Monday, May 25, 2009


Happy Memorial Day

A Note from Sandy: One of my long, lost friends reappeared in my life this week. And he brought with him a flood of memories. Memories of our good times, our laughs, and some of life's most unexpected moments.

I asked this friend, as he was pulling out of the driveway, if he would care to write a blog. And he did. Below is that blog. Enjoy. And thanks, Dan!


Happy Memorial Day! I long ago felt uncomfortable with that sentiment but finally decided that I was happy with the privileges that our heroes helped to protect over the history of this country. We honor their memory today.

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be wondering who this guy is intruding on their surroundings so let me introduce myself. About 30 years ago I was assigned to a project at a company in Minneapolis. A woman named Sandy would be the Business Analyst and I would be the Systems Analyst. We were both young, aggressive, and we were going to fix everything wrong with the entire world. It is possible that our expectations exceeded our reach.

Sandy and I remained friends for a decade and more but then lost track of each other after geography and other things changed. We found each other again last year and I found myself near to Spring Valley last week so that I could finally see Sandy and her charges in person.

On this day when we honor human heroes, I want to honor the volunteers and supporters of Refuge Farms. A hero is someone who ignores dangers to their well being and their very life to defend the defenseless. I know that horses are not helpless but they do not, in fact, have a defense against the evils and ignorant neglect of their human keepers. Those of you who defend them are indeed heroes in my book.

Thank you for your sacrifice.

By the way, some of you might not know that the original name for Memorial Day was Decoration Day when, once a year, graves of those fallen in battle were decorated. When you are next at THE FARM, look across the lawn from the house and you will see the decorated graves of our fallen heroes of The Original Herd. Remember them as well.

Be well, all of you, and do your work with a glad heart. You may not save the world by yourself but it cannot be saved without you.

Dan Knutson

Sunday, May 24, 2009


We Walk So They Will Walk

It is a glorious morning in the springtime in west central Wisconsin. There is a slight chill in the air but you don't notice that since your ears are almost assaulted by the sounds of the birds calling to each other. They are so busy at this time of year - building and maintaining their nests, gathering food for themselves and their babies, and just using their wings to fly, fly, fly! Almost makes one jealous, doesn't it?

The sky is as clear as a bell. There is not a cloud to be seen. Our day today will be sunny. The air is filled with the fragrances of spring, as well. In the yard there are several lilac bushes in full bloom and the aroma is enough to make your head light! I have stood many times next to the bushes and filled my lungs to capacity. Trying to absorb the fragrance and pack it away in my brain someplace to pull out on a particularly bitter January morning.

The horses are all picking at grass or flat out on their sides loudly an unashamedly snoring in the hay. This, to me, is one of the very best parts of the day. They have picked all night and now find their legs may need a rest and so the hay is calling to them reminding them of its softness. "Come! And rest that big body for a little while!" Big and little bumps in the hay. I look for Spirit and do not see her! But not to worry, she is simply hidden in the hay by the size of the bodies that surround her - Babee Joy, Jeri-Ann, and Beauty.

When I begin to stir, they begin to rise. And then they do something that I stop to watch: they s t r e t c h. Oh, how adorable even the biggest of the big becomes when its sleepy eyes are opening and in the middle of a yawn, they stretch. How very human of them!

Today is a bit more special than most, though. Since today is the day of the Annual Walk for Refuge. Of course, it is a fundraiser. But it is a special fundraiser. It is on this day that we bring out pledge sheets and the pledges are accumulated for the purpose of caring for the feet of The Herd. I tell people that we use our feet to care for their feet.

This is our 5th Annual Walk for Refuge. And each year, as a result of the efforts of the volunteers and supporters, we raise the funds we need to care for those all important feet of the horses. For, you see, a horse with sore feet soon begins the downward spiral of deterioration. With sore feet, a horse stops eating and seldom drinks and begins to lay more than to stand. With sore feet, the exercise stops and the internal organs begin to malfunction. With sore feet, the will to live soon escapes them. Feet are everything to a horse!

