Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The Little Mare That Waited

There are no magic words. No easy ways. No kind thoughts or phrases. Only the stark and brutal truth to tell you. Blaise crossed last night.

It has been ten hours and I still can't find a way to say it. I cannot find the words to break the news in a way that is just and kind and respectful enough to do right by this little mare. This was Andy's horse. Blaiser, as we called her. A kind horse willing to do anything we asked of her. Willing to stand while anyone brushed her. Or walk with anyone when asked. Blaise was a gem of a horse. And the abscence of her is enormous.

Everyone ate breakfast yesterday and even Blaise was eager for her feed and her carrot treats. It was in the 20's yesterday morning but it was damp and chilly. I left everyone to stand for an hour while the sun burned through the fog. When I saw the sun was almost through, I went out and changed a few blankets to lighter ones and set them loose for their day.

Blaise had been blanketed for the first time this winter. She just seemed a bit smaller to me and she was getting older, you know. And yet she was proud. Very proud. When I first put a blanket on her after the big storm, she lifted her head as if to tell me she would tolerate this thing. Barely. And only for me. She was sturdy, you know, and didn't need a blanket. But if it would make me feel better, then go ahead and put that thing on her.

Twenty minutes later when I put my hand under her blanket on her side, she was toasty warm and I hugged her and thanked her for doing that for me. "If I know you are warm, I'll be warm, Blaiser", I told her. Not one for showing affection, she simply walked away from me.

So yesterday morning, I took a heavier night blanket off of Blaise to put on a lighter windbreaker-style blanket. I wanted the sun to warm her but the wind on this hill was raw and I didn't want her to chill. While between blankets, I scratched her tummy like she enjoyed. Her jaw came out and she twitched her head. Oh, that felt good! I made sure I reached way under her tummy and scratched her good. When she had been scratched enough, she reached back to nudge me her thanks. I then put on her lighter blanket and left the gates open for her, like I always did.

You see, Blaise was one you rarely needed to lead anywhere. And in these last several years, if she did need leading it wasn't with a halter and lead rope. No, I just lightly, very lightly, placed a cupped hand under her jaw and she went with me. This was one well-behaved horse.

Yesterday, I left the gate to her stall and the gate to the Gelding's Side open while I went about the business of unhooking the horses on the Helen Keller side. I didn't hear her nor did I see her move out of her stall and into the paddock. But she did. When she felt it was safe and she could move without bumping into anything or another horse. Blaise didn't want any trouble. She would move away from a threatening horse and so she waited to move until she could see an open path. She was patient and she was smart.

In the evenings, when I asked she and Liz-Beth to come in for supper, it would be Josephina who would be standing in the doorway threatening Blaise's entrance. So, I would open the gates and make sure Blaise's meal was prepared: feed, four carrots broken into bite sizes, and her pergolide sprinkled on the carrots. Once all was ready, I would walk to Josephina's side and spread my arms wide open to create a human fence and I would say the words, "It's okay, Blaise. I'll protect you." When those steps were completed, Blaise would silently pass into her stall to eat her meal.

Blaise was easy to overlook. She was quiet and obedient. She would not push through other horses for carrots. No, instead she would simply vanish. Crowds of guests did not excite her and she had been in her fair share of noisy arenas. She wanted only the quiet and an easy access to the hay. Not one to hoard the hay, I would see her sharing her meal with Gracie or PONY! or Liz-Beth. She moved away from Josephina or Lanna, but those that were more blind than she or more in need than her were given access to her food. She was kind and gentle. And she willingly shared.

And Blaise was a caretaker. When Laddee first arrived - way before her surgery - I put that dangerous, rambunctious, fast moving mare in the Helen Keller pasture with Blaise and Quarter Horse. Now, Quarter Horse had been a mirror image of Laddee - blind, rambunctious, fast moving, and defensive. But after only three weeks, Blaise had pal'd up with Quarter Horse and shown her "the ropes". There was no need for biting here. Or pushing here. Or kicking here. There was plenty of hay for all of us. "Here", she said to the Quarter Horse, "I'll show you a better way to be." And Blaise brought Quarter Horse to a place of calmness that I could never have taught her. Blaise was a caretaker.

And so when Laddee appeared in her pasture, it was Blaise who took Quarter Horse with her over to this big, smelly, pushy mare. And the three of them worked it out. Blaise, with the one good eye and knowledge of where to stand out of the sun. Where to find the cool water. Where the good hay was sitting. And who else in the pasture could be trusted and tolerated. Blaise, the wiser, calmer, experienced resident of Refuge Farms taught the newbies how to relax and enjoy themselves. She taught them to be calm because they were safe.

