Sunday, June 22, 2008


Living Like A Herd

This past week has seen several twenty-hour days. Working to save the lives of a herd of horses forgotten back in the woods. Horses left to die without food or water. Living off of each other’s manure until somewhere, somehow, they would be given a chance to live. As a result, this past week, I have spent the majority of my time working and being amongst herds. Big herds and little herds. But always herds. Herds of horses and herds of humans. And as I sit here this Sunday morning, I am drawn to the direct similarities and wide differences between those two herds…

These horses that I’ve been spending my time with are a herd of “wild” horses. Untrained and unhandled horses that were left fenced in to fend for themselves. Horses that human hands have never touched. Horses never knowing the feel of a halter or the taste of grain. Living their lives out in the hills without the sight and sound of humans or traffic or anything other than themselves and the nature around them.

These "wild" horses, when approached by we humans that were now wandering in their living space, were curious, of all things. No striking or running away. No rearing or charging in an attempt to hurt us as we came near to them. Instead, they were calm under stress and faced us - the unknown - with open, honest curiosity. Many of us were moved to tears at their total calm and acceptance of us in to their world.

Throughout this entire time, this herd of wild horses remained a cohesive unit and moved, like fluid, together as one large body. Not one was left behind. Even the tiniest and the weakest were included and cared for in this herd of wild horses. The leading mare was followed and her instincts were trusted. She did her job exceptionally well. Being sharp when needed, strong when needed, coaxing when needed, but above all, being in front. She instilled a natural, calm, respectful order.

When we humans applied pressure to this herd, they responded quickly and communicated loudly and clearly to each other. Once again, all were included in this chatter and their movements, although quick and sharp, were still together. Survival was now their goal and they remained calm with new common goals now binding them even more tightly together. If one stumbled, there was no scolding or bad feelings. No, instead the herd would circle back to retrieve the one at risk – freely risking themselves to insure that not one single member of the herd was left behind.

Change was absorbed and again, they adapted quickly with communication and applying new skills to their new surroundings. They above all, remained calm and cohesive. Orderly and surprisingly, still curious. They never resorted to violence or striking out. No, instead they adapted and survived.

We humans are not naturally curious adults. We are curious as children, but somewhere along the line we learn to doubt and mistrust and the curiosity is set aside for judgment and criticism and skepticism. We set expectations and if another human does not meet our expectations we have disappointment and anger toward them. We humans tend to shun the human who fails to meet our expectations. Or we simply withdraw and withhold our communications and interactions with that failing human that we have no faith in any longer.

We humans tend to create societies inside of the big society, thereby leaving some behind or outside of our inner circle. We leave some behind simply because they don’t fit with us or have failed us in some way and so we no longer go back to retrieve them. We let them stay behind to fend for themselves. And in our mini-societies, we tend to tell our fellow humans what they “should do” or “need to do” or “ought not to do”. We tend to be experts on the actions of others without always considering the footprints of the others.

We humans also tend to not move like fluid. Instead we tend to fend for ourselves and forget the power of mass and the force of many. We see change and fail to communicate. Usually, we resist change and strike out either with words or that withdrawal mechanism again. Sadly, we humans tend to not meet change as a group with open communication and respect for our leader. Once again, we end up standing alone to face expectations with an already slow start because we are alone and without the support and protection of our herd.

I’ve spent time with an angry horse and a human filled with anger. The horse is calmed by my deep breathing and my remaining calm. My deep breathing does nothing to calm the human.

And we humans tend not to overextend ourselves to care for others. We tend to say you “must have some common sense about it” and we tend to leave some to die. Is it our faith that is weak? Or our conviction that is lacking? Or are we just too tired meeting all of those expectations set upon us? How can we turn our back on those who will suffer or die without us?

More than anything, I see we humans as an anxious lot. An unsatisfied lot. Not easy to please or easy to be or stay happy. We seem to want more than the sun on our shoulders and a decent meal with fresh water.

