Sunday, March 29, 2009


The Reformation Continues...

For those of you new to Refuge Farms or new to our website, this past calendar year has seen a reformation begin here. It is a much needed reformation as a result of the changing world around us.

You see, when Andy and I formed this concept and wrote our Declaration of Purpose almost ten years ago, we never once thought that unwanted horses would be left in pastures to "fend for themselves" over the winter months, as was asked of The Old Coot and his companion. We never once thought that unwanted horses would be just dropped off in the barns while I was away at work, as happened with Spirit. And we never once thought that horses would be shut in the basement of a dairy barn with even the windows boarded up as if to hide them while they deteriorated and died.

Whether this change of events in the world around us is to be blamed on the economy or the general over abundance of horses or on the lack of responsibility of the humans who no longer feel a sense of responsibility for their animals is not a point of discussion here. What is the point is that the world changed around us and I, as Refuge Farms, could no longer just sit on the outside and look in at the disaster.

As a result, in 2008 Refuge Farms became a Horse Rescue and Sanctuary. We still offer our Horse Ministers to the public for their healing and "magic", however our public hours have been moved to the 'call for an appointment' style. The barns now house Sanctuary horses who have received The Three Promises for a life here at THE FARM as well as rescue horses who are here only to be stabilized and then will be moved to their new homes with their new owners. For the first time in the history of this little patch of land up here on this windy hill, horses now come and go. A huge change and a large task. It has been called a Sea Change and it is truly that large of a change for us.

This reformation, as I call it, requires a different school of thought. It requires a new perspective for day-to-day management of the resources available to us. It requires all of us to realize and work hard understanding that the rescue of the unwanted horse is our primary purpose and our top priority. It requires that the original purposes that Refuge Farms was founded upon be dusted off and re-established. And this reformation also requires a new Board of Directors.

Just this morning, a meeting was held in the woods of Spring Valley of that very Board. I sat at the table and looked at these people and declared honestly and sincerely, that they were "the closest thing to family that I have." And I am grateful that these people will serve for the purposes of our Missions. Each one is a personal friend of mine and I have "history" with these individuals. They have listened to the frustration and the pain of rescuing horses. They have shored me up when it seemed that all was lost. They have rescued animals themselves and know, first hand, the anguish and worry and stress of the world of rescue. And they have stepped up to guide and support what it is that I have taken on as my life's missions.

Please read on and meet these giving hearts of rescue. These kindred souls that have the passion and the will and the willingness to help save lives. I am honored to have them at the table of the Refuge Farms Board of Directors. In alphabetical order, the Board members are:

Rosemary Riga of Ellsworth, WI

Formerly a resident of Minnesota, Rose Riga moved to Ellsworth, WI to the beautiful Rush River Valley in 1991. She continued to work in the wholesale office supply industry and served as Chief Steward and Trustee on the Executive Board of Teamster’s Local #503 from 1986 until 2005.

Simultaneously, she began training dogs and became the Recording Secretary on the Board of Directors of the Midwest Rottweiler Club which led into doing Rottweiler rescue and re-homing. She also served as a Canine Behavior Modification Consultant in that capacity. She has trained several dogs and competed in many activities for both purebred and mixed breed dogs.

Rose has many diverse capabilities that came from these life experiences. They have fostered a great compassion for animals and people alike. Rose has had several dogs and many cats but does not have the location to indulge her love of horses by having one of her own. Refuge Farms supplies the ability to be around these wonderful animals.

Rose continues to be employed at United Stationers Supply Company in Eagan, MN where she has been given permission to donate slightly damaged or discontinued office supplies to her choice of 501.c.3 organizations. In the spring of 2005, she brought her first load of supplies to Refuge Farms and has enjoyed volunteering with THE FARM and working with Sandy Gilbert ever since.

Mary Jane Stach of Bristol, WI

After graduating as a Registered Dental Hygienist from Northwestern University Dental School in 1979, Sigma Phi Alpha, Mary Jane continued her dental career at The University of Chicago, Wyler’s Children’s Hospital, working on the Cleft Palate Team, as well as serving seriously and terminally ill children. She practiced in a private periodontal practice, as well, which was her specialty, for nine years. Following her seventeen year career in dentistry, Mary Jane was hired by a private investment firm in Chicago in 1987 where she continues to thrive doing business today.