It was Blaise that taught Laddee how to come in and go to her feeder for her meals. In the beginning I would go out and get Laddee only to come in the barn and find Blaise eating at Laddee's feeder. As Laddee came to trust Blaise, I would just step aside and the two would come in and stand at the big corner feeder and share a meal. To watch that transformation was to witness a miracle. The little paint mare bringing the huge, angry Belgian mare into the barn and then the two of them standing and sharing feed together. Like I said, Blaise was a caretaker.

In all of her years with me, I never saw Blaise fight or bite. She was a peacekeeper. A caretaker. A truly gentle soul. And she was Andy's horse.

When I pulled in this driveway on that hot July day after driving fifteen hours up from Texas, I was terrified to open the trailer. My primary concern was for "the old horse". Would Andy's old Tennessee Walker make the ride? Right from the beginning, Blaise just kind of melted into the woodwork. She just didn't stand out. She was just there. The attention was always on someone else other than her.

But not that day! "The old horse" was just fine after the trip and so I unloaded him then went back in for the little mare who stood so quietly in the trailer. With my mind on the old one, I reached for this mare and startled her. She reared, caught me with her left front hoof, and knocked me out cold. When I awoke, I was flat on my back in the empty trailer with the mare standing at the back door. Waiting for me. Obediently standing two inches from the back of the trailer, patiently waiting for me.

Yesterday, Blaise had laid down in the pasture in the avenue I had plowed for delivering hay. I covered her with blankets and called Dr. Brian. Then quickly hooked everyone else to insure no one got hurt or in the way. Blaise spent a few minutes outside and then looked for the rest of her herd. When she saw no one, she gathered her strength and with herculean effort, got up on her feet. Those shaky legs took her into the barn and she put herself in the very center of the barn. On her side. At rest. In the middle of the barn. Surrounded by her friends. For the first time, I saw Blaise do something to give herself comfort. She took, for once. And with that gesture, I knew her time had come.

What a girl. What a friend she was. What a trusted ally. What a dependable member of The Herd. What a caretaker she was. What a partner she was in helping me teach humans about horses. What an intelligent creature she was.

And now, I believe she is finally happy. Blaise moved here in July of 2002. And in all of those years, I never saw her smile. When she and Cole arrived, the two were joined at the hip. One did not move without the other. They even went to the stock tank and drank together. You couldn't see her because Cole was a bit taller than her, but she was there. On his side. Stuck like glue.

After introducing them to The Herd, Cole found other horses to pal up with. And Blaise waited for him to return to her. But Ole' Man Cole never did return to her. He found many other girlfriends and never stood with her again. But Blaise waited. And once in a while, she would wander up to him and he would move away. She had been rejected and I could hear her heart breaking.

I tried many horses with Blaise, hoping one of them would scratch with her and heal her little broken heart. But no one was ever successful. Blaise was waiting for her one love to see her again. Those two had been through starvation and neglect together. They had traveled fifteen hours together in a little horse trailer. They had moved from Texas to Wisconsin together. And Blaise trusted Cole. She would stand by him to sleep, trusting that Cole would watch out for her.

And her waiting became more obvious and more intense after her right eye failed her. I still clearly remember the morning she came in and that eye was blinded. Her face was wet and she acted as if it was a scratch. I cleaned her and saw that the eye had literally flattened. I gave her some bute in case there was pain but she continued on with her life as if it was simply a wound and in a bit of time it would heal. She waited. Waited for her eye to heal. Blaise never compensated for that blind eye. She did not accept the blindness. It was a wound. And wounds heal. And she waited for this wound to heal.

And so, as I told Dr. Brian last night, I am hopeful that now Blaise will find her love partner and those two Texas kids will be together and happy once again. I pray that this little mare finds peace. And whatever she was waiting for. Waiting for all these years.

The black flag for Blaise will be put on the road sign post after the storm. Out of respect for Blaise. She didn't like the wind or the rain. She didn't like to be messy. Blaise didn't like to walk through the mud. And this little mare did not roll in the dirt to keep the flies away. She was too much of a lady for all that. So, when the storm has passed the flag will go up. When the wind and the rain have passed, the black flag will fly for Blaise. In tribute to the little mare that you didn't see. That melted into the woodwork. That didn't stand out. That would not push up to the rail for a carrot. The one that was silent. The little mare that waited. Blaise.

