Sunday, August 01, 2010


"She Is A Warrior!"

As I turned over the Refuge Farms 2010 Calendar to display August, there she was. In all of her misery and puss. With all of her flies and pain. In all of her fright and anger. And with all of her hunger and thirst. There she was. Laddee. A little Belgian mare dropped off in the corral with her best friend, Jack.

A swift twenty-four hours after being dropped off in a strange place with strange water and strange humans around her, the one she depended on and the one she trusted was gone. Jack no longer took her to safety or walked with her into the shade. Jack no longer made noises in the water to show her where the stock tank was sitting. And Jack no longer scratched her mane to comfort and love her.

This blind mare was alone. Frightened. Starved. Fearful. And battling a draining, pussy, fly infested tumor on her eye that created pain and itching all at the same time.

From the very beginning, this little mare was controversial. Do we operate on the eye? Do we put her down? Do we treat her at all given her tendency to put people in the air and strike out with her front feet? Do we spend a penny on this horse that appears to be a danger to any human who ventures into her space? Or do we simply put the "Killer Mare" down and move on?

The decision of whether to operate was posed to four people. Of the four, one answer was to operate only if it would cure her. If surgery would not cure her, don't operate. One answer was "put her down" before I could even finish the presentation of the case. This reply came after the first utterance of the word "cancer". Another answer was a question, actually. "Would she live long enough to heal from the surgery?" And the fourth answer was the one I rested upon. It was yet another question, but this person's guidance has steadied me throughout this entire past year with Laddee. The woman simply asked, "Does she have to be a healthy horse to be loved? Can't you love her if you make her healthier? And not all the way to healthy?"

Laddee's initial eye surgery healing process was not complicated from my perspective but was made complicated by the fact that the horse was not yet trusting of those humans around her. So treatment of the wound required Dr. Brian to stop by THE FARM so we could sedate her in order to clean the wound well and be safely in front of her. Given that huge head and those powerful legs, it seemed the only safe and sensible way to insure a healing horse and whole, unbroken humans.

Laddee flourished. The controversy seemed to diminish a bit. No more "put her down" talk. I observed as some simply stood quietly while looking at the horse with the growing bumps on her skull. I knew the thoughts. I knew all of the thoughts very well. Every single day I ventured there and discussed with myself the pros and cons of treating this horse. And then I relied on my gut. And I chose to listen to Andy's guiding words once again. When I asked him countless times how I would know what to do, he just repeated this answer: "Keep your eye on the horse, Sandy." And so with that guidance, I chose to make her healthier.

Her 2009 Refuge Farms Gala presence was the gift of a lifetime to me. And, I think, to a few others. To be able to proudly march her into that arena and have her walk with me on a lead rope! To have her in with the other horses and safely eating hay and listening to the new noises around her! To look over at her and see the body filling in and her response to the voices that she recognized! That evening, once again, it seemed that the controversy over her was diminished a bit.

Winter passed with stories of her first winter blanketing experience. Her love of feed. And her patient work and gradual winning of the love of Handsome. Many began to ask of the mare and even visit the mare. She became a fixture and we all seemed to forget the word that created all the controversy in the first place. Cancer.

Spring arrived and Laddee journeyed to the Menomonie Middle School with Handsome. Over seven hundred children visited those horses in their corral area. Hundreds of hands touched this mare. Never, ever did I dream that in such a short time she would come to trust and love and relax around us. The power of forgiveness was illustrated in grand fashion that day. The power of healing. And the power of her determination.

Spring brought increased pressure on her windpipe and the decision was once again in my face. Do I treat the mare or not? Several new voices were polled this time. Some said don't trach her. Others said that she must be trach'd. One person, again, said the words that I rested upon. Those words were simply that it is our job to support her until she no longer wants to go on. To support her in her fight against this disease. And to give her more time with Handsome and all of us. To match her determination for as long as she is so determined.

Controversy swirled all around me. Telephone calls to ask what were my intentions. Emails to support the cares provided for this mare. And that solid, stoic quiet from some. The sound of quiet disapproval.

But trach her we did. And Laddee is recovering and showing us all her new found personality once again. This mare is the most loving horse I have known in quite some time. If you stand by her and don't touch her, she nudges you. Reminds you that she is there and that you are (Ahem!) idle. She has come to love carrots and apples and pears and peaches and grapes. All foods that she had no idea even existed a year ago. And she recognizes the voices of those that love and care for her. She is a 1,800 pound puppy on a lax rope walking the grounds with me.

And most notably, she now lifts her head to "Princess". You see, the name "Princess" was given to her by one of her care givers. And it so fits this horse as she blossoms into her new life! She is, indeed, now Princess Laddee. And she could not be more appreciative of the life given to her.

Just last weekend, I was at the University of Minnesota Equine Center with Pam and Rosalie and Dr. Anne and Dr. Jose and Robert. We were all standing and recalling, once again, the transformation of this horse. From the "Killer Mare" to "Princess Laddee". From one who did not tolerate human touch to one who now craves human touch. From one who was to many "dead already" to one who is now alive. Totally alive.

We talked of her travels and her solid determination to heal and move forward. To not give the disease a glance but to work with it and around it. To live in spite of it. To be determined to live now and rejoice now. Dr. Jose said it perfectly when he said:

"Sandy. Oh, Sandy. It was a year ago that she came to us for the removal of her eye and that tumor. A year ago! And many thought she had only two to three months to live. And it has been over a year! A year, Sandy! She is a warrior! This horse is a true warrior. She will fight to live."

Controversy swirls around her. Yes, I am aware and I know. I listen and I watch. And I see the magic this horse creates in Pam and Rosalie and Sonja and Toni and the little girls that brush her and the total strangers that stop by to meet her. I see this horse win people over with her first meeting. And I see people stand in awe as we explain her odds and how well she appears to be doing a full year down the line. I hear of people who ask to see her because they have heard of her. I talk with people who recall her from a full year ago and stand and smile as they see the quiet in her and the size of her now.

Do we treat her? Yes, we treat her. How long? Until "she isn't Laddee anymore" is the response that I'm resting on. The woman who knows her the best answered my question of how will I know when she is tired? How will I know when it is time? Dr. Anne looked at me and calmly replied, "You will know when she isn't Laddee anymore."

How interesting that one year ago as we created the Refuge Farms 2010 Calendar that we would select to place Laddee to appear on the August tab. How interesting that her face appears as I flip the calendar to August amongst this year's meetings of plannings and challenges of treating horses. How interesting that Laddee, as she stands beautifully today, wins over new friends every time one meets her. How interesting that I am more sure now than I have ever been that treating this horse is exactly the right thing to do.

As you turn to August in your Refuge Farms 2010 Calendar, read the words under Laddee's picture. The heartfelt words of one full year ago:

"She has cancer. She is a dier, yes, but we will care for her like any other horse that comes into these barns. We will care for her like she is the most special creature God has ever created. Because, you see, she is."

Controversial? You bet. But before you say anything either way, come and spend some time touching this mare. Stand quietly next to her as she soaks up the breeze of the fan. Talk with her as she eats her feed. Rub her ears. Rub her face and have her fall asleep in your arms. Brush her mane and feel her freeze at the very feel of it. Stand and observe she and Handsome scratching each other. Then, after you have experienced her magic, then speak with me about treating this mare. And we will talk of controversy at its very, very best.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare

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