Sunday, August 23, 2009


I Had a Dream Last Week . . . .

I had a dream last week. It was the dream of every horse rescuer. One of those dreams that you have in the early morning hours when you want just a bit more rest. And you want to smile inwardly. You want to feel like your hard work is really having an impact out there.

The kind of dream you have before you open your eyes and look out the window. That little space of time before your mind kicks in and your list of chores for the day comes back to you. And you remember the endless calls and emails for horses that need you. Horses that need a home or else . . .

The kind of dream that we all have. One of those "wishing" kind of dreams . . .

I am at my desk working on the seemingly endless pile of paperwork. The telephone rings and I hesitate a second. What if it is another horse? What if this conversation starts out with that all too familiar, “I love my horse but . . . “ What if I have to begin the euthanasia conversation again? Oh, Lord! Make it go away!

But the ringing continues and so I pick up the telephone and force a smile onto my lips. Somewhere from back in my corporate training I remember learning that a smile on your lips will come through your voice over the line. I cling to that. And so I smile and say, optimistically, “Refuge Farms!”

It is a lady on the end of the line. Oh, she is so happy that I picked up! I am her last resort! She works at a stable in mid-Wisconsin and one of the resident stallions is no longer wanted. He has been used to breed the stables and he is older and so needs a bit of special care. Special feed and special hay. So now he is of no use. He needs to go. The owner has given her a thirty day window to find a home or he will go to auction.

Auction would be fatal for this horse. He is elderly. A little thin. Teeth aren’t too good anymore. And he’s quiet, she says. A good boy, but quiet. Not as "showie" as he used to be. But a good boy. He was a champion penning horse and has quite an impressive lineage. Could I help? He’s such a good boy . . . .

I write down the particulars and am careful not to make any promises. Is he sound, I ask? He could be, she says. The old guy needs some hoof work and some weight, but he could be sound. He’s such a good boy . . . .

Hanging up the telephone, I hang my head. Another older horse. But this one has some potential. If only he had come my way a year ago! Or earlier in the year! I could have placed him. But now with winter just around the corner. And him needing some time and some work. And his age. I look him up on the website for the owner. And he certainly does have some pedigree! Holy horse! This was one nice stallion in his day! His is, in fact, a penning champion! This is a quality animal. Too bad. Too bad he is older. Oh, it is just all too bad . . . .

My dream continues as I hear the telephone ring again. Oh, Lord! I asked for it to go away today! Not another one!!! But this time, on the line is a man. A man who has seen the article on Refuge Farms in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. A man who is kind and has a smooth voice. A man I talk with and find myself just listening to the sound of his voice. This man has no horse that needs a home. In fact, bless his heart, this man is looking for horses. Oh Lord, you are there! You heard me!

I talk with Dick about his need and write it all down. As we talk I think of the elderly stallion. Could it work? Is he too old? Too worn out? Not enough horse for the need?

Arrangements are made and Dick travels to central Wisconsin to look at the old stallion. I am bringing Laddee to the U of M Equine Center that day and so cannot participate in the journey, although I am there in spirit. I have few – read that as no other – options for this older stallion so I am beyond hopeful. I have never seen or touched or smelled the old horse, but I have him in my heart. How hopeless it looks for this champion whose only sin is getting older . . . .

A few days go by before my dream can continue. But then the telephone rings again. It is Dick. He has gone to view the old stallion. He needs some groceries, that’s for sure. And he seems quiet. But he is the right color and has the right markings and he is a stallion. That would need to be changed. I couldn’t agree more! Refuge Farms will geld this old boy if we can just find a suitable home for him! Dick will think it over.

Dick and I continue to talk and soon I am making arrangements to accept the horse if the current owner will surrender him under the Refuge Farms terms. Then I would take him to the University for his gelding. The procedure will be tough on this older guy. He is five years older than Dude and so gelding could be difficult. General anesthesia and careful monitoring will be needed. Facilities more advanced than what I have here are called for. I begin to smile in my dream . . . .

It is two weeks later to the day when I drop the trailer and travel to central Wisconsin to retrieve the old stallion. He is thin. His feet are workable but will take time. His teeth are badly worn. And he is depressed. My first meeting with the horse gives me a sense of lacking. This horse lacks love and affection. He is used up. He wants a purpose to his life! He knows he can be a looker and he wants to turn heads again! He wants to be healthy and once again show off a bit!

I am starting to wake as I see myself delivering the old stallion to the U of M. Surgery comes and goes. The old horse is quiet but adapting to his new gelding status. Not much of a change for him since his demeanor was so mild to start with. He swells quite a bit but he begins to heal. His teeth are examined and he receives vaccinations and is tested for Coggins. The old boy is medically up-to-date. Now we just need to work on his heart. We need to restore his spirit . . . .

My eyes are almost open when I see myself loading him back into my trailer to take him to his new home. It is an hour or so west of St. Paul and when we arrive, the old boy stands quietly in the trailer. You can’t even tell he’s in there. I tour the facilities and realize this is really, really a good home for this horse. There will be no lack of love and care and attention and food here. I am thrilled! Now, will the old boy respond?