In 2006 Mary Jane moved from her home in Evanston, Illinois and now resides in Bristol, Wisconsin with her mother, dogs, cats, and horses. It is here she was able to parlay her medical/dental background from Northwestern University along with her personal passion for horses, and build an equine therapy facility that provides non-invasive care for compromised horses.

Mary Jane met Sandra Gilbert, the Executive Director of Refuge Farms, in June of 2008 when Director Gilbert sent out a state-wide call for help to assist in the immediate removal and re-homing of twenty-seven severely neglected and starving horses from Trempealeau County in upstate Wisconsin. Mary Jane responded to her call and assisted Sandy in the successful rescue operation that saved the lives of all 27 horses. And that’s when it all began for the two of them. Two souls with one heart now joining forces at Refuge Farms.

Gary Stevens of Eden Prairie, MN

A life long resident of Minnesota and long time financial supporter of Refuge Farms, Gary’s 35+ years of business experience in the world of retail technology is reputed as consistently achieving a high level of customer satisfaction. His success, he says, is founded upon his ability to listen to those around him.

Currently the President of the Eden Prairie Foundation, Gary is also the Treasurer of the Eden Prairie Crime Prevention Fund. Both organizations are 501.c.3’s and work to the betterment of the community. A retired Lion’s Club President, Gary is a recipient of the Lions Melvin Jones Fellowship. The fellowship is the foundation's highest honor and represents humanitarian qualities such as generosity, compassion, and concern for the less fortunate.

A personal friend of Sandy Gilbert, Gary has been involved with Sandy’s horse rescue efforts since before Refuge Farms’ inception. His experience, networks, and perspectives bring valuable benefits to the Refuge Farms Board of Directors.

I join these individuals as the fourth member of the Board of Directors and look forward to many lively discussions - all with the goal of saving lives.

Rescuing horses. It's what we do against all of the tides. With the rising cost of feed, we find ways to feed these creatures. With the rising cost of medical supports, we find ways to treat those in need of special cares. And with the rising demands for our time, these people are willing to make the time to work toward the goal of saving the lives of those unwanted horses that cross our paths. To us, it is just not an option to "do nothing". We must act. We must work to save lives. We must "do something".

Just recently, I was one of over 10,000 people as a talented musician and writer sang a popular song. As he sang, I became aware that the room was no longer in my vision. I no longer heard the coughs or saw the cell phones recording the sight. I saw only his face and heard only his words. It was as if he was singing directly to me. For me. He sang, simply,

"...Find a place to make your stand..."

My place is here at Refuge Farms. My stand is the saving of the lives of those who are thrown away. And supporting me is this assembly of trusted friends who now are also my Board Members.

A personal thank you to Rose, and to Mary Jane, and to Gary. May you be rewarded for your works by realizing the inner peace of knowing that you made a difference to a living creature in need.

Now, let's go out there and save some lives!

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

Sunday, March 22, 2009


The Trempealeau Trio

A Note from Sandy: Not long ago, Tracy O. and Gloria W. told the story of the successful re-re-homing of Rosie, a little Appaloosa mare from the Iron County Rescue. In that blog, Tracy mentioned she was working on another re-homing. This one was for three of the “Eleven from Heaven” brought back from the Valley of Death in the Trempealeau Rescue.

A young, sturdy man in his 40’s, Doug had willingly absorbed the three beautiful mares last June and had willingly given them a good home forever. However, now Doug had lost his job and was concerned that he could not provide for the horses as he had promised. True to his word, Doug made the difficult decision to call Refuge Farms and seek help in re-homing “his girls”. A tough decision for Doug, but his morals dictated that he put “his girls” first. He wanted what was best for these horses.

Nadene appeared just at the right time. After seeing our news spot on KARE 11 TV, she contacted THE FARM and said, “I’ll take them!” And so Tracy now tells you the story of the successful re-re-homing of these three beautiful young mares. Or the “Trempealeau Trio” as I called them.

Tracy tells the story:

Nadene was really excited about the idea. She lives with her husband, a beef cattle farmer with (on top of that) a ‘day’ job in ag sales, an hour west of the Twin Cities. With teenagers and an in-home day care business herself, she exudes a combination of high energy and calm. She’d trained horses in her youth and was excited about this prospect.

