Sunday, March 04, 2012


The Answer to My Prayers

It was a simple email. And, unfortunately, a very common email. Someone pleading to Refuge Farms to consider accepting a horse that badly needed a home.

It was a polite email. Written well and by someone with obvious medical knowledge. Unlike some that arrive with poor grammar and no spell check before pressing that "SEND" button.

But this email . . . Well, as I read it, I felt my stomach turn and I recognized that feeling. That intuition. That "knowing" that this horse was meant to come here. We were meant to meet this horse and give her sanctuary. This was an email meant for Refuge Farms.

Sara at the Dane County Humane Society in Madison, WI was making a plea to many, many rescues in one last attempt to find Helen a home. Here is the email I received on the morning of February 2, 2012:


My name is Sara and I am the Animal Medical Services supervisor and resident horse person for Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) in Madison, WI. We have an approximately 15yr old, 100% blind Standardbred mare here that I am looking for rescue options for. Her name is Helen and she has been with us for nearly 3yrs. She is blind due to cataracts and possible glaucoma. Originally Helen was part of a cruelty/neglect case in southern WI. She is in perfectly good health other than her eyes and is completely sound. She is very level headed and incredibly easy to work with.

This past weekend she banged her left eye and is now requiring Ophthalmic ointment and bute daily. This is the second time in a short while that she has banged up that eye. I spoke with our vet that has been treating her since we got her and she agrees with me that it is time to take out (enucleate) both of Helen's eyes. Helen seems to have increasing pressures within her eyes and her eyes just aren't as "quiet" as they used to be. Helen is 100% blind, so it wouldn't make much of a difference to her if we remove the eyes other than improving her quality of life and comfort level.

However, enucleation can be fairly pricey (I've been quoted around $1500-$2000 total for removal of both eyes). After speaking with my shelter director, without any placement or rescue prospects for Helen, we just can't afford that surgery (and even then it might be tough for DCHS to do financially). We are not set up as a large animal sanctuary for long term equine housing. I'm contacting as many equine and large animal rescues to try and find placement for Helen as I can, but fear I won't be able to find her a place to go and will have to euthanize her. It is an unfortunate testament to the current equine market and industry that a perfectly healthy and sound blind horse has no placement options simply because she is blind.

I am wondering if Refuge Farms would be able to make room for Helen and offer her sanctuary. If this is something Refuge Farms might be able to help with, please let me know. If not, I completely understand but figured it was worth a shot. Or if you have room to take in some equines, but not a blind horse, I also have some other horses I am seeking placement for. Thank you for your time.


I let the email sit for a while. Testing my guts and my heart. A trip to the barn to try to visualize where we would put another blind mare. Who would be her partner? How would we help her adjust? And what about the surgery? Where would those funds come from?

A few hours later, I put my intuition to the test and emailed Sara. Would DCHS sponsor the surgery to remove her eyes if Refuge Farms agreed to give Helen a home? I felt she may be a candidate for fostering or she may stay here on our grounds, but if that financial support were a possibility, we would consider accepting her.

The response flew back at me:


Thank you for replying to my email. I spoke with our shelter director and she informed me that DCHS would be willing to pay for the cost of Helen’s enucleation surgery if we can find placement for her (up to $2000 for either a full surgical suit or standing enucleation – whichever the examining surgeon felt was best option for her). We are willing to give you the 2weeks you requested to attempt to find her foster or placement within your foster network. If no placement leads have been found, DCHS will need to make a decision regarding her continued care or euthanasia arrangements on Monday, 2/20.

Thank you for helping us try to find placement for this great mare and give her the life she deserves. I am also continuing to attempt to find placement here as well through word of mouth in our local horse community (all other rescues have turned me down). Please keep me updated on your progress and I will do the same for you as well. I have also attached a few pictures of Helen to this email as well.

THANK YOU! I am so excited for this. I so badly wanted to avoid euthanasia for this horse and can’t even begin to express how grateful I am that you are able to take her in and give her the care and sanctuary she deserves. Everyone here will be so happy to hear this news. It is exactly the valentine’s day gift of love and devotion to animals that we all needed!

Go Team!"

The doors opened. My hesitations were addressed and resolved. It seemed, to me, an obvious fit. This little mare was a dier. She had come through so much in her short lifetime! To be a part of a massive county seizure meant the conditions she had endured were beyond bad. It must have been pathetic. To have lived through that meant this mare had a purpose. And a strong will.

And then DCHS stood by her for three years. Committed to saving the life. And when the prospects so totally dried up, they made one last push to try to save her life. And that's the email I read. How much more obvious does it need to be?

I emailed Sara a week later after pondering the situation even further. And in that time, last Sunday morning at 7:30am, the barn door flew open as I was scooping feed for The Herd. Into the barn walked a good Friend of THE FARM. A kill buyer. Yes, a man who hauls horses to slaughter. But also the man who has given us Beauty and Liz-Beth and Hannah and Joseph and RedMan and Dudley and Appaloosa Mare and Quarter Horse and even Little Gracie. This man gets a hug from me when he shows his face. And then after the hug, I ask, "What's in the trailer today?"

It was a little mare. And for several reasons, all I can tell you is that she had huge bumps on her head from some sort of injury. And she was now blind. Newly blinded, you could tell, by the way she flung herself and tried every position of her head to try to force her eyes to see. Frightened beyond belief. Not mean or angry. Just so frightened she was about to explode.

