Sunday, December 30, 2012


As Ready As We Can Be

This Christmas Week has been one of the most pleasant weeks of this year! Refuge Farms has had visitors from across the country in our barns, our healthy Herd has sustained a week of dampness and snow, and ending the week, a family of helpers arrived and, with their talents and dedication, made Refuge Farms a safer place for the horses and us humans!

Christmas Day was a bit cold and the bite of the air was sharp in your face. If you weren't bundled like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, you were cold! Early afternoon brought a flurry of guests from Menomonie, WI, Woodbury, MN, Seattle, WA, and even Missouri! Some were very savvy horse people and some were knew to this world of equines. Some had been here ten years earlier and some had never set food on this soil. Some had been to a Fall Gala and some had not. But all were new to the world of horse rescue.

Hot chocolate kept our lips from freezing and encouraged us to venture out of the barn once again. Hay bales were stacked in the big barn in preparation for the inevitable coming storms and strong winds. Barns were cleaned and then we re-homed a horse. Yes, on this Christmas Day of 2012, we dropped the trailer and brought a rescue horse who had lived with us for several weeks to his forever home.

"Standard Bred" is a gelding who arrived the Thursday prior to our Gala - a mere eight weeks ago. He had been frightened and flighty. A bit thin but not emaciated. Hungry, though. He ate constantly for those first few weeks. His friend was the Shire mare that we now call Faline. Standing behind her was his favorite spot as the humans would invade his corral and attempt to touch him. Nope! No touching, he would scream as he darted away from us! No touching me!!!

His brandings and his legs told me the story of his life. At some point, this had been a track horse. And his legs had taken the beating. Three of his four legs had been "fired" to relieve the pain he was experiencing. One of those legs, in fact, had been fired on both the inside and outside. Ouch. Most likely small bone chips from pounding on a hard track were causing severe pains with every step. How to relieve the pain? Surgery could be performed, but there then would be extended time off the track and rehab to complete. A faster and considerably less expensive method was to simply insert an electrode and "fire" or electrocute the nerves so the pain sensations were not transmitted to the brain any longer. Hence the bleached white "dots" on his legs telling me of the firings.

His most recent years had been as a buggy horse. I'm sure he was excellent! Sturdy, strong, compact, and fast. All of the attributes of a solid buggy horse. For some reason, he had been given his "freedom" to be taken to the local sale barn. In his state of thinness and fear, he undoubtedly would have ended up in a stainless steel trailer heading North.

Enter a kind man. A stranger to Refuge Farms but a man who knew our Isaac from his church. A man who had heard of us and so called on us. A man who told me he did "not like to see hard working horses go to slaughter". This man's telephone call the night we were stuffing Gala invitations brought these two horses to us. Because of this kind man, on this Christmas Day of 2012, Refuge Farms loaded and placed horse # 861 - "Standard Bred" - who, by the way, is now "Ranger". A perfect present for everyone on a very special day! Merry Christmas, indeed!

Later in the week, Jeff and Jen and Reilly and Brody arrived early in the day to help hook and feed and complete a few items on the TO DO LIST. Bless their hearts! That night, for the first time this winter, I was able to hook and feed the Big Ones with light in the barn! No more listening and feeling to find the head of the 2,500 pound horses! No more praying that they are calm and realize just how tiny I am in that barn next to them! No more standing on tip toes to avoid being stepped on! Thank you, Jeff! Many, many thanks to you!

The spotlight in the back of the big barn was repaired and the interior light of the big barn was also working again when this family departed. And during their visit, we talked and laughed and hugged. In only two short visits, I feel a closeness with this small circle of people that I rarely allow myself to realize. The hugs are sincere and full. The words and questions are genuine. There is no polite chatter. There is much for us to talk about in a short half-day. I am already eager for spring when I will await the arrival of their big white truck again in this driveway!

Tonight, at the end of this Christmas Week, we sit awaiting the arrival of the bitterly cold air. And we are as ready as we can be. Ready to care for them so that they can endure the week of below zero temperatures. Ready to pray for those without someone to care for them. And ready to answer the telephone for the emergencies which will most certainly arise.

I have extra round bales placed behind the barns so that there is hay with buildings blocking the strong NW winds that are forecasted. The stock tanks are all filled but will require filling every day. Dehydration is dangerous in severe cold. And they will be cold if they have no water so the hose travels with me every night when I hook to feed.

Small, square hay bales are at the ready, thanks to the Christmas Day guests, to place on the floor to keep those weaker ones out of the winds and safely in the barn! And the feed tanks are filled. Before I came inside this evening, extra blankets were selected from our storage tubs and are now in the big barn for the doubling up that will occur tomorrow as the temps drop and the winds pick up.

Bags of shavings are out of the trailer and ready to provide Shortey a soft bed. She did not appreciate being kept in the barn this evening, but I told her that in a few hours she would be grateful to be out of the winds. No response from her other than a glare at me over her left shoulder. Gotta love that angry little girl!

