Sunday, December 25, 2011


The Christmas Gift of Life

She came to us in June of 2004. Frightened beyond belief. Her lower lift flapping in the stress of trying to stay contained - "hold it together" - when her fears were growing to the point that she didn't know if she could manage. The fear of touch. The fear of pain. The fear of work. The fear of abuse. The fear of just being alive. I don't think this mare was afraid of death - just the pain that would undoubtedly come with dying.

Her body showed the reason for those fears. Scars on her legs. Scars on her face. Scars in her mouth. And her eyes were wide and darting. All in horrendous fear. She found herself in a new barn with humans around her. And these humans wanted to touch her! The very touch that created the fear that often overtook her and sent her running out of the barn.

Our time with Liz-Beth, as we call her now, has been a time of patience and understanding. We've learned to touch her only when needed. To talk to her whenever we are within five feet of her. To always, always be gentle with her and to allow her to "take us for a walk" when she just needs to escape the closeness of the human standing next to her.

Eventually, she has learned that she is probably safe her. I say "probably" because Liz-Beth is still always on the watch. Always waiting for the angry human to reappear and create the pains in her body once again. Even though I tell her over and over again, Liz-Beth has been abused severely enough that only time will give her the freedom to trust again. I pray there will be enough time for her.

Liz-Beth came to us as Miss Bette. A strong but compact work horse with a hind leg wounded from becoming entrapped in a cultivator. No healing soakings were administered. It appears as if the wound had not even been cleaned. Asked to continue working in the fields, the leg eventually could not sustain the stress of pulling the equipment and so she was sold to the local kill buyer. We found her in northern Wisconsin on a tip from a kill buyer. "Something in this horse", he said, "but she's got a bad leg. Really bad leg."

From the very moment I first approached her, Miss Bette's lower lip began flapping. The loud, rhythmic noise of her entire lower lip flapping up against her jaw. I knew she didn't want to flap her lip. It just happened. And she was too worried to pay any attention. She was obviously feeling she had to watch out and try to save her life when "the humans" came near her.

It has taken years of patience and love. Understanding and time. Food and care. Gentle brushing and consistency. Years of never being short tempered with her. Understanding her reactions are still from her fears. Giving her time to heal - inside and out!

Today, Liz-Beth stands quietly while we brush her. No lower lip flapping. She enjoys the feel of the brush and stands to absorb the gentle touch. Amazing. After years.

Today, Liz-Beth enjoys our walks and no, she doesn't drag me anymore. She walks beside me - not running to stay ahead of me as if still in the harness. After years.

Today, Liz-Beth eats treats from our hands. A hand close to her face, at that. This, in itself, shows me just how far she has come. After years.

We will continue to work on her trust and confidence. But her body . . . well, her body needs special supports in the Wisconsin cold winter weather. And so, I write this blog on Christmas morning. As I return from the barns thinking of that first feeder filled with clean straw. We all know the story of that baby born in a small barn. With the animals. For someone who loves animals, it seems a fitting place for a future leader to be born.

In the plow as a member of a team, I'm sure Liz-Beth was smaller than her partner. I'm sure the other horse was taller and had longer legs than she did. Legs that could step out ahead of her and shift all of the load to her withers to manage. The weight of pulling the discs and turning the earth would fall totally on her if her partner got ahead of her in the harness.

And so, I'm sure, this little mare dug into the earth and worked hard to keep herself ahead of her partner. And in doing so, her chest and front legs were worn out. Completely and totally worn out. And now, that she is older, the arthritis has become prominent in her right front leg. Understandable. After all those years.

The dampness of the fall and the coldness of the air causes the joint to swell and become very painful for her. Painful to the point that she does not walk to the hay. And comes into the barn to eat her feed only when I retrieve her. And the pain of walking is too great for me to ask it of her. So, we must find an alternative. Or put her down.

And here's where our Missions decide for us what it is that we do. We support this little mare that has worked so very hard all of her life. We support her because we told her we would. We find a way to provide for her because we told her we would. We told her she would be safe, be fed, and be cared for. And so, we will do as we have told her. We will not let Liz-Beth down. For once in her life, the humans will do what it takes to protect and care for her.

Liz-Beth was moved to the University of Minnesota for boarding in early December. After 48 hours in twenty degree weather, Liz-Beth was not eating or moving. Her right front leg was too sore to ask her to move. It was time to get her into a facility that was forty degrees or more for the winter or end her life. And Liz-Beth shows me no indication that she is ready to die. No, this little mare has found enjoyment in life. In feed. In the humans that surround her. No, Liz-Beth wants to live!

