Sunday, May 15, 2011


The Saga of Dude Continues!

Just last April - a mere six weeks ago - I wrote to you and told you of "The Bravest Woman I Know". I told you the love story of Dude and Wanda. A "magic horse" and a woman. And how, tragically, the love between the two of them was tested to the point that Wanda had called and asked me to retrieve her Dude.

Against my better judgment but doing everything I could to support Wanda and her current needs, I did just that. On a Thursday morning in April, I drove to Wanda's town and loaded Sophie and watched as Wanda loaded her Dude into my trailer. And I closed the doors. I could hear the breaking of her heart as I latched those trailer doors. Wanda was strong but her face and the posture of her body told me of her severe inner pain.

Dude came back to Refuge Farms to live until a new owner could be found for him. Several people stepped up for this hero of a horse. Some would have been fantastic homes for Dude. Some would not have been good homes for him. No, instead, some were interested in acquiring Dude to "turn him over". I did my best to be polite and open with everyone who raised their hand for Dude but I kept quiet. I had an idea brewing in the back of my head . . . .

Dude was a gelding now. He had arrived at Refuge Farms as a stallion but we had gelded him as soon as Dr. Brian felt he was strong enough for the procedure. Dude was a chestnut. Now a shining, glossy chestnut color, at that! And he had white socks. Four of them. Socks almost up to his knees. White socks and white hooves. And he had the white markings on his face. Almost too much, I feared. Dude just didn't have a strip on his face, his entire face was white except around one eye. I was worried there was too much white on his face . . . .

And he had those blue eyes. I prayed that his eyes had wormed their way into the heart of someone I had in mind. Oh, I prayed that their brief encounter a while ago would have left a mark on this man's heart. I prayed that Dude was destined to go to the man I had in mind for him.

One telephone call on a Monday morning and I had a good feeling. The man was interested. Yes, he remembered the horse. Remembered him well. The man wanted to talk with Wanda about him, however. He had questions and wanted to talk directly with the woman who had worked with him and had brought him from a standing stallion to an easy riding gelding. I was just the go-between but I did all I could to encourage them both. I arranged the telephone call between the man and Wanda. And I prayed a bit more.

Wednesday evening my telephone rang. It was the man. He had spoken with Wanda and he had talked it over with everyone involved. Yes, Dude could be adopted by this man. That is, if that was still alright with me.

Was it! I was elated! Barely able to contain myself, I expressed my joy and relief at my dream coming true! Yes, this arrangement was just fine with me. Just fine with me, indeed! When should we transport Dude?

Trips to Arizona needed to be completed. Family health issues needed to be dealt with. And so it was decided that late-April or early-May, Refuge Farms would deliver Dude to his new owner. And it was a good placement. I had not one worry about delivering Dude to this man.

As I told people, "If Wanda had to give up Dude, this is the best place for him." And I meant it. Dude was landing on all four feet. Again. A second chance at being loved and cared for. This was one lucky, lucky horse.

So just his week, Dude was moved from Refuge Farms to his new home. A home full of other geldings. Chestnut in color. White socks. And white strips on their faces. Dude was loaded here and unloaded there. His head was high and his eyes were wide open as he surveyed his new surroundings. The handler walked around Dude and asked for each foot. All four feet were lifted as Dude was busy soaking in the new smells and sights. I stood and watched and breathed a sigh of relief. The first test had been passed. Dude was home. Again.

So just where did Dudely end up landing? Think back. I'll ask you to ponder it just as I asked Wanda to ponder it early last April. I said to her . . .

"Wanda, I want you to think back. Think back to the last six months and the things we have done together. Things you did for Refuge Farms that you normally would not have done. Tell me who you were introduced to because you did those things. Who you met that would be the ideal home for this precious horse of ours that we call Dude. Think, Wanda. Who do you think is adopting Dudely?"

My dear friend, Wanda, does not cry. Never seen her cry. But her voice cracked as she thought for a moment and then asked me, "Sandy, is Dude going to the Shriners?"

"Yes, my friend. Dudely has landed with Dick and his horsemen. The home of all homes. Dudely has landed on all four feet, Wanda. He'll have a wonderful, safe home for the rest of his life."

And so, earlier this week, I delivered this horse one more time. To a man that I trust with Dude. And there aren't too many people that I trust with that horse. You see, as Dude walked away at the Zuhrah Horse Barn, I could not help but be selfish for a moment and cry a bit. Because, you see, I love that horse. I have seen him down and about dead. I have seen him use every bit of his strength to stand just long enough so that he could pee. I have seen him collapse onto the ground again only to nibble on some grass or some feed.

And I have seen him get stronger, day by day. Until after six weeks,
he was gelded and then I focused
on "putting some meat on this boy". I found him with the puss-soaked chest and jaw and waited while
Dr. Anne restored his jaw. And then I cleaned his jaw three times a day and watched him as he healed.

