Sunday, October 25, 2009


Now Is the Time to Shake My Head....

It was finally a warm and sunny day. This month of October had seen snow and wind and rain. And more rain. And then just for a change, a bit more rain. The horses were coated in mud up to their bellies. The pastures were sloppy and slippery. It seemed so much more like a muddy spring than a cold, wet fall. If only!

Anyhow, Tuesday dawned calm and with a hint of a blue sky. The forecast was for sunshine and I was greatly relieved. We had the Transitions Class from Menomonie High School heading out for an afternoon visit. And these visits always go better if there is sunshine instead of rain showers.

One o'clock arrived as did the vans. Right on time. Kelley is the instructor and has brought her previous classes to THE FARM. She and I had talked and her updates told me that most of the students that were here last fall and spring had graduated from high school. This was a "new bunch", as she put it. And some of them were not lovers of horses. "Quite the opposite, in fact," she said. Could be a tough bunch to win over. . .

We began in the center of the driveway and introduced ourselves and Little Man. I had Little Man (THE FARM's dog) on a harness and he was being most boisterous about the fact that he was made to stand by me when there were kids in the yard! In fact, these kids were only feet in front of him! He begged and begged to be turned loose! His dancing made him hard to hold on to! But not until I was sure that all of the students were okay with Little Man being among them would I let him free. Did a dog frighten or concern anyone? Because if there was anyone who would prefer it, we would certainly put Little Man in the house.

My answer came not in words, but in actions. Several of the students were down on their knees and stretching their arms out to Little Man. "Let him go!" they chorused. And so Little Man was released from his harness and one very, very joyful dog found heaven in the hands and laps of these students. And from the looks of the faces, the feelings were mutual, it seemed.

We wandered down the driveway and introduce Spirit and Beauty and Josephina. Once again, the Human Beings shook their heads in disbelief as I told them that the little blonde mare with the freeze brand on her hip was truly the mother of the big grey one with the jet black mane and tail. "Really?" they asked. "For sure?" one questioned.

Once midway to the new barn, we paused at the corral and I explained the American Indian Folklore about blue eyed horses. You see, the Paint horse was the preferred horse of the American Indian. The paint was a compact horse with sturdy legs and a strong body. Quick in mind and sturdy in body. A good horse for the Indian because the horse was key to the life of an Indian. The horse was their transportation for firewood, for meat, for fish, for moving to better lands, and, of course, for war. Without a sturdy, reliable horse, the American Indian was in trouble, that was for sure.

And if the American Indian would find a blue-eyed Paint, that horse was special. A single blue eye was taken as intelligence and a sign of above normal powers. This would be a good horse to ride into battle. This would be a good horse to trust with your life.

And if ever the American Indian would find a Paint horse with two blue eyes, well that would most certainly be a message from the Great Power. This horse would not be ridden or worked or asked to risk its life. No, this horse would be protected and revered. This double blue-eyed horse would have a special paddock built for it and be allowed to remain free. This horse would not be asked to work or accept a man on his back. This horse was the Great Power come down to live among them.

With that introduction - right on cue - Dude turned his head and walked up to the corral fence. He walked straight to us and showed us his light blues eyes - both of them! I heard the gasps and saw the looks of appreciation for Dude. This was an unusual horse, to be certain. A double blue-eyed Paint horse!

A certain young man found his way to the north side of the corral and extended his hand to Dude. I gave it no mind since Dude had not yet responded to any human's desire to touch him. Dude would undoubtedly look at the hand, look at the young man, and then turn to walk in the opposite direction. I turned my attention to the remainder of the class and took them into the barn to brush Blaise and Gracie.

The teachers of this class are good, attentive people and so any students not in the barn with me would still be supervised. That meant the two people with Little Man in the grass were well observed. That also meant the young man at the corral edge was being observed. Safety was always in the front of all of our minds.

After a span of time, we brought Blaise and Gracie out to the yard to eat some sweet lawn grass. That's when I spent a moment and observed the young man at the corral fence attempting to attract Dude's attention. To my sheer surprise, it seemed that this young man had indeed won the horse over. Dude was standing directly in front of the man eating grass from his hand. Now there, I thought, is a sight I never thought I would see. Now was the time for me to shake my head....

