Sunday, July 26, 2009


". . . Just Me to You . . ."

“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.” Ezekiel 34:16

She came to us lost. She was unwanted. And so she was brought to a stranger’s yard and left there. No explanation and no note. Just a filthy, ratty old halter and a broken lead rope left behind. Left behind with her. She came to us lost.

She soon became strayed. Arriving with her companion, Kentucky Jack, they had been taken from their familiar surroundings and dropped off in a strange place. Then, she was soon left alone. Alone without her Jack. Feeling lost. Strayed at a new place with new smells and new sounds and new voices with new touches. And missing her companion, Jack. She was alone. She soon became strayed.

She came to us crippled. The infected tumor growing on her eye crippled her and caused her to protect her face. Even the slightest touch to that eye caused her pain. The tumor would bleed and ooze infectious fluids with the minutest bump. She was crippled by her bad eye and her bad, ungroomed feet. She came to us crippled.

She came to us weak. Dehydrated and hungry, she soon found the round bale and the stock tank. Immersing her head in the water to test the depth, she would then raise her head to the surface and simply inhale the water. The tank depth would drop by inches each time she drank. She was weakened by starvation, dehydration, and that infection growing in her eye. She would spend hours laying in the hay resting her weary, weak legs. She came to us weak.

She came to us so that we could watch over her. Finally, she would be protected and allowed to relax. Finally she would be rid of that tumor and the swarms of flies that the smell and the drippings drew to her. Finally she would have feed and hay and water and shelter. She was safe. She came to us so that we could watch over her.

She came to us to be fed in justice. Her tumor would be removed from her body. And with the tumor would go the infected eye, the infected lower lid, much of her bone socket, and even the lymph nodes under her jaw. She would be treated in justice like any other horse would be treated at Refuge Farms. No treatment would be withheld. She would be given every chance. She came to us to be fed in justice.

This little Belgian mare, Laddee, is our Mission Statement. She is the living, breathing, healing testimony of why this Horse Rescue & Sanctuary exists. She was weak and crippled and strayed and lost. She came to us to be cared for and to be treated fairly. To be fed in justice.

And her story takes on an even greater, deeper meaning when you learn that Laddee is a dier.

Laddee has cancer.

The exam performed on that Thursday prior to her scheduled surgery alerted us to enlarged lymph nodes under her jaw and in her upper forehead. Biopsies were taken and the pathology reports returned with the diagnosis of cancer. Laddee’s tumor had penetrated her eye and eye socket sufficiently enough to allow the cancer to manifest itself in her lymph nodes, at a minimum. Too much time had passed to heal her.

Would we operate knowing that the little Belgian mare had cancer? Would we put her down instead of operating? Or would we leave her as she was and not remove the tumor because she had cancer?

The decision was not immediate. I forced myself to think through the options and to consult those who would shed some medical expertise and light on the options. We talked of recovery time versus span of life. We talked of quality of life. We talked of her right to a full and natural life. And we talked of our Mission Statement. Our Declaration of Purpose. We talked about what a “dier” is and what it means to “rescue the diers”. We talked about her feisty fight for life and her determination to protect herself and have her own way. We talked of what was owed to her. What she had endured all of these years and how she was deserving. We talked of surgery.

Leaving Laddee with the tumor intact on her eye was not an option. There would be a poor quality of life for her and the need for interaction with other horses would be significantly impacted by the presence of that stinking, oozing mass. But knowing that she had cancer, knowing that she was dying, would we operate? Or put her down? Dr. Ann and Dr. Julie were clear and said that surgery would not rid her of the cancer. Surgery would make Laddee healthier but not healthy.

I spent a few moments with Laddee in her stall at the U of M that Thursday afternoon before I left to make the decision. She was calm and quiet. Totally content to just stand in this new sterile place and listen to the noises. Waiting for the sound or smell of a familiar creature. I hugged her and she rested her enormous head on my shoulders. I felt the total weight of her life move to me at that moment. My decision would mean life or death for this little Belgian mare. She simply stood and quietly waited for me to tell her my decision. Would we let her live or put her down?

I had to think through the options. Get medical advice on recovery time. Her prognosis. And the reoccurrences. What to look for and what to expect. Did we have any idea of how long she would have? Did we know anything about her cancer that could help us make this decision? How long would her healing from this surgery last? Would she live past the healing of the surgery? How would the disease manifest itself when it decided to appear again? What would Laddee’s symptoms be?

