Sunday, October 26, 2008


Sweet Lady Grey

Thirty years ago this spring – while there was still snow on the ground and the tulips were barely poking their heads up through the still-hard earth – my sister, Donna, and I pulled a rented horse trailer with her station wagon south to the Minnesota/Iowa border.

You see somewhere down there a young mare stood waiting for me. A young Arabian mare that no one wanted. Not her owners and not the kill buyer either. Her owners were going through a divorce and couldn’t decide who got the horse, and so they decided to sell her at auction and split the money. The kill buyer paid $100 for her. Then, when he found out she was pregnant, he decided he didn’t want her either. Something about it being too cruel to kill the mare and the baby….

So a telephone call was placed to me asking if I wanted to buy her. The mare was a registered Arabian and was bred to something from the stockyards – "what" would have to wait to be seen when it was delivered. But she was a grey and “had some spirit” I was told. That was an understatement!!!

When we found her in the holding pen, I innocently walked up to this little mare and reached out to touch her. Not so fast! A swift bite told me that I needed to gain her trust before ever thinking of touching her. And loading her in to the trailer? Well, let’s just say that I gained a wealth of experience along with my bruises that day.

Her head was always – ALWAYS! – up in the air! She seemed almost fearful of her head being tied down or restrained in any way. The little mare wasn’t a kicker but she had a load of fear in her, that’s for sure!

Upon arrival back at my house, this new mare was introduced to Ono and the two became fast friends immediately. Ono was thrilled to have a horse companion and this little mare was grateful for her freedom and the twice-daily feed I supplied for her. She was very thin and almost weak, but her strength in spirit more than made up for any weakness her body may have been showing.

Al Lippold came to trim the very, very long hooves that very first week. He pinched and pinched and finally gave up on pinching off the excess hoof. These hooves of hers were way, way too hard and blunt nosed and so very thick! So Al began to carve away at the hoof with his knife. Piles of hoof shavings appeared on the floor of my new barn and pretty soon I heard the “clink” of metal hitting metal. What was that?

Al just shook his head. He had discovered why he couldn’t pinch her hoof off! Her shoes were in there! Yes, her hooves had grown right over her too small shoes! I still have those shoes – I saved them, of course. For some reason I felt the need to clean and paint those shoes as a reminder to both of us of the life she had left behind.

Later that summer she went in to a most difficult labor. She delivered, though. It was painful and she remained as strong as she could but finally she gave in and let out a yell of pain! Then a huge – and I mean huge! – palomino colt was brought in to the world. But the colt was born dead. She nudged it and then moved on. Almost glad to be without the burden and the load on her tiny body. Again, leaving her past well behind her....never looking back.

Her body however, was so racked from starvation that she didn’t clean out and old Doc Monson told me he had done all he could. He gave her meds to stop the contractions and then stitched her hind cheeks together. The dimples those stitches created are with her yet today. Then he gave me instructions on the huge doses of penicillin to inject in her neck every four hours and told me he’d stop in morning to see how I was doing. I picked up on that. How I was going. Not how she was doing. He said it looked grim for the little fighter of a mare.

I slept on a lawn chair in her box stall with her that night. The alarm clock told me when to give her the injections and she stood most of the night. Head hanging low and eyes dull from the pain. Her sides still were wavy with contractions and she would bend at the knees from time to time. At about 4am or so, I felt a nudge. Her little white nose was nudging me. I awoke and she went to the door of her stall. I let her out and she joined Ono to munch on some freshly dewed grass.

Doc Monson appeared at the stall door at 5am sharp and asked, “When did she go?”

“Oh,” I said, “she wanted out just a bit ago.” I pointed and he did a double take when he saw her grazing next to Ono. “That mare wasn’t going to make it!” he told me. I replied something to the effect that he obviously didn’t know that little mare.

That was the summer of 1978. Since that time, Sweet Lady Grey and I have been together. This spring of 2008 was the start of our thirty-first year together. More than half of my life has been with this mare. The longest relationship I have ever had with any other living creature has been my relationship with Lady-Cakes, as I call her.

