Sunday, December 21, 2008


This Week of Christmas

I sit here at the start of this, the week of Christmas, and I cry. Not for me. Not for any of you. No, I cry for the ones we seem to have closed out of our minds and out of our hearts. The ones “outside”. Even on these very special days – this, the week of Christmas.

A simple thing like going out to the barn and I begin to cry. Opening the barn doors I hear a bit of a rustle in the hay. Turning on the light, I see Blaise standing guard over PONY! and little Gracie. PONY! is blanketed and curled up in the hay. Little Gracie is blanketed and looks more like a cat that a horse nestled there deep in the hay. It is my very own manger scene. And I cry.

Jesus was born in a manager. In the barns on a cold night. Things were done and accommodations were made and he was taken care of. He wasn’t left to fend for himself. He wasn’t left with backs turned toward him. He was fed and blanketed and sheltered. Strangers came to visit and to make sure all was okay. So why is it that a mere 2,000 years later we can’t take care of our horses? And each other?

In this season of love and caring and gifting, I have horses running in corn fields. Nobody knows whose horse it is. A horse simply dropped off in a farmer’s field. And the farmer doesn’t want the horse. No one wants the horse.

A little filly is advertised as free and when someone goes to get her, she is wild. Completely wild and without hay or water. Her feet are too long and she is in terror of humans. She is left behind. No one wants the little filly.

Right here in my own back yard there are hungry horses escaping on to the highway looking for food. An accident just waiting to happen. Horses will be injured and in terrible pain and humans could be injured as well. The sheriff’s department isn’t even coming out to the site anymore. No one wants to deal with these horses. No one wants these hungry horses.

I struggle with stories like this. Painfully and slowly and with enormous resistance and regret, I am learning the lessons of survival in this world of rescue during a recession. You have to pick your rescues. You can’t save them all. Some will die. Some will be left “outside” of the circle of hope. It is for them that I cry.

This world of ours goes against my very fabric! Why do some have to die? Why can’t we find room? Why can’t we all just squeeze one more in to our barns? In to our lean-to’s? These freezing horses aren’t asking for box stalls or elaborate shelters! They only want some shelter and a bit of hay and access to some water other than the snow. They don’t ask for much. Only that we not turn our backs on them and leave them to fend for themselves. They only want someone to want them.

And yes, I realize the horse is just one group that is suffering out there. It is this way in the world of dogs, of cats, of llamas, of pigs, of cows, and what floors me the most, in the world of humans. The homeless shelters are overflowing at night. People wander the streets and are living in their cars, if they still have cars. Do we not have room for them? Is there no one that wants them?

Nebraska is learning a big lesson for all of us. As I watch what is happening in a state I know from living there, I see their big, farm hearts opening to the babies that no one wants. Laws were passed and accommodations were made for babies to be dropped off at safe sites. No questions asked. No paperwork. No legal ramifications. The emphasis is on the life of the baby. Save the life, they say. Just drop off the baby.

The law says “the child” may be dropped off. And what is happening? Entire families of children are being dropped off. A seventeen year old young man is being asked to look after his five siblings as they are dropped off by a father who is overwhelmed and sees a way to a better life for his six children. I can’t imagine the tearing heart of the father and his total feeling of inadequacy. And the children? Will they ever understand and forgive their father? Will they be responsible parents or angry adults? What will become of the children? How does a scar like that ever heal?

We as a human race – the “superior” race - have some big lessons to learn. We need to put down our blackberries and turn off our cell phones and shut off these computers! We need to turn around and look at the other humans we call our families. We need to relearn how to talk. How to pass time with each other. How to share in chores and fun and laughter and not once – not once! – pick up a phone or piece of equipment to get back online! We need to relearn how to make memories.

And in that, maybe, just maybe, we will find our humanities again. We will find that we have hearts that can extend beyond our own immediate needs. That we can, in fact, make room in our homes and in our barns. That we can give up just a little of our own luxuries and help some imperfect living creature that no one else wants. Maybe then, there will be answers to the emails sent out looking for homes for not-so-perfect horses. Instead of the absolute silence and the realization that they will die because no one wants these creatures.

I am so worried. I am so frightened. I feel so inadequate and unable to make a difference. The problem seems so much bigger than me. Is saving just one good enough? I know the story of the starfish all too well. I see it every morning as I head out to the barns. But is saving just one enough?

Not for me! My heart overflows with the gratitude and I am empowered by the people who have given with their gifts of support. More will be saved this winter than ever before simply because people have heard us and they care. The generosity of those that believe in rescue and humanity and caring for the creatures we have taken responsibility for have given me the ability to say: "There is always room for one more in my barns. There is always hay for one more starving mouth."

But even with this support, there are more than we can save. And I pray every day that the freezing ones move swiftly on their journey. Maybe that’s why it is so bitterly cold and windy outside so early this year. This cold is shortening the lives of those that nobody wants. Maybe that is the justice in this weather.