I wasn’t sure she understood just how unhandled these horses were – in conversations over weeks of weather too cold to move them or conflicting schedules, she alternated between saying yes, it would all take time, one needs to work slowly and get their confidence, and offering to meet us part-way between the horses’ home at the time, south east of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and transfer them from one trailer to another in a roadside pull-over. That would involve a lot more handling than these three had ever had. Sandy didn’t even want to unload them at THE FARM over night, for fear it would be too difficult to load them again the next day. It was going to be one long ride, until the gate was opened in their new home.

We finally got a weekend when it worked all around, and planned an early start Saturday to get the horses loaded and back to THE FARM where they’d spend the night in Sandy’s trailer. But a later than expected storm was still creating weather problems Saturday morning and we debated doing the entire, two-leg trip in one long day Sunday. That just seemed like too much. At noon Saturday, Sandy called to say “The sun’s out, the roads are clear, let’s go.”

We set off within the hour and ran in to intermittent snow all the way. Just after 4 pm we were pulling in to Doug’s driveway – or would be, if it were wider. The truck and trailer couldn’t make the turn, and with ice underneath we couldn’t back up to jockey for a better position. Doug came with ashes from his wood stove; I pulled down the mailbox that was less than an inch from the trailer side to give more room – a whole six more inches before the trailer hit the post! – and we were in.

The next challenge was backing along a stretch of land next to the pasture the horses were in, so that the tail of the trailer was lined up with the gate. Doug was confident that he could lure the horses in with grain, hay, and apples but after a half hour of variations on that theme, Sandy was considering approaching darkness and the need for another plan. The three of us and his grown son tried to herd the horses in, but their enclosure was just too big for us to make an effective barrier – they were able to get our and around us, even with ropes stretched between us, and we were afraid they’d go through the fence to the outside which we really didn’t want to see.

But how neat it was to be in there with them! Their big eyes, alert looks and almost friendliness was so compelling. They moved as a unit – the leader was a mare of a color Sandy called champagne (though ‘off white’ was more my description); she had golden eyes and was shadowed by a golden palomino, and a filly, colored same as the mare but with chocolate eyes, who followed or was wedged between them. It’s possible they are a family – mom and two daughters.

I wasn’t afraid they’d run us over – they just wanted to be left alone, not to hurt us. In one moment while people went for more herding aids – ladders and gates to build a chute to funnel them in to the trailer – I stood in their pasture and realized they were less than five feet behind me. I could feel their curiosity pushing them forward at the same time their leeriness held them back. Their presence was like a backrub – a warm, friendly presence.

Suddenly, more help arrived – family members showed up, and with more live bodies to form a line, in one simple pass we got all three in to the trailer and the doors shut. Then came getting back up the driveway in the now gathering darkness – at the top, the weight in the trailer became too much to combat the ice in the drive, and the truck wouldn’t go forward. After a few more tries and some more ashes, Sandy called the Auto club, and a half hour later a man with sand arrived who was able to create traction enough to crawl up the hump in the drive and out onto the road.

It was now 7pm and a long drive home awaited in weather that had been off and on snowing as we’d driven east. Sandy was clearly tired but I was still amazed when, halfway home, she asked if I’d drive. Drive her truck with the trailer and three live horses? Wow! So off we went, Sandy sound asleep much of the way, me stoked on super-caffeinated coffee from a truck stop, a stack of Eagles CD’s blaring.

It was after 11pm when we got to the Kwik Trip where my car was parked and our paths diverged, but at 7:30 the next morning, here comes my wake-up call: a refreshed Sandy is ready to roll. We head out, across the Twin Cities and into flat, windy plains where a state highway paralleled a railroad track for about 100 miles of turkey farms and grain storage units. Suddenly, tipped off by a cell phone call that we were five miles out, Nadene and her friend, Angela, were waving at the side of the road to flag us down.

Backed up to the door of the horses’ new home, we dropped the ramp, opened the gates and stepped aside to see what would happen. Out they stepped, slowly and carefully, into their pen, adjoining a calf pen and within earshot of frequent trains. So much to see and wonder about! Eyes bright and ears forward, they carefully checked out their surroundings. Angela brought handfuls of hay which they gently took, and before we left they were closely following their new humans around the paddock with that same shy curiosity I had felt in their gaze the day before.

Driving home was anti-climatic. “I miss them,” I said to Sandy – weird, but hollow, to be driving with the empty trailer, although that’s the whole point of our mission. I felt like I’d raised a puppy for the Seeing Eye instead of ‘just’ spending a few minutes over two days looking at three horses. “See how easy it is to get attached?” she said. We hadn’t gone far when the cell phone rang. “They’re all eating out of our hands!” was the joyous report from Nadene.

