Sunday, February 28, 2010


The 2009 Guest Book

Every year at this time, there are tasks that must be completed. Tasks that involve hours and hours and hours of paperwork at the desk. Auditing the expense log to insure expenses were not missed or miskeyed. To insure each expense was booked to the proper account. Best to audit them before the auditor audits them!

Also to be audited is a detailed review of every event held in the year. Public hours, breakfasts at Applebee's, antique and garage sales, bulb sales, cheesecake sales, Country Jam, the Gala . . . Oh! The work we do in a year to raise the funds to save the lives! I sit at my desk and shake my head in wonderment.

The volunteers are the backbone of this organization. And they are there. Everytime, they are there. To work an event. To plan the event. To gather donations for the events. How do you thank these people who give and give of their hands, their hearts, and their backs? How do you show them your gratitude? Maybe, you give them time with the horses to love and pet and just be with them. Maybe, you give them time with the very creatures they have worked so hard to salvage. Let the horses thank them. Let the horses show them. Let the magic happen for these volunteers, too.

Then there is the audit of the donations. Insuring that all donations are recorded and that end-of-year recaps are mailed. Handwriting notes and envelopes by the dozens. Once again, coming in touch with those Friends of THE FARM that believe in us and support us. People who make our work possible. I find it difficult to express my gratitude. Sometimes the words fall woefully short of showing the appreciation for their gifts. How do you thank someone for the lives saved from their kindness? It is at these times I feel very inadequate and unable to complete the tasks in front of me. I am humbled, to say the least.

And at the end of this process, it is time to recap the hours and efforts and accomplishments of the year. It is time to recap the horses rescued, re-homed, and lost. Grief often overcomes me as I think of those we lost. Joy overcomes me as I recall the re-homing and the follow-up visits of fat and happy horses with their new loving owners. A feeling of inadequacy overcomes me as I remember those we missed or those we could not rescue. Those we could not get to in time. Knowing, all the while, that all of our hard work is but a hair on a horse's back. We are but a blip in the screen of the unwanted horse. But our blip is there, nonetheless, and I try to take comfort in the lives that we were able to help.

It is then that I pull out the Guest Book for 2009. This book is a simple three-ring binder with pages for our guests to sign when they visit. There is the typical name and address information but also room for comments. It is those comments that I want to share with you. Here are some of the notes from our guests:

"What a blessing to visit this Farm. Heaven here on earth."

This note came from a family that visited us last March. It was a cold and windy day. The horses were stoic and not the least bit interested in us. They only wanted shelter from the raw March winds. We talked and the visit was brief. They got "it" though. Fellow horse owners, this family got "it" for sure. Everyone of them - the parents and the youngsters. They all got "it".

And then there are the notes from Memorial Day Public Hours. Our first Public Hours at the beginning of the new season. Another summer of rescue. So full of hope and optimism! So many possibilities! And, it seems, so much time!
A whole summer ahead of us!

"Keep up the good work everyone! What you do is awesome!"

"God Bless"

"Forever in my prayers!"

"Great to see the horses & all (the) workers. Thanks!"

"You are doing a great job"


"Interesting - Good to see these horses have a good home!"

And then one of my favorites from the entire season:

"This place is so AWESOME!!"

At the end of a Public Hours day, those of us who hosted our guests sit and rehash the day. We tell stories of who was here, what they said, the questions they asked, how the horses responded to them, and who seemed to connect with which horse. We always - read that as always - conclude that the day was well worth the effort. Opening our barns to the public, free of charge, to share these horse ministers is what we do. To show our works and our successes. To share our hopes for those who are struggling. And to offer these horses to the humans who may also be struggling.

Many times, horse lovers just want to see the horses that are here. They want to see Jeri-Ann and test, for themselves, her height and estimate her weight. They want to see, for themselves, this blue roan that we call Babee Joy. They want to touch the empty eye socket on Handsome's face. And they want to see, for themselves, the horse that was near death on Easter Sunday. Horse lovers that just want to love a few more horses.

Later in the summer, a group of women toured with Meg, a talented and generous woman who created a special quilt for our Fall Gala & Auction. These women were not farm women or even horse women. They were women with kind hearts and curious minds. We talked and I told them a few stories. Select stories. Not the worst of the stories. Some of the more gentle stories. Still, tears rolled and heads were shaking at the inhumanity of humanity. Their notes say it all:

"I was very moved by Sandy and the family. My heart ached the whole time - in a good way."