The back of the trailer is opened. The barn managers look him over. I remind them that he is a rescue and needs some weight and his feet taken care of and that I think he’ll come around. These men look past the surface and see the demeanor. They like the old horse. They are not worried about “the groceries”. They say that can be fixed.

The lead rope is turned over to Tim, the Barn Manager, and the two of them walk out of the trailer. I am now the observer as I watch the two move toward the quarantine paddock. Will it work? Will this horse find his heart again? Will he find his purpose here?

In my dream, I watch these two walk the fence line and I observe them both. The Barn Manager totally at ease with this horse. And the horse? Well, he seems to have “found the air”, as we say. His chest is filling and expanding while his head is rising. His ears come forward and his neck is straight. His step is a bit livelier and he’s becoming curious about his surroundings. Hah! The old boy is responding! Already I can see that this horse will do just fine here. He will find his heart and have a purpose here! This horse is home . . . .

I awake from my dream and realize that this dream is just that. The dream of every rescuer. To find a horse that can be saved and to place the horse with someone who is willing to see past the surface and accept him for how he is now. To love the horse and restore the horse. This is the dream of a rescuer. And I have just lived that dream.

Randy is the horse. An AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) registered stallion with a pedigree a mile long. And Dick is the Drill Master for the Zahrah Shrine Horse Patrol in Maple Plain, MN. Randy is now a member of the Zahrah Shrine Horse Patrol Unit!

I have just come to know this group of dedicated individuals. Their facilities show their respect and pride in their horses. Their horses show their care. Every single horse is healthy and calm. Totally participating in their surroundings. And loved to the hilt! Randy will go through a process of quarantine and then become a part of a herd of geldings. He will be trained to their specifications and then put to use. This is the dream. And I lived it this past week. And Randy will now live it for the remainder of his life!

My contact with Dick will remain. I will now have my eye out for any other horses that may meet their criteria. To place a horse with the Shriner’s is to give a horse a home for life. And a home that could be no better anywhere else. And I will watch Randy blossom and become a “looker”. Oh, I want to have this dream again!

And I will find the time to go to a parade that has this championship Horse Patrol in it. This group has ribbons from Rose Bowl performances as well as national and international competition championships. In fact, this very weekend they are competing in a Midwest Event in Rochester, MN. These men use their horses to raise funds. And to enjoy their mounts and show them off!

The motto of these men is “We ride so disabled children can walk.” These men use their horses to raise funds in support of the Shriner’s Hospital for Children with Disabilities. How appropriate. It is simply another version of “Horses Helping . . .”

I had a dream last week. It was the dream of every horse rescuer. One of those dreams that you have in the early morning hours when you want just a bit more rest. And you want to smile inwardly. You want to feel like your hard work is really having an impact out there.

The kind of dream you have before you open your eyes and look out the window. That little space of time before your mind kicks in and your list of chores for the day comes back to you. And you remember the endless calls and emails for horses that need you. Horses that need a home or else . . .

The kind of dream that we all have. One of those "wishing" kind of dreams . . .

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and a very happy Randy!

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Oh, Dude! Oh, Dude!

Usually if you wait quietly, the answers will come. The pieces of the puzzle will fit together and you will understand the ‘how’ of a situation. Maybe the ‘why’ will still be elusive, but at least you will be able to see the steps – the process – the ‘how’ - of something that impacted your life. You may be able to glimpse a part of the journey.

Such is the way with Dude. This sturdy paint stallion came to us on Easter Sunday as a weak, emaciated, shaky, barely-able-to-stand, dying creature. I believe he was thrust upon us for a reason. This horse was not the designated horse of our journey on that day. He was instead pushed and pulled and dragged into the trailer and deposited in the fresh bed of shavings. “Out of sight out of mind” is the phrase that comes to my mind. Unwanted. Damaged. No longer needed. Sickly. Hidden. “Dead on his feet,” the owner said.

The stallion arrived at Refuge Farms and he was given fluids and time. Soaked beet pulp and water. He was given compassion and the opportunity to decide his own path. Every time I talked with him, I asked him to show me his decision. “Did he want to cross? Or did he want to live? Give me a sign, please. I’ll do whatever it is you decide. I’ll help you cross or I’ll try combinations of mash to help you eat. Just give me a sign, please.”

The sturdy Paint stallion soon stood for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. But he spent the majority of his time on his side, sleeping in the sun. Oh, how that heat on his skeleton must have felt good. Like a heating blanket. Even though it was spring, he was blanketed at night since he had no body fat to keep him warm.

He greedily ate his soaked beet pulp and attempted to eat his feed. But mostly, that would roll around in his mouth but not travel down his throat. Same with the grass he was offered. He bit and chewed hungrily, but nothing would travel down his throat. His teeth were bad, I thought. Or maybe he was that dehydrated that his throat was still swollen and sore.