And then I called Dr. Ann to tell her that yes, we would operate. We would remove the tumor, the eye, and as many lymph nodes as we could in the time we could allow her to be under general anesthesia. We would give her a quality of life for as long as she has. She is a dier, yes, but we would care for her like any other horse that comes into these barns. We will care for her like she is the most special creature God has ever created. Because, you see, she is.

Complete strangers came to the University of Minnesota on the day of her surgery. A spot on the KARE 11 five o’clock news had told the story of Laddee and had shown her arriving at the U of M and entering the Equine Center. People – interested, compassionate, complete strangers - drove to the U of M to meet Laddee on Friday. She was drowsy and still wobbly from the anesthesia, but she stood as tall as she could and met them with total dignity.

She was still in some pain and still experiencing some disorientation. She had been in surgery for over two hours and forty minutes. A very long time for a draft horse to be in general anesthesia and on her side. But she had remained steady and her vital signs were stable throughout the ordeal. Laddee sustained the stress of the general anesthesia exceptionally well. This is one strong little mare. The surgery was more detailed than anticipated due to the depth of the cancerous penetration, but the lymph nodes under the jaw were removed and her eye was soon closed up for healing.

And in recovery, Dr. Ann said she had “acted smart”. She would attempt to get up on her feet and when her attempt would fail, she would rest and regain her strength. Laddee did not thrash and waste her energy. “She is smart,” Dr. Ann said. “This is a very wise mare.” After three gigantic efforts, Laddee was able to get all of her feet under her and stand. What a strong willed, determined creature she is! How I admire her strength and will!

Once again, as I looked at her wound I saw a work of art. Long stitches to make a smile where the skin will heal together. No jagged edges. Many talented hands worked on Laddee that day. And many strangers stopped in the hallway to ask of her condition and to meet this little Belgian mare. To offer support and to commend Refuge Farms for its compassionate care of the horses that come its way. “This is a good thing you are doing for this horse,” they would say. “This is a good thing you are doing here today.”

There were tears from some of her visitors when they learned that we were unable to totally remove all of the infected tissue. But they soon heard that Laddee would recover from this surgery and be strong and healthier for as long as was to be her time. That the time she had been given would be of a high quality of life. Laddee stood proudly with her head already higher than before the surgery. She is quite a determined creature. Strong and with a will of steel. Oh, how I admire this little Belgian mare!

She will live out her days without an oozing tumor and without the stench of those infectious drippings. The swarming flies are a thing of her past now. She will not have the searing pains the tumor would shoot into her eye. And she will not have the itching that would result in the hemorrhaging.

Laddee will eat and put on even more weight. Her ragged hooves will be trimmed and she will be dewormed. Her vaccinations are complete and she will learn the love of the horses and from the Human Beings around her. She will thrive and be a horse! No work asked of her. No pulling. And no more babies to deliver. Laddee will have the job of eating and sleeping and pooping and enjoying the feel of the sun and the rain on her withers. Free at last to be a horse! And to learn the safety and contentment and the peace that comes with her new life.

We will love her and laugh with her and treat her like every other horse here. She is no different than any of them. Something will take them all. Something will happen and they all will cross. Laddee will be no different. We just need to insure not a day is wasted with Laddee!

Late in the day of surgery, before I could tear myself from her, I leaned on her and just smelled her. I inhaled her long and deeply. No more stench. No more bloody smears on her face or my arm. Laddee was resting and, for the first time in years, she smelled like a horse. I had brushed her completely and her flowing mane was shining in the early evening sun. The breeze in her stall kept us cool as she found her legs again and she worked to rid herself of the effects of the medicines. I drew strength from her as she smelled me and not the stench of her own tumorous wound. The world was a new place for her. Free of the flies and the stench and the pain that had followed her for years. Laddee is like a foal again. Learning the smells of the world around her. I kissed her nose gently and breathed into her nostrils. She inhaled deeply. And then I hugged her again. I hugged her as tightly as I could, and then I whispered into her ear . .

Laddee, I have some promises that I want to give you. Just me to you. There are three of them, Laddee. And I promise you these things more than anyone has ever promised you anything before in your life. These are The Three Promises, Laddee, and I’m going to give them to you right now . . .

