Sunday, June 28, 2009



It was the last Saturday in March of 2007. I was expecting a horse trailer to pull into the driveway about 3pm or so. In that trailer was a Percheron mare, 16 years old they said, that needed a home. My intentions were to re-home this mare. A Percheron should be easy to find a home for – everybody wants the big horses. They said nothing was wrong with her except she was thin. So I kept an eye on the driveway during the afternoon of our March 2007 Public Hours.

This mare came to my attention through an email I had received from a lady in northern Wisconsin – up by Superior. The story she told me was of a neighbor who had the horse and was willing to surrender the horse as long as no publicity or police or “do gooders” gave him a hard time for her condition. I agreed with his terms and accepted the mare to Refuge Farms through email. This was a first, but the description of the mare and her personality told me that adoption was the most likely route this time.

The trailer did, in fact, pull into the yard at just about 3pm straight up. A big steel trailer with one single mare in the rear compartment. After meeting the woman who had emailed me, Diane, and her husband, Andrew, the doors to the trailer were opened and I walked in to meet this little mare. All good intentions that I had were left behind me as my feet left the ground and I entered that trailer. This little mare was home.

I have seen thin before and this mare was one of the thinnest. And I have seen depressed before and this mare was deeply depressed. She turned her head to look at me as I came in beside her and her eyes were the same eyes I saw in Bonita when I found her standing in the kill buyer’s pen. Dead eyes. Unmoving eyes. Staring eyes. Checking out eyes.

Asking Andrew what they called her, he told me her name was “Addie”. Ever so gently placing my right hand on her withers and looking her straight in that dead left eye, I began. “Addie-Girl, I have a few things I want to tell you. They are The Three Promises. I am going to tell you what you can expect here. And I’m going to keep telling you these promises, Addie-Girl, for as long as you will stay with me here at this little patch of land. The first promise, Addie-Girl, is that you are safe here. . . .”

And so Addie-Girl came to become a part of The Herd on March 31, 2007. A day grey with a cold spring rain. A day when it felt more like winter was coming back than leaving. A day when the barns were already full but my heart just could not turn those sad, empty eyes away. A day when Addie-Girl heard The Three Promises in her left ear before her feet ever hit the dirt of the driveway.

It was quite some time later that the truth, or most of the truth, was disclosed to me. The story of Addie-Girl had not been represented to me exactly right. But I truly didn’t care. I just knew that Addie-Girl coming to Refuge Farms was the best thing for her. She needed the cares and the shelter and the medicines we gave her. She needed the love. And she needed to no longer be put in a harness and made to walk on pavement with that ring bone in her front joints. The forgiveness was not for me to give. The humans needed to forgive themselves.

We spent the first sixty days attacking the lice that covered every single solitary inch of her body. In her ears, under her tail, in her sides, under her belly, even in her hoof hairline. The horse literally had waves of movement on her sides as the lice attacked and sucked the blood and energy right out of her. How this creature tolerated the constant itching all over her was beyond me! I attacked those lice with everything I had. And spent hours scratching Addie-Girl!

It took sixty days, but at the end of those sixty days she was shiny and sleek and a bit of flesh was reappearing on her ribs. She had no lice and a good appetite. And every once in a while, I would catch her looking at another horse in the next pasture with a tad bit of interest. Huh. . . Maybe she was still in there and wanted to socialize a bit.

Indeed, Addie-Girl did attach to another horse for companionship and protection. She knew the pain of her bad feet well and so escape or normal horse movement was not hers any longer. And her demeanor was one of passive acceptance. Addie-Girl would not defend herself against a human or a horse, so she needed a protector who would do that for her. Someone she felt safe with. Someone who would stand up for her and get between her and the threatening creatures. Someone she could count on. Addie-Girl found Miss April.

The two were inseparable! When Miss April was brought in to the barn for her shoes to be reset, Addie-Girl would stand right next to the gate – not fifteen feet from Miss April! – and call to her and wait for her with a wrinkled, worried forehead. When Miss April was returned to the pasture, Addie-Girl would release this low rumble of joy from way, deep in her throat. And then the two-that-had-become-one would meander back out to the round bale again.