I chose the University of Minnesota for several reasons. One is that, should Liz-Beth lie down in her stall, the U of M is equipped with the mechanical systems and technical expertise to safely get her up on her feet again. You just don't lift a 1,500 pound animal up by a rope around her neck. Not if you want her to survive.

Another reason is the level of care at the U of M. These people love this mare and they dote on her. They brush her. They feed her treats. And they "adopt" her into their lives with not only their systems but their hearts. Liz-Beth's lip doesn't flap when they come around. She knows they care for her and mean her no harm.

Liz-Beth is on daily meds for anti-inflammatory and weekly injections for her joints. The technicians and vet students at the U of M all work under the direction of Liz-Beth's doctor, Dr. Anne Nicholson. And I trust Dr. Anne. Completely and wholly. So I don't think Liz-Beth could be in better hands even if she were here at THE FARM. And that, my friends, is quite a statement of admission.

But the primary reason I chose the U of M for Liz-Beth is because Liz-Beth chose the U of M. On the day of her arrival, there was no lip flapping. She began eating the hay upon arrival in her stall. She settled in without stress and worry. She knew that this was home for the winter and that she would be safe and loved and cared for in this place. The main reason I chose the U of M for Liz-Beth is because she will accept the stay without stress and worry and the loss of weight to her fragile system.

For Christmas, I will visit Liz-Beth and brush her, sing to her, and tell her that there are presents under the tree for her. People who love her and want to help her stay alive. People who are willing to sponsor her for a day of life at the University of Minnesota. People who are willing to commit for $30 for four months. If thirty people commit to $30 a month for four months, Liz-Beth will live! Warm and safe this winter. Without severe pain. Doted upon and spoiled. As she should be. Thanks to you and your support in saving her life.

The time period that effects her legs the most is December through March. By April, the earth is warming and the air is changing. Liz-Beth will return home to her Big Lanna and once again join the routines in our barns. She will return to her place as the leader of her herd in the Helen Keller pasture and she will have managed to be here again in a springtime. To eat the fresh, green grasses of spring and to feel the warmth of the sun on her withers. As it should be, Liz-Beth will be with us for another year of love and brushing and feed.

After all these years, we have come to love this mare and she loves us. The horse who, upon arrival, wasn't nice and wasn't loving and was difficult to care for. But now? I can't help but hug her. And she takes it! Without a single flap!

Merry Christmas to all of you. May the gift of the season engulf you and stay in you all year long. And may you find the hope of that original barn every single day.

If you are one of those thirty people who would like to share in the gift of life to Liz-Beth, please call 715.772.3379 or email me at and I will update the bulletin board of sponsors for our dear Liz-Beth. The gift of life costs thirty people $30 for four months. I pray there are thirty of you who love her as she needs. And we may give to this little work horse the gift she has so desperately earned - the gift of life.

Sandy and The Herd and, of course, our Liz-Beth

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Merry Christmas, Little Gracie!

As this Christmas season accelerates into high speed all around me, I find myself looking for real, tangible examples of the original purpose to the season. We all know the story of being born in a manger with cattle and sheep and camels and mules nearby. So, I guess it comes as no surprise that I find myself in the barns more and more each day this December. Looking for the scene that tells me, "Here. Here is Christmas. Right here."

This morning I sat and read the emails and looked at the pictures of Gracie. You see, I can't go to the barn to see Gracie. I need to look at pictures, sent to me from Gracie's Auntie Trish. Gracie is getting older and the cold weather shuts her down. Last winter, before you could blink, that little wonder of a horse lost over sixty pounds and had no interest in food. She was cold. And no number of blankets could warm her up. Nothing I could make for her would entice her to eat. She just needed to be warm.

Once we relocated her and enough time passed to get her warm again all the way through, her appetite resumed and gradually she restored her lost weight. She blossomed and showed us that had been fine. Just cold. It was no surprise, then, that even as early as last Spring, I was searching and searching for a warm home for Gracie this winter.

Now everyone loves Gracie, and I mean that sincerely. I have never, ever met a human who has met Gracie that didn't fall in love with her. Adore her. Smile when they looked at her. But to take on the cares of an elderly little horse, that is blind, is a big responsibility. Especially when the Mother of that horse is as particular and outspoken as Gracie's Mother happens to be!

But Trish I knew. I came to know her in a hole of mud with a horse mannequin as we wrestled with straps and clamps and knots and mud. Oh, the mud . . . And I soon found that this woman was genuine and for real. And I liked what I saw. Our relationship grew and it was centered around our mutual love for the horse. Trish is a private rescuer and her Jake and Willy are living testaments to her cares and understanding of the horse. In a short time, I grew to trust Trish. And that, my friends, doesn't happen easily or frequently.