A week later I called Nadene to see how it was going. Her excitement was strong. “I love them!” she said. “They’re my girls. I talk to them the way I talk to the kids in my day care.” She said the older mare, who she named Belle, comes up to touch noses with her. Beth is the palomino, and Gina, the youngest, was the last to trust, but is now letting herself be petted on the face, too. “They line up at the fence when they hear the car, follow me in to the barn when they know it’s time for grain,” she said. “They stand in the barn while I’m cleaning it to watch. They’re beautiful.”

A month after the delivery, we spoke again. Nadene’s energy and enthusiasm remains strong. “Tina was eating out of the hand of the three year old boy I watch,” she said of the filly. The pace of progress hasn’t been as fast, however. While she was able to get halters on the horses she wasn’t able to get them off, and she hasn’t been able to handle them to greater extent than before. But it’s only been a few weeks, she notes, and she doesn’t’ want to push too fast.

Another new development was that Belle, the older mare, might be pregnant, since there was a stallion in the original Trempealeau group that was able to escape to be within the mares up until they were rescued last June. She’s getting awfully big and carrying the weight low, Nadene reports. She wants to have all the horses to be checked by a vet but that will have to wait until they can be handled a bit more. If there’s a foal in her future, Nadene’s up for that, too.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Not Yet!!!

I am one who tends to be a bit pushy...a bit too optimistic at times...a bit to ready too move forward before the grounds are ready. Hence the road sign message which I posted last Wednesday:


This Sunday morning, a mere four days later, there are warnings of sleet and 2"-4" of wet heavy snow to fall sometime between lunch and supper time today. Huh. It's not Spring yet, is it?

I spent part of yesterday out in the yard raking. I know, I know. The ground is still frozen and there's no way that grass will be growing for several weeks yet, but there I was. Raking. A bit pushy...a bit too optimistic at times...a bit too ready to move forward before the grounds are ready.

As I fed Ole' Man Cole last night and moved Angel and The Old Coot in to the barn for the evening, I once again marveled at the world of rescue and where it has shifted in these past few months. It seems that we now "rescue" the riding horse! The horse with pedigree! The horse with training! The horse without injuries or disabilities!

Angel is a glorious animal and here she sits at a rescue. Waiting for someone to want her. Someone to use her talents and her energies and her intelligence. Someone who is willing to take her and challenge her. Give her a purpose! And she shares the corral with The Old Coot.

Now, The Old Coot is more what the world of rescue has historically been about. He is elderly, his sight is leaving him, and he is recovering from owners that abandoned him last August (yes, August) in the back woods of Black River Falls. These owners who were so worried about him when Refuge Farms retrieved him this February (yes, February).

These owners who have not responded to multiple requests to formalize the surrender documents. These owners who have simply dropped off the face of the earth and left The Old Coot behind them. These owners who deny that the other horse they left behind died of starvation. These owners who stand firm that a horse doesn't need hay to survive. These owners that I try so hard to understand and in doing so, I repeatedly tell myself that "I don't know until I've been there".

I know times are desperate out there. I see tent cities springing up in California. I see people just leaving their homes - furniture, toys, and animals - all behind. They simply close the door.

I've found aquariums frozen solid from the cold - with the fish frozen in the ice, too. I've found horses in basements of barns where their only food has been the manure they created and the wood of the barn. I have found things this winter that make me lay awake at night and try desperately to fathom just how human beings could turn their backs. How do you just walk away from a creature that you have taken responsibility for?

But then, I'm not in those shoes. I'm not with a family and out of a home and a job and savings and options. It is desperate out there. I understand. But my new mantra? "Desperate times don't allow you to do stupid things."

I am one who tends to be a bit pushy...a bit too optimistic at times...a bit to ready too move forward before the grounds are ready. But my guts tell me to be cautious and save our hay reserves. Be cautious and save those spots we create in the barn each time we place a horse. Be cautious with the funds and the energies we use. Be cautious because it is going to get worse before it gets better. There is going to be a bit more Winter before Spring finally arrives.

An interesting email came through my inbox this week. It was from a friend who is not in rescue who innocently questioned that I must be relieved to be out of winter and heading in to summer? I replied that yes, I was relieved. I lied.