Humans were something that Addie-Girl tolerated but never received well. She had been abused and hurt and mistreated by these little creatures and so to openly trust them again would take more time than Addie-Girl’s body was willing to give us. But in those last weeks, Addie-Girl did allow me to clean her and touch her and sing to her. I bathed her and put Vaseline on her to keep her skin protected and the flies off of her. I wrapped her tail and she stood quietly allowing me the pleasure of cleaning and caring for her.

But I never asked her for a head hug or a big neck hug. That would have been too close and too much to ask this frightened little mare. She knew, deep in her heart, that she was loved her. She knew that. And knowing it was good enough for me. Getting that close to touch her head was more than I wanted to ask of this dark beauty of a horse. She needed that space to feel safe within herself.

Her eyes were as black as her coat. Deep, dark eyes that held pain in them. Not the physical type of pain, but pain from separation from one she loved. Miss April was good for her, yes, but Addie-Girl missed her partner. Inquiries in to her story unveiled the untruths of the original story but also unveiled Addie’s partner. A big grey dappled Percheron. A harness partner to Addie. A horse that would not be released to Refuge Farms, even though I pleaded to help Addie-Girl in her final weeks.

And for that, I am sorry for Addie-Girl. You longed deeply for the sight and touch of your partner. To have been together this spring would have given you great comfort and peace. I am sorry, Addie-Girl.

On Monday, June 22, 2009, Addie-Girl crossed with dignity and grace. True to her character and in strength, Miss April stood strongly by her side. Addie-Girl remained composed and was indeed a lady, right to the very end. Her loneliness and hesitancy were finally put to rest. As was that little vanishing body of hers that refused to respond to the medicine and cares.

It was time for Addie-Girl to cross over that bridge and wait for her long lost partner and all of us Human Beings that loved her. She is once again full bodied and shiny and standing with her head high in the air. She can run now and not have pain in her steps. She is joyful. Finally! Addie-Girl is at last truly singing from her heart.

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

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Donald Webster Gilbert

A father is a gift from life. When you are given life, you have been given a father.

A good Father is a gift from God.

My Father was a good man. I have told you before, that I am one of the most fortunate of all people having been born into a family with parents who wanted me. They were surprised by me, I’ll give you that, but they wanted me and they loved me. My home was solid and stable and my parents loved each other. Our household was run with rules and expectations and I was showered with affection. And in this mix was my Father, Donald Webster Gilbert.

My Dad was a home builder by trade – Don Gilbert Homes, Inc. In fact, the year I was born he was awarded the Home Builder of the Year award by the American Home Builders Association. I still have the tie clip from that honor. And when my Dad built a home, he did just that. He dug the hole for the basement and he laid the cement block. He wired and he plumbed. He built the walls out of straight 2x4’s and he laid the hardwood floors. He did the painting and laid the tile and he even made the cupboards. He did the landscaping and I remember laying sod with him. My Dad literally built the home.

One of the complaints I remember from my Mom was that everyone else got to live in Dad’s houses. We had to live “in somebody else’s crap”. My Mom didn’t hold too much stock in anyone else’s houses, as you could tell.

I remember visiting Mrs. Brintz, a grade school teacher from Homecroft Elementary. She lived in one of Dad’s houses. Even as a child, I could recognize a well built structure. I could sense the solid walls and heard the lack of creaks. I saw how everything operated well and there were no shims under any furniture legs. I saw wood everywhere – floors, trim, walls, cupboards, shelves, knick-knack cubbies. I felt safe and was in awe of one of his finished houses even as a child.

My Dad’s health failed the year I was born. We called it a “nervous breakdown” back then. Mayo Clinic was where he went and when he came home he was quiet. I suspect he was worried and disappointed in himself. The medical bills meant we had to sell stuff and so my Dad’s equipment started leaving the yard.

His new job was a construction job with Ulland Brothers out of Duluth. This job meant that he would have health benefits and less stress, they thought. This job meant that he would leave home on Sundays and come home late on Friday nights. He would work new highways or dams or bridges off in Minnesota or the Dakotas somewhere. Our home life changed without Dad around every day but Mom stuck it out and when he did come home, it was like Christmas every weekend!

Friday was the day to clean and cook. Mom made sure there was food ready to send with him for the following week and the house was spotless. As a grown woman now, I can only imagine the butterflies she felt as she awaited the arrival of the man she loved. And I feel a bit sorry for her that those brief hours had to be shared with two girls who, likewise, wanted time with this man. But as a child, I never felt that I was intruding or that my Dad wasn’t eager to see me. My Mom never ever sent me outside or to my room. There always seemed to be plenty of love to go around.