I remember Miss Bonita when she arrived here on that cold, bone chilling November day. She was 500-600 pounds underweight and her coat was blotchy. Her head hung low and she spent her time going from minute to minute. Her manure was too loose and her urine told me of kidney failure. Even in that cold air, she was sweating with pain. All of this because this enormous mare was trying to stand on feet that were full of puss and pain.

It took three years, but Miss Bonita's feet recovered. The yearly abscesses that would come two or three at a time disappeared. The curvature of her hoof straightened out. And one fine day, I actually saw Miss Bonita trot up the hill to the barn for supper. The days of living in the softness of a round bale were behind her. Miss Bonita was a horse again!

Her coat turned silky blonde and her urine was clear. Her manure - all 80 pounds of it! - was normal and moist. The feet of this giant brood mare were the key to her survival as well as to her enjoyment and pleasure of the day.

It was when her feet recovered, that her heart soon followed. With good feet, Miss Bonita was able to lift her head and look around her. Her eyes fell upon the handsome horse that had always been standing just to her left flank. Big Jim. Patiently awaiting her, Big Jim adored Miss Bonita.

When Miss Bonita was free of the pain from her feet, she was able to see and foster the relationship that Big Jim had so dutifully been waiting for. "Two Peas in a Pod" is what I called them. And their love was solid and loyal. So loyal, in fact, that the very day that Big Jim crossed, Miss Bonita began refusing her feed. She simply stopped eating. Her heart was broken and her spirit died. And then, what would take her happened. Her feet went bad again.

A horse with bad feet is a horse in dire straits. And so we walk today - a simple one mile walk - to symbolize the use of our feet or wheels or wagons or bikes for the care of their feet. We bring our dogs and our friends. We walk and then we sit to eat and talk. But all the while, I will be seeing in my mind's eye, the feet of Miss Bonita.

Thank you to all of you who have pledged your support for this Annaul Walk for Refuge. Thank you for your help in maintaining those all important feet of our horse ministers.

And thank you to the walkers. We will enjoy each other and the day today. We will know that our efforts are for the very survival of those that have been promised respect and care and a final home here at THE FARM. We will eat and we will laugh. And today, of all days, I will bring the story of Miss Bonita with me. I will place her promptly on the table for all to see. The gigantic mare who showed us all that the feet of a horse - those often overlooked and neglected feet - are the very key to their survival.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd with Miss Bonita right behind us

Thursday, May 07, 2009


On This Mother's Day

A Note from Sandy: As we go into this weekend of Mother’s Day, I am the first to acknowledge the significant role our Mothers play in our lives. They “set us” for the future. Such a task to be placed on the shoulders of a single Human Being!

And I am not a Mother in the typical sense of the word. However, each and every morning as I walk to the barns, I am singing, “Good morning, Children! Good Morning! How are my Children today?” And I feel as much a Mother as anyone on this earth.

How these “Children” come in to the fold is often a story of chance and Divine Intervention. Just this past Easter, three precious Children were pulled from horrendous conditions and brought in to the fold for healing and re-homing. How this came about is the Easter Story at its best. And reason to pause on this Mother's Day weekend.

Rose R. was with me that Easter Sunday. And, as it worked out, Easter Monday, too. And it seems fitting that from her passenger seat she tells you the story of the resurrection of these three who now lift their heads when they hear their new Mother singing, “Good morning, Children!”

Three Easter Resurrections by Rose R.

"It was a dark and stormy night when the two women started out on their mysterious trip…”

Okay, so it was a beautiful spring day, Easter Sunday as a matter of fact, but our trip turned into quite the little drama, complete with unanswered questions, plot twists and turns, and more than a little sleight of hand. But we persevered and got more than we expected! Settle back and let me tell you a story:

Sandy and I were going to pick up two blind mares at a farm in Wisconsin, north of Interstate 94. The woman who lived on this farm had way too many horses and would definitely be termed a “hoarder”.