And then, I watched the miracle of his rebirth. Dude became strong and he learned how to be a horse. The big mares here taught him how to socialize and how to be a part of a herd. And this proud horse continued to develop his muscle again and to use the feed he was given to build his body. And to grow a shining coat. And to grow new, normally shaped hooves. I watched this dead horse come alive again. And in the process, I fell in love with him.

Delivering Dude to Wanda, I had told you, was a true test of our commitment to this work of rescue. No one in this organization wanted to see Dude leave these barns. Many would have been happy to have him hang around. But a home with Wanda was a great fit and so he was delivered. And I cried. But I knew he was safe.

Earlier this week, we were tested again. Dudely had been back and had just fallen into the routine here at THE FARM. Spirit had recognized him as had all of the others. And he became the "big man on campus" once more. But a home with Dick at the Zuhrah barn was a great fit and so he was delivered. And I cried. But I knew he was safe. Again.

So, yes, Dudely is now a member of the Zuhrah Shrine Horse Patrol in Maple Plain, MN. And I could not be prouder or more grateful to the man that I entrusted him to. Thank you, Dick, for even considering Dude. I rest well knowing this horse is set for life. And that he is in the best possible hands with you and your team.

I'll give Dude a bit of time to meld into his new surroundings and then, on a nice summer day, I'll drive to pick up my friend, Wanda. And we will head to the Zuhrah barn and Dick and Wanda and Dude will have time together. The two humans who love that horse will spend some time sharing notes about him. And sharing their love of him.

And I'll stand off to the side and smile. And be so proud of what Refuge Farms does. We rescue. We rescue the diers. Diers like Dudely. I'll stand there and look at Dick and Wanda and Dude and be so grateful to be a part of this Mission. And yup, I'll cry a little.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and a Very Happy Dude!

Friday, May 06, 2011


Coming Clean

It has been over a month since I have sat at this computer and given you a blog. It has not been for lack of topics. Or contributions and efforts by The "Other" Herd, as I call this remarkable team of volunteers. Or antics by the horses. Or horses' lives saved. Or this weather! No, there have been plenty of stories to tell you. My lack of writing has come from my lack of spirit.

And it is just this morning with the sunshine bright and warm. And the yard growing green so quickly. And the flowers beginning to peep their timid, frightened little heads out of the ground. And the horses shedding every single last winter hair. It is just this morning that I need to come clean to you and explain.

It all started so innocently. On February 5th this last winter. A very ordinary morning. Hooking everyone. Finding Liz-Beth in the hay. Taking her halter and lead rope out to her to assess the situation and to talk with her. Get a read on her level of energy and frustration. Could I rock her up? Or did I need to retrieve the dreaded skid loader? I was standing talking with Liz-Beth. Simply standing in the hay. Having a conversation with dear, patient Liz-Beth.

POP!I found myself in the hay crying like a baby. My right knee had simply exploded in pain. After getting Liz-Beth righted, I found my way to the telephone and called for help. This was the start of it all.

It seems the tendons and the ligaments in my right knee finally gave out after years of hard work. Oh, and three solid kicks from three separate horses over the past two years. A trip to the emergency room on that day confirmed the need for a surgeon, and so I visited a doctor who ordered the scope procedure. And on February 17th, I began the journey to heal and recover. By Easter, he said. By Easter I would be close to 100% again. By Easter.

Six weeks after the procedure, I went to this surgeon and said, "Something is wrong with my knee." The use of pain pills was once again a normal and mandatory routine. My knee was shooting pains up my leg. The swelling had returned and was getting greater each day. "Something is wrong with my knee," became my mantra.

"Your knee is arthritic and so all bets are off." I was told to slow down and wait another thirty days. And so I did slow down. And the lists for these dedicated volunteers became longer. And I recruited assistance for nigthly chores since I was doing my best to slow down, as ordered.

Thirty days later, the pain was worse and the swelling was visible to anyone who simply looked at my leg. "Is that your knee in there?" people would ask. An injection was attempted which sent me over the edge! Pain, extreme swelling, heat, and an increase in the shooting, jabbing pains heading up my leg. Time for a new doctor.

I found a new surgeon from references. He watched me walk down the hallway into his examining room and said, "I know what's wrong with your knee." We spent the next five minutes in role reversal. He told me what my knee felt like and I confirmed his statements. This man knew what was going on in my knee. He knew! And then he explained it to me.

In women (not men) over 50 (not under) with a touch of arthritis, the blood flood disruption to the knee during the scope procedure needs to be monitored and precautions need to be taken. Physical therapy and exercise after the procedure are paramount. The blood flow must be restored promptly and maintained. The risk of not doing so could create a condition where the marrow in the leg bones begins to decay. The common name for the condition is "marrow decay".

As I listened to this man, I thought back over everything I had done to create the condition. No physical therapy. No exercises. Walking only "as tolerated". I could recall the very date that the marrow decay had begun. The most common symptom of the condition is the shooting pain generated by the decaying bone.