I have spent the majority of my time this past week working and being amongst herds. Herds of horses and herds of humans. As for myself, I choose to be more like the herd of wild horses that I have come to admire and respect. In this first meeting
of this wild herd of horses, I saw and learned from them absolutely everything I needed to know to survive as a Human Being. Staying calm in adversity. Curious rather than critical. Cohesive with the creatures placed in my path. Not leaving a single one behind. Communicating loudly and adapting as quickly as I possibly can. Having no expectations of my fellow humans. It is only in being like the wild herd, that I think I will find my contentment.

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

Sunday, June 15, 2008


More Transitions

Transitions. Getting to be a familiar word around here, isn’t it? Transitions. Change. Moving on.

Ole’ Man Cole appeared to be transitioning yesterday morning. Down. Non-responsive. Pale gums. Labored breathing, even for Cole. But he got himself up. Struggling and soon down again, but repeatedly up and persistently moving to keep himself alert and functioning. Determined to overcome what had befallen him.

And by the end of the day, the old coot was eating and back to pushing me around. A seizure had taken his strength in the morning but by sunset, he was back. A transition that resulted in stability once again…. Huh. Another life lesson learned in the barns at Refuge Farms.

As said so well last week, Refuge Farms is at a place it has never been before. We’ve been through transitions in the past, but not like this one! That first transition when Andy pretty much demanded that I open the barns to the public happened over seven years ago. The next transition of Frances Andrew was so very painful but so obviously sent to illustrate the future to me. Then on to a 501(c)3. And before you could blink, here we are!

Transition means change and we have several as we begin our latest cycle of growth.

A tad over three years ago, a young man that I didn’t know and would never meet called me and said, “I’ll build you a website and maintain it for you for one year – one year! Then you’re on your own.” That year moved in to two years and then in to three years. And as a result of his commitment, there is a website to be envied. A bulletin board platform from which I write to you as often as my heart has something to speak. Pictures of our Ministers and The ‘Other’ Herd. Vincent’s attention to detail and demand for perfection shines through on our website. And he has left us a tremendous gift of his devotion to a herd and the missions that he has felt but never actually touched.

Refuge Farms gave to Vincent though, too, I am happy to say! Vincent has learned the parts of a horse hoof and the definition and the symptoms of colic, the thrill of saving a life by advertising and connecting people to save an unwanted horse, and he has gained friends that he most likely would have not otherwise have met.

And so, on this Father’s Day, it seems appropriate for you, Vincent, to realize that you birthed a baby and nurtured it to grow. A gift truly from your heart that has touched many hearts. God Speed and good luck in your future endeavors. Lucky are the new recipients of your many talents! And Vincent, a sincere and genuine “thank you” to you from me. And Miss Bonita. And Big Jim. And Halima. And Richard. And Lady-the-Dog. And Big Guy. And Jerry, the Roan Horse. From them and all those yet to come….

Another transition is our Operations Manager who has decided to pursue some of her other interests and focus her energies here at THE FARM where her heart is truly the happiest – with The ‘Other’ Herd. Our new Volunteer Coordinator came to Refuge Farms on her first visit and told me - point blank! - that, in her retirement, she had no intention of volunteering. Anywhere!

In her three years as Operations Manager, Kathy has seen and assisted us in the move to a Ways of THE FARM, walk-thru’s, and Horse Handling classes. High in energy and always with a smile on her face, it is truly a time of transition for Kathy and we all understand her need for this change. Time is elusive and Kathy desires more of her time for her new hobbies, her new friends, and her new endeavors. But thankfully, she is willing to still be a leader and trainer here at THE FARM and lead us in those chicken dances and songs! Glad to have you, Kathy!

A newbie on the scene is a man whom I tell others “has no boundaries”. I introduce Craig as a man of strong ethics, strong heart, and he sees no horizon for Refuge Farms. When we talk of book signings and television coverage, I look to Craig and his face screams, “Why not?”. Finding us in the bitter cold of last winter, this man brings his heart and his devotion to The Herd as well as his constant understanding of the Human Being and the demands of life. Welcome, Craig, to the task of Publicity for Refuge Farms.