One rescue was a blind quarter horse mare that we had already visited 3 weeks earlier. The woman who currently had the mare claimed she had rescued her from another person and brought her back from the brink of death but now all this woman wanted was to find a good home for her ‘baby girl’.

The mare was older and fairly healthy but was being kept in a stall made of cast-off milking stanchions in an old dairy building. There were three other similar pens right next to and across from the mare’s makeshift stall. One held an extremely filthy pig that waded around his little pen up to his belly in manure and the other two stalls held two stallions, one of which was right next to the mare’s stall, almost within biting reach of her. She was nibbling on urine-soaked hay and the ammonia smell from the dirty concrete floor of her “stall” was making her eyes water.

Although there was a grain bucket, it was empty. The mare was understandably kind of nervous and stood with her legs tucked under like she was afraid of bumping into the stallion in the very next stall. Needless to say, we left that farm 3 weeks ago with Sandy determined to get that little mare out of that nasty situation. She scheduled a time to pick her up on April 12th, Easter Sunday.

Just before that date, a kill-buyer that Sandy has gotten horses from in the past called and arranged to leave a blind appaloosa mare up at that same farm. This mare was in very good condition and broke to ride. Leaving the mare at that farm would save both the kill-buyer and Sandy an extra trip.

Easter Sunday was one of the first nice days we had after a very long, cold winter. We were going to deliver The Old Coot to his new forever home and then go pick up the mares. We left Refuge Farms with plenty of time to go have breakfast before we hit the road. We stopped at a local gas station/restaurant but the restaurant part was closed for the holiday. We went into the attached gas station convenience store and had to settle for nuts and cookies and milk for our Easter breakfast!

Off we went and had a nice heart-warming visit at The Old Coot’s lovely new home. With an empty trailer and hearts full of hope we waved good-bye to The Old Coot and his new friends and went to pick up our two old blind mares.

We got up to the farm and pulled into the yard with the big Exiss trailer and the woman and her two daughters were waiting for us at the first bend in her circular driveway. The woman had moved the mare out of the dairy barn and into an outside corral, away from the two stallions, so she was considerably less anxious and seemed very content to go right into the front of the trailer where Sandy had some fresh hay. I had the woman sign the surrender papers while Sandy exited the trailer by the side door. The woman and one of her daughters were kind of excited and giggly, but I thought they were just happy to see that mare get on her way to a better home.

Sandy looked around a little and said, “Well, that was good! Now, where is the other mare?” The woman kind of frowned and looked a little puzzled and then just pointed behind her to a horse that had been standing off to the side with a blue blanket on. She said, “Mare? No, this is the horse the kill-buyer left.”

By that time, we had all noticed and exclaimed on the fact that the blue-eyed, bald-faced paint was a male, not a mare. Sandy asked the woman why the kill-buyer would have specified a mare and then turned around and dropped off a gelding but the woman just appeared to be mildly exasperated and said, “I just hate when he does this to me! He just comes by and drops these horses off, ties ‘em to a tree and don’t say nothing to me half the time! But this is the horse he left, for sure! He can’t get around very good, he’s all stiff in the back end and we were walking him around every 45 minutes because he just lays down all the time!”

Sandy looked at me and I looked at her and I just shrugged because I hadn’t the foggiest idea what to do! Sandy sighed a little, dusted off her gloves and said, “Well, let’s see if we can get him in the trailer!” so she hooked up a lead rope and the old guy kind of tottered after her, paused at the bottom of the ramp to the trailer and Sandy said, “Step up, now!” and he clipped the edge of the ramp with his hoof and then lifted that foot and put it on the ramp and kept on trudging up the ramp into the trailer just like he had been doing that every day of his life.

Sandy went to take the blanket off to give it back to the woman and that was when we got a couple more shocks: this was an intact male, a stallion, not a gelding and he was SO THIN!!