So when Trish offered to bring Gracie to the facility where Jake and Willy live, I listened intently. And I registered it in the back of my mind. It would mean that Gracie would be four hours away. That Gracie would have to leave these barns for a good five months and that her daily cares and health monitoring would be in the hands of others. I would need to trust Trish with Little Gracie.

It was the day after The Fall Gala & Auction that Trish loaded Gracie into her trailer and transported her to Dale and Shelby's barn. A beautiful facility with a heated stall for Little Gracie. And a young daughter, Ainsley, who would be put "in charge" of insuring Gracie was brushed and loved on a daily basis. Trish's partner in her horse ownership, Jerry, would be checking on Gracie during the day. And, of course, Trish would be with Gracie whenever she was in the barn for her Willy and Jake.

The barn here at Refuge Farms is quiet without that little horse. I find myself waking and wondering about temperatures and wind and then I remember that Gracie is in a heated stall with fresh bedding. And I say a prayer of thanks.

I say "thank you" for the day I met this woman, Trish, in that hot, humid, muddy hole. And I say "thank you" for Jerry and Ainsley and for the facility owners, Dale and Shelby. And I say a special "thank you" for Trish's Mother, Louise, who is sponsoring Gracie's expenses of feed and shavings and hay and hoof care. These people extended their love of the horse to include Little Gracie and what a gift their love has been!

My attempts to tell you how Gracie is settling in would be weak, at best. So I am going to pass on some of the emails and pictures I have received from Trish. You'll see for yourself how genuine Trish and this community of people are. You'll see the love they have for this little blind pony. And you'll see that Gracie is, indeed, safe. Becoming spoiled rotten, but she is safe! And warm.

Merry Christmas, Little Gracie. Your present this year is Auntie Trish and her Mother, Louise, who made all this possible. Enjoy your winter and your new family of people and horses. We love you, Gracie and look forward to your return. Until then, though, I rest easy. Merry Christmas, Little Gracie. Merry Christmas, little horse.

November 7, 2011

Hey Sandy,

Here are some candid shots of Gracie Girl meeting my Willy boy. Willy became extremely protective of her in a very short time. I will continue to work with Jake to see if we can get him to come around and like Gracie Girl. For now Gracie has a stall in between Max and Mocha who come in at night. She seems to favor Max over Mocha and plays kissy face through the bars with him (don't tell Willy).

My friend Jerry (who is Jake's Dad) comes out every afternoon to feed Willy and Jake some hay and he checks on Gracie to make sure she has enough of everything. I am guessing he probably gives her lots of treats and loving as well. He is known as the treat man of the farm. Since she is used to having a round bale of hay in front of her at all times I have put an entire bale of hay in her stall and will keep an entire bale in front of her at all times so she has it whenever she wants it. She is eating her hay and nibbling on her SafeChoice. She has been drinking water, but not as much as I would prefer, but she is drinking, and her poop is solid and formed and she is peeing normally.

She seems happy in her temporary winter get away home, and the joke has become this is her winter vacation home. My plan for right now is to keep her in her stall during the day unless I am there and then she will be in the indoor arena with Willy and hopefully Jake at some point. I am usually out there 3 - 4 hours so she will be in there for a good few hours a day. I am also planning on keeping her in there with Willy and I and Jake and I while we ride so she can get some exercise and fresh air and some interaction time without a stall wall between her and the other horse.

If I can get her acclimated to Jake and Jake acclimated to her she will be able to spend some of her time outside in their dry lot with them. Until then she will have some wonderful one on one loving time with Willy. I must admit I was very surprised at how gentle and caring Willy was of her. He has already claimed her as his, and I was told by Jerry when he went out tonight to check on everyone that they were calling back and forth to one another. Willy has always been a caretaker and his caretaker role really developed after Pepsi crossed over. I was hoping Jake would have taken on the care taker role, but your insight into Jake's behavior was very helpful to me.

I find myself being OVERLY PROTECTIVE of Gracie and driving home tonight I realized I need to take a deep breath and let go, because she is safe and in good hands when I am not there. She will have a dry, warm stall with buddies at night and she will have her alone time with Willy and hopefully Jake, and she will continue to miss you and her herd, but she will be happy and eventually will be back home with her original family.

Gracie is getting her first hoof trimming tomorrow with my trimmer and I. So rest assured Gracie is doing wonderfully, and I am continuing to breath deeply and learning to let go a little bit at a time and realize Gracie is tough as nails.

I reassured Gracie your Four Promises are honored at my farm as well. I will continue to send pictures for your enjoyment.


November 11, 2011

Hi Sandy,

I just wanted to share my evening with you and what happened to me for the first time in my life with Willy boy.

Willy is very much my horse and I am very much his human. He does not leave my side for anything or anyone when we are together, and this has been proven and tested on many occasions.