Robin is shy and quiet and “neat as a pin”, as my Mom would say. Sensitive and caring, Robin listens – truly listens! – and hears the issue underneath of what is being said. She sees the heart. Just last week, we were talking and I mentioned Jerry. She looked me right in the eye and said, “You really miss him, don’t you?” Bullseye.

Robin has accepted the role of searching and evaluating grant possibilities for THE FARM. The enormous task of finding those foundations and businesses that have like hearts and see in us the possibilities and a future. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Don’t let it fool you – this is a most difficult task with enormous consequences. Thank you, Robin, for your grace and your heart and the willingness to give by searching.

And just when you’re thinking that’s enough change in one swoop, there is a new Board of Directors, too! Collectively, this group of individuals is strong in ethics and concerns for the Human Being and all living creatures. Add to that their varying business experiences and it all melds together for a remarkable unit to lead and manage this little patch of land with a huge heart up here on this hill in Spring Valley.

Robin (the same Robin) tells us about herself:

“Only by treating all life as sacred can we touch the sacred in ourselves.” (a quote from Best Friends Magazine, 2001). Firmly believing in the sanctity of all life, I made it easy for my dear sister to choose Refuge Farms as the recipient of her Christmas gift donation in my name several years ago. Since that time my admiration and support for Sandy and her rescue mission has grown. I consider it a privilege to work with those who set an example of kindness and decency to all we share the planet with.

Moira is a Chaplain at Sacred Heart Hospital and is calm in adversity. Her faith is unwavering and she believes in the Master Plan. When I recently communicated my concern for workloads and demands and unmet needs, Moira’s response was simple, honest, and worthy. She wrote to me to have faith for the answer is in prayer. She affirmed for me that no one is alone and no one will be left unarmed for what is placed in front of them. Kind words that are now printed and taped to my bedroom door.

Michael is a gifted man who happens to be the designer of our logo and the creator of “Miss April”. Quiet, I listen when Mike speaks. His perception is honest but kind. A welcome voice in the room, he tells us about himself by saying:

I am an artist ( from Elk Mound, WI. I originally got involved with Refuge Farms because I was friends with Sandy. Soon, though, I became excited about being a part of “THE FARM” because of its purity of purpose.

Lauren is the Executive Director of the Eau Claire County Humane Association (ECCHA) and a welcome resource on our Board. Her credibility in the industry is unmatched in this region and her heart is pure. She truly comes to us willing to share and lead and contribute. We are gifted this woman’s talents and her heart – how fortunate!

Katherine Schneider is a retired clinical psychologist. Her knowledge of animals comes mainly from having been a Seeing Eye dog user for 35 years. She started a program through ECCHA to provide pet food and supplies to seniors and people with disabilities who are on Meals on Wheels, but it was Lanna (a member of The Herd) who talked her in to serving on the Refuge Farms board.

Marcia is an RN and one of the first people to touch and welcome our Spirit to THE FARM last fall. She is kind and tender and just when you think the issue is completed, Marcia asks a simple question and puts you back in the middle of “it” all over again! A welcomed voice and heart at the table.

So much is changing at Refuge Farms! We will never be the same as we move forward in our life path. We are being challenged with what to do and where to go and how to look. Much like Cole yesterday, we at times are struggling and down, but repeatedly up and persistently moving to keep ourselves alert and functioning. Determined to overcome. We, too, are in a transition that will result in stability and growth and then even more transition once again!

Every morning when I enter the barn I am greeted by happy hearts and that simple blue bucket hanging from the rafters of this too-small barn. A barn packed with the souls and the hearts of the unwanted. A place where people come to pet one of the Ministers and maybe pause for just a moment. A moment of peace and warmth and maybe some calm. Found here only because, simply, it is meant to be. Beyond all of us, the Master Plan has placed all of these pieces together to create this place we call Refuge Farms.

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

Sunday, June 08, 2008


In Transition

I am a survivor!