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

The Three Promises

1. You are safe here. No one will hurt you here. There will be no more beatings, whippings, electrical shock, use of performance enhancing drugs, or abuse of any kind. There will be respect here. You are safe here.

2. You will be fed here. There will always be at least clean hay and fresh water available to you. No more fighting for the hay. No more eating tree bark to live. No more thirst. No more eating of other's manure just to survive. You will be fed here.

3. You are home. You are here forever. No more fighting for a place in a herd. No more new water to get used to. No more trying to find the way in a new barn with a new caretaker. Even in death we will keep you at THE FARM. You can relax now. You are home.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


The Little Belgian Mare

From The Little Belgian Mare, many thanks for your prayers. I am healing and will return to THE FARM for more healing and love. I will soon be home.

Enjoy the journey of every day,
Laddee, The Little Belgian Mare

Sunday, July 12, 2009


The Healing of Laddee

Warning:This posting contains pictures that may be difficult to look at.

On that fateful Tuesday when I found Kentucky Jack proudly standing in my corral, standing with him was another horse. A mare. A little Belgian mare. Any horse standing next to Kentucky Jack would look little. And so I say "a little Belgian mare" in comparison more than anything.

Not enormously tall or large, this mare was more the “typical” Belgian. For those of you who were fortunate enough to know DukeDuke, this little girl could be his twin sister. She is not overly long nor is she overly tall, but her head is large and when she was young and healthy, I’m sure she was a force to be reckoned with.

Her coat is the darker blonde of a Belgian. And she bore no resemblance to Kentucky Jack. She had none of the chocolate coat or the tan mane. No, she was a dark blonde Belgian with the light mane and tail.

My first scan of her and I wasn’t too alarmed. She was thin, of course. Her hips protruded and I could count every rib. Her spine was visible and her neck was too small to support that big head of hers. But she stood proudly, just like her companion. And she stood at the round bale, gingerly eating and listening. Waiting for the sound of a human to frighten her away from the food.

Her feet had waited for a professional farrier for the same two years that Jack’s feet had waited. Somehow, her feet had chipped and broken off more than Jack’s so she was standing somewhat normally. But those big feet of hers definitely needed the care of Isaac. My mind flew through the calendar and I decided to wait until Isaac’s next visit to begin the work on her feet. She’ll be stronger then and more able to support her weight when we need to lift one of her legs.

This little mare has thrown many babies. I could tell by the sway of the belly and the size of her milk bags. Recently, too, she had foaled. I’m sure she gave large, strong babies and so breeding her was the logical thing to do if you wanted to sell big, pulling babies with tons of potential. The babies would be solid from the looks of the mare, that was for sure.

Her smell told me of more rotting flesh and manure and pure filth. This mare had not seen a bath or a brushing in absolutely ages. The filth was caked on her. Filth that could be replaced with a soft mane and a clean tail and a soft coat. Time and a bit of effort will easily take care of the stench and the filth.

As I walked closer to her, however, I smelled something more than filth. I smelled rotting flesh. I began to circle her and examine her more closely. With my left hand on her, I walked around her. She never once flinched or jumped when she felt my touch. Nor did she try to defend herself. She was on full alert, but she had been trained to stand still when touched. I smiled as I dreamed of the day when human touch would cause her to turn toward the touch and want the touch of the human. Not stand in fear of the touch.

Her legs were solid and her body was not wounded. I checked under her tail and I saw no sign of an inner infection. Her manure was loose from nerves and lack of good food, but nothing to tell me of tumors or disease. I moved toward her head. Her left eye was flattened and full of scar tissue from an old blindness. It drained some tears as the sunshine hurt that injured retina. That could be cared for with a simple fly mask to keep the UV rays from irritating her. An old injury had taken the sight from her in that eye. I could see the scar tissue.

Moving to her right eye, I found my culprit. Here was the source of the smell. Growing under her lower lid was a tumor. The tumor covered the eye and grew several inches below the eye. Protruding a good three inches from the surface of her eye, this tumor was alive and infected. There was a constant flow of infected secretions from the tumor and this was, in fact, the source of the smell. Her eye was rotting and this tumor was growing and infected.