Summer will bring with it heat and dehydration. Starvation will be present but yes, there will be some grass. Summer means the horses running free in farmer's fields will need to be dealt with. No more dropping bales of hay trying to humanize the horse. No more time. The farmer wants to plant his fields and so that horse has to go.


The funnel of rescue has reversed itself these past ninety days. The abundance of willing new homes has dried up. Disappeared. That cautious gut reaction is obviously contagious. There are barns with open stalls, but the trend is to "stay light". Don't let your heart take on another one. Wait it out.

And meanwhile, the rescue business that used to serve the old, the disabled, and the injured now also serves the trained, the talented, and the registered. Simply, the world of rescue is now the thousands of unwanted. If you want a visual picture - a snapshot - of this change in our world of rescue, simply look in to the corral at Refuge Farms. Look and see Angel eating side-by-side with The Old Coot.

I am one who tends to be a bit pushy...a bit too optimistic at times...a bit to ready too move forward before the grounds are ready. It is with great purpose that I push forward. I try to tell myself that it is still optimism that moves me forward now. I try to continue to "Think Spring". But a tiny little voice inside coaches me and tells me it may be fear and desperation. If the "quality" horse is in need of rescue and filling our corrals then who is finding the old and injured? How many of those that we would have rescued are now standing waiting for death because the "quality" horse is taking their spot?

Given the weather and the times, I think it I need to change the road sign:


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

Sunday, March 01, 2009


A Letter of Request

This past week has seen the return of winter and all of its struggles. The storm came in as predicted with all of its wind and snow and thunder and cold. Oh, the happiness of the muddy season! Oh, I can hardly wait to lose a boot in the mud!

Timely as it was, a letter of request was sent to Extreme Makeover asking them to consider Refuge Farms for a project. But not for the house - read on. You'll see we asked for a new house, yes, but not the human house....

Good Morning –

It is Friday, February 27, 2009 and everything I had already written and proofed and reread to submit to Extreme Makeover has been thrown away. I am writing this anew in a single sitting with a sore back, tired legs, and a heart bursting with hope!

Yesterday a snowstorm complete with freezing rain, 30 mph winds, horizontal snow, and sub-zero temperatures moved in to Spring Valley, WI. Refuge Farms is a horse and human rescue and such a storm brings challenges with it that tax our facilities and abilities to cope and anticipate the worst. The horses that live here are dominantly the horses that have been rescued but are too old or too sickly or too damaged to adopt to another family. They are what we call the “diers”. Some are here only to live out a little time and some are here for quite a spell, but all of them are here for protection and the best care we can provide.

A storm like yesterdays brings challenges such as how to house 18 horses in a single pole barn in only a 50’x 40’ space. How to protect the weak from the freezing rain and then the numbing winds? How to insure the elderly get their hot meals on time even while other horses are in need of the shelter of their eating stalls? How to insure that all receive water throughout the night to prevent colic and death?

We managed last night but with extreme difficulty. Some horses were housed in the garage with the truck sitting outside in the storm. Other horses were blanketed and left to fend for themselves against the backside of round bales. Other horses were tied in aisles for the night with water brought to them by buckets at 2am, 4am, and again at 6am. And other horses, frightened in strange stalls, kicked at the gates of the stalls and tore the gates from their hinge pins.

Hence this letter to Extreme Makeover. Refuge Farms is not asking for a new human house. Refuge Farms is asking for a new house for the horses!

In 1999, a dear friend and mentor of mine, Andy Durco, Jr., handed me the lead rope to a crippled Clydesdale colt and said, “Here Sandy, you take this horse and make a difference in somebody’s life with it.” That simple challenge created Refuge Farms.

Before Andy’s crossing, we created a Declaration of Purpose and our Mission Statement. The mission statement, ultimately, was used as the scripture reading at the funeral of my dear Andy. It is Ezekiel 34:16 – “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.”

The very first experience of Refuge Farms cemented our future: Diane, a young lady and mother of an 8 year old boy, was terminal with cancer. After her death, her parents forwarded me clippings from her journal where she wrote of her visits to Refuge Farms and that same Clydesdale colt, who we named Francis Andrew. She wrote how “Frannie didn’t try to tell me it will be okay. It won’t.” She said how she had “washed his mane with my tears.” And finally, she cried for her son and worried about “who would be his Frannie is his young life?”

Our missions seem rather simple to me – rescue the horses that nobody else wants and then make them available to the public so the humans may learn from the horses. What is there to learn? Simple lessons that we were all taught in Sunday School - forgiveness, tolerance, playfulness, grief, respect, joy, acceptance, and loyalty.

