Sunday, September 27, 2009


She Knows . . .

It was exactly one week ago today. Sunday morning at about 6:30AM. I was just leading Dude out of the corral into his box stall for the day. The sun was out. The air was heavy with moisture. And there was no wind. It was going to be another July day in mid-September.

My mind was completely absorbed with the tablet sitting on my desk. I had just spent a few minutes prioritizing tasks that needed to have my undivided attention. I ran out of space after two full pages of a legal tablet. The first page was entitled "NOW" meaning these tasks were in desperate need. Most of these tasks were overdue, in fact. So I needed to focus on them now. Then there was the second page of tasks entitled "LATER". Meaning after I was at a point where I could breath and sleep. To say I was feeling overwhelmed and underwater was a huge - enormously huge - understatement.

But I felt I needed the calm and serenity of the barns before I began my day. This was the final day of our Fall Antique & Garage Sale and I needed to be ready to receive customers while at the same time make use of the time I would be waiting for customers by getting a few things off of my "NOW" list!

So, at 6:30AM I found myself content. Ole' Man Cole was munching on his breakfast in his stall with the fan aimed right at his withers. The Helen Keller side was enjoying their breakfast, the big barn stock tanks had been filled, the big fans were on to move the air and hopefully reduce the flies in the barn. And now it was time to set Dude up for a day in his stall. I had already cleaned his stall and sprinkled barn lime to reduce the attraction of the flies. And I had his feed and hay and water ready for the day. Now all that remained for me this morning was the pleasure of walking Dude from the corral down the driveway to the barn.

It was the early morning. The dew was very heavy. And the sun was out. Maybe I should just breath, I told myself.

I heard the tires on the driveway gravel before I saw the car. It was a car with Minnesota license plates. A woman was driving and so I paused with Dude as the car circled the driveway. A kind-faced woman came out of the car and her first words were, "Who is this handsome one?"

The demeanor of this woman was calming to me immediately. She had a soft and gentle face. A soothing voice. And a southern drawl. Her name was Kathy. She lived in North Carolina. Her Grandmother had just passed away and so she had returned home for the funeral. The return flight South was mid-morning and so she had risen early to stop over at Refuge Farms before she went home.

How did she know of us? Her family that still lived up in "these parts of the woods" knew of THE FARM and so she had been advised that she should find the time to get over here. I had been too busy on Saturday, I had told her, for a tour so she took the time and spent the energy to visit early on a Sunday morning.

The short version of the story of Dude was told and she immediately looked for the signs of recovery. She felt his under jaw, felt his spine, his knees, and looked at his flanks. She smiled and said he was beautiful, just beautiful. And then she came around front and saw his eyes. "Oh, my . . ," as her voice trailed off. I knew she was pondering the same questions I had about Dude. How could someone be so cruel to such a creature? What could he have done wrong to deserve a broken jaw? And how, after breaking his jaw, do you just let him lie in pain to starve to death?

We toured the rest of the barns and we talked. We talked about volunteers and the struggle to compete for their time in a way-too-busy-world. We talked about adoptions and how they seem to be just disappearing. We talked about the paperwork and how that only seemed to be increasing. And we talked about the unwanted horses. We shared a few success stories and I trusted Kathy enough to share a few of my failures with her, too. She was quiet and understood. She knew the decisions that must be made and the costs associated with those decisions. She was a kindred spirit. A Sister in Rescue.

We spent an hour before she glanced at her watch. Her face showed me that she was late for her trip to the Twin Cities airport and so we wrapped up our hints to each other. Really, it was her hints to me. I had no hints to her. She had become my sounding board that morning. I gave nothing to her. But she offered herself and so I used her up. It helped my heart that morning by expressing my regrets and my fears. To someone who did more than listen. To someone who knew and understood. She is in there, too. She knows.

We hugged and I found myself refreshed as I watched Kathy walk back to her car. She had restated for me things I already knew. I must have help in the barns. I must have help with the publicity. And I must have help with my heart. She told me of a class that she had found most helpful. A class about avoiding this thing they call "compassionate burnout". Like I said, she knows.

Right before Kathy left, she told me one of her success stories. It confirmed for me the power and the spiritual impact of these unwanted horses. It confirmed for me why we do what we do. It's why we are in this business of rescue. Even though it exhausts and pains you.