I hugged her as I discovered her eye. Hugged her to show her she was accepted here even though the smell and the sight of her was difficult. I hugged her to show her that here we saw beyond the surface. Here we saw her soul and that soul was beautiful. My heart broke for her. How long had she been like this? How many years had she battled the pain and the itching and the flies in the summer? How long?

Not even knowing her name, I told her that somehow this smelling thing that she had not been able to escape would get off of her. Somehow we would restore her health and give her the freedom to move amongst the others again. And as I stood there talking to her, it was now that I understood the bond between these two horses. Now I understood.

No one – human or beast – wanted to be next to Kentucky Jack. Maggots fell off of him as he walked. And the stink of his decaying leg would get caught in your nostrils and make your upper lip curl. How could any creature spend much time next to him? The smell would gag you and the flies that swarmed him would drive you away.

No one – human or beast – wanted to be next to this Belgian mare. Puss fell off of her face as she stood there. And the stink of her decaying eye would get caught in your nostrils and make your upper lip curl. How could any creature spend much time next to her? The smell would gag you and the flies that swarmed her would drive you away.

These two had their decaying bodies in common. These two grew close and groomed each other. Ignoring each others smells and the flies that swarmed them both. These two were like two lepers. Isolated by their own and by those who did not understand. Now I understood the bond between these two horses.

My energies were absorbed by Kentucky Jack the next day. I put a fly mask on this little mare’s face and gave her shelter in the barn. With hay and water and a fan to blow cool air on her, she was content to spend the day. Each time I checked on her, she was quiet and would stand to listen for sounds of her partner. She did well that day. Patiently waiting to be reunited with the one who understood her plight the best.

That evening when I brought her to the corral, she searched the grounds and then stood and called. “Jack? Where are you, my friend? Jack?” When Jack could be heard walking down the driveway, she recognized the gait and sounds of the steps of her giant. The bellering from her became louder and more impatient. Jack talked to her once and then she stood quietly and waited. These two were like one horse.

Once within touching distance, she smelled him all over. She smelled his breath to insure it really was her Jack since his body smelled of horse a bit more than usual. The stench of his body was lessened and so his breath would tell her for sure it was her Jack. When she knew it was Jack for sure, the grooming began in earnest. They groomed and scratched each other for over thirty minutes. Reunited and touching each other. These two were close.

The next day after Kentucky Jack’s crossing, I went in to the stall with her and talked with her. She was not at peace and she was not quiet. Her instincts told her something was amiss. She hollered and received no response. She pushed against the gates and dented them but did not break them. She hollered again and still no response. Leading her out of the barn, I took her to Kentucky Jack and let her smell him. This first time, she would get only within ten feet of him. Her nostrils flared and she raised her head high. Back to the barn she went. Not wanting to be next to this thing that smelled of death.

After a bit, I went back out in to the barn. She had been quiet for a while but the hollering had begun again. She was calling and her Jack was not responding. So, once again I took her out to the corral to smell him. This time, she came within two feet of his hind quarters. One smell and she backed away again. This wasn't the smell of her Jack and she wanted Kentucky Jack.

A little longer and it was time for her to visit him once more. She walked quietly now. She was withdrawn. She had put the pieces together and she knew what had happened. We were only going out to allow her a visit this time. And this time she smelled his head and those huge nostrils of his. No air coming out. No breath to smell. Nothing. She stood with her head low. I worried that her broken heart would overtake her. Back in the stall, she stood. Head low. No eating of hay or drinking of water. She just stood. The little mare was grieving the loss of her partner.

I gave her only a little while to be alone with her grief. It was my thought that other horses here would accept her, even with her oozing tumor and infectious smell. I trusted that the horses who had been in her spot just a few weeks ago would recognize the smell and the fear in her and accept her amongst them. More than that, though, I was hoping that they would recognize her pain and her grief and befriend her. Someone needed to scratch her back for her.

The Helen Keller pasture was opened up to her. Little Quarter Horse and Appaloosa Mare came up to her quickly. Gracie greeted her and PONY! smelled her. Blaise danced around her. And then as quickly as they had greeted her they all accepted her and went back to the business of grazing. This starving, filthy mare walked the pasture and bumped into round bales and the other horses. She got the lay of the land and selected a friend – the Appaloosa mare. Then she, too, got to the business of grazing.