In our 10 years, literally thousands of people have met the horses of Refuge Farms, affectionately called ‘The Herd’. Children in wheelchairs come to visit Miss April who herself has crippled feet. Autistic young adults come to meet Jerry, the Roan Horse who stands quietly while the excitement is too much to bear and the children beat on the neck of the 2,600 pound patient beast.

Families come to spend time with DukeDuke as they try to learn to cope with the paralysis of their 18 year old son. The Father is in denial and claims that “what they sent home is not my son. I want my son back.” The Mother simply stands and cries. However, for a few moments, the family focuses on blind DukeDuke as he places his big head in the lap of the son who now lives in a wheelchair. For a moment, they are a family again.

Refuge Farms is open to the public free of charge. These horses are gifts and charging anyone to share in them would be unthinkable. It is the second half of our missions to share those that we have rescued. And in doing so, we all are healed.

Many horses pass through our gates on their way to a new home. Our corral is the only holding area we have for our rescues and currently the only shelter in the corral is a pile of round bales for a wind break. Not nearly sufficient for those starving, half-frozen horses that come to us this time of year.

The number of horses we rescue and re-home is escalating and for obvious reasons. In 2008, we re-homed 182 horses in addition to the care for The Herd and sponsoring the fundraising events of THE FARM. As the economy continues to suffer, the number of horses left behind due to job loss, the spiraling cost of feed, home foreclosures, and lack of medical cares is staggering. Our calling is to rescue those horses and do our best to rescue as many as possible.

There is a garage-like old barn on the property that has been converted to a small horse barn. The east wall of that structure is moving – rather rapidly! – to the south and so this summer, we will destroy that barn so as not to risk an animal or human who may be in or near the structure when it decides to come down. Several contractors have looked at the building and all have concluded that the barn is not solid and worth saving. “Best to tear her down and build another shelter” is the consensus.

The main barn is a 40’ x 70’ pole barn which must house 18 horses, a shoeing bed, room for feed and tack, as well as humans. On a night like last night, horses are tied in the aisles and doubled-up to insure everyone has some protection. The weaker ones are cared for first with the stronger ones sometimes asked to care for themselves. This is not adequate nor does this system reflect our missions of respect and responsibility.

The roof leaks and the tin rattles in the wind. Sliding doors no longer slide shut. The posts holding the center trusses are “hanging” from the trusses – no longer anchored in the ground. The dents in the tin create hazards for any creature for torn skin.

The human house on the property was built in the late 1800’s and has plastic on the south side of the exterior, walls that leak, a wet cold basement, and a roof that flies in to the yard with every wind above 10 mph. There is no money to supply propane for the furnace so the home is heated with a pellet stove. On cold nights, I simply sleep on the couch rather than sleep in the bedroom where your breath is visible in the night air. But the human is not the issue here. The human has committed herself to the missions of healing – horses and humans alike. And in doing so, she has found the very purpose for her birth.

I, Sandy Gilbert, am that 55 year old human. This, I tell people, is why I was born. As the Executive Director of Refuge Farms, Inc., an IRS approved 501.c.3 non-profit organization, I am fully aware that a request for a new home for the horses is not “normal” but oh, the difference these horses make in the lives of the humans who come to know them! I have spent afternoons here at THE FARM with humans who have come to grieve and place flowers on the grave of a horse who has passed. Big Guy, a rescued Belgian, was a community favorite. His sudden crossing brought people from as far away as St. Paul, MN and Jim Falls, WI to come and kneel by his grave. The impact these horses have on the human soul is not to be understated.

Women who have been beaten as a child come and relate to the horse that was electrocuted. They talk with the horse, hug the horse, cry with the horse, and then realize that if the horse can forgive a human, why can’t they?

One fall day last year, a white van came in to the yard. An elderly man approached me carefully using his canes and asked if I could take his old horse. His children were forcing him off of his homestead to move in to a nursing home, he said, and no one wanted to take his old horse. They were talking of putting the horse down. Could we take him in?

A quick trip north and I found the old horse. Crippled and thin and unsteady on his feet, just like the old man. The Old Horse came to live out his days at Refuge Farms and the old man continued to visit us. Two lives were rescued in this instance.

