Sunday, November 01, 2009


Stay Close, Andy . . .

This is the week. The week of the Refuge Farms Annual Fall Gala & Auction. The week that we have been working toward for over ten months. The week where we will finally come upon the time to sit back and relax. Enjoy the fruits of our labors. To do our best to show those who attend just what we do. And perhaps more importantly, to show them why we do what we do.

In the time it takes to create the programs and the auction booklets and assemble the piles and piles and piles of boxes to haul to the Gala sight, I can't help thinking of Andy. He is right there with every move and every step. I wonder what he would say to guide me? What would be his advice? Would he approve of what we have become? Did he, in his wisdom, know what he was beginning with his simple challenge?

There is much to be done to be ready for this Gala Event. And yesterday was one of those critical path days. The horses are nosing for grass and so, in that nosing, they meander to the back fence line. Now this fence line is intact and it is sturdy, but the other side of the fence line is not maintained by the neighbor. To say that burdocks live there is like saying the rain is wet. Hah! Burdocks the size of trees live there! The stalks are fatter than I can put my hand around! And they are seeding the back fence line with a vengeance. If you put those two factors together you can guess what we have here - manes and tails snarled and entangled with burdocks. Oh, what a mess they are!

In need of help, I posted a bulletin board message saying that Saturday we would work to prepare the horses for Doc and The Gala. Would anyone share in the menial but necessary task of untangling and de-burr'ing those manes and tails?

I need not have worried. The barns were full and the laughter was abundant. Pam was here and even though her heart wanted to work on Laddee, I asked her to focus on Unit who had just been de-burr'ed last Saturday but had managed, in her joy, to find even more burr's to entangle her little mane and tail. So Pam meandered over to Unit and with every glance their way, I saw Unit either nibbling on Pam's jacket zipper or dozing in her arms. They have a way about them . . .

Julie came to work in the barns and, given the condition of Unit, I asked Julie to take on Unit's tail. Now, we had a horse in heaven. Her mane being brushed and her tail being brushed. Little Unit soon dropped her head as she just gave in to the pure pleasure of all that loving touch.

Through the door came three women I didn't recognize but I soon came to appreciate and treasure. Sandie and her daughter, Dani, and her friend, Vicky. All three women were horse women and so the introductions of these new guests to the horses focused on ages and height and conditions. Dani loves the big ones and so she went - in a straight line! - over to Handsome. Now prior to Dani arriving, Handsome had been pawing at the ground in his jealousy and impatience. But once Dani laid a hand on him, he calmed and I soon saw him resting in total and utter contentment. He's a wonderful horse, Dani said. A wonderful horse.

Sandie spent her entire time working on April's tail. This tail that is thick and soft and black and long gathers burr's like a magnet. Oh, April has a way of getting burr's embedded - almost cemented - in her tail! But Sandie persisted and even found a way to untangle the twisted masses that most people would have simply cut off. But not Sandie! She was determined and was successful. April's tail was restored to its beautiful flowing state while April realized the progress and stood as tall as she could. This was one fine looking horse, Sandie said. Fine looking horse.

Vicky started on April's mane and soon had that under control. Then Vicky saw Miss Bette standing against the wall. Miss Bette was not feeling involved or wanted but Vicky soon took care of that. Miss Bette was brushed and her little sparse mane de-burr'd. Even her little wisp of a tail was brushed out. Her jaw had stopped its trembling and the mare relaxed. When the human hands were done grooming her, Miss Bette stood proud and once again felt grateful for the care of humans who were kind to her. She was a proud and sturdy horse, someone said. A proud and sturdy horse.

Bridget worked with Blaise and soon turned this muddy unattended little mare into a soft bundle of clean hair and fur. Blaise licked her lips in contentment. The care Bridget had in those hands was evident. This was Bridget's first time here but I could see that this woman had a heart bigger than most. Blaise knew it almost with the first touch. The nervous little mare moved toward her caregiver and stood in total trust. I watched and smiled inwardly. Andy would be pleased that his little mare was so loved and cared for . . .

We had braided all the manes and wrapped all the tails and so I took the opportunity to put Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare into the shoeing bed to groom her. Julie and Bridget brushed her coat and put the piles of old, dead hair in the trash. A sure sign that Laddee was getting good food now, her body felt confident enough to push out the old hair and actually grow some new hair. Pam worked on her mane. Julie moved to her tail. Bridget? Well, Bridget hung from a strap and worked on Laddee's legs to rid them of burr's and some of the caked mud from the pastures.