I want to share the story with you. Maybe you'll know, then, too. In Kathy's words:

I got a call once for a big thoroughbred horse. Not fast enough to be on the tracks and so a woman had rescued him. But she now wanted him gone. In fact, she thought the horse should be put down. He wasn't safe, she said.

It seemed that every time you saddled him he had a seizure. He fainted and fell over. This current owner was convinced it was a personality thing and so it would be best to put him down. That's when I stepped in.

I brought this tall, lanky guy home to my farm and watched him for six months. No seizures. No fainting. Nothing appeared out of order. No big personality flaws. In fact, he was quite a nice horse.

So, I saddled him and then discovered the problem. When the saddle was tightened, it would pinch a nerve in his spine that would cause him to black out. Once the nerve pressure was relieved, he was fine. A few adjustments and the horse was sound again.

My next step was to find an adoptive owner for the thoroughbred. And a match was found. A young lady was going through gastric bypass surgery and it would be some time before she could ride him, but they would learn to trust each other and know each other as she worked with him from the ground. And so the adoption proceeded.

The old owner caused me quite a few problems. She fought the adoption and tried every tactic she could think of to have this horse euthanized. But I stuck to my convictions and he was soon safely moved to his new home.

Some time passed and the new owner was now taking riding lessons on her proud horse. Lessons were needed as the owner was new to riding and this horse was a thoroughbred, remember. He loved to run. Lessons progressed and some more time passed. The two fell in love with each other.

One day at riding lessons, this thoroughbred horse would not move. He was dragging his feet and would not respond to his owner's requests to step up and trot or even walk at a normal pace. He drug himself around and stayed a ways out from the rail the entire time. He seemed almost in slow motion. His owner became perplexed and the trainer was puzzled as well. What was wrong with the thoroughbred? Why wouldn't he move this morning???

Then it happened. His owner had a diabetic seizure and she fell off of the horse. This horse knew she wasn't well that morning. He could sense it or smell it or see it. Who knows how these creatures know? But he knew his owner was in trouble. And so he refused to put her in jeopardy by moving close to the rail and by picking up his feet and moving. He knew. Bless his heart, this horse knew.

I still cry everytime I tell that story . .

With that, this southern woman hugged me again and said, "Take care, Sandy. We'll keep in touch." And I smiled as she drove off. I was refreshed. Kathy and her story had rescued yet another of God's creatures that day . . Thank you, Kathy!

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

Monday, September 14, 2009


There Is Magic In These Barns

In the past week, many Humans have visited THE FARM. Many visited during our Labor Day public hours and still the stream of Humans to visit these horses continued. The majority of these visitors were here for the first time. Some, however, were returning. Already knowing some of the horses and already familiar with some of their stories.

One young lady visited us just a few days ago. She has been here and in the barns previously. Handsome is not new to her. Beauty is still a mystery to her. And Ole' Man Cole is a wonder to her. She loves each and every one of them and seems to see in them their inner hearts. This woman sees the qualities in them that most Humans never recognize.

She has endured the crossing of some and has watched as some were brought into the fold and re-homed after spending some time with us to heal and recover. She has been visiting THE FARM long enough to see the cycle of life. She is not a horse person and does not venture into the pastures with them. Her admiration and love is given through the gates by the touch of her hands.

Her last visit was memorable. For her and The Herd. I've asked her to write about it and she did. It is open and honest and shares with you the experience of the barns here at Refuge Farms. In these barns there is Magic. I tell people that and some believe while others think I'm only trying to make something out of nothing. But there is Magic in these barns. Read the words from her heart and decide for yourself. Her title is:

The Magic of Refuge Farms

I have been feeling a little out of sorts for a week or two now . . . frustrated, tired, maybe even a little angry . . . not because of any one thing or any one person, just life in general had started to get to me. Pressure at work, responsibilities at home, demands for my time, not finding time for myself . . . I really needed a break. I asked Sandy if I could stop by THE FARM and just spend some time with the horses, hoping to clear my head for a few moments and remind myself that my life is good! “Sure,” she said, “It has been a long time, hasn’t it?”