A lot has changed for me the past 18 months. I have gone from being the ‘take charge’ leader of The Herd to a very scared blind horse dependent on Blaise for comfort and protection. Yet an interesting thing has happened. Just when people thought that it was all over, my new life at THE FARM has begun. The actual move was so simple but the impact so great!

About two weeks ago, Sandy moved Blaise and I into the Helen Keller pasture with PONY! and Gracie. At first, I was so confused and frightened that I broke through the fence and got into the neighbor’s corn field. If I couldn’t find Blaise, I would bray and Sandy would have to come out and walk me to where Blaise was. Would I be able to adapt? The answer is yes!

I had to take some tentative first steps – I couldn’t stay where I was -- but I have learned to trust PONY! and Gracie. I expanded my horizons and have learned that the new environment is great. Sometimes when you drive by you will see me with PONY!, other times with Gracie, and at other times I am by myself or with my best friend Blaise. I go into the barn by myself and I wait for my mates to come out. The change was scary and took work, but I have made the transition. I am enjoying my journey each and every day! Look for ‘new’ me the next time you come to THE FARM.

--- Sweet Lady Grey

Like Sweet Lady Grey, Refuge Farms is in transition. Not its first and certainly not its last. The first transition was opening the barns to the public in 2001 followed by the creation of The Declaration of Purpose in August 2002. Another major transition was to a 501(c)3 charitable organization. We have come a long way in just seven years. The mission of Refuge Farms [Ezekiel 34:16] is powerful: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak…I will watch over. I will feed them in justice.” We live our mission each day through the care that we give to the horses, through how we interact with our guests, through our outreach activities, and through how we care for each other. We now must live our mission by strengthening and watching over Refuge Farms, the organization.

To accomplish this, Refuge Farms must think about what and where we want the organization to be in 2012. Does the organization remain as it is? Does the organization become smaller both in terms of the horses it cares far and the outreach it engages in? Does the organization grow in terms of the services it provides? Does Refuge Farms remain a regionally known charity or does it, like Sweet Lady Grey, expand its horizons? Part of answering these questions also involves answering questions about how Refuge Farms governs, manages, and funds itself so that it is sustainable.

To guide our discussions about these important issues, in April an Executive Committee was formed by the Executive Director. The committee members are Robin U. (Vice President of the Board of Directors), Kathy M., Craig N., Sally D. and Joy B. Each member of the committee will be assuming a ‘lead’ facilitation role for Refuge Farms. These will be finalized in June. The committee is charged with engaging in strategic planning activities to help identify our vision and the strengths that we have to achieve that vision. The committee will also provide direction for how to resolve the current ‘crisis’ management issues related to THE FARM's operations. The committee will be making recommendations for how to stabilize Refuge Farms, what transition activities need to be taken, what new revenue streams need to be developed, and how we move forward to a sustainable organization that is positioned for growth. The committee will not be working in isolation. There will be conversations at many levels throughout Refuge Farms, including the committee’s reports at each Board of Directors meeting. Your ideas, concerns, inspirations and insights about what we are becoming are welcome! Please share!

Transitions are scary – roles change, relationships change, new structures and revenue structures are needed, and commitment [work] goes up not down – at least in the short term! Transitions require taking risks, making new investments, managing what exists while changing, and, yes, even conflict. Yet, as Sweet Lady Grey learned, the rewards are tremendous! The timing is right for Refuge Farms. We have a new Board of Directors, we have added management talent to our volunteer pool, and we have ‘hit the wall’ financially. Taken together, these provide great opportunities for change! To support the change and allow time for Refuge Farms to become self-sufficient, short-term steps must be taken so the Board of Directors, the Executive Committee, and The ‘Other’ Herd can engage in repositioning Refuge Farms.