It was time for a class picture and so the young man feeding Dude was asked to join the group. The young man left the corral fence line and wandered south to the rest of his class for the trip picture. As I watched the young man move away from Dude, I observed Dude. His white-blue eyes were glued to the back of his new friend. He walked in pace with his friend and never once took his eyes off of this Human Being. After the picture, the young man wandered a bit to find more fresh grass. Dude still kept his eyes fixed on the student and walked the fence line to be as close to him as possible.

When the student went to the fence to feed Dude, the horse was there, awaiting him. A nicker came out of Dude. A nicker of appreciation for his return and his gift of sweet grass. Like I said, now was the time for me to shake my head....

As we walked back to the vans, Kelley told me that this young man was surprising them today. I explained to her that Dude was surprising to me today, too! Never, I said, had this horse warmed up to a human. Even me! This horse was always on guard and had shown no affection or preference to any human since he had arrived back in April!

"Really?" was Kelley's question. She found that most interesting. For, you see, on the ride over to THE FARM, this young man had "copped an attitude", she said. He had stated in no uncertain terms that if he had known it was a horse place they were going to he would not have gone along! He didn't like horses! Didn't want to spend any time with horses! And he saw no need for horses! He like to create comics and even in his comics he didn't have any horses! Now was the time for both of us to shake our heads....

Once in the vans, I thanked all of the students for coming. Little Man was already asleep in the shade. Gracie and Blaise were back in their pastures. And Dude had returned to grazing in the corral. Going to the second van, I found the young man who had bonded with Dude. I patted him on the shoulder and he turned his head to look at me. Right in my eyes. With his white blue eyes.

Now was the time for me to shake my head....

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and the Double Blue-Eyed Dude

Sunday, October 18, 2009


A Typical Week

This week has been a fairly typical week here at THE FARM. Hectic. Snow in October. Horse antics. Tours. Meetings. And then of course, there is the little detail like readying ourselves for the Fall Gala! Eh, gad! The Gala is three weeks away!

The week began with snow, freezing rain, wind, and shivering horses. The rain has turned to cold water out of the skies and when it falls for hours the wetness and the cold penetrates their hides. Their skin cools and the weaker ones begin to shiver. PONY! came in for breakfast on Monday morning a shivering mass. Little Gracie's teeth were actually chattering! Josephina was having trouble standing still. And Big Lanna had shoulders that were twitching like she was doing muscle exercises! Even the sturdiest of them all - Miss April - had shivering flanks.

So, we began the winter process of hooking everyone, closing the doors to minimize the drafts, brushing off the standing water, feeding, and then letting them stand so that their body heat could dry their coats. They were fed and soon just about everyone was sleeping at their empty buckets. By mid-morning, they were warm again and so they ventured out once more into now what was the snow!

It has been a long time since I've had to blanket horses on October 12th. But this year, I did just that. Forget the calendar! The weather has turned and the horses are struggling to tolerate the extremes. These horses here are safe. My mind, of course, wanders to the thin and starving standing in a pasture with no shelter and no feed and no blankets. How many of those desperate creatures gave up and went down in that wet cold?

The desk work and emails this week were seemingly unending. Many details to coordinate and many plans to firm up. Julie, our Gala Coordinator, is doing a magnificent job. And with a smile, too! I just don't know how she does it! It is under this pressure that I tend to get "icky". But not Julie! Always patient. Always willing to explain to me - usually again - how it is all going to work. And always on top of the details. Amazing.

Squished in there was another task that I worked on with another team of talented women - the 2010 Refuge Farms Calendar. Now, two weeks ago, it was a skeleton with rows of xxxxxxxxxxxxx's on the pages. But in a matter of just a few days, this production came together. The proofing was done by Tracy, the Professor, and Linda, the Professional Proofer. Two people you would want on your team, I'm betting! These two missed nothing.

The artistic talent was once again given freely by Colleen. Her talents have exceeded my dreams! And the 2010 Refuge Farms Calendar is yet another example of her talents! Colleen has donated her creative abilities, but also her pictures and her own text this year. You will be impressed. I know I am! The calendar is at the printers (and on time, at that!) and will be available for you at the Fall Gala. It is beautiful, if I do say so myself!

Thursday evening found me in Chippewa Falls to present to the Rosebud and Friends group. Another non-profit in the Chippewa Valley with very similar values to Refuge Farms. Rosebud is a support and peer group for people with mental illness. And I went prepared with my PowerPoint presentation and my projector and I was ready! Only one thing - I had technical difficulties. Still can't figure it out but the project would only show one quarter of the screen. Couldn't use the presentation. So I told them I believed it was destiny or The Master Plan or whatever you wanted to call it. I told them I would have to paint them pictures with my words. And so I did.