Born: 05/12/1981 Arrived: 07/27/2002 Crossed: 12/27/2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010


This Christmas Morning

It is early on Christmas morning. A light dusting of fresh dry snow has covered the already buried ground with a new layer of pure white. The horses are calmly munching on their hay while they await the magic appearance of their breakfast buckets. The dogs are asleep in their kennels and the cats are huddled around the pellet stoves. All is calm.

During my years of writing these stories, I have told you many times of the Gilbert family on Christmas morning. My Dad drinking his coffee while he watches us quickly since he probably has been called to plow runways at the airport. My Mom as she works in the kitchen: ever present and ever worried. So sad that Dad has to leave us but always a smile on her face. Never showing her disappointment which I now know to be heartbreak. My sister, the consummate lady, with her hair fixed and her makeup on for Christmas morning presents and pictures. And me. Yes, me. All a mess. All noisy. And all about Christmas!

We would have Christmas albums playing on the Hi-Fi Stereo system that Dad had splurged on one year. The big Christmas colored lights would be shining on the real, live Christmas tree that we had cut from the back acreage. Tinsel that my Sister had hung on the tree would be glistening. The tinsel I had thrown on the tree would be a mess. The plate of cookies I had set out for Santa would be reduced to crumbs and my note - or was it a letter? - to him would be written on by the man himself. I was convinced he existed. I knew it! And Christmas morning was my proof.

Presents under the tree were left for me from "Santa". The wrapping paper I had never seen before. The bows were new! And the handwriting on the gift tag was foreign to me. The man existed. I knew it!

A half century later and I am still convinced he exists. Fifty years have passed.
And in those fifty years I have doubted that God existed. That my life was worthwhile. That my heart would survive the death of yet another. That I would find money for the electric bill. That the cold would subside. That the heat would break. That it would ever rain again. That I would find the answer. That I would ever know peace. And that I would someday, as I did as a child, believe in the miracle of Santa again.

Of all of those doubts that come with being an adult in this world, of all of them, the one I know for a fact to be the truth is that Santa does exist. I just have a gut feeling. And a heart this morning that is bursting with all kinds of emotions. And I've got to believe, that if there weren't a Santa, why would I even feel anything different on this Christmas morning?

Before my feet ever hit the floor, I realized it was Christmas. I transported myself back to the living room on Gothenburg Road. I could feel the coarseness of the worn wool carpet on the floor. The plushness of the used couch fabric. I could smell the coffee and my Dad's cigarette. I could hear the music playing the Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas album. The draft of cold air coming down the stairs would be fresh on my legs. And I could see the presents.

I now look at the picture of my dear family on Christmas morning a bit differently than I did as a child. Now, I see the strong face of my Father. The weariness in his shoulders. The delight in his eyes. The tiredness of his legs.

Now I see the wishes in my Mother's face as she longs only for one Christmas with her family together and at rest. I see her busy hands that work to keep her mind from wandering. And I see the fruits of her love in her care of us.

I see my Sister in her wisdom as she knows but doesn't tell. She knows of their love for each other and for us. And she knows of their sacrifices and dreams. But she doesn't tell her little sibling. No, she plays along so that I can scream in delight at the new game that Santa had given her.

The smells of the day are fresh in my nostrils. The new snow as we all gather by the door to kiss Dad good-bye. He heads out with his lunchbox and his newly gifted warm work gloves. Out in the dark on this early morning covered in snow. Out in the cold of the Northland. Out away from his family because he loves his family. And will do whatever it takes to provide for them. Even on Christmas morning.

I spend a little time with my family as I lie in bed this morning. I cry for them because I still miss them so. I need the strength of my Father to help me. I need the love of my Mother to console me. And I need the positive outlook of my Sister to push me forward. I miss them. And I long to see them again. Wiping my tears, I head downstairs to awake my own little family on this Christmas morning.

Christmas is full of memories and wishes from the past. But Christmas is full of dreams and hopes and promises of the future, as well.

My inside family greets me as I turn on the lights. Cats looking for morning moist food. Dogs stirring because it is almost time to go outside and play! I pause at the table with my family pictures displayed. "Come with me today", I ask of them. "Stay with me today. On this Christmas morning."