The most pressing of the ‘short-term’ actions is to generate revenue NOW that will carry us through 2008. We cannot continue to move from one money crisis to another. This takes time and energy away from developing new revenue streams, external networking for grants and corporate sponsorships, and developing services that carry our mission into the community. As we move forward, our challenge is to spread our message about the magic of Refuge Farms through educational programs, outreach, and to more effectively use technology. Through these, we must seek events and publicity that yields greater rewards both for the people we impact as well as the revenues earned. We need breathing room to allow these development activities to take place. This means we have to eliminate the day-to-day stress of paying for the basic care of the horses and of our operations.

At the present rate, it costs $180 A DAY to maintain Refuge Farms. From January 1, 2008 through May 31, 2008, there have been thirteen events and public hours. From these approximately $9,083 has been generated for general operating expenses. This covers our needs for just over 7 weeks. Volunteers engaged in yard work to earn feed which offset part of our costs for one pallet of forty bags [we go through a pallet – or 2,000 pounds - of feed every two to three weeks depending on the temperature]. We have received checks and in-kind donations that have helped to cover some our operating costs [i.e. feed, deworming medication, medical care for three horses, alfalfa cubes, salt blocks, and leather collars]. The Hay Fund Balance is $4,417. This includes $1850 through May 31 for the 2nd Annual Hay Challenge, and $430 net for the hay fund raised by Wakanda School’s Penny Wars [this will be matched by Barb G.]. The Webb Family has raised $700 for the Hay Fund by selling Home & Garden products. In addition 25% of most fund raising events goes to the Hay Fund.

All of the donations are very important to Refuge Farms and are greatly appreciated. Yet, the reality is that our revenues do not equal our costs. We ended May with a $7,512 shortfall. In addition, our basic costs are going up. SafeChoice™ feed seems to increase each time a pallet is purchased. Last year we paid $38 a round bale and this year the projection is $70 per bale for a projected total cost of $15,000 for the 2008-2009 feeding cycle. When the hay is delivered this summer, the supplier will expect payment in full – we do not pay as we drop the bales in the pastures! We need to have our revenue stay in front of our expenses not behind them. [Watch for Hay Challenge updates on the new Bulletin Board being started.]

From July 1 through the December 31, Refuge Farms needs a minimum of $33,150. There is only one major fund raising event scheduled during this period – the Open Barn. Based on last year, it is projected that the Open Barn and Auction will generate $6700. If achieved, this will leave an operating shortfall of $26,4250 – with no money in reserve for emergencies, the operational needs of Refuge Farms, the capital needs Refuge Farms, or to pay bills in early 2009. What can you do?

· First, reflect on The Three Promises we have given to Addie-Girl, Miss April, Babee-Joy, Beauty, Blaise, Cole, Gracie, Handsomer, Jeri-Ann, Josephina, Lanna, Miss Bette, PONY!, Spirit, Star, Sweet Lady Grey, Unit, and Windsor. How will you help Refuge Farms fulfill our promises to them?
· Second, think about what Refuge Farms means to you. At its best, how have you been positively affected by the mission of Refuge Farms, its activities, and your interactions with the horses and members of The ‘Other’ Herd?’
· Third, take action! Commit to giving an amount equal to a $1 a day for July through December. Share your story of Refuge Farms with your family and friends and ask them to commit to $1 a day. And send your money now.
· Fourth, share your ideas for sustaining Refuge Farms and its future outreach and growth.

We have challenges and we are learning from our successes and our failures. We have a rich and vibrant history. WE HAVE TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL! For me, this was confirmed May 30th. Twelve MBA students from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls visited THE FARM. Several work for larger corporations in the Twin Cities, two have experience with not-for-profit organizations, some work in local business, and one works with start-up companies. All have considerable management experience. With one voice, it was ‘the opportunity’ they spoke of. They looked past the unmowed grounds and listened to the message. They had read our webpage and could see it lived in the horses, the volunteers hard at working cleaning stock tanks, and listening to the stories. The magic was present! They moved beyond my expectation for their learning – they are making recommendations to help us transition to our next phase for Refuge Farms.

Please join us in our transition!

Joy B.
Member of The ‘Other’ Herd

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