We talked of Miss April and Charlie at Camp Quest. We talked of Blaise and her blindness. Of the Memory Beds and the hopes for Laddee. We talked of healing and faith and respect and hope. We talked for a long time and I went strictly from my heart. No script to follow. No presentation to follow. Only my heart to follow. I enjoyed them and they enjoyed the conversation. After all of the preparation, none of it was used. And the message was heard. Another lesson learned...

Also this week, the requests for tours continue to come in. Even in this weather. People are willing to brave the cold, the wet, and the mud to have a few minutes in the presence of these horses. I am honest with them and tell them of the cold and the mud, but they persist. And when they pull out of the driveway, I am pleased that they did not shy away. Their visits have put me back in touch with The Herd. And our Missions. Their visits have once again solidified for me what it is that we do. And why we do all of this hard work. We do it to save a life.

On Monday I went to fill the stock tanks and the water flow seemed very slow. I went to the hydrant in the barn and turned the water off and then on again. No change, so I left it to fill the tank. When I returned to check it about twenty minutes later I had a lake in the barn! Laddee's end stall was six inches deep with water! It seems the pressure was back and the hose had jumped out of the tank! I ran to the hydrant to turn the water off but pressing down on the handle did not change a thing! Water was still gushing out of the hose! I threw the hose outside and ran to the basement to turn off the water line. A call to a plumber and his diagnosis was what I had feared - the hydrant was shot. Worn out. No repairing. Must be replaced. His backhoe will be here in two weeks and we will dig the ground up and put in a new hydrant. Until then, it is hoses strung from the house.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, Isaac and his wife, Betty, spent the night so that all of the hooves would be trimmed and prepared for the fall frozen grounds. Isaac and I are getting a bit older, we now admit. It has taken us years to admit that, but now we see that spreading 64 hooves over two days is a bit easier on our bodies than trying to accomplish their trimmings all in one day. Oh, the honesty of aging!

Those two days gave us time to reconnect. I've known these two Human Beings for over seventeen years now. Isaac has trimmed my horses all that time. Jerry, the Roan Horse. Slim. Ima. Miss Bonita. Randy. DukeDuke. He has known some of these horses before they came here, when they were pulling horses. Handsome, Big Jim, Jerry, Slim. Isaac is good at his craft and he amazes me.

We may be cold or sweating. Tired and near exhaustion. And the horse that is trimmed the very last is given the same care and time that the very first horse is given. Isaac treats each horse as if it were a prize horse. Because, as Isaac says, "They are all prizes."

Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare was trimmed this week. She was trusting as I walked her into the shoeing bed. Isaac even commented on her trust. We began with her right rear foot and she was troubled. She fought and resorted to her head swinging and front feet slashing. Isaac talked with her and she continued. But after that first foot, I witnessed this man's heart. He quietly walked to the head of Laddee and placed his open hand on her nose so she could smell him and her own hooves. He said to her, "We aren't punishing you, girl. We are trying to help you. You'll understand soon. I'll wait for you."

He then began the left rear foot and after a small attempt to fight, Laddee took a deep sign and settled in. Isaac turned to me and suggested that I reward her for her trust. And so she was given feed which she accepted. And it was a walk in the park after that.

Laddee's new feet were the final step in her recovery. Now she is as whole as we can make her. She is out with Handsome and Big Lanna and Miss Bette and Miss April and I look each day to see if Handsome is scratching her neck. Is Handsome finding her and helping her heal from her loss of Kentucky Jack? Not yet, but each day I look for it.

Jeri-Ann also received a full set of shoes this week. Her size is putting enormous pressure on her soft, white hooves and so the spreading and cracking needs to be stopped now or she will become another Miss Bonita with bad feet. So, huge shoes (read that as H U G E shoes!) were ordered and Isaac placed them onto her feet. I was concerned that when the hammering began she would struggle. But not that Jeri-Ann! She simply turned her head and looked back at Isaac to see what he was doing. Ho hum. No problem. No fear. No struggle.

Her first steps on her new feet were funny to see! Jeri-Ann backed out of the shoeing bed and when she was on the ground she looked down and sniffed her front feet. "What are these?" she asked. We took her down to the old barn and turned her out with Babee Joy and Spirit and off she went! Mud flying in the air, Jeri-Ann ran to her friends, talking the entire way. Isaac quietly said, "I guess the shoes work."