When I arrived at THE FARM, I checked the house and found that Sandy was not home . . . I knew she expected me, so I figured she’d be back soon. I walked down to the old barn and talked to April and Cole, who were inside enjoying the fan . . . it was warm already and the flies were bad, and it wasn’t going to be a good day for Cole if it got much more humid so I told him to take it easy, that Fall truly would be here soon and it would be easier for him to breath. Since April and Cole were not interested in being scratched, I left them to their fan and walked toward the big barn.

I was just to the pile of round bales when I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness . . . where did this come from, I thought, as I walked into the barn. On the left, Laddee and Blaise were enjoying their fan while PONY! stood in the doorway. The Posse stood to the right - Handsome and Unit at the stock tank, little Spirit against the wall, Babee Joy and Jeri Ann in the middle as usual, and Beauty by the door. I said my hello’s to everyone and walked over to the stock tank, again feeling a sadness creep over me . . .

Handsome raised his big gorgeous head and lowered it over the top of the gate, as I started to rub his forehead I could feel the tears well up in my eyes . . . soon I was sobbing into Handsome’s giant cheek as he held his head against me . . . I stroked his nose as my tears subsided and Handsome looked me over to be sure I was okay, then slowly walked away. Beauty took his place in front of me, nuzzling my hands as I rested my arms on the gate railing, my forehead resting against the cool metal of the upper rail. She stood with me while I talked to her and rubbed her head, then moved along the gate so that I could rub her back . . . I felt at peace with her, my sadness seemed to have disappeared again. I was amazed at Beauty’s softness and enjoyed her company knowing how shy she had sometimes been with me.

After a few minutes, Handsome approached again . . . it seems I was not done crying, because as soon as he put his head in my hands, the tears began to run again! It was not sadness for Handsome or the loss of his eye, it was emotion inside me that Handsome was somehow drawing out . . . he stood with me as I sobbed for reasons I still can’t understand, and when the tears stopped, he looked at me again and walked away. Again, Beauty came right over and gave me her head for some stroking and scratching and brought a feeling of peace to me. This whole process repeated itself one more time before I left the barn to find Sandy and thank her for the horses. There were a few tears left as I hugged Sandy, but then I felt better again, refreshed and ready for the rest of the day.

I often forget about the “Horses Helping...” Mission of Refuge Farms. I’ve been to THE FARM many times, but this was the first time I had truly experienced the horses’ presence in such a personal way. I’ve marveled at their beauty; I’ve been awestruck by their ability to adapt, to persevere, and to forgive; I’ve rejoiced in their recoveries; and I’ve mourned their passings. And now, I’ve been touched by their Magic.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


These Horse Ministers

This has been a week of difficult and extreme emotions. I find that, at the end of this week, I am drained and exhausted from simply the emotional toll of the recent events.

Early this week I spent time with a dear friend of mine. She calls me her sister – a deep and gracious honor. I sat with her as she wailed and prayed to God – no, begged God - to take her Mother to Him. Her 86 year old Mother has been dealing with dementia and kidney failures and now, as if it just could not be any more painful for this little woman, she had experienced a broken disc and a severed spinal cord.

Paralysis was complete. The pain was excruciating. Recovery was not anticipated. And this friend of mine pleaded with me and cried to me asking why this was happening to her Mother? And what was she to do? The guilt and the inadequacy to help was overwhelming to my friend. She wanted what was best for her Mother. And seemed unable to make that happen.

And then that reoccurring, infernal conversation began. The same conversation I had in the 1960’s with my Mother. The same conversation I had with Mo, my Sister’s RN, in the 1990’s. That conversation about how, if my dog or my horse were in such pain with no prognosis for recovery and not able to walk, what would I do? It would be a decision made only after all avenues were explored fully, but what would I do? I would euthanize the creature. I would consider the quality of life and if the creature was in pain, I would chose to euthanize. My friend sat in front of me with eyes overflowing with tears and asked me the same question once again: If I would euthanize a dog, why can’t I help my Mother cross over?

I’ve kept in contact with her throughout the week and the end of her Mother’s life here on earth is close. The pain is being managed and now they have precious quiet time together. Time for my friend to adjust to the loss and her future without her Mother. Time while she waits for her Mother to cross over.

