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

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