This had been a big, beautiful proud horse in his time but now his hip bones stuck out and his ribs had no padding on them. His thin winter coat was scruffy and worn bare in some spots on his haunches. We had taken out several of the Plexiglas panels in the upper row of windows in the trailer as it was such a nice day but now Sandy became very concerned that this poor, starving old guy was going to be too cold with that kind of a draft on him once we got on the road. She asked the woman if we could please borrow the blanket and we would clean it and get it back to her as soon as we could and the woman said that was no problem, for sure.

We gave the old guy a couple more gentle pats and closed up the trailer and said ‘Thank you’ to the woman and drove off, slowly, so our two fragile new rescues would not be bounced around.

I think there was complete silence in the truck for the first couple of minutes and then Sandy said something to the effect that she wondered what in the heck was going on and she sure was going to find out who dropped off what horse but our primary objective was to get these two horses into clean, safe stalls.

When we got back to Refuge Farms and opened the trailer, the skinny guy had laid down in the shavings. With the doors to the trailer wide open, he just laid there – too weak to move. With some coaxing, he stood and we unloaded the two horses with no fuss at all. I took pictures of them both and we got them settled with plenty of clean water, fresh straw and good hay. Sandy kept calling the stallion, “Dude!” and even though he was starving and weak and in rough shape, you could tell that this guy was a horse with a lot of dignity left in him, so “Dude” he remains.

I had a vacation day on Monday, April 13th, to catch up on my housework and relax after a very busy previous 3 days so I was more than a little surprised to get a phone call from Sandy at about 10 a.m. She said that she was going to take another ride up to “that woman’s” place and this time she was going to get the right horse! She explained that she had gotten a call from the kill-buyer the night before, asking about the nice little appaloosa mare he gave her and Sandy told him what happened: we had gotten one blind mare and an old paint stallion not a sweet, fat little mare.

The kill-buyer proceeded to accurately describe Dude and told Sandy that the woman had pulled a switch on us! That stallion was her horse, not one he dropped off; one that he had already refused to take. When the woman saw that appaloosa mare and realized that this was a valuable registered appaloosa mare, she decided to switch horses, keep the mare to breed and get rid of a horse she thought was going to die anyway!

Needless to say, we dropped the Exiss trailer in record time, threw the woman’s blue blanket in the truck and headed up to her farm. Half way there, Sandy called the kill-buyer, who was going to meet us at the farm and try to expedite matters. I felt a little better knowing that we would have someone else there as I didn’t know how much trouble this woman was going to give us when we tried to get that appaloosa mare.

I wondered if they still hanged horse thieves nowadays, as Sandy was sure steamed enough to throw a rope over the nearest tree limb! Sandy kept asking what kind of fools that woman thought we were by feeding us lies and switching horses? Did she think that we wouldn’t know the difference between a mare and a stallion?

We arrived at the farm, driving in right after the kill-buyer’s little car and the woman and her two daughters met us in the driveway. Sandy and I got out of the truck at the same time. The woman was waving her arms and practically screaming, “It was all a mis-communication between those two!!” I didn’t understand who ‘those two’ could possibly be, but she took us right up to where she had the mare out in a corral behind the dairy barn, conveniently out of sight.

The poor little blind mare was just huddled up against the back of the barn, too scared to move because she might run into something and there were stock tanks, barrels, t-posts and all sorts of miscellaneous junk in the corral, with other horses, including another paint mare with a baby with a surprisingly familiar bald face! Turns out the foal was the Dude’s latest baby.

Sandy asked the woman politely to sign the surrender papers for Dude, as there was no way on earth we were going to give him back to her, and the woman said, “I don’t know why I’m signing these papers! That’s his horse!”, meaning the kill-buyer. I guess that she had figured on sticking to her story and claiming that Dude was the kill-buyer’s horse. But she signed the papers.

Dude was now safe in Refuge Farms' legal possession. We left without saying much more, just very disturbed by the whole incident and sad that this woman still had a lot of horses.

On the return trip, I asked if Sandy would ever go back up there to get another one of her horses if the woman or the kill-buyer ever called. “You bet! We’d do it in a heartbeat to save another life!”

Happy Mother's Day!

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

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