Sunday, August 26, 2012


"Work is love made visible."

Kahlil Gibran is the person who said, "Work is love made visible." I read that line last night as I was wandering through some old books in the big bookcase in the parlour. What made me open that book? I can't answer that. The book has a salmon colored silk ribbon for a marker. Was it the feel of the smooth satin? The coolness of the cloth? The calm of the color? Or the good, solid feel of a book in my hands? I don't know what drew me to that book in particular. But once the book was in my hands, the pages fell open and there was the line, "Work is love made visible." After the past few days, the line drew my heart to the surface. I smiled. I paused. And I reflected. You see, there is plenty of love at this place.

Our farrier from the east side of the state had just finished the two-day task of trimming The Herd. This particular cycle of hoof trims was augmented with the brushing and dosage of the bug repellent down their spines as well as the administration of the deworming paste. We were a machine. Trim. Dose. Paste. Switch horses. Trim. Dose. Paste. Each horse took us about 45 minutes to complete and each horse was done to perfection. Each horse, too, behaved so well that I began to wonder if some of them were ill! But no, it was just the routine and the rhythm. We were good at what we were doing and the horses knew it. They responded to our rhythm and the two days passed without incident or harm. To neither horse or human.

Trimming a hind hoof on a "shoeing bed horse"

I make it sound simple. It is anything but simple. It is hard work. And dangerous work. The shoeing bed is a gift with the big horses and for those with sore hips and arthritic knees. But a finger in the wrong place at the wrong time could be lost. Not just hurt but lost. There are razor sharp trimming knives. The rasp is heavy and sharp and jagged. And the horses? Well, a kick from anyone of them could mean a broken bone or worse. We must communicate and work as a team. When we don't, it becomes dangerous.

Isaac trimming a hoof sole

And it is heavy work. Have you ever taken a rasp and tried to smooth a hoof so it is pretty to the human eye? Nice and smooth edges with a smooth face? Trust me. It's like trying to file cement on a rickety wheelbarrow. The foot moves. You need to pull in with one hand while you push forward with the other hand. And do that in a smooth movement while grasping a flat, wide, sharp piece of steel that is designed to cut into that hoof and take off a layer of it. Looks easy, but it is tough work.

The people that spent these past two days here at THE FARM assisting in the weekend were tired and dirty by the end of the day. They left their egos outside. They came in and responded when someone said, "I need a  . . . . ". Done. Nobody just stood. Everybody moved.

We trim "ground horses", as I call them, and "shoeing bed horses". The "ground horses" are the ones we trim on the ground. Those are the smaller horses or the ones that most people think of when they think of a horse. Running about 1,200 pounds, they are they typical riding horse. Faith, Alexius, Hollie, Duchess, Ella, Unit, Spirit . .  With the exception of Alexius, they all stood like champions. We brought Miss April in to stand with Roman and that big, tall, long-legged boy stood like the professional show horse that he is. No leaning on the farrier. No grabbing his foot back with a jerk. Not even a tail swish. Roman actually enjoyed getting his feet trimmed. Hollie was the winner that we know her to be. And even Unit and Spirit were cooperative.

Spirit talks to us when we trim her. She tells us when she needs to put her foot down because of her bad leg. She leans back like she is going to sit on the ground to tell us we need to give her a minute or so to get the weight off of her leg with the broken knee. Then she lifts the foot again and she cooperates until the pressure on that leg gets to be too much and then the squatting starts again. She talks to us and we listen. And because of that, we get through a trim for that horse with no damage to anyone.

Alexius was the only one that yanked and was a "little pistol", as we called her. She was swishing that tail and doing her best to be a handful. But only for two of the four feet. Once she saw she wasn't getting out of it, she dropped the act and stood quietly. Gotta love the girl for trying!

The shoeing bed horses did exceptionally well! Babee Joy became a bit excited when she was beginning her trim because her pal, Jeri-Ann, broke a gate and everyone of Babee Joy's pals ran out of the barn. Babee Joy didn't like being left alone AT ALL and she told us so! That shoeing bed was rocking and she was bellering her discontent! We named her right - a baby! So, we focused on retrieving Jeri-Ann, Beauty, and Handsome and once they were back in the barn, Babee Joy calmed down again. By the start of the second foot, she was calm and completely relaxed in that shoeing bed.