Outside we go and then my outside family greets me. Low nickers of welcome. The crunch of heavy feet on the hard packed snow as they come in for their meal. It seems the same as any other morning. Until I start to sing with the carols on the radio. Unit tips her head a bit more than usual. Spirit stands and watches me. Liz-Beth begins to flap her lower lip a tad. And PONY! stops in his tracks. They can smell the carrots and apples I have prepared. It's Christmas!

They know it is Christmas. They know because they were there on that special morning. In the Christian faith, this Child was born in a barn with cattle and a donkey and camels. The smells of a barn and the feel of fresh bedding. A hay manger for a bed. Surrounded by the innocent animals who do not judge and do not chastise. Creatures who simply accept, forgive, and accept again.

My heart is complex on this Christmas morning. Grief for those lost on one side and contentment for those velvet noses I kiss on the other. Worry for those not rescued and grateful for those under my wings. Big longing for a family still strong in my heart living right next to a big joy for my new family. Why do we Humans have a way of hanging on and not letting go? Why can't we cut the chain of the past that keeps our hearts heavy on this Christmas morning?

It is my truest wish for each of you that on this Christmas morning you find peace in your heart. Peace with where you are, wherever that may be. Where you are this morning and where you are in your life. That you somehow find the promise of Santa somewhere in your world today.

Look for him. He's there. Yes, Santa exists. I know it. How else do you explain the feel of the snow on your face this morning? How else do you explain the warmth of Handsome's breath as it washes over your face? How else do you explain the tiny, little nuzzle of Gracie's nose as you awaken her and guide her to her feed? And how else do you explain the joy in hugging Liz-Beth as she stands there? Accepting and now almost expecting the hug?

As you watch a child unwrap a gift from Santa, how can you deny he exists? As you listen to the Christmas carols and kiss your neighbor under the miseltoe, how can you say there is not a Santa? As you see an entire world pause to reflect on a single story, how can you even think that the jolly old man is only a myth?
He exists. I know it!

I will carry Donald and Violet and Donna with me today. And in their faces, I will see the winks between them and their faces as I exclaim that,
"He was here! Santa was here!" They allowed me to believe. As I child, I believed. And today, I will be a child again. And I will believe in Santa. The absolute miracle of Santa.

Wishing you peace and contentment on this Christmas Morning,
Sandy and The Herd

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


'Tis the Season!

This past weekend - the first weekend in December of 2010 - was true to the old Christmas song: 'Tis the Season to be jolly . . .
For me, this past weekend was a blast!

We started the weekend with snow and plenty of it! Of course, it had fallen - and was still falling - for our Christmas Applebee's breakfast! Those of us "old timers" just smile. It seems a part of the tradition to have a blizzard on our Christmas Breakfast morning! The snow and the roads did not stop the volunteers from arriving at 7:30am, donning their Santa hats, and serving up a hot meal to the guests!

Our attendance was a bit smaller than our usual breakfast due to the roads covered in snow, but the spirit of the place was typical of us. There was laughter and joy everywhere!

Our crew on the floor was a mix of "newbies" and "old-timers". Some of the newbies were friends and family of our Sister in Rescue, Shar. These women worked well and with a smile. Willing to bus or serve or do whatever was asked of them, they pitched in for the general cause of rescuing horses. Ya gotta love 'em!

The "old-timers" are called that strictly on an experience level basis - nothing to do with age! We have the Webb family who single-handedly managed all positions on the north side of the restaurant by themselves. This family has been volunteering at Refuge Farms for six years now and it is an honor and a thrill to watch these little children grow into fine, considerate, polite, and contributing adults. Mom - you are doing a fine job of raising them!

Then there are the volunteers who found their way to Menomonie - on those roads! - from South St. Paul and even Maplewood! Snow? Yes, there was snow. "But we just left a little early," was their comment about the drive. The dedication of these people humbles me. What a privilege to be a part of a mission that is supported by such quality Human Beings.

The kitchen crew? Well, that was a gift that was strictly from the heavens! You see, Gen is an experienced restaurant cook! My work entailed introducing Gen to the Applebee's staff person and then just getting out of the way. It was handled, as they say!

And Eric? I don't really know this man too well. Have met him only a few times. But the atmosphere of the man is one of calm and peace and gentleness. He's the kind of person you like to just stand next to. Eric is a keeper, as my Mom would say. And I am thrilled to have him with us on these events.