"Very enjoyable afternoon meeting Sandy & her family. Some of the stories are so heartwarming."

What grabbed me about these notes was two things - the raw impact these horses had on these women and the use of the word "family". I would say these women got "it", too.

There is one page in the 2009 Guest Book that says it all, though. Says it all! During the season, a family visited us from Woodbury, MN. A young family with children. Children that were loved and shown the eye of Laddee. The leg of Miss Bette. The knee of Spirit. And the joy of Unit. They hugged Gracie and looked deep into her blind eyes. Then they kissed her. Gently and with great love and caring.

It is the little ones that grab you the most. The little hearts that are so innocent and so gracious. They look beyond the pus and the scars and the wounds and the blindness. They look into the hearts of these discarded horses and they see the beauty and wonder within. These children are the ones we try to reach. If only one child is changed in a season. If only one child finds the true meaning of forgiveness in the empty socket of Handsome's face. Putting their little hand in that empty socket and then looking at this enormous horse who forgives all humans . . . . Those are the memories that you take to bed with you at the close of the day.

So, at the end of the year there is a mile of paperwork. Auditing and re-auditing yourself. Plans for the coming year. Goals and schedules. But buried in all of these tasks are the hopes that during the visits - an unscheduled tour, a Vacation Bible School group coming to perform community work, or during Public Hours - one Human Being will be touched by one of these horse ministers. Just one.

And then, regardless of what happens in the remainder of the year, it has been a successful year. A year of memories and pictures. And those precious, tender notes in the Guest Book.

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

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Sunshine and The Herd

Today's sunshine is like pure medicine to my soul. A most powerful medicine. I have just returned from wandering the pastures with the horses. Falling through the snow crust in some places and skimming on the top in other places. Walking the fields with "the children" on a sunny Sunday is the most powerful medicine that I know. It heals. They heal the wounds that come with working in this world of rescue.

My first walk took me into the Helen Keller pasture. My voice brought Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare directly to me thinking I had food for her. Sorry, girl. Its just me, but would you come along with me? A few pats on my chest and words of encouragement and this "Killer Mare", as I once labeled her, followed me in the pasture as we checked fence lines and just let the sun work its magic on us. Handsome began the journey with us but soon decided that he could just stand and watch us. He is, after all, nine feet off the ground and so we little ones are easily visible to him.

I cherish my time with Laddee. The mare who was so desperately abused and infected. The mare that has tolerated surgery and a trach and humans touching her. The mare who now comes to me and asks me to scratch her ears. How precious this horse is to me. Her presence is a gift that I am grateful for and that I do my best to memorize each and every day.

My next journey took me to the Gelding's Pasture with Sandy and her new best pal, Josephina. These two are like one horse, they stick together so closely. Elizabeth is the "House Mother" of this little herd with Lanna going as directed and with such an eagerness to please. That big mare is certainly a gem. So glad she found her way to us from the basement of that old, dark dairy barn.

To my surprise, hoof prints have created a path back to the big poplar tree. We should rename that tree to the scratching post! Piles - literally piles! - of horse hair covers the ground at the base of the tree. Hhhhhhmmmmmmm . . . . Could this be yet another sign of spring?

My journey in this pasture is relatively brief and solitary. Most of these horses have mobility issues and so their companionship isn't expected. And with this pasture being so much larger, standing and watching me is the smart thing for them to do. And that is precisely what they do.

In the Old Barn Pasture, I find a totally different story, however. Here are The Babies. Here is Dudely. And here is big Beauty. Here are the healthy ones with no mobility issues and tons of curiosity. And playfulness!

My first fence line was accompanied with sniffs and smells and jockeying for who would be first in line. Single file. They walked in single file behind me. Almost expecting me to break trail for them. And yes, I did my best. However, my little foot made such a small break in the snow that Jeri-Ann's hoof print literally erased all traces of me!

The back fence line was accompanied by joyful playing. Unit and Spirit ran ahead and then rolled. Not to be outdone, Babee Joy dropped and rolled. Then Beauty. And then Jeri-Ann made a valiant attempt at a rollover. Babee Joy dropped and rolled again. And then we were off. Freshly showered and clean once again, we began our single file journey to the far west corner.

The remaining fence lines were accompanied with boredom and races. Unit and Spirit lost interest with the slow pace and monotonous journey. Back to the barn they raced! Upon arrival at the barn, they looked around to see that they were alone! Yikes! Back to the herd they raced! This went on for quite some time. Those two little girls are so suited to each other and I am so pleased to watch them as they grow up to be young mares together.