I stood and just watched this. This little mare who three months ago would have been slashing out with her front feet! This little mare who would have been flinging her head like an elephant truck! This little mare who would cause herself injury just to keep those nasty, pain-riddled humans away from her! This little mare stood quietly and calmly. Soaking in all of the human touch. Only moving her head over to me once in a while to smell me and check where I was. She knows she is safe. She loves to be touched now. And I couldn't help but hug her and tell her how much I loved her.

Then, as we were wrapping up, Sandie and Vicky and Dani all attacked the mess that was the mane and tail of Ole' Man Cole. And I mean attacked! Cole was a bit nervous because his Miss Bette had vacated the barn, but these three experienced women worked with him and moved with him and soon, Cole was brushed and burr-free. That, people, was no small task!!!

About this time, two carloads of families arrived. Families with young daughters and friends of their daughters. I looked up to see Butchie. Once again, these horses had brought my past back into my life and I felt my heart swell.

Last Memorial Day during our public hours, I had been surprised when a man stood in the driveway. It had turned out to be a young boy I had grown up with when my Mom and my Dad and my Sister and I had all lived out in the country. When I asked Butchie how long it had been since we had seen each other, he knew. He had "figured it out on the drive out here," he said. "It's been forty-one years, Sandy."

So yesterday, once again, Butchie appeared in my life and my heart was full of memories of Gothenburg Road and Homecroft School and my family. It is good to talk with someone who knew your family. Who recognized your Dad in pictures. Who could tell you funny stories of your Mom. And who had once had a boyhood crush on your Sister. It felt good to hug Butchie.

We all wandered down the driveway to look at The Babies - Jeri-Ann and Spirit and Babee Joy. I saw the awe in the eyes of the horse women. I saw the instant love in the eyes of the young girls. And I saw the appreciation in the eyes of Butchie. He knew these horses had come from bad situations and he knew that now they were safe.

Jeri-Ann approached us, as she always does to these little toys she calls humans, and we all shrieked at her collection of burr's. "Another day!" we screamed. "Another day!" Babee Joy was cautious, as she always is, but gave us opportunities to view her body. Those hips and that neck. "Look at the size of that neck!" Sandie said repeatedly. We talked of riding and how your legs would stick straight out. I caught Dani's eye and saw the idea springing into her head. Another day, Dani. Another day . . .

I hugged Sandie and Dani and Vicky so long. Total strangers two hours ago but friends and comrades now. Andy, did you know what you were doing? Andy, is this what you had planned? "See you at The Gala!" they said as they walked to their car.

The two families and I headed back to the big barn and attacked the floors. The two men hauled wheelbarrows up to the manure pile and all of "us girls" chatted and giggled and worked like troopers. Bridget attacked the edges of the floors and the Moms made piles for the girls. The girls, not used to barn work, focused on getting the piles into the wheelbarrow and not on the floor or on each other. It was fun to watch their balance and dexterity develop with each load of the wheelbarrow.

In less than thirty minutes the barn was cleaned! Ready for Doc! I was elated - both the horses and the barns were ready for our special guest this week. What a gift these strangers had given me. They had given of their time and their labor. Given to me and the horses. All because they felt a kinship with what it is that we are trying to do here at Refuge Farms.

After all had departed, I meandered out into the pasture. I touched each horse that was now clean and with braided mane and wrapped tail. I marveled at their beauty. I hugged little Laddee and once again marveled at her willingness to now let a human close to her and touch her. In fact, when I left her she followed me. What a remarkable creation she is.

I hooked and fed the evening meal and came into the house to find him. In a flash of a second I had found him. His letters and his cards and a few pictures he had given me. Standing next to Slim. Standing next to his newly constructed metal fence. Sitting in his new John Deere tractor with the head of Patches, the cat, peeping out of his coveralls. I soon found my Andy in these papers.

And once again, I wondered.... What he would say to guide me? What would be his advice? Would he approve of what we have become? Did he, in his wisdom, know what he was beginning with his simple challenge?

Andy Durco, Jr. was a man of character. And in this week of The Gala, I find him with me more than usual. Stay close, Andy! Guide me and push me in the direction that is the Master Plan. Stay close, Andy, as we get into this winter without options for those horses that are not wanted anymore. Stay close, Andy, as we attempt to show people why we do what we do. And as we explain what it is that we do.

You left me with big Missions and big tasks in front of me, Andy. But yes, I hear you. You really haven't left me at all, have you. You are there. In the heart of each of them. Each one of them that lives their miseries in order to find their way to these barns. I only pray that I am worthy of your trust. That I am up to the task. Stay close, Andy. It is the week of The Gala. And I need to know, did you see this coming, my dear Andy?

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

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