This a picture of Miss April and Charlie at a camp for young adults with disabilities that Refuge Farms participates in, at no cost to the camp. Miss April has bad front feet due to starvation prior to birth. Charlie has legs that do not support him and is non-verbal. However, when Miss April spotted Charlie, she drug me to him and then proceeded to sniff his feet, sniff his wheelchair, bite at his rubber wheels, and then “own” Charlie as she rested her chin on his head. These two creatures connected and were inseparable for the entire span of the camp. Miss April had found a human that understood the frustration of having feet that didn’t work for you. And Charlie? He laughed and spent hours studying her face. Healing at its best!

The Refuge Farms annual budget is $60,000 per year without any funds afforded for capital improvements such as fence, grounds, buildings, or driveways. Refuge Farms receives no state, county, or federal funds. We operate strictly on donations and volunteer hours. All the land and buildings used by THE FARM are the personal property of myself. The vehicle and stock trailer used by THE FARM are also my personal property. My personal savings and retirement funds are exhausted. All funds raised go directly to the cares of The Herd and the rescue of those left behind. We hold fundraisers and will sell you anything from a cheesecake to perennials! Sure, there is concern for the fiscal viability of our missions, but we proceed on faith. Our good works will not go unrewarded!

We bring our little blind Gracie to the local schools for lessons on blindness awareness. We bring our big Handsome anywhere to show how an enormous horse can learn to trust and even though he stands over 8’ tall, he is as gentle as a kitten. The children place their little hands in the hole where his left eye used to be and then are in awe of the healing and yes, just how handsome he truly is.

The team of 47+ regular volunteers that support Refuge Farms, affectionately called The ‘Other’ Herd, come from all walks of life. They are professors, office clericals, nurses, detention officers, social workers, mothers, and students. There is no “norm” here. Only the commonality of a heart needing to heal from something. And healing is what we do best.

One such volunteer was Vincent, a disabled adult living in Louisiana. Vincent had never touched a horse but he felt the power of our missions and subsequently built us a glorious website. His volunteer efforts of supporting that website opened many doors for THE FARM and brought many people to Refuge Farms. The sudden passing of Vincent last summer has left a mark on all of us. Although we never hugged Vincent and Vincent never hugged a horse, the healing of Refuge Farms found him and enriched all of the lives involved.

The ‘Other’ Herd is a remarkable group of individuals. Last Christmas I heard of a local family whose father had passed away rather suddenly, leaving the mother with 12 children on a dairy farm with no head of household. One email out to the volunteers and we had carloads – literally carloads! – of new clothing, food, toiletries, and household supplies! We brought frozen turkeys and hams and boxes of canned goods. And we brought a new bathrobe for the mother.

What we received back was the magic of that day. We each received a tight hug from the mother who, with tears streaming down her face, thanked us and held on to us as if we were her sisters. And maybe we are her sisters, now. Plans are made for the family to visit THE FARM this summer and spend time playing and meeting the horses. New friends and healing coming again as a result of the generosity of The ‘Other’ Herd.

Our mailing list of supporters is 2,000 Friends of THE FARM. Just yesterday I was in the Menomonie Wal-Mart gathering the broken bags of dog and cat food for distribution to the local food banks and humane societies. A lady came up to me to shake my hand. Why? She saw my jacket with the logo on it and just wanted to tell me she believed in what we are doing. Our monthly articles in the Dunn County News have brought many to THE FARM to see the horses and find the peace and solace that we offer here.

Refuge Farms is a sanctuary for the “diers”. Refuge Farms is a horse rescue for those abandoned and left behind. Refuge Farms is a destination for those humans wanting a “horse fix”. And Refuge Farms is a place of healing for humans in all stages of life.

Please consider the construction of a new house for the horses. A new house to protect the horses from the winter storms and the summer heat. A new house to reduce the amount of manual labor needed to provide the cares and shelter that is promised to each creature living here. A new house for the horses to allow more people of all abilities access in all kinds of weather. A new house for the horses to continue our missions of healing our human hearts. The healing that I see that occurs when a human finds a like soul who has endured and moved forward. The connection between human and horse is evident, when it occurs. The horse changes its posture and the human’s face is remade. It is visible. Palatable. We call it “the magic of Refuge Farms.”

Thank you for reading our story. Please visit our website – – and read the stories of the blog. Read for yourself the stories of the lives saved and the healings that occur. Read the bulletin boards and see the challenges we face daily. Please consider us for Extreme Makeover. Help us to heal even more! And to create even more magic!

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

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