My friend is strong. She will grieve. She will mourn the loss of her Mother. But she will move on. I know that of her. My friend is resilient and able to come through this deep misery that she finds herself in right now. But as of today, I will do my best to support her and listen to her and be there next to her when the time comes to say her final good-byes to this woman who gave her life.

And then today, I’m heading out to spend the morning with another dear friend of mine. She and I have been close for as long as I can remember. Sometimes we talk frequently and other times there is a span of days or weeks between our talks. But always we talk.

We talk when very good things happen in her life and her joy is overflowing. Those talks are exciting and my face hurts from smiling so much. She is almost child-like in her innocence, sometimes. I warn her to be cautious, but she plows ahead anyhow. Trusting that her love and commitment is enough to get her through.

And we talk when not so good things happen and the joy is nowhere to be found. Those talks are quiet and my eyes hurt from crying with her so much. She is almost child-like in her innocence, sometimes. I had warned her but she follows her heart and it seems to be broken more than her fair share of the time.

This friend of mine is an educated woman with vast experiences in dealing with all kinds of people. But she finds herself drawn to a situation where her counterpart is unable to feel or experience the depths of her passions. She is typically unequalled in her emotional commitments and so she works harder at this relationship trying to make up for the lacking of her counterpart. She somehow feels that if she gives 150% that will make up for the 50% given by the other. Someday, I pray, she will learn to look before she leaps. But that day has not yet come.

My friend is sad today. Her true and once-in-a-lifetime relationship has not gone as she was hoping and was working so hard to create. She is fractured like the back of my other friend’s Mother. And she is deeply hurt. The tears are running once again. So I will go to her and spend some time with her. I will listen as she pieces together the recent signs that were so evident but that she chose to look past. I will listen as she pleads with her God to help her understand. And I will listen to her as she begs for the grace to forgive. And when I ask her just why, after seventeen years of waiting, she doesn’t move on, I will once again see those overflowing eyes as she replies simply, “Because I love him. Because I’ll love him until I die.”

Somewhere in the day, I will quote Don Henley to her. I will talk about forgiveness and the relief that comes with letting go. She will not hear me today but maybe, if I keep in touch with her and tell her over and over again, she may hear me sometime in the future.

It pains me to watch these women with their hearts broken. I feel so helpless. I have been in similar positions with family about to cross over yet with bodies still “stuck” in this life. And I have been in love and not loved in return. I find myself looking for strength to attempt to support them and somehow personally deal with their pain. Of course, that means I find myself in the pastures.

I wander to Handsome and ask him just how did he forgive us Humans for the brutality that he suffered at our hands? And Josephina. I ask her how she kept her sanity during those years of captivity on the urine lines. I go to Jeri-Ann and marvel at her innocence. Asking her to pass some of her faith on to me so that I may carry it to my dear friends.

I spend time with Dude and question him on where he stored his resilience to come back so strongly from such a depleted and near-death state. Beauty is wise and willing to give me insights into her nearly two decades of torture and pain. The physical and emotional pain that just about killed her. But she has found a way to the peaceful side within her and today she will hopefully share with me her secrets.

Lastly, I will go to Laddee and ask how she endured. How did she survive? How did she hold it together in the midst of the worst of it all? How did she find the strength to continue? And where in the world did she find the power inside of herself to trust again? How can she be so at peace after all that has happened to her? After all of the unjust treatment that was passed onto her when all she asked for was to be loved? And lastly, dear Laddee, how do you deal with the heartache from the loss of your love, your dear Kentucky Jack?

I will spend the day with my friend today. And I will call my other friend this evening. But only after I have found the strengths and the wisdoms of The Herd in my pastures. They are wonderful teachers. Full of the teachings that we Humans seem to be so lacking. The teachings of communicating and sharing and respect and kindness and caring and true, real love. Oh, once again, I find myself wanting to be more like these horses.

In all of this, I would hope that you, too, would find the strength to deal with your own sorrows. Sorrow is a part of life. But to wallow in it is a waste. We must experience it but then, as a good friend told me, “Say thanks for the memories and move on!”

This day is a gift. I choose to share my gift with my friends who are in need of comfort. I will share my gift and give freely to these Human Beings in need. And when I get home, I will again run to the pastures. Run to the unwavering, unconditional, and unmistakable love and acceptance I find there with these Horse Ministers.

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

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