Yesterday was Saturday and the first nice weather in a week. We have standing water and I need to move round bales but I need a day or two for the pastures to dry before I venture out. So yesterday was destined to be a day to prepare for the coming cold. So many doors to close and pieces to get inside. Wind chimes to take down and pots to put away. Hoses to take in and ponds to cover. A busy day all around.

But in the morning, I was visited by someone I have come to know over this Internet of ours. She reads our blogs (Hello, Sherri!) and relates to the emotional side of this world of rescue. She is a horse lover and a horse handler. In fact, she studies Parelli. And she is an artist. Creative with glass etchings, oil, stained glass - I'm not even aware of all of her talents. But she has a heart and I am honored to know her.

This spring, Sherri planted pumpkin seeds. A single packet of seeds was placed in the ground to grow over the summer months. And then this fall, when she participated in the local Artist Tour, she and her friends sold those pumpkins and told the stories of Refuge Farms. They told the stories of the horses and the rescues. The losses and the victories. And the money from the pumpkins and the donations is sitting here on my desk. Such kindness from virtual strangers.

Sherri is a slight woman but the kindness that radiates out of her is enormous. She touched the horses and was in awe of the size of Babee Joy and Jeri-Ann. She knew Handsome when she met him and asked which one was the "drop-off" of this summer. Her vision saw the wisdom and the character of Ole' Man Cole instead of the worn out ankles and droopy lips. She loved little Gracie and marveled at the beauty of Appaloosa Mare. It was a pleasure to have Sherri in the barns.

And when she left, I felt a connection much like that of the connection from Kathy of North Carolina. Another Sister in Rescue. Someone who would listen and identify. Someone who knows and cares. I am blessed - so very blessed! - in my life! To have such friends around me. What a lucky, lucky woman I am!

The week came to a close last night with the arrival of the first of four semi-loads of round bales. Steve brought his wife, Marilyn, with him and we talked while Steve unloaded the bales. We talked about how disposable we have become. How irresponsible we have become. And how greedy we have become. Practical. Experienced. And like many of us, worried and concerned. I found Marilyn to be a dose of reality at the close of the week.

Just a typical week at Refuge Farms. Work and meetings and calls and experiences that meld together into a memory. Like I told the Rosebud group: This is my destiny. I would be no place else. I never dreamed it but now I cannot imagine not doing this. I am exactly where I am supposed to be and doing exactly what I was born to do.

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

Sunday, October 11, 2009


A Humdinger of An Evening!

The abrupt arrival of hard frost and thin ice on the stock tanks in the mornings has me thinking about all that needs to be done before winter sets in. I feel the usual panic and the need for more time and a source of more energy to get doors closed, tanks cleaned, heaters installed, fans covered, hay piles created, and of course, the horses juggled around for the coming cold season. It is a busy time of year with the creation of the fall newsletter looming and end-of-year reporting just around the bend. Another calendar turn and we are all looking 2010 right square in the eyes.

But this year, November brings with it an event that is laddened with work. Yes, more work! Lists upon lists of work to be done. Lists of contracts and arrangements. Lists of details and things to bring with us. Lists upon lists of tasks to complete. November is the month of the Refuge Farms Annual Fall Gala & Auction!

In the past, we had hosted Open Barns in September here at THE FARM. We would clean and mow and clean some more and then open the gates to the public for an afternoon of celebration. We had horses and wagon rides and food and some vendors in the yard. It was a grand time! And soon we exceeded our available space! Parking on the highway was not allowed and so we parked in the yard since the pasture was full. We parked in the ditches when the yards were full. We literally ran out of space. And so we needed to move our event.

Our first off-site event was held at a golf club. Very nice facility. Very nice event, indeed. Tony Stromberg brought his spiritual calm to the event and it was grand! But driving home, I felt something was missing. Something hadn't been quite right. Driving home, I wondered, "What had we overlooked?" Arriving back at THE FARM, I realized what had been missing. Horses. We had not had horses with us. That was what had been missing......

So, this year we'll resolve that issue. This year our Annual Fall Gala & Auction is being held at the University of Minnesota Equine Center on the St. Paul Campus. It is being held right where Handsome and Dude and Laddee and Randy had their surgeries. It seems almost like a second home to some of The Herd. For me, that facility is a place of comfort. We bring our worst ones there for the best treatment. And so it is only fitting that we bring a few of our horses to join us for the event on November 7th.