And Jeri-Ann! I kept checking to make sure she wasn't ill! Jeri-Ann actually slept through her time in the shoeing bed! And Jeri-Ann needed new shoes all the way around. And she slept!! Handsome went in the shoeing bed and then shot out when he was done. The memories of his abuse while trapped in one of those beds still follows that big giant and so we focus on getting him in and out as quickly as possible.

The only error of the weekend was mine. I haltered Beauty and then when I had her partway to the shoeing bed, I saw a volunteer in danger and I barked a command. We lost the calmness. Beauty sensed my worry and she shot past the shoeing bed. I got her back and held her while we made the adjustment and then we tried it again. This time successfully. I needed to survey the scene before I brought her out and I didn't do that this time. I got too casual and almost created a problem. Lesson learned the hard way. Let me tell you, the taste of that iron shoeing bed is not a good one first thing in the morning!

But no one had hurt feelings. Everyone understood. No one shook their finger at me and asked, "Why didn't you....?" Or looked at me and asked why did I holler so? Why not ask politely? They knew and they understood. Everyone just picked up and carried on. Hard workers. In love with this business of horse rescue. Their tolerance and forgiveness did not go unnoticed.

Isaac and I discussed what went wrong after Beauty was safely in the shoeing bed. Both of us recognized the failure to survey and adjust before bringing that monster horse out into such a small space. Both of us will be on the watch the next time. However, even after twenty years (yes, 20 years!) of trimming horses together, once in a while Isaac and I still "miss it". We just smile at each other and tell each other that we are glad that the other one made a mistake. We tell each other it is comforting to know that the other one is still human. And then we go on but not without filing a memory chip on what to do differently again in three months.

Twenty years have flown by!

The effort of these past two days was a team effort. Transportation and meals to take care of. Beverages and food when you were just wondering if you could make it the last two hours without something other than Mountain Dew in your belly. People to sweep so that the floor remained clear and level. Sawdust appearing when we needed to keep the floors from becoming slippery. Tools to be sharpened and handed to Isaac when he needed them. Big, strong horse legs to be held and anchored to the shoeing bed. Feet to be winched up for trimming. And halters to be put on and off and on again. Horses to be moved from pasture to pasture as we rotated everyone to keep it calm and take away the excitement of "getting out". Water and feed brought to horses to keep them calm while they stood tied for hours. Buckets to take down and gates to open and close and open again. It was an enormous team effort. And I must say, this team was well-oiled and one smooth group.

I am very tense the day before we begin this trimming process. The worry of a human getting hurt or a horse getting in trouble wears on me. By the time the first hoof is lifted, I'm nervous, edgy, short-tempered, and like a hawk watching every single move of every single person. This has nothing to do with trust. It is purely the worry of someone getting hurt. By the end of the first day, I'm tired but starting to see the group gel together and learn the process and routine. By the start of the second day, I'm starting to step back and let them do the work. Give them a chance to get "in there" and do it. But even yet, even with the very last foot, I'm still on guard and my eyes are still trying to see where anything can blow up and cause an injury. Only when the last car pulls out of the driveway will I allow myself to inhale and let it go. Relaxation comes with difficulty after one of these events.

And since we dewormed The Herd, I also took the time to do a head check last night about midnight. Looking for anyone who might be struggling with the effects of the dewormer. Is anyone lying down? Rolling? Kicking? Biting at their bellies? Is anyone removing themselves from The Herd? Anyone of them showing me signs of colic from the dewormer? Last night, I stopped and absolutely mortified PONY!. I kissed him on his nose. And in front of all the others! PONY! brought his head up and gave me the response of, "Not now! Not here! Not in front of them!!" He whinnied his disgust with my action and moved away from me. I laughed at him and hugged him once more. I just love you PONY! and am so glad you came home to be here with us again.

When I hugged Isaac and Betty good-bye and as I watched them drive away early yesterday evening, I said what was in my heart. I said out loud, "I have a brother. A brother my Mother never knew. I have a brother in Isaac."

I trust this man. For twenty years we have worked side by side and helped horses that others have thrown away. Starting with Francis Andrew and Ima and Jerry, the Roan Horse. From the ones before there even was a Refuge Farms. Isaac has trimmed and set shoes on all of these horse ministers. And every single foot he touches, he does well. Well enough that I trust him with any of them.