Well, last night Willy boy left me for Gracie Girl. I had them out in the indoor together for some fresh air and play time, and they pretty much played kissy face and groomed one another the entire time. Willy had to be reminded a few times by a high pitched squeal from Gracie that she is not a big horse and he cannot groom her as hard as he does with Jake. Willy is a quick learner and stopped grooming so hard.

I figured they had enough loving time and it was time for Willy to come and play on the ground with Mom. Well, that lasted about a whole 2 minutes. Gracie decided to wander around at her wonderfully cautious Gracie pace, and she found herself heading for the nearest wall. Willy got worried eyes and kept looking at her and looking at me. I could read his mind, Sandy: "Mom, she really needs me!"

Keep in mind I was working Willy at liberty as I often do, and have had few problems in the past with him leaving me for someone or something else. Well, he just couldn't take the site of Gracie (his girl) walking into the wall so he very abruptly left me and rescued her. He ran between her and the wall and guided her into the center of the arena, and decided he needed to stand watch over her the rest of their time outside. This ended his time with me, because how could I ask him not to take care of Gracie and give me attention?

So, for the first time in my life with Willy, he has left me. My only saving grace is he left me for a horse and not another human, and, if it had to be a horse, I am glad it was a cute one like Gracie. Needless to say my feelings were hurt a little bit, but I quickly got over it and joined them in the center of the arena and joined in the grooming session. They both got nice massages from me, and I in return got slobbered on by Willy and hugged by Gracie.

All in all it was a wonderful night. Thinking the fun was over when I returned them to their stalls; I was surprised to find Cisco (a kitten)curled up in Gracie's hay, and very much refusing to get out of her stall; so I left her in there to find her own way out. Keep in mind I found Cisco curled up in Gracie's hay the day before and Gracie had eaten around her. Gracie is curious about the cats, and seems to not mind them, and they all seem to be drawn to her stall.

Gracie was one tired girl and no doubt her feet are a little sore from her trim, so she decided to lay flat out and sleep. Well, in walking Willy out of the barn he called to Gracie and she got on her feet and greeted him at the stall door for one last kiss good night. I took one look at Willy and told him he was pathetic, and he responded with a sloppy kiss to my face (no doubt he was reassuring me he still loves me to).


November 16, 2011

Mom (Louise)is sponsoring her hoof care (feed, bedding, and hay). I am just using the monthly sponsorship Mom is giving for whatever she needs at the time. I will sponsor the rest if there is anything extra. She is doing really well.

Ainsley is the little girl in the pictures. She goes out every night and says goodnight to Gracie.

Cisco, the kitten in the picture with her, is sleeping in her stall with her now almost on a daily basis. Everyone hugs on her, too. I told Jerry not to get too attached, and he said "too late." She is part of our family here now, and it will be hard come spring when she goes back home, but we will enjoy her until that time.

Yesterday when I got there she was laying down sound asleep in her stall and where was Cisco? Curled up on top of her sound asleep herself. They are becoming two peas in a pod and are seldom apart.

There is definitely something very magical about her. Something very magical indeed.


November 26, 2011

Hey Sandy,

I hope the attachments come through. They are pictures of a week in the life of Gracie. She hangs out in the indoor with me, Willy, and Jake and follows Willy around when I ride him. She is also getting comfortable with her surroundings and is walking around exploring on her own a bit. On the nights I have to work late she gets to do laps up and down the barn aisle with Jerry or Nancy.

She really puts a lot of food (hay) away, and I am not sure where it is all going! She is doing well though, but misses her family and you. Ainsely, the little girl, gave Gracie a stocking for her stall. She is soooo in love with Gracie and goes out to the barn every night to say goodnight to her and kiss her nose.

There are going to be a lot of broken hearts when Gracie goes home, but they will all be happy she gets to go home and be back with her family. She is such a sweet, sweet horse.

Hope all is well.


Reading these messages, you can see for yourself how devoted and caring these people are to Gracie. And you can see, too, how Little Gracie is taking full advantage of them, isn't she!!

Refuge Farms will be sending a Christmas basket to Gracie on Monday, December 19th. If you would like to add a note of appreciation or a note to Gracie or horse treats or even some cat treats to the package, please drop your items off at THE FARM before the 19th. I will be sure to send a special note to Louise, Gracie's sponsor, and to the owners of the facility, Dale and Shelby. And, of course, a note of thanks to Auntie Trish.

And if you would like to mail something to the owners, to Ainsley, to Louise, to Trish, or to Gracie directly, just email me and I will forward you Gracie's "winter vacation home" address. Hah! Did you ever know a horse with a winter vacation home?

Merry Christmas, Little Gracie!

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

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