The MRI and X-Rays he took confirmed his suspicions. My tibia has a long, wide white spot of decay covering the entire top of the bone. My femur has a large white spot of decay on the lower inside of the leg. And yesterday, I learned that the femur also has cracks in that area of the bone since the decay has weakened the ability of the bone to sustain weight and pressure.

My initial reaction was to cut to the chase and replace the knee. "Get on with it! Get me healing once and for all! I'm tired of the pain and the lack of working in the barns! Do you know what I do for a living?"

But this man knows of Refuge Farms and he knows what I do. He is a horse owner. He listened to me cry as I felt sorry for myself and not being able to hook and feed, clean barns, and rescue! I believe he saw the emotional side as well as the physical side. And his advice: "Trust me, Sandy. For what you do, you will be much happier with your own knee rather than a replacement. Let's try to save your knee."

He prescribed aggressive physical therapy and gave me orders on how NOT to walk. On how to still go into the barns (only once a day) "to fill your heart", as he said. And then he asked me to find homes for his two horses. He asked me to give my knee some time to try to recover before we jumped to a full replacement.

So, I am sitting here - literally - giving my knee everything I can. Good, high protein foods. Exercise as prescribed by the therapists. Ice. Elevation. Rest. Only 20% weight bearing when I do move. And a ton of prayer. And in all of this sitting, I have been lower than I believe I have been since the crossing of my dear Sister, Donna Vye.

The lawn is growing! The Memory Beds are a mess! The barns are filthy! The place needs work to recover from winter! The fence needs work! And then there were the plans for the demolition of the old barn! And the Tenth Anniversary Open Barn! And the publicity work! My mental state has been poor, to be generous. I have spent the last two weeks seeing only what needs to be done. And it was only yesterday that I looked past all of that and saw what is being done. And perhaps, just now, I am seeing the lessons to be learned from this journey.

I see horses quietly grazing in the pasture. And returning to the round bales of hay that are ready for them. Because these volunteers arrived and dropped the bales for them. Whenever asked.

I see feed tanks filled with feed ready to be served to the horses. Because volunteers took the truck and got the feed and then returned and unloaded 2,000 pounds of horse feed. Whenever the tank gets low.

I see Gracie sleeping in the deep sawdust bed of her stall. With her blanket on. With fresh water and feed in front of her. In clean shavings. Because an assortment of volunteers arrive every evening - after their long days - to care for Gracie.

I see Liz-Beth coming into the barn for dinner. Every night. To be blanketed or brushed. And fed. Because when these volunteers arrive every evening - after their long days - and they also feed Liz-Beth.

I see stock tanks filled with water. I see blankets on PONY! as he needs them. I see Sophie getting fed and brushed. And I see Dudely getting fed. I see the dogs being brought back into the house and loved.

I see swarms of volunteers here to set up for the Antique and Garage Sale. I see them returning again tomorrow for more of the same.

And I see these faces as they turn to me and ask, every single time, "Is there anything else that we can do for you? Is there anything else that you need?"

My spirit left me a few weeks ago. I was defeated and angry and feeling so very sorry for myself. I was crying for the horses I could not save. And I was afraid of losing this leg.

This morning I am still afraid and I still have periods of anger. I try so hard not to feel sorry for myself. And I save as many horses as I can from this very computer and the telephone. As slowly as this knee is recovering, my spirit is returning with it. How can it not?

When I close my eyes at night, I utter a prayer of thanksgiving for those people we call "volunteers". Tears of gratitude roll for these Human Beings who arrive - some in foot casts themselves! - to care for this place and these horses. Who show their dedication to our Missions by living it. They are strengthening the weak. Binding up the crippled. And helping a lost one find her way back. They are caring for me as much as for these horses.

So, today I am coming clean. I have stories to tell you but I have not had the spirit to key them. I have not been able to pull myself up, spiritually, to get out of this hole I have put myself in. Until this morning. This morning, by coming clean with all of you, I am telling myself I must begin to heal. Not just my leg but my spirit. And so I am. I am going to do my very best.

Someday I will try to find the words or the ways to thank these friends of mine. These people we call "volunteers". To tell them how I look forward to their arrival every day! They are the bright spot in my day! They come into the house and sit with me and it is pure medicine for my soul. They tell me of their day and they tell me of the antics in the barns on this night. They fill me with their stories. And they hug me good night. They have become my family.

The least I can do for them is to heal. Inside and out. And so, by coming clean, I am beginning that journey. But only with their support.

I am afraid for my leg. I am afraid of how long this will drag on before it becomes evident what the next step is. But I am taking care to limit the weight on the leg. And to give the weight of this place to those who are stepping up to take it.

I am such a wealthy woman. I tell people that this knee must have a purpose. That there are lessons to be learned here. And maybe, I'm just now stumbling upon one of them . . .

In gratitude and with deep appreciation,

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