And, over the years, we have come to know and respect each other. He knows me well enough to suggest we sit down for a while together right when I think I need to do just that. I know him well enough to suggest we take a minute while I run up and get some bottled water just when he needs a break. And so we do. We exchange those glances of thanks to each other and then we sit for a minute. We smile at each other as we now use the sides of the shoeing bed to help get us up off our knees. We smile because we both remember when we thought that doing something like that was what "an old person did". Hah! Guess who is getting older now?

We all worked very hard these past two days. Sweating abundantly. Getting stepped on once in a while and being bounced around a bit once in a while. Strong, hard, dirty work. But work that is necessary if you want to rescue these horses. Work that teaches you even more about them and just how fragile the horse body really is. Work that gets you closer to them and they to you. Work that is good for you. That shows you the difference you made when you stand back and look. Work that is done completely and wholly out of love for them.

Yes, work is love made visible. If we didn't love them, we wouldn't care. We would save the money and we would spend the two days lounging instead. Not me. Not us! We love them too much. And because of that love, we willingly work. 

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

Hannah's feet after Isaac trimmed her

Hannah's feet before Isaac trimmed her



Thursday, August 16, 2012


Our Beloved PONY!

Today was a very important day in the life and times of our PONY!. Today was the day that PONY! returned home from his brush with The Other Side earlier this week.

I could go on and on about the experience - the fears, the panic, the hopes, the worry, the gratitude, and the celebration. Instead, I've chosen to show you how PONY! celebrated his return to his beloved girls and our familiar pastures.

Enjoy! And celebrate with me as the smiles just keep appearing each time I look out and see him there!! All is right again on this little patch of land in Spring Valley, Wisconsin.

Greeting Alexius

AAAhhhhhhhhh . . . .

Reunited, at last!

The smells and tastes of HOME!!!

Back to the business of living . . . .

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and Our Beloved PONY!

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Lessons Learned

As I continue to live in this world of rescue, I seem to learn some lessons over and over again. Sometimes, in this world so close to death and loss, I feel so heavy and burdened. So helpless and ineffective. Contributing so very little to a problem that is so large that it cannot even be measured.

But then, sometimes in this world so close to life and success, I feel the full bliss of doing something good. I feel the pure and absolute joy of just standing next to a creature that is alive because we were there. To hear the animal breath. To watch it sleep. To touch it softly and whisper words of support and encouragement. Of praise for trying. To pray with the animal as we both wait to see if what we do will work. To wait and see if there will be life. Or a crossing. Lessons learned.

And some lessons that I learn are about destiny. About that thing we call The Master Plan. Those lessons that make me smile about planning and setting schedules and goals. And then spending one day in reality and knowing that if you make it through the day with keeping your barns clean, your tanks full of clean water, and the horses fed and protected, well then you've done a mighty good day's work that day. No schedules met. No tasks checked off the To Do List. No lawn mowed today. But they are healthy. They are fed. Their home is clean. And they are safe. Lessons learned.

Two weeks ago on a Monday morning I had a list on my desk. A list I had created over the weekend. It was the "Monday List". Things I HAD to get done on this Monday - telephone calls, letters to write, emails to send, and errands that must be completed. I was up and about with household chores completed by 7AM. My barn boots were on my feet and I was drinking a glass of milk when the telephone rang. Huh. It wasn't even 7:30AM yet. Had to be a horse. My hand reached for the telephone and I sat down in my desk chair.

It was Connie. A friend who I've come to know in the time I've been in this world of rescue. A woman whom I trust. Who, when she says this horse is in trouble, I know it is. Connie doesn't blow smoke, as they call it. She tells it as it is - rough, at times, but honest. And Connie knew of a horse in trouble.

We talked. I took notes. In our conversation, I made no commitments but I agreed to call the horse's owner to discuss the horse and the situation. When our call ended, I finished my milk before calling the owner.

The story was all too familiar - the horse was worthy and the owner had no options. Regardless of why, the owner could not continue to care for the horse. And in this case, at 11AM on Tuesday, this horse was being delivered to the U of M Equine Center to be euthanized.

