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.

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