Lady was the last horse I ever rode. We would go for rides out here in Spring Valley when she first returned from Omaha with me. Rides to the river to enjoy the grass and the sunshine together. And then on the return from one of our rides, right by the end of our own driveway, on a path that we had taken many times before, on that day she saw the mailbox!

Up in the air she went and over to the centerline of Highway 29! Then straight ahead at full speed! Sweet Lady Grey had seen the mailbox and off we went! No amount of pulling or squeezing would slow her down so I simply hung on! Once at the top of the hill, she stopped and we walked home again. My legs were complete jelly and that, my friends, was the last time I rode a horse.

The love of Lady’s life was Ruby. Big Ruby, the Belgian pulling horse. She loved that horse and he loved her. Just prior to crossing, Ruby looked at her and let out one big holler as if to say, “I’ll wait for you, my love!” After Ruby crossed, Sweet Lady Grey refused feed for three days. She just ran the fence line and hollered. Calling over and over for her Ruby. Looking to the door of the barn that she had seen me walk him in to. Calling and running. For three days.

Finally she stopped and gave up looking for him. But ever since then, she has been distant. Never fully forgiving me for taking her love away from her and never completely trusting me again. She was always on her guard after that fateful day of Ruby’s departure. Just this past summer, if I was very careful, she would let me pet her and maybe steal a hug. I told her she was getting old and she nodded her agreement. Better to allow a few hugs than to deprive us both of our mutual respect and love for each other.

Her vision left her this spring and that has been tough for her. Lady, you see, was always the boss on her side of the barn. Always the one to tell the others if they could come in to the barn or not. Lady was always in charge. But without her sight, she depended upon others to guide her and keep her safe. She bumped in to the fence and in to the buildings now. Her face often cut open from her fearful, frantic search for another horse. A most difficult change in stature for such a brave and mighty mare.

This afternoon, however, at about 5pm, Sweet Lady Grey was once again reunited with her Ruby. I found her lying in the pasture in a total state of calm. Just waiting for a bit of help to cross over and get back with her Ruby. I sang to her and she rested. All the while giving me the greatest gift of all - my head resting on hers so that I could listen to her breathing and smell her deeply and feel the heat of her body. She allowed me close again and for that I am grateful beyond belief.

Once again, she is in charge and bossing all the others around! Controlling her surroundings with her head straight up in the air! And her man, her love, is right behind her with his head held high! So proud when she kicks him square in that big chest of his! So proud that she has picked him to love! What a couple they make – he so large and stocky and such a deep red and she so petite and quick and such a light grey! But the love is obvious! Never in my life have I seen two living creatures so devoted to each other as Ruby and Sweet Lady Grey. Never.

Lady-Cakes, I miss you already. I can’t remember life without you. My sister knew you. Andy knew you. And I have just always known you to be there. Life will not be the same without you. Your bucket will hang for you, my friend, until you tell me that you are fine and have moved on and are safely with your manly big Belgian again. I’ll wait to hear from you…..

Run fast, Sweet Lady Grey! And hug that Ruby for me, would you?

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Contemplations of a Fall Day

What a nice week and what a nice day!

Refuge Farms was busy this week with three tours in 2 days. The Transition Students divided up in to two groups and visited us in the morning and the afternoon of this past Tuesday. Kelly, their teacher, is a return guest here at Refuge Farms and a kind soul. The students were very interested in the horses and some had visited with us previously.

Miss April was our first project – brush, brush brush! She understands children and is so patient with their constant kisses and nose touches. A most patient and understanding minister is she!

Then Gracie was brought in and of course, she dozed while we brushed her and marveled at her petite little body. PONY! was calling for her and we all giggled when Gracie hollered back to him!

Little Man was a joy for those who really weren’t “in” to the horses. He certainly enjoys our tours!

Then on Wednesday, LaVonne brought her Special Needs class and it was like a reunion! Blade and Tiffany and Dale and Joseph were back at THE FARM. You see these young men were at the very first Camp Quest in Menomonie – over three years ago! In fact, LaVonne and I talked about DukeDuke and Jimmer and the lessons were learned that day at Wakanda Park.