I constantly remind and tell myself that we cannot save them all. Some will die. Some have to die. There is not room for all of them. There is death every day in this world of horse rescue. Senseless, wasteful, ignorant death. But once in a while, one of them reaches out and I feel the need to dig a bit. To check it out. To maybe, just maybe, consider taking this one in. Knowing we cannot save them all. But maybe, this one . . .

Such was the case with Storm. A thoroughbred/hanivarian cross gelding. A professional show horse. A gentle horse. A horse with titles and papers and awards. A horse with both eyes surgically removed. The owner quoted the horse as 18 - 20 years of age and in generally good health. Mellow and mild. Safe for any level rider. Sound and an easy keeper. A picture of this horse was forming in my mind. An idea was taking shape. And so I continued to dig.

Storm had been living with two smaller horses and those horses had been re-homed. The owner needed a home for this big horse and since she had been turned down by every other rescue she had contacted, she had scheduled his death. But she had been referred to us by several of those rescues as the "only one around that takes the blind ones". The telephone calls from the owner had dropped into voice mail that weekend. However, Connie's call had been received. Could it be another lesson to be learned?

I asked a few more questions and then arrangements were made for Storm to arrive. The horse in the corral needed to be placed to make room for Storm and so within 24 hours of that placement, the owner's truck and trailer appeared in the circular driveway here at Refuge Farms. Storm was here.

My first impression of this tall, lanky horse was not matching the picture I had painted in my mind. There were hipbones and ribs sticking out everywhere. The hooves were long. The mane had been roached and was only inches long. The neck was tiny. And the legs went on forever. The withers? They stuck up above his spine which was visible through the unbrushed coat. Oh, my heart broke for this horse. No longer used in the show ring he had been left behind. Yes, it was indeed The Master Plan. This was a dier. This horse was on the brink and he had come to us to decide which way to go in that fork in his life's road.

Backing out of the trailer, I saw obedience and compliance. But to the degree that instantly I saw depression. His head tilted a bit but he followed me without a question. Head low. Feet moving forward but not feeling the ground. Just moving. Asked to move and so he moved. No interest. No response to the other horses all around him. No response to grass. No response to my touch. Just no response. He was withdrawn way, way deep inside. He just was.

Two days later a friend visited Refuge Farms. A man who is connected with horses. In fact, I have introduced this man and tell of this man to anyone who will listen. And I tell them, "Tony is part horse." While Tony spent some time with this tall, lanky horse I quietly asked Tony what he felt from this horse. Was he here to die?

Earlier that morning, I had asked this tall horse if that was his plan. After watching him for two days, I asked if he was here to die? If that was his plan then I would certainly support him and help him. But I asked him to please give me a chance. Would he let me try to help him? To restore his body and help him enjoy being a horse again? I told him of the others on this land that were just like him. No eyes. No sight. But happy and fat and with friends. And they know they are safe. They are horses. True, honest horses. They just couldn't see. Would he let me try to help him? But, I told him, if he wanted to cross, if he was tired or too weary, then I would understand. Just give me a sign. When you are ready, I told him, give me a sign.

Picture by Lesa Ann
So I asked Tony. What did he think? Was this horse here to die? Tony stood for a while. My eyes filled as I feared Tony was trying to find a gentle way to tell me. "He's going to be around for a while", Tony said. Just like Tony. Give me an answer without giving me an answer. But I respected the answer. Tony respected and lived like a horse. And so it only fit that he would answer like a horse. He's going to be around a while. But the answer gave me hope. How long is "a while"? To me, it was long enough to try!

It has been two weeks since that day that Tony visited. Two weeks of trying food combinations. Soaked beet pulp. Soaked hay cubes. SafeChoice. Mare and Foal. Fat supplements. ProBios. UlcerGuard. Avoiding the temptation to brush him since his hide rests right on his jutting bones. Grateful for the rains that gently wash his dirty hide. Grateful for the cool nights that let him wander outside of the shelter in the corral. And grateful for Miss April.

I added Miss April to his world to teach him how to eat. When he first arrived, this horse smelled food but did not open his mouth. He ate a few treats from my hand but would not eat feed out of a bucket. Or out of my hand. Or off the earth. I tried everything I could think of and every combination of food that I could think of but he just had no interest in eating. Better to let a horse teach a horse, I thought. And so I put our best eater in with him and she did her thing.