During this week of Christmas, I am grateful for parents who taught me to make room. Who taught me, as a greedy little girl, to share my Christmas gifts every Christmas Day with the girls living at the orphanage. The girls that no one wanted. My parents taught me to keep moving forward. Keep doing the best you can. They taught me to have deep and genuine feelings. And they taught me to cry, for sure. But more than anything, they taught me the story of the starfish every day.

And then when they had passed on and I was getting off track and wrapped up in my self-absorbed world, my dear Andy came along and reminded me. Reminded me to give and to share and to work hard and to never, ever give up. He taught me to be “tough like a Texan”. And then when I was just beginning to remember the lessons again, then he flew away, too.

So it is now my job to care and to pass the lessons on. To pound on you to listen! To be the voice of the ones that no one wants! To show you the ugly pictures and to remind you – even at Christmas – that horses are freezing to death on this very bitter day. They are starving to death on this very day. And they want so very little. Just some hay and a bit of water. Maybe some shelter. All they want is for someone to care.

He was born in a manger on a cold night in the middle of a desert. No one wanted Him. He was illegitimate. And He was the wrong race. But He never, ever gave up. And He showed us all the good we can do if we just care for those that nobody else wants.

You don't have to believe in Jesus. You don't have to be of any faith at all. Just listen to the lessons and see if maybe there isn't some wisdom there. Lessons of giving and forgiveness and sharing. Lessons of having compassion for those that no one else wants.

I pray for peace. And I pray for stamina. And I pray for a strong and clear mind. I pray that my tears never stop. Because if I stop crying, there is one less person crying for them. One less person who will remember them on Christmas Day. One less person who will remind you that you need to care. Today. During this week of Christmas. We need to care for those we have left “outside”. Our friends. Our families. And maybe our horses.

May the Spirit of Christmas completely and wholly overwhelm you this season. May you lose sleep because you now have a sense of need and an urgency to reach out to someone or something and help them. And may you realize that in doing so you are healing yourself. May your anger and your loss and your restlessness be answered and put to rest by your caring and helping and doing for another living creature. Reach outside of yourself and by doing so, heal yourself. And may this sense of need and urgency stay with you every single day of your life. Including Christmas.


The Story of the Starfish

One summer day I went out walking along a strand of beach where hundreds of starfish were stranded beyond tide's reach. As I strolled along the sands a kindly lady passed by me, throwing stranded, struggling starfish back into the briny sea.

I asked, "Why do you do this when you can only save those few lucky starfish you throw back into the waves? Why do you even bother, since most of them will die? Does it really matter that much?" I asked and she replied:

"I cannot save all the starfish. Many of them die, I know. With so many more miles of sandy seashore still to go. But for every single starfish saved from the killing sun, I think it matters. Yes, it matters. It matters to that one."

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Magic in the Barn

I just have to blog about this. Many people will read our blogs but do not venture in to our bulletin boards. And this must be known. So I have to blog about this.

True magic – real magic – the goose-bump kind of magic - happened in the barn yesterday.

With everything else going on – the cold, the news story, the telephone, the upcoming breakfast, the computer failure, and the wind – it was time for Miss April’s eight week trim and reset of her front shoes. Our specialized farrier, Dave, is one of a kind. His heart is as big as his hands. His smile is ready and he always – read that as always – has a joke to tell. His diligence and commitment to helping Miss April walk is contagious. He will see her run, he told me once. Over a year ago, he told me that he would see this little mare run someday.

Over a year ago I was at the end of my attempts with Miss April. It seemed that everything I tried only made her worse. The winter of 2006-2007 she spent on her side and she literally wore holes in her hips – right through her hide – from the constant pressure. Her feet hurt her so badly that she would stand only to eat or drink. Even her manure came out of her as she was on the ground.

I had consulted over four vets on her condition. No one seemed to know what to do other than to bute and support her. But I consulted just one more vet on what to try for her – Doc Magnusson. A common sense kind of a vet, Doc Magnusson took one look at her and then at me. “How long has she been this bad? Maybe you need to put her down.” I explained her story and how she had never really been able to walk – chronic laminitis from starvation while in the womb. I tried to explain the emaciated mare of a mother and the no milk at birth. The fighting of the milk replacer and the spunk of them both that kept them together until the mare could produce milk from her very first bites of hay and sips of water. He looked at her teeth and felt her joints. He clucked and said, “Poor girl. Everything hurts on her.”

He said he really couldn’t do anything for her other than to mask the pain. And that, he felt, was what was keeping her alive. But he did tell me about a farrier that he had worked with that had brought back one other horse from a bad case of laminitis. Not this bad, though. Doc warned me that it was a long and expensive process. That once it was started if you stopped, the animal would need to be put down. “But”, he said, “She’s there anyway already.”

I called this farrier. And called. He was swamped and really didn’t have time to take on another severe case. But he would talk to Doc Magnusson and then get back to me. A week later, the farrier called me and told me to take her back to the Doc for x-rays. He wanted to see if he could actually do anything for her.