Within the span of just a few hours, her heart had been broken by the smell of death coming out of her Kentucky Jack and then she had moved on. She is a common sense kind of a girl, I think. I know she longs for his big, long stride next to her and I know she longs for someone to scratch her back. But that will come, she knows. Someone who is tall enough to reach her withers will someday feel her tentative mouth on their withers asking for a scratch. I pray that day is soon. She seems so alone out there in that little herd.

The rain has washed her coat and she continues to soften with each shower. She is a beautiful dark blonde with a long, flowing mane. Her feet continue to cause her to walk like a llama but those will be dealt with in time. Now, we are focused on getting her strong so that she can withstand the stress of removing that tumor and that right eye of hers.

Her name? Well, that came from someone other than me. On the day after the arrival of Kentucky Jack and his companion mare, a group of young girls from Alliance Lutheran Church in Menomonie were scheduled to be at THE FARM for a visit. They take on projects and then we brush some horses. Well, on this day at their arrival, we talked about Kentucky Jack and this little mare. We talked about being left behind and being frightened. And we talked about acceptance and seeing beyond the skin.

I told the girls her eye was “icky”. That it smelled and oozed and that it was very difficult to look at. And I told them that if they didn’t want to see it to just go in to the barn. But I was going to move this mare from the corral to her stall for the day. And the girls were welcomed to meet her. Just remember she can hear you. And remember she has pride, too...

Every single one of those young girls ooohh’d and aaahh’d at her beauty. Not a one of those girls said anything other than kind and polite words. They all touched her and talked to her. And then they asked me her name. I stood there and said I didn’t have a name for her yet, but I trusted that one would come. Placing her in the stall we then went about our tasks and I thought the visit with this new mare was over.

Not twenty minutes later, the girls approached me as a group. The spokesperson said, “We have a name for her”. “A name for the mare from the corral?” I asked. “We think her name should be Laddee. Because she is so beautiful and she is such a lady.”

And so Laddee it is. Named and blessed by the hearts of those young girls who not once shrieked or wrinkled their noses at her eye or the smell of her. Innocent hearts that could see the soul inside. Laddee. It is a fitting name.

Laddee is coming up on three weeks of living here. She is filling out already and has learned that when she hears me in the feed tank, it is her cue to get in place. Straight in the barn she comes and directly to her feeder she goes. Drooling profusely all the while. This girl is intelligent.

I have never seen a horse devour feed as quickly as this girl does. She leaves me presents behind as well. Manure that is beginning to take the shape of normal manure. We have a ways to go yet, but at least I can see a change since she arrived. And teeth. She leaves me teeth in her feeder as well. I’m sure her mouth is as bad as her outside was when she arrived. But again, this can wait a bit until she is strong enough to sedate for the mouth work.

And then just last week, I made a huge move of faith. It is purely on faith that I move forward with this mare. Purely on faith. No surgery was scheduled for this year. No funds have been set aside for the U of M Equine Center this year. But this girl has found her way here. She needs us and we need to take care of her. So purely on my faith, I called my friend Dr. Julie at the U of M Equine Center and scheduled the surgery to remove that tumor and that infected eye.

It is the process of Handsome all over again. Only this time I know what to expect. I will keep her in the hospital a few days longer after the initial procedure and hopefully reduce the need to re-haul her in for emergency checks. This mare is feisty and getting stronger everyday and so I believe she will stand up again after the sedative wears off. And I await the day that the absence of that oozing mass no longer has her excluded from scratching with the others. When she will feel free to lift her head again instead of walking with it so close to the ground. When she realizes, herself, that the smell and the itch and the draining are gone. When she someday finds joy in her heart again. That is the day I await!

I will post pictures of her progress for you so you, too, can watch her blossom. Ladee is here for a purpose. She was a surprise, as was Kentucky Jack. But thinking back, I already find peace in Jack’s appearance and now see the purpose for Laddee’s appearance as well. Our mission statement tells me all I need to know….

“. . . and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak. . .
I will watch over. I will feed them in justice.”

This is our role in Laddee’s life. This is why she is here. We will strengthen her and bind her up. Heal her eye and watch over her. And she will have justice, once and for all. Once and for all. Amen.