We served breakfast and then our guests were given the opportunity to shop our bake sale for their sweet tooths or for gift giving. I heard many say that "I can get some of my shopping done here!" The table was filled with homemade treats for us humans, our dogs, and even our horses! Everything from cookies and brownies to pies and breads. From seasoned crackers to Colleen's homemade salsa - which, by the way, is developing a following all on its own!

The "aaahhhhh" of the bake sale was this: pickled beets. And, you ask, what is so special about pickled beets? Well, for starters, not many people have the talent or will take the time to make them anymore. Colleen's Mom made jars of pickled beets for us this year. And they flew off the table! But these pickled beets were very, very special. You see, the beets came from Ole' Man Cole's Sharing Garden. Yes, Cole was with us again this December. An appropriate tribute on his one year crossing, don't you think?

After the dishes were bused back to the kitchen, someone had to wade through the gooey mess and sort the silverware from the plates from the cups from the glasses from the trash. Someone had to rinse and stack and run the trays through the big dishwasher. And someone had to do that all by herself and keep up with the flow! That talent is none other than The Professor! Glad to have you, Tracy!

This particular breakfast was the "kickoff" for the Building Committee, as well. Tom and Julie were there to present the committee, inform people of the committee and its purpose, and to kickoff the raffle. Tom came armed with
pictures of the old barn walls that are literally heading east and south as well as a few shots of a roof that is crumbling into little pieces. And raffle tickets. There is a raffle with the first prize being a quarter of their homegrown, organic beef right off of their farm in Ellsworth. There will be more information about this raffle, but if you want to get a jump on it, just email or call THE FARM and we'll get you tickets. They sell for $5 each or 3 for $10 and all monies raised will go to the Building Fund. The drawing is January 31st - just in time for the Super Bowl!

Who is Tom you ask? He's the dude in the hat . . .

So, the weekend began with a storm and a fundraiser. Good people supporting the missions and good friends to see again right before the busy holiday season gets into full swing. I had a blast! And little did I know it was just the beginning . . .

Sunday morning saw some of us grouping together to head out to another breakfast. Not to work this one. Nope, we attended this one. Supported the cause of the organization hosting the breakfast. We traveled to the Zuhrah Shrine Horse Patrol Barn in Maple Plain, MN and ate breakfast with good friends.

Chris greeted us and insured we had a tour of the facility. The meeting rooms upstairs, the barns (oh, I can dream . . . !) and the arena. Even the Minneapolis Mounted Police Barns were opened to us.

The food was great and we ate! Two helpings for most of us! Larry spent time with us and told us the history of the land acquisition, the building of the barns and the arena, and also the challenges of having such a property "in the city". Great hospitality and great friends. I am pleased and again honored and humbled to made the acquaintance of this group of men and their horses. We are so similar and it is a joy to spend time with such a successful organization.

But the highlight of the day, no . . . the highlight of the season!. . . came when we went into the arena. There in his saddle was Randy. The Refuge Farms rescue horse who made his appearance at The Refuge Farms Fall Gala & Auction in early November. The horse who once was depressed and thin and without a future other than that of death. There stood Randy. And my heart burst!

It was only a matter of minutes later and we were given the opportunity to ride this horse. This little rescue horse who is spoiled rotten now! Who has a tummy sticking out over his cinch strap! And who drooled for the boiled carrots that Pam brought for him! This little horse is what we do. Just like Dude and Laddee and Handsome and Gracie. Randy is what we do.

I'm going to stop talking now and just let the pictures tell the story. But only before I tell you what I told the volunteers that morning:

The next time you get an email asking you to help fold and tape and label 2,000 newsletters. The next time you get an email asking you to help fold and stamp and label 2,000 gala invitations. The next time you are asked to sell Younker's coupon books. Or sell bulbs. Or sell cheesecakes. Or get pledges for The Walk. Or you are asked to work the public hours. Or help clean barns. Or whatever it is that we ask the volunteers to support. The next time you get that email and you may hesitate . . . remember Randy.

As I told the volunteers on Sunday morning, all that work, all those hours, all that time is for this. This horse. And hundreds like him. Your efforts now have a face. And it is the face of this horse. The face of Randy.

Enjoy the pictures and be thrilled that our work and our resources saved this horse's life! This is just one of over 700 horses that we have given an option. A future. A chance.

It is the season of joy and celebration. It is the season that we celebrate a birth. I daresay, that Randy has been reborn and it is Christmas for this horse every single day.

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

Thanks, Tom, for the pictures!

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