Dude urges Beauty to separate from the pack and head back to the round bales with him. After all, he is quite a distance from the food, you know. Beauty walks back with Dude. The couple. Like an old, married couple. These two, of all two, have picked each other and are joined together by choice. More lessons in life right here in the pastures.

Babee Joy soon tired of the exercise and nudged at my back to urge me to return to the barn. And even though I went against her wishes and persisted on, she stuck with me. She did not leave me alone in her pasture. She walked with me the entire way. There was once another big monster horse that was true like that. He would not leave me either. I do often see the traits of Jerry, the Roan Horse in Babee Joy. Today, I was happy for the company of this huge, blue roan. Babee Joy is magnificent. This is a quality mare who has come to Refuge Farms for some grand purpose. What that purpose is has yet to unveil itself, but Babee Joy stands ready to take it on.

As I wander back through the barns and believe that the fence lines will survive until spring when I can work on them, I am content. My face is tight from the sun's reflection off of the white snow. My legs feel good after being stretched and used for something other than chores and stacking feed. My lungs feel active with the abundance of crisp, fresh air flooding in and out of them. My body enjoys this early spring trek along the fence lines.

But it is my heart that has benefited the most. My heart has found a song and is singing now. Time with The Herd. Time with those that were unwanted or neglected or simply dropped off. Time with the Ministers that patiently wait until I lift my head to see them. Really see them. And learn from them.

Today's sunshine is like pure medicine to my soul. A most powerful medicine. Walking the fields with "the children" on a sunny Sunday is the most powerful medicine that I know. It heals. They heal the wounds that come with working in this world of rescue. Every time. If we take the time, they will offer to help heal us. The sun and The Herd. Master Healers. I am glad to be alive.

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


There Was Something Wrong With Her

I’ve spent the entire day convincing myself that “there was something wrong with her. Something in her gut. Something causing her not to be able to eat even though she was hungry. There was something wrong with her.”

All of the symptoms point to something medically wrong inside of Judy’s body: the severe weight loss, the inability to consume more than just a few cups of feed, the anemic condition signaling a bleed somewhere in her system, and the continued and progressing weakness. Add all of these things together with the sleep deprivation and yes, there was something wrong with her.

Given the medical issues, Dr. Brian reassured me this morning that if it wasn’t this morning it would be tomorrow morning or the next morning. And being hungry all the time but unable to eat must be a nasty place to be. “There was something wrong with her, Sandy. We’ll never know what it was, but there was something wrong in her body.”

I hear all of that. I hear the logic. I see the symptoms. I recognize the battle she was in. I saw the weakness. I know her age. I saw that growing strong was not something Judy could do. I see all of that. Hear all of that. But I had hope. You see, in my world and in my heart, love and hope can conquer just about anything.

I had hope that feed would be enticing to her. That the fine hay I had for her would be tasty and good for her tummy. That the medicines would heal the wound – whatever it was – in her gut and help her muscles rebuild. That my hugs and love and encouragement would help her overcome. I had hope.

But this morning, Judy was down and all attempts to raise her were without effect. She just did not want to stand again. This noble horse had come to realize, for herself, that there was something wrong inside of her and that her strength and stamina would not return. She knew.

As I had expected, her loyal twin stood valiantly beside her while we waited. Every once in a while Sandy would lower her head and they would exchange air. Judy would noticeably calm down and Sandy would squeal at her. But Judy knew something was wrong and so she lay there. No longer attempting to get up on those old, shaky legs of hers.

Judy crossed this morning. So soon after arriving and stealing our hearts. Way too soon. But yes, there was something wrong with her. I’ve been telling myself that all day. Trying to convince myself that nothing more could have been tried. Trying to find a way to forgive myself for not being able to help her. For not being there when she went down. Maybe then, when she was first down, she would have had the strength to rise again.

Tonight as I fed everyone, I looked at the empty spot in the corner. Sandy standing in her place in the big barn but the spot to her left now vacant. The Grand Dame, Judy, has crossed. Left an enormous hole in the barn after only a few days with us. Yes, there was something wrong with her. Something in her gut. Something bleeding. Something that would not allow this hungry mare to eat the food that she needed.

And then it hit me.

Something was, indeed, wrong with her . . . . but at the very same time everything, absolutely everything, was right with her.

Written in love and hope and gratitude for you, Judy -
Sandy and The Herd

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