh and in to his internal organs…

And then there were the symptoms of colic all summer long. The first time it happened, I walked him out of it, but I moved his feeding spot from his corner to the doorway of the barn. Easier to get him walking straight out the door than to have to take the time to get him up in the barn and out the gates to the driveway. I used eight tubes of paste to ease whatever was causing his guts to hurt during last summer. Something was troubling and hurting him and I was always watching him out of the corner of my eye. Looking for the signs of pain in his gut. Initially, I thought it was just the heat since he was so big and the heat was so oppressive for him. Maybe…

And the meds we used that day? The dosage is 1 cc per 100 pounds. I used 4 cc’s – barely enough for Gracie let alone a 2,300 pound Big Guy. But on that day, was it too much?

One of the vets has described to me a technical term of “incidental responses”. I think that’s the term. Anyway, that’s the term I remember. It is the unexpected and unexplained response one sometimes gets when doing something that has been done before and has not resulted in this same response. It’s a technical term for the unexplained, it sounds like. This vet used it to explain Big Guy’s death that day.

And this vet went on to tell me that what was happening that day to Big Guy was my caring for him. I was putting shoes on him to help the cracks in his feet. I was not hurting him or beating him or doing anything wrong. I was trying to help him! And he died. All the while, during his explanation, my tears were flowing and finally he said, “I don’t want you – no I insist! – that you not carry this, Sandy. You were trying to help the horse. You gave him a second chance – a chance that he would not have had otherwise. He had many wonderful days and months here. You gave him a second chance.

Does all of this help me wrestle with his death and allow me to let him go? Not a damn bit.

If you know me in the slightest, you know I take The Three Promises very seriously. And that Mission Statement says, “I will watch over.” I tell each and every horse those things when I first touch them. I tell them that I will watch over and protect them and help them and do whatever is humanly possible to care for them. And knowing how I explained all of this to Big Guy as we walked down that driveway from that Barn of Death, I know, too, that I broke my promises to Big Guy.

And in my mind, I remember that I promised him that morning that I would feed him breakfast after he had his new shoes on. Big Guy died with an empty stomach. Of all the stupid things to carry around, that one hurts the deepest and the most…

I have and still carry regrets around with me. Regrets that I didn’t respond sooner or recognize something sooner with a horse. Regrets that I didn’t take that big gelding in the kill pen with Bonita on that Thanksgiving Day. Regrets that I wasn’t in the barns at 3am instead of 4am on the day that Big Jim crossed. Regrets that I didn’t see Frannie lying down earlier in the day. These regrets I have and can deal with. They cause me pain and hurt and I learn from them but they don’t cause me to not let go. This one causes me to not let go. And time does not seem to be working its wonder this time…

So, begrudgingly, I planted the Big Guy hydrangea yesterday. And I planted it on DukeDuke. Hoping that some of the peace and gentleness of DukeDuke would help me and allow me to go in the corral beyond only the first twenty feet. That some of the kindness of that big, blind Belgian would flow up through his Memory Bed and get under my nails. Seep in to my skin and help me to go to Big Guy and plead for his forgiveness. And then try to forgive myself. And finally, to let go of him.

It was late yesterday afternoon – three o’clock or so – and I heard the door to the kitchen open. I came to the door and there stood MaKenna. Of all days, there she stood with a special present in her hands for me. How timely, MaKenna. How timely.

In her hands was a white, wooden frame with a picture of Big Guy in it. Now MaKenna had no way of knowing what I was struggling with or had yet to do that day. But there she stood, just the same, with Big Guy in her hands. A gift for me from her Aunt and herself. A white wooden frame with a golden starfish in the lower left corner. Over the face of Big Guy was written:

Safe journey, my friend.

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