We will have horses in one end section of the arena. Horses with water and hay and our corral panels to create a fence. And they will be there to remind us of why we do all of this work. Who are we bringing? Not sure yet. We will have to see how the juggling of herds works out here this fall, but I'm thinking Handsome and some of "his girls". We'll see.....It will be a mystery until you arrive!

Then in the other section of the arena, we will have our tables for dinner, our auctions, our raffles, and our speakers. Right there. Right within ear and eye shot of the horses. To remind us. This is why we do all of this. They are why we do all of this.

We begin our evening with a social hour at 4pm. Our cash bar will serve local brewery beers, wines, soft drinks, and water. The silent auctions will begin and end with the social hour. Jayne Bradford will once again accompany us with her music that she so magically creates on that keyboard. And then it will be time to eat!

Our dinner is being catered by Prom Catering. Your choices are New York Strip with Mushroom Demi-Glaze, Thai Ginger Salmon, or a Vegetarian Ravioli with Spinach Alfredo Sauce. Yum!

Following dinner, our Emcee, Beth Kidd of WLTE radio will begin our program. Beth is one of the kindest women I know and she is returning to Emcee our event - of which I am most happy! Our guest speaker will be introduced and then he will address us. Here's where I will find it hard to stay in my seat......

Dr. Don Hoglund, DVM is a man of experience and expertise. He knows the world of horses. His program on inmates with wild horses has been replicated throughout the country teaching inmates the power of gentleness while saving the lives of endangered wild horses. He relates to burly men and wild horses.

Doc, as he is called, is a consultant to the United States Department of the Army, the Bureau of Land Management, and to the Walt Disney Companies. He personally trains the horses for the Eisner family. He deals at the "big" level.

Recently, he orchestrated and saved the lives of over 2,000 wild horses off of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Horses that were mysteriously dying at the water holes. Endangered by the tests of bombs and chemical warfare being conducted on the land as we prepared for the Middle East effort. In the face of a war zone, Doc went to save the lives of the innocent inhabitants of the land. The horses.

I have read his book about the event, "Nobody's Horses". I have read it several times. The man worked in the face of adversity. Adversity from the government, the land itself, the weather, and even the local humans who loved these horses but who viewed Doc as an "outsider". Complete with human conflict and the risks of dealing with wild horses, Doc tells the story of his effort and, as I read his book, I realize that I love this man.

At one point in the middle of the first round-up, Doc arrives at a corral area to find a little colt standing alone crying out. Now, Doc has the weight of 2,000 wild horses on his shoulders. Two thousand wild horses! Who can take time for one little colt who is obviously just lost? Obviously just separated from its mare? Who can take the time for just one?

Doc does. He goes to the colt and sees that the little one is blind. With all of the pressures on his shoulders, Doc takes the time - makes the time - to care for the little blind colt. Securing him and feeding him. Taking him under his big arms and placing him where the colt will be safe until Doc can return to feed him again. Every single life is important to this big man. Like I said, I love this man.

So Doc will speak to us about his adventure and about the equine situation in our world today. He will challenge us and he will tell us what we know way deep inside but sure don't want to hear out loud. Doc will speak to us. Directly. And Refuge Farms is hugely honored to have this man amongst us. You see, Doc has never aligned himself with a rescue before. He travels at the "big league" level. But he figured it was time to get involved at the local level. To work with local rescues. And Refuge Farms is his first rescue. Wow. What an honor. Can you see my chest swelling with pride???

Our live auction will follow Doc's message. Jeff Hines is once again with us - for the seventh year in a row! - to lead us through our items. If you want a preview of the live auction items, simply go to and look for the Refuge Farms logo. And if that doesn't do it for you, come back next week as I tell you the story of some of our items. There are stories there, people. Stories to be told.

Our evening will wrap up and you will head home with your heart filled. You will have met new friends. And you will have connected with some old friends. And you will have met some of The Herd. And you will have met a man who makes history. And of whom they are making a movie about. You will have me Dr. Don Hoglund, DVM.

And as you drive home, you will also realize that you helped to save a life. We make all of these lists and haul all of this equipment and move our horses and rent all these tables so that we can save a life. That's why we work so hard. To save a life.

So put us on your calendar for November 7th. Go to our website at and click on the Gala poster to find the RSVP form for your dinner choices. Mail it in to THE FARM and then get there! You won't want to miss this one! It's going to be a humdinger of an evening!!!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd getting ready for The Gala!

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