I tied them side by side and fed Miss April a handful of food in her bucket. She ate. He listened and smelled. I fed Miss April another handful of feed. She ate. He listened. Then I put a handful of feed in his bucket. She ate that. He listened and smelled it and felt her in his bucket. The second handful in his bucket I blocked Miss April's head and watched as he put his nose into his own bucket. A little competition sometimes works magic.

Two weeks and a series of medicines for ulcers. A floating of his teeth that was badly needed. Fecal samples for deworming guidance. Vaccinations. Coggins tests. Urine tests. Blood tests. Two weeks and we have a horse that eats his breakfast out of a bucket now. Who munches on hay right next to Miss April. And a gelding who goes outside at night to graze on a bit of grass. There is progress although I still watch him for signs of thinking of crossing. I still tell him I'm there if he decides to move on. I still reassure him that we will support him and care for him. And I encourage him to let us give him a chance. That he'll like it here. He'll be safe here. And he'll have friends and joy here. But it is his choice. It is, after all, his life.

Yesterday I turned this big horse out into the big pasture with Miss April and all the others who depend on senses other than sight to maneuver. Yesterday was a big day. Frighening, I'm sure. But a day when he could stretch those very long legs. When he could get some exercise and use his vocal cords to call to Miss April for help. Time when I could call to him in the pasture and have him stand quietly and wait for me to come to him. Stand with that all-too-familiar tilt of his head that I have already come to adore.

We spent most of yesterday afternoon in the pasture. Letting him move around and realize he was lost. And alone. Watching him call. And letting PONY! answer him. Watching him call again. That horse wasn't his Miss April and he wanted her! Me calling to him and then taking him - by the fly mask only! - and leading him to Miss April. Comical to see, I'm sure, since when he walks I have to run! This is one long-legged horse! But we made progress yesterday. And we'll do some of the same tomorrow and the next day. Gradually, he will learn he can be alone and still be safe. Time will help. And so will feed. And becoming familiar with the routines and the smells and sounds.

This big horse looks better to me already. His ribs are not so sharp under his hide. He has begun to shed telling me his body is processing some of the feed. The floating of his teeth has relieved the severe points in his mouth and the ulcers from their piercings can now heal. How painful it must have been to even drink water! Those ulcers were on both sides of his mouth and every single bite meant new punctures to those sores by his long pointed teeth above. I admire this horse for his gentle ways while he lived in constant pain.

And the floating gave us a grasp of his true age. He is in his late 20's. An elderly gentleman. A horse with history and stories to tell. A horse with lessons to teach. Many lessons to teach.

He is, above all else, a gentle soul. This animal lives for a human to find the time to just scratch his long face. For a hug. For a human just to stand next to him. I am hopeful that in the next month we can begin to brush him. To help that old coat be shed and his new coat arrive. The lesson learned of "off with the old and forward with the new".

Lessons learned. After thirty years in this world of rescue, I still shake my head at the lessons they teach us. I now look back at that Monday morning when Connie called and realize that it was meant that this tall, lanky, depressed horse come to Refuge Farms. He has work to do here. We have work to do with him to prepare him for his purposes here at THE FARM. The one remaining bucket we had open was meant to be filled by this horse. I cannot imagine the barns without him. Already. In two weeks. He is part of us. And he will be a leader. He is a defending sort and protective of his Miss April. We will need to teach him to co-exist and to be friendly with the other horses. And he will learn. He will learn.

As we learn. Those lessons they have to teach us. If only we will listen.

And so, on this cool evening, as I spent time with him, I leaned very close to this tall, lanky, thin horse. I leaned right into him and whispered in his ear. I told him what I have told many before him and I told him each promise with all my heart. With everything I had, I promised him those things we promise all of our Sanctuary Horses. I married him in that corral shelter this evening. And I began by saying to him . . .

Storm, I have some things to tell you. They are The Three Promises. But before I promise you those things, I first want to rename you. To give you a new name as you begin your new life. A name that reflects your soul and your spirit. A name that gives you hope and pride. A name that fits you. The first thing I am going to do is to call you Roman.

And so, Roman, let me tell you of The Three Promises. And let me tell you of Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare who has her own promise for you. Welcome, Roman. Welcome to your final home. We are happy to have you. And now, Roman, listen to me as I commit these promises to you . . .

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

                                     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

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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