The x-rays were taken and her turned little toes were like ballerina feet. It was worse than even I had suspected. Doc Magnusson patted Miss April and wished her well. I think what he saw told him that she was beyond repair.

Well, that was over a year ago. Dave, the farrier, has diligently been in the barn in the heat, in the flies, in the mud, in the freezing cold, with his bum knees, his sore back, his ripped up shoulders…. every eight weeks like clockwork. Dave is here and resets her front shoes and trims her hind feet. And we have her front shoes on her backwards to relieve the pressure on her toes. Dave has also made custom pads to serve like bedroom slippers for her to help support her frog and give her some cushion to ease the task of walking.

Yesterday as I brought Miss April in to the barn for her trim I let her walk around the center of the barn freely while we waited. I studied her. And I started to see the results of the work of this talented man. Her chest was a bit smaller that it has been up to now – her muscle is relaxing a bit. In fact, when I rubbed her chest, it is actually a bit softer now, too. She is not so tense and frightened to move anymore.

Her hindquarters are smaller, too. Her hips seem more like a horse’s hips now than like bull’s hips. She has some roundness to them and they, too, are a bit softer. She’s not supporting her weight on her hind feet any longer like she has all her life. She can put weight on her front like a horse should.

Her head is up and her eyes are alive. She’s interested in the world around her. Not as absorbed by her own pain and the ground that she needs to maneuver with those tender feet of hers. And not so watchful that another horse may bump in to her. She is active and participating in her surroundings - not avoiding contact and on guard all the time as she has been.

And she walked around the hard ground of the barn easily – not tiptoeing and then suddenly moving off a foot that maybe had stepped on some uneven ground unexpectedly. She seemed relaxed and comfortable. When Dave arrived, he looked at her and said, “She’s starting to look like a horse, isn’t she?”

Then the magic happened.

We put her in the shoeing bed and made sure the belts and lead ropes were secure and correctly attached. Then I bent down next to her and went to try to get that left front foot up to begin the reset of her front shoes.

Miss April shifted and moved and feet started moving and I flew up and away from her. I looked at Dave and he looked at me and then we looked at Miss April. What was wrong? Was she in pain? Why did she move from just the thought of my touch? Was there an abscess? Did she have a wound? Was she sore in the cold weather?

Then we both smiled and stood in amazement. We congratulated and praised Miss April. We both celebrated!

You see, Miss April had simply put herself “in position” for that left front foot. In that past, we have had to winch her front feet up because she was so resistive to putting pressure on the other sore feet. But today? Nope, she rested in the bellybands, shifted her weight, and that left front foot was lifted by her for me! She was ready to go!

Was this a fluke?

We finished the left front foot – no sign of new bruising or new abscesses, the shoe was the proper size which meant her foot was no longer spreading out as it had in the past, the silicone was placed in to give her frog extra support and then the foot was released and she stood on all fours again.

I went to her right side and once again bent down to reach – but not yet touch – that right front foot. And voila! She shifted her weight, laid in the bellybands, and lifted that foot for me all on her own! This horse knows! She knows that she is healing! She knows that this is good for her! And no longer does she wince with every tap of the hammer. No longer does she fight the lifting of a foot. She is on the way to being a sure-footed mare and she knows it!

And yet, there was more magic to come.

In the past, we have used the shoeing bed for Miss April’s hind feet as well. She doesn’t have shoes on those hind feet, but she has been so resistive to putting pressure on her sore front feet that we have needed to winch her hind feet up as well. And she has shown us on more than one occasion that she really isn’t appreciating this process!

But today? Today Farrier Dave ordered me to “Back ‘er on outta there!” And so Miss April was untied and backed out of the shoeing bed. I stood at her head and Dave went to her left rear hip and told her what he was going to do. He placed a hand on her left hip and asked for her foot.


Miss April stood on solid ground and lifted her left foot for Dave before he had even touched her leg. Before he had even bent over to receive the foot, that foot was in the air and Miss April stood steady and proud on her remaining three feet.

My heart was bursting with joy! Dave was proud and rejoicing as well! This little mare was healing and she knew it and was showing us so clearly that she was in this game to win! She knows!!

The scenario repeated itself for the right rear. When she was all done, she thanked Dave and I took her in to the paddock area. I lead her in a circle to the right which really has never been too bad for her. But then I stopped her and lead her in a circle to the left. Usually, she would bend her neck until she couldn’t bend any further and there we would stop. Today, however, we went in circles a few times. More signs of progress.

So magic happened in the barns yesterday. A little mare that was so sore she would not stand but to eat is now walking. A little mare that is so darned resilient and so darned determined to be alive is now walking in circles using all four of her feet. A little mare who had no chance at life is now about to actually be living the life of a normal horse.

I now, too, believe that she will run some day. I believe it now, too. As Farrier Dave says, “It takes time, diligence, commitment, and a horse that wants to live.” It also takes a talented farrier with a commitment to his work. Looks like we’ve got the formula!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and a Walking April!

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