Sundays brought a full little house trailer freshly cleaned and stocked with clean clothes, clean linens, and food. My Dad would haul his trailer home so we could work our magic and then haul it back again. Even as a child, I would leave notes for him that he would find throughout the week. In the towels, in his socks, in his slippers. The notes would be silly but they would, I hoped, bring a smile to him and keep him close.

My Dad’s health faltered again when I was ten years old. This time Mayo Clinic couldn’t help us. It was cancer. And it was everywhere. Soon the man I knew as my Father was replaced by a man who bent the hospital bed rails in pain. A man who was quiet and swollen. A man who smelled way too much like antiseptic to be my Dad. A man that I clung to and played with as his cognitive abilities were eaten by the disease. A man that I loved even though it really wasn’t my Dad in there.

The medical bills meant we had to sell stuff and so my Dad’s equipment started leaving the yard again. This time we cried to see the bulldozer leave. And the shovel and his dump trucks. This time we cried. His funeral I try to forget. I know it was enormous. The funeral director was living in one of Dad’s houses and so all the stops were pulled out for this memorial. But we literally had people standing on the sidewalk outside listening to the service. The Johnson Mortuary in Duluth, Minnesota was filled with people who also loved my Dad.

When they closed the casket, I remember feeling a block of ice form in my chest. The man I adored was leaving and I would never hug him or hold his big work hands again. My Dad left big shoes for some other man to fill . . . .

And so on this Father’s Day, I remember my Dad. A man who had suffered from polio as a child and so walked with a bit of a “swagger”, as my Mom called it. A man who worked hard with his hands his entire life. A man who never had a signed contract for any of the houses he built. What good would that do? “If you can’t trust a man’s handshake and his word, then nothing written on paper will be any good” he would say. A man who was true and trustworthy. A man who had a ready laugh and a twinkle in those eyes. He taught me good life skills, this man.

Fathers are a gift of life. Good Fathers are a gift from God. And the Lord sure outdid himself on my Dad.

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

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Not While I'm Around

It has been a bit since I've written in the blog. These past thirty days have been packed and emotional, to say the least.

There are, as one would expect in today's world, the constant, daily pleadings for horses to be taken in. Every single day - every single day - there is at least one email or one telephone call with a story and the question, "Will you take my horse?" To continually have only adoption to offer to those in such tight corners is difficult and easily makes one feel as if they are doing nothing at all. Sometimes its tough to remember that you are making a difference out there.

There has been the deteriorating health of Addie-Girl and recently Miss April's sudden and severe attack. The surgery for Dude. And the thrush of Vic. But these are the things you sign up for when you take on the "diers". And I do all of this willingly.

And somewhere in these past thirty days, in a span of only ten days, my entire past life came flooding to me and just about overwhelmed me. My Andy reared his head in an email I received from a young man who had worked for him in Oklahoma City. A young man that did not know of Andy's love for horses. Or even that Andy had died. How very, very sad on both accounts.

But clearly, as I opened the email, I felt the presence of the man right in my face. That strong face and the deep Texan voice. The respect and consideration he gave to me. The twinkle of his eyes. And his challenge for me to make a difference with "Charity Case". Well, "Charity Case" is blooming with peonies and iris and looking quite like he did when he ran the pastures - a gloriously free little mess!

Not even 48 hours after receiving the Andy email, my early career was in my face. Literally. Dan was here from Tennessee and I was transformed back to my late 20's with my future and the world in the palm of my hand. My technical counterpart stood in front of me and we connected as if the thirty years of time had never passed. An afternoon spent in our youth was good for both of us. And then Dan returned to Tennessee and I went back to cleaning barns.

Then on Memorial Day, of all days, my childhood appeared in my driveway. I ran up to the car to insure the guests to our Public Hours were greeted and there stood Butchie. Dear heavens, there stood Butchie! I screamed and we hugged. It had been how long? "Forty-two years," Butchie said. "Just forty-two years".

I grew up riding to school with Butchie's parents. My Dad and I plowed their driveway in the winters on our bulldozer. His parents were a model to me as another couple who loved each other and raised their two children with morals and manners and rules. Our families were similar and here he stood in front of me. I was standing next to Butchie!

