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

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