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

Sunday, July 05, 2009


Kentucky Jack

It was the morning after Addie-Girl had crossed. All morning, no matter where I was or what I was doing, whenever I looked up all I could see was her fresh mound of dirt out by the poplar tree. I couldn't seem to not see Addie-Girl. So I double checked the horses to insure that all were set for the heat of the day and I went into town for errands and to wash some rugs at the laundromat.

Leaving home about 11:30 or so, I was home about 2pm and drove down the driveway toward the new barn to hang the rugs. I stopped opposite the clothes poles and looked up. Huh. Someone had been in the yard. I could see fresh tire tracks in the grass. And it had been a big truck judging by the width of the tire tracks. Maybe a trailer too? And there was horse manure in the grass. And there were lead ropes hanging on the corral fence. Hesitantly, I looked into the corral. There stood two big draft horses of which I didn’t know.

Shaking my head, I got out of the truck and hung the rugs. No need hurrying over to the corral. They were standing quietly eating the hay bale. I needed time to stop trembling and get my thoughts together. Once again, horses had been abandoned at THE FARM and once again it angered me that someone could be so bold! So disrespectful! So brass! When I had let out sufficient steam, I walked over to the corral. There stood these two horses. One a smaller typical blonde Belgian mare. And the other . . . . ”Jack, is that you?”

* * * * *

It was September of 1996. The Elmwood Rod & Gun Club was holding their Annual Professional Horse Pull on Sunday and a championship puller from the far eastern side of Wisconsin was heading over to compete. His pattern was to drive to the location and get his horses boarded by nightfall on Saturday to give their legs time to strengthen after the ride. Then the pull was on Sunday and they would all load up and head home on Monday.

It was a simple request that came to me. Actually, it was a no-brainer, it seemed. This puller would like to rent my box stalls for the weekend and would I be willing to do so?

“Sure!” was my response. Oh, how little I knew about big horses and their eyes that would suck you right in. About their easy temperaments. And about my own heart that would leave my chest when I just stood next to them.

Two horses arrived in a large metal horse trailer at 4pm on Saturday. The first was a good sized blonde Belgian gelding named Jim. Nice horse. I was impressed but still intact. Then Jack was unloaded. A chocolate Belgian, he was perhaps one of the prettiest big horses I had seen yet. And when he came out of the trailer, my first words were, “He’s longer than a freight train!”

This horse was long. Very long. And tall! And chocolate brown with enormous feet and legs that just didn’t quit until he hit the sky! His mane and tail were a dark tan and against that chocolate coat, he was certainly a picture to behold. You could hear the noise as my heart jumped straight out of my chest and directly into the chest of this enormous creature.

“Gonna try to sell him this weekend,” the owner told me. And my wheels began spinning . . . .

Something told me to take this picture of Jack the morning of the pull. Mike brought him out of the barn and gave him a quick bath with the hose and then in to the trailer he went. I stood there with shaking hands and took one picture of this big, gentle chocolate giant. I liked this horse.

The pull came and went. No one bit on Jack. He had been given a new name during the pull because there were so many horses named “Jack” in that competition. His new name was “Kentucky Jack”. You see, his current owner had purchased him from a horse puller down in Kentucky. So, Kentucky Jack was brought back from the club up to my little brick barn to spend the night. Chocolate and tall and gentle and long. Longer than a freight train . . . .

It was Monday morning and I was ready. When the owner arrived, I met him at his truck door and I offered to buy the horse. Just leave him where he is. I’ll pay the asking price for this long drink of chocolate. But the owner declined my offer. Said he was “too much horse for such a little girl” and so he loaded his horses and started his truck. I stood quietly by the trailer as those big brown eyes locked with mine. He whinnied at me and then the rig started rolling out of my driveway and out of my life.

* * * * *

A chocolate Belgian stood in the corral. Emaciated beyond belief. Mane all but gone and tail eaten or rubbed off. Huge hip bones sticking up in to the sky and legs that just didn’t quit. What was left of his mane and tail showed me it had been a dark tan in color. His body was that deep chocolate. And his size. Dear Lord! He was longer than a freight train! Was it Kentucky Jack?

With my first call to him he turned his enormous head. I knew those eyes. I knew this horse. This was Kentucky Jack. I got in to the corral and went up to his face. “Oh, Jack. Oh, Jack. What have they done to you? Oh, Jack.”