And so it was only appropriate that after our brushing and horse time, we stopped at DukeDuke and paid our tribute to that big gentle soul. I was most impressed with the respect these students paid to the memory of that horse. Many knew and remembered him but many did not. Still, it was quiet and respects were paid by all.

Later in the week, a couple stopped by to inquire about some equipment I have for sale at the roadside. They looked familiar and soon i recalled the time when they had visited THE FARM. We refilled the stock tanks and talked about the cost of living, the cost of caring, and the cost of not caring. We all agreed that to do nothing was far more costly than to pitch in and help where needed. Kind people. Enjoyable conversation. And during our conversation, the bells from the church on the hillside began to serenade us and seemed to reinforce our conclusions.

And today was a quiet day in this beautiful warm, fall air. Many plants were placed in special places on special Memory Beds. Some of the summer lawn decorations were stored for the coming winter. And it is at this time of year, as I close up another season, that I think back to the year and contemplate our Missions.

Yes, we reached many again this year. Many Humans who visited us or read our stories. Many horses were saved during the summer season. In fact, Mr. Gelding is grazing quietly with Spirit close beside him. I am pleased with our summer season. It has been one of rescue and renewal. It has been one of change and all of the nerves that come with the process of that change.

But more than that, I am pleased with the contentment of this place. I stood at one point in the afternoon sunshine and simply let my senses overflow – my skin felt the warmth of the fall sunshine, my face felt the movement of the breeze, my ears heard the bells of that local church as it played “How Great Thou Art”, and my eyes beheld the sight of horses contently grazing in a pasture with their mates.

I am a very wealthy woman. My heart overflowed and then just when I thought I could not absorb any more, a wet nose nudged my hand and reminded me that yes, there are little creatures here that love us all, too.

Work hard and be productive this week. Treasure each day. Remember, each and every day is a gift never, ever to be wasted!

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

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Did You Learn Anything

Have you ever done anything and it didn’t work out the way you thought it would? Then someone says, “Did you learn anything from that?”

In these past 3 years that I had been Operations Manager at Refuge Farms, many of the volunteers will remember me as a storyteller. You have heard both funny and serious stories of me with my family, work, and many with my time with the The Herd. The stories I tell are mostly the ones where I have learned a lesson or two from the experience.

For sure you have heard me share many of the stories, and share many lessons learned from working with the horses here. These special horses and the lives they have lived, have taught me many things over the years. They have share with me some things about their own societies, some things about safety and some things that have helped me to better understand myself.

But one of my favorite stories, and the one that I will remember always about friendship happened the first summer I was a volunteer at Refuge Farms. It was about two weeks before the Open Barn, a fundraiser held at THE FARM, and I was going to spruce up the barn to make it ready for the event. So, in the barn it was me, my extension broom and a ladder by myself. And, yes I was on a mission to clean all the inside walls. Yes, all the walls, and even the walls where the horses could come in and leave at will. Are you there with me yet?

Maybe not, so I will give you more details. So, there I was - brush, brush, brushing the walls and kept moving the ladder until I got to the pen. That is the area in the barn where the horses can come and go at will. All of the sudden I realized, “ Oh!! Here comes one of the horses!” In came Jerry, and man was he big! As I watched him come into the barn, I said to myself, “ Isn’t that cute that he came over and is standing next to me while I am on the ladder?”

Then Big Jimmer came in and walked up to Jerry as if they were talking to each other. Soon Jimmer also came over and stood on the other side of me while I’m still up on the ladder. I kept working and after the walls were all done, and I was standing there now watching all the horses come in to the barn, it hits me what the conversation was that Jerry and Jimmer must have had, “Can you believe this naive person? She could be seriously injured if the other horses would have come in and have bumped into the ladder with her on it?”

What I truly believed then, and still do to this day is that they assessed the situation and saw the potential danger I was in and they said, “Here is the plan…Jimmer you go over and protect her on the right side of the ladder, and I’ll protect her on the left side of the ladder. When will people learn to think safety when they are working?”