It was all of those things. Yes, his throat was still sore and swollen. I would watch him close his eyes and wince when he swallowed water. How raw his throat must have been from the days without water to keep his tissues moist. What he had been offered to sustain his life at his other home was straw-like hay. How that must have scratched when he managed to swallow some! Yes, his throat was still sore and swollen and only time and water and feed would help heal his throat.

And yes, his teeth were bad. On the day that he was gelded, we examined his mouth and found three missing teeth on his lower right side plus one tooth broken and still with an infected socket. We removed the remnants of that tooth and cleaned the socket. The antibiotics should care for the rest. We removed points and in general, noted that he was missing more teeth on that right side than he had retained. Yes, his teeth were bad.

Time passed and Dude, as he was called, began to fill out and started to shine and now lifted his head in pride. He developed muscles in his hind quarters and tossed his head to let us all know he was here! The true Easter Resurrection story, this horse was recovering nicely!

But mid-June saw a change in his condition. He blew a huge hole and abscess in his right lower jaw. It drained and I cleaned it daily. We put him on an antibiotic and watched him heal. His meat healed so quickly! The hole quickly recovered and only a small area remained which drained a bit of abscess every day.

Time passed and this final little hole and tiny bit of drainage never fully went away. What was wrong, Dude? It was time for a trip to the University of Minnesota for a set of x-rays. We suspected a bone infection. Cultures had been taken and so we knew it was not strangles. It was a plain old infection from foreign substances. But what foreign substance?

Dude was the perfect gentleman as we entered the big power doors at the Equine Center. I was so proud of him! Pictures were printed to show the surgeons and the attendants the Dude of Easter Sunday. Heads shook and hands patted his rump. Amazing, they all said. Amazing what a little bit of food and care will do . . .

The oral exam showed the missing teeth and empty sockets. The answer was still elusive with just the oral exam, so a head x-ray was taken. And there it was. Plain and clear. Dude’s lower right jaw was badly broken.

My heart broke even further still for this precious horse. How he must have suffered! No wonder he was so emaciated! So withdrawn! So unaffected by his surroundings! This horse had suffered pain and so had suffered starvation to the point that he was ready to die! No wonder he couldn’t swallow the grass he so greedily chewed! No wonder he winced when he swallowed water! Oh, how painful that jaw must have been!

And how this horse wanted to live! How tough and sturdy he was to work through the pain and get himself strong again! Once again, I stood in awe of these creatures who show me time and time again their willingness to work with what they have been dealt. To survive. To live even when we humans treat them viciously and with cruelty. My arms flew around his neck. And all that could come out of my mouth was, “Oh, Dude! Oh, Dude!”

The remedy is not easy nor will it be without pain for Dude. In order to reach the bone fragments that are rotting in his jaw, the incision will be made through the lower jaw. And that will mean that his jaw will be re-broken. Then the bone fragments will be removed, the tissue will be cleaned, and his jaw will be reset and then wired.

Dude will spend four days or so with wire holding his jaws together and on IV fluids. He will not be able to eat and so will be fed through a tube inserted through his nose into his stomach. He will have pain that will be monitored and supported through IV medicines. But even with all of these supports, he will be in tough shape. He will need to be sturdy and he will need to call upon that strong will of his. He will need to know – again! – that what is on the other side of this episode will be better than where he is right now.

Then the wires will be removed and he will begin to use his newly constructed jaw on soft foods and soaked hay cubes. Once again. It will be Easter Sunday all over again. Only this time he will have a strong body and strength to fall back on. “He has some groceries on him,” Dr. Erin said. And so his recovery will be more swift and more complete than the slow recovery process of this early spring.

* * * * * *

Every morning, I feed the horses and this morning I took a bit of extra time with a few very special ones. I spent time rubbing and hugging Dude. He is manly and really doesn’t appreciate the affectionate stuff. He turns his head – understandably! – from the hugs and rolls those big white-blue eyes of his when I tell him how proud of him I am! He is manly. Just like the large geldings before him. I tell Dude that we can fix this and then find him a home. But we must fix this jaw of his first. We must rid him of this rotting bone and this lingering infection and then feed him back up and give him the gift of the rest of his life. If only he can understand that what we are about to do is the fix. Painful as it will be, it is the fix.

And then I wandered down to spend some time with Laddee. Still very aware of where her head and feet may go, I stood next to her and hugged her, too. Aware that I cannot fix her but so very grateful for every day with her. Aware that she knows she is safe and every day she is relaxing a bit more and becoming more calm. Every day she is appreciating the journey that brought her here. Every day she comes a bit closer to being the little Belgian mare that I know she will become.

I am surrounded by strength. And wills of steel. And compassionate appreciation. Pure and simple gratitude. And determination to overcome. And the character that allows these creatures to deal with their surroundings and find a way to accept their fates. Their Master Plans as they unfold. They have faith, people. They have faith and the character to face the world head on. They trust in themselves and the journey of their lives.

May we Human Beings be a bit more like these two horses . . .

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

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