Tears ran as I saw his deteriorated condition. To say he was thin was an understatement. This giant stood in front of me thinner than Dude had been when he had arrived. He stunk of rotting horse something awful. His hide hung on his skeleton. His right rear leg was infected with maggots for the bottom thirty inches or so. His hooves had not seen a farrier in two years, at least. He had oozing burn marks from recent electric shock on both hips. And he had hide wear marks on his butt from wearing a harness that was too short for him. His shoulders showed the blister scars from wearing a collar without a pad – again trying to use him with equipment too small for him. And all the while he stood, his scruffy little tail was vibrating. Like his tail had the shivers. I cried and hugged his huge head. It was Kentucky Jack. And he was in big, deep trouble.

My mind already knew the outcome but my heart refused to listen. Not yet. Jack and I needed just a bit of time together. I made sure these two abandoned horses had plenty of good, fresh hay and a stock tank filled with clear, cool water. The stock tank was filled twice that afternoon. Both horses sunk their faces up to their eyeballs into the water before they drank. Almost like testing to see if there was enough water in the tank to satisfy their thirsts. Jack ate and stood quietly. All the while chewing and swallowing and surveying this land. He did not call and he did not intrude. He just stood. Quietly. He knew the outcome, too.

I left them for the night and then spent the entire day on Wednesday pampering Kentucky Jack. I gave him hay in a box stall and turned two fans on him. He had fresh water in his blue barrel every two hours. And I put all the feed in front of him that he wanted.

I bathed him in the heat of the afternoon and replaced that rotten stink with a resemblance to a horse smell. His hind leg I treated and swept away 4-5,000 maggots that dropped out of his leg. The treatment “froze” his tissue so he would no longer feel the itching and the biting of the maggots buried deep in his meat. He stood flat on the foot for the first time since he had arrived. And from then on, he did not stomp that foot trying to get at those irritating maggots. He was finally, finally rid of those biting irritants.

I brushed him and put salve on his burns. I talked to him and sang to him. And told him I was so happy to have him home again. In fact, Jack, did you realize that you are standing in the very same stall as you were in back in 1996? I talked of the future with him. Of how he would gain weight and grow a mane again. Of how I would bathe him and treat his burns. Of how we would get those maggots out of his leg. Of how Isaac would fix his feet. And of how I would never ever let him out of my sight again. We talked and I sang. And somewhere in the afternoon I cried.

Evening came and I brought him back out to the corral for the cool night with his partner. They greeted and scratched each other like they had been apart for years. Jack took a long, long drink of water and then chose a soft, grassy spot to lie down. He gently put that long frame in the cool grass and let out a sigh of total and utter contentment. He had water in him and a tummy full of feed. He was clean and the meat of his rear leg didn’t itch. His wounds were treated and he was with his partner. He knew he was safe. It was time to sleep.

Dr. Brian returned the next morning to help me give Kentucky Jack the greatest gift I could give him. This gentle, enormous chocolate giant crossed right before noon. Both Jack and I had known that yesterday was our time together and that this was to be the outcome. But neither of us could face it or talk about it until that kindly veterinarian face appeared in the yard. I explained to Jack my intentions and those huge brown eyes looked at me, blinked, and then he closed them. Taking a deep sigh, he laid back on his side ready and waiting. Dr. Brian shook his head in disbelief at the condition of this horse. “How he must have suffered,” he said. I just nodded through my tears and held that huge, long head as he quietly was set free.

Kentucky Jack. What a creature! How he had suffered in the years since I had seen him as a young prospect back in 1996. I had all but forgotten him. But he came back to see me once more. What an honor to have him here if only for a matter of hours! I cared for him and loved him. And this lanky horse knew he was safe. Finally safe. Safe enough to move on.

And so now, once again, there are two black flags flying at Refuge Farms. Black flags that fly for fourteen days out of respect for those who have crossed. Two flags to symbolize the crossing of two of The Herd - Addie-Girl and Kentucky Jack. Both “diers” to the letter. Both here for comfort and help.

“Thank you,” Dr. Brian said to me as he was about to get back into his truck that second day. “Thank you?” I cried. “For what?”

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you from him. Thank you from Kentucky Jack.”

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