It was a great lesson I learned that day and even after both had crossed they were still on each side of me helping get through my day safely. When ever I was working on THE FARM and around the other horses I would feel or hear their guidance and those encouraging words that Jerry and Jimmer drilled into my head “ THINK BEFORE YOU ACT”.

The other thing I learned that day with Jerry and Jimmer was how wise horses are, how big their hearts are and how freely they offer their friendship and protection to us even when we may not realize that is what they are doing. They are amazing friends and have a lot to teach us.

So, did I learn anything that day from my experiences in the barn? Yes, I learned to listen to those who knew best. I think the Horses always know best. What great teachers they are.

See ya!
Kathy M.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


The Reformation Continues!

The reformation of Refuge Farms will have an impact on every area of this organization. Not a single area of our structure will be untouched with the emphasis now being placed primarily on the rescue of neglected and abandoned horses. Impacts will be felt in the structure and training of the volunteer group. Impacts will be felt in the scheduling of the public’s visits. Impacts will be felt in our fundraisers and when and how we do them. Impacts will be felt in the barns by the presence and then obvious absence of those we rescue. And impacts will be felt in the make-up and focus of the Board of Directors for THE FARM.

Our new Board of Directors is energized! We met last week for discussion and I left with an appreciation for their dedication to our reformed Missions - the people we impact with our sanctuary horses and the challenge of rescuing those horses that are neglected and abused. This grouped emphasized their unity, their realization that the issues of governance were their charter, and the need for full and open communication.

So let me introduce you to this young group! A group willing to take the horse by the head (!) and guide Refuge Farms through this reformation and in to the desperate world of rescue:

Lauren E. is the Executive Director of a local county humane association. Her experience and calm demeanor is a tremendous asset at the table. Numerous times throughout our meetings, at least one of us will turn to Lauren and ask, “What do you do with this at the Humane Association, Lauren?” And of course, Lauren is a fellow rescuer of dogs and a Wisconsin Certified Humane Officer as well. She has been with us on the Board since June of this year and I’m glad to have her with us!

Jeff J. is the manager of a local credit union branch in Menomonie and a long-time friend of THE FARM. Those of you who work the Applebee’s Breakfast Fundraisers will remember Jeff as the previous manager of the Menomonie store. Jeff’s focus on customer service and human considerations is paramount to balance our decisions. A sensitive and considerate man, Jeff is likewise an animal lover and a soon-to-be-married man. In fact, the big day is yet this month! Congratulations, Jeff and Tiffany! And welcome, Jeff!

Moira K. is one of the chaplains at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and continues to lead us as our President of the Board. Moira has shown us all that she is “in there”! Not one to sit quietly by, Moira works diligently for THE FARM and provides leadership and compassion naturally. It’s her way of life! Thank you, Moira.

Craig N. is a Technical Manager of International Projects at Thomson Companies. What does that mean? It means Craig is a very busy man! A new volunteer to THE FARM, Craig immediately displayed his leadership skills and ability to “see the road in front of us”. And his heart? Well, let’s just say he knows what rescue is all about. He lives with his rescue dogs and has two horses – one of them fostered through Refuge Farms. Glad to have you, Craig!

Gloria W. is the heart of all of us rescuers rolled in to one Human Being. Gloria cries at the pictures in “the forgotten horses”. Gloria cries for those left without food and water. But she does more than cry! She acts! Gloria has returned to us with the announcement of our reformation and was so excited that we were moving to a rescue organization! Her telephone message is one that I have saved and I replay it when I get “stuck in the muck”. And yes, she cried. Her heart is big. Her focus is clear - rescue those that are neglected and abandoned. Rescue and then move forward and save more lives. So glad to have you back, Gloria!

So there you have it – the Refuge Farms Board of Directors. Please remember them in your prayers and be grateful that such leadership has stepped forward to guide us through this reformation. There is much work to do and many lives to save. However, we do not lack the dedication or commitment to the tasks in this group!

Welcome to all of you and my personal thanks. The journey isn’t an easy one and we have many conversations in front of us. I am grateful for your willingness to serve and to support the drive to rescue. I look forward to meeting and saving lives with you!

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

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