As we walked to the barns, Butchie began to recall and tell me his memories of my Dad, my Mom, and my Sister. Butchie recalled how "Don always had that cigarette hanging from his mouth. An unfiltered Camel. And Sandy right next to him." It was thrilling - so very thrilling - to speak with another Human Being who had known my family. Someone who knew what they had looked like and who knew the sound of their voices. Oh, the thrill it brought to me! I felt by hugging Butchie I was somehow back on Gothenburg Road in Homecroft and the whole family would be home for dinner soon... And so my family came to me on Memorial Day.

All in all, it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. And it has taken me a bit of time to trust these fingers at the keyboard. And yes, Father's Day is almost upon us. But I, of course, want to take you back to Mother's Day. I must tell you of Mother's Day. Where I was. What I saw. What I heard. The mark it has left on my heart.

Picture this: You are in the flats of Salt Lake City. A clean city and a mannerly, very polite city. Within thirty minutes, you can be in the mountains on your skis. Swooshing down the snow while the iris are blooming in your front yard.

The sun is shining and there is a gentle spring breeze. It is Sunday morning in Salt Lake City. And if you were a guest of that city on that day, where would you go? The Mormon Tabernacle Temple, of course.

So off we go and we arrive in time to stand in line for the 9:30am televised service. It is a service of music and celebration. The Mormon Tabernacle Temple and yes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It truly doesn't get any better than this!

As we are greeted upon entry to the sanctuary, I hear "Happy Mother's Day" greetings floating around and it dawns on me that this is indeed a very special service we are about to witness. I feel a twinge of loneliness as I realize the distance that is between me and The Herd. They are my children, you know, and a Mother wants to be with her children on Mother's Day.

The service is rehearsed and I am in awe. The pipe organ has over 10,000 pipes. Holy smokes! The choir is enormous and all dressed in matching gowns or suits. The orchestra is talented, to say the least, and the timpani make the walls vibrate. It is heaven for a college music major! Absolute heaven to be there!

The service went without a hitch and the live telecast was complete. Were we dismissed? Not yet! You see, an author was present in the audience and as a tribute to the man, the choir and orchestra would play their Emmy-winning version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". Oh my. Oh my!

My chest could not swell any more. My ears could not hear any more. My heart could not beat any faster. And my mind could not absorb any more. Tears ran as I listened and absorbed as much as I could. I was in the Mormon Tabernacle while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". It truly doesn't get any better than this!

The last verse was repeated after we had been invited to sing along. So we did. With our shaky voices. Shaky from the emotions running wild through the chapel. And so as an added bonus on that Mother's Day, I sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Oh, it truly doesn't get any better than this!

But during the service, I felt a bit of my heart record a memory that I will keep with me, I think, forever. On this sunny day in Salt Lake City, I listened to a song which was my very own heart singing. A song of devotion and loyalty. Of hard work and fierce protection. Of caring and giving. Of forgiveness and honesty. It was The Three Promises that I give to these beaten up, thrown out horses when they arrive. It was my vows of love and protection to them. And those vows were simply being put to music and now sung to me. I heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing "Not While I'm Around".

The song is from the Stephen Sondheim musical "Sweeny Todd" and could not have been more appropriate for the Mothers sitting in the audience. It hit home, to say the least. So, I will leave you with some of the stanzas of the song and picture yourself the 1800's chapel with the sunlight streaming through the windows. In early spring when the immaculately groomed gardens are making the air light with fragrance. With an orchestra's strings delicately setting the background for the women's floating voices. And then you hear your very own heart singing...

Nothing's gonna harm you, not while I'm around.
Nothing's gonna harm you, no sir, not while I'm around.

No one's gonna hurt you,
No one's gonna dare.
Others can desert you,
Not to worry, whistle, I'll be there.

Being close and being clever
Ain't like being true
I don't need to,
I would never hide a thing from you.

Not to worry, not to worry
I may not be smart but I ain't dumb
I can do it, put me to it
Show me something I can overcome
Not to worry.

No one's gonna hurt you, no one's gonna dare
Others can desert you,
Not to worry, whistle, I'll be there!
Demons'll charm you with a smile, for a while
But in time...
Nothing can harm you
Not while I'm around.

Now really, it truly, truly doesn't get much better than this!

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

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