I went into the trailer and was able to hook a lead rope onto her battered halter. She came out of the trailer with grace even though she was on trembling legs. She came into the barn with me and I placed her into a stall that we had thrown together in under five minutes - hay, water, and a bit of feed. I soon saw just how much her head hurt her . . .

The mare was very thirsty and indeed very hungry. Upon examination, I saw the tummy that looked like a belly full of food was distended from parasites. Her spine sticks up from her frame. There is no layer of fat under her hide covering her ribs. She so wanted to eat the feed I put in front of her but she opted for the hay, instead. Two full square bales of hay in not quite 48 hours. THAT's a hungry horse!

It didn't take me long to see her attempts to get to the feed. She puzzled me. Why wouldn't she eat the feed? Soon I saw that the bucket sides were too close to her face. And even the slightest brush to her face caused her to throw her head up in fear and in pain. I retrieved one of the big ground tubs and her nose followed the smell of the feed. Issue resolved. Now she could eat her feed.

Drinking was only when I swished the water with my hand and gave her encouragement to stick her lips into the bucket. Once the water was 4" lower that the top of the bucket, the same fear of touching overtook her thirst and she stopped drinking. So, getting her to drink water became a routine for us - she drank, I topped off the bucket, she drank, I topped off the bucket. It worked! And the mare soon came to approach the bucket whenever I entered the barn.

Her fears, however, only seemed to escalate with each day she lived here. I took her outside after being here 3 days and it took me 2 hours to get her the thirty feet into the barn and back into her stall. The next day, I took her outside and after 90 minutes of trying, I soon realized that her fears were larger to her than her common sense. This mare would break her neck before she would go back into that barn.

So, I placed her in the corral and put her feed and water under the eave. This way it was protected from the rain and snow but still outside enough that she could eat. What to do with this mare . . . She appeared to be a smaller version of Beauty. Fear was larger to her than anything else that could possibly happen to her. No human could do anything worse to her than demand her to go into that barn.

My next email to Sara was to arrange the pickup of Helen. I hoped, but without any expectations, that Helen may be the ticket to calming and helping this little killer mare. I didn't know but I felt I had to try! To save both of their lives!

The retrieval of Helen was uneventful, except for the blizzard! However, Saturday morning, the volunteers and Sara were all present to tell me the stories of Helen, to introduce us, and to watch as she and I walked into the trailer. Truly a calm and knowing mare. She smelled me once and then stood quietly. I whispered to her, "Let's take you home, Helen." She started to walk beside me.

Once home, I insured The Herd was blanketed and set for the night and, thanks to Bridget, everything was set and ready to go. Opening up the back of the trailer, I found Helen standing patiently. She inhaled the smell of the place deeply and stood quietly while I tied her to the trailer so that I could blanket her. Not a flinch. One smell of the blanket as I told her, "This is your blanket now, Helen."

Both last evening and then again this morning, I've stood and watched these two mares. And I saw the visible answer to my prayers. Helen met the kill pen mare over the gates of the corral. One squeal out of both of them and then I brought Helen into the corral. The kill pen mare came up to Helen and nudged her. Then that sore, frightened little mare took Helen over to the tub with some feed that I had placed out for them. Sharing their first meal together. Instant pals. Long lost friends reunited. From that moment on, the two have not been more than 6" apart.

And the kill pen mare? She isn't running. She isn't calling. She isn't frantic. She is calm. Just like Helen. I shake my head as I see part of the reason for Helen's presence on this land. Already she is a healer. A healer to this little mare and to who knows what other creatures in her future with us. This morning, as I fed these two friends, I asked Helen to teach me how to be so calm. Would she do that? Her response was to nudge me and drop a bit of feed on my boot. My first test. I didn't move my foot nor did I pick up the feed. Lesson learned, Oh Great Teacher.

One more thing you should know about Helen . . .

Yesterday when she was blanketed I spent a bit of time with her in the trailer. I told her how sorry I was that she had to go through the hell she went through in order to be part of a seizure. I told her how lucky she was to have landed with the DCHS. And I told her how honored I was to have her here with us. At Refuge Farms. And then I told her something else. Something that I've said almost fifty times now but still am amazed at how powerful these words are. To me and to them. I spoke to Helen and I said,

"Helen, I have some things to tell you. They are promises. And there are four of them. Our original Three Promises and now Laddee's Promise. I give you Laddee's Promise out of love and respect for that mare that taught me so much. And I give you all of these promises, Helen, with all of the strength and meaning I have in my body. Welcome home, Helen. And now listen to these promises that I have to give you . . . ."

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

"The Three Promises

1. You are safe here. No one will hurt you here. There will be no more beatings, whippings, electrical shock, use of performance enhancing drugs, or abuse of any kind. There will be respect here. You are safe here.

2. You will be fed here. There will always be at least clean hay and fresh water available to you. No more fighting for the hay. No more eating tree bark to live. No more thirst. No more eating of other's manure just to survive. You will be fed here.

3. You are home. You are here forever. No more fighting for a place in a herd. No more new water to get used to. No more trying to find the way in a new barn with a new caretaker. Even in death we will keep you at THE FARM. You can relax now. You are home.

Laddee’s Promise

You will be healthier here. Always considering the quality of your life,
we will work diligently to restore your health. We will care for you.
We will support you. We will love you. And we will medically treat you.
It may not be possible to bring you all the way back to healthy,
but we will work very hard to help your body and your spirit rebuild
as much and for as long as you are able. You will be healthier here."

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