And most importantly, I have the U of M on alert for Liz-Beth. That horse is amazing to me! I mean, in general, I admire the strength, the stamina, the determination, and the ability to endure that this mare seems to manufacture from that beat up, overused, abused, and weakened body. But this year, when I had fully expected to have long since transported her for winter boarding, she is doing so very well!

This morning, in the below zero temperatures, I found her scratching with Lanna while she awaited her breakfast. Her back showed me that she had, in fact, rested her legs again last night and somehow, with those crippled legs, she had risen up all by herself. Miraculous. Pure and simple. A miracle in our barns.

But this cold is the most severe we have faced yet this season. And so I have a blanket ready for her tomorrow when she shows me she needs it. I have beet pulp soaking so I can heat it and provide her with hot "oatmeal" in the morning. And I have the warm box stall in St. Paul ready to receive her on a moment's notice.

If Liz-Beth needs it, I will transport her. If Liz-Beth decides to tough it out with her BFF, I will support her. It is her life and she is now the decision-maker. A new role for her since she came to live with us and she loves being in charge of herself. She is strong and wants to stay home. That's evident. But if her body tells her she must take a "vacation", then we are ready for that, as well.

So, we are as ready as we can be on this eve of the New Year's Week and the bitter cold. We have had a full and exciting week. A week of caring and tenderness. A week of hard work and preparedness. And a week of sharing and appreciating all that come to our humble barns - human and horse.

We are as ready as we can be. And so I ask just one thing of each of you. Would you be so kind to help us? You see, all that remains is the support of Liz-Beth on this late night. If you would help, that would be great and, since we believe in the power of it, your support will make all the difference for that little mare we now call Liz-Beth.

You see, all that she needs now is prayer.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd with a Strong, Strong Liz-Beth!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


On This Christmas Morning

It is early on this cold, clear, but calm Christmas morning. A fire is beginning in the wood stove and the cats are eating their Christmas breakfast treat. The horses are calm in the hay and they all seem warm in their blankets or standing in the barn. No one seems in stress or cold. They are tough and resilient creatures, aren't they? I admire them so. Each day, it is my personal goal to be just a bit more like a horse. A little bit each day. More like these animals that live in the moment. That harbor no ill will. That love first and then learn to not love so much. Oh, to be more like the horses is my goal for every single day.

This Christmas I find many thoughts running through my heart. Many wishes and fears. All that come tumbling forward on a dark Christmas morning. I find myself torn. Do I smile? Do I sit quietly? Do I sing my favorite carol? Do I cry? Or do I do it all? Knowing that my heart is usually true to the time, I've learned to trust my heart - or my instincts, as you may call them - because rarely has it failed me.

The tears? They come from my fears. My fears of the coming winter with such little hay available. The constant ringing of the telephone with horses needing help. Humans not even asking if we have room, just telling me they are coming to drop off their horses. Humans who do not hear me when I say we have no room. Humans that insist that they must come. Humans in desperate times. Horses at the mercy of those humans who did not plan. Who did not listen. Who did not seek hay in June or July when the drought was just beginning. I cry for the horses that are wasted. But worse yet, I cry for the horses where their humans have done nothing but let them stand.

My smile comes from the memories of all those Christmas mornings when I was a child. Reading Santa's note to me after he took time out from his busy night to eat my cookies and drink the milk I had left for him. I never once questioned how Santa got into our living room - we did not have a chimney! Never once did I question his existence. I had faith that this man existed and so he did. He existed in my heart. I was a child and I was allowed to believe. Once again, I find myself longing to be so innocent and so willing to believe as I did as that child.

My quiet sitting comes from my appreciation of my life's journey. I have had many "lives" in my short 60 years. I have been a child. I have become an adult. I have been a business woman. I have been a daughter. I have been a sister. And I have been a manager of many. All of these lives come together to create the caretaker that I now am. My life's journey has been as it should have been so that I would have the skills and the will to do what it is that I was born to do - to rescue the unwanted horses. I have traveled too many nights so that I appreciate my own bed every night. I have eaten in too many restaurants so that I appreciate sitting in my rocker with my pot pie. I have spent too many days in New York City or Los Angeles or Dallas so that I appreciate my days in Spring Valley. I have spent too many hours in Tiffany's or Macy's or Nieman Marcus stores so that I appreciate my time in Stockman's Farm Supply. I have been many places so that now, I would be no where else.

I love these barns. These falling down, old barns so much in need of repair and replacement. I love this yard that always needs work. And I love this life that always needs more time than in the day. I know like I know my name that I was born to do this. And so, on this Christmas morning, I am so full of appreciation for The Master Plan that has taken me on this journey so that I could end up here! On a little plot of 20 acres with an old house and even older barns. With a truck working on 300,000 miles and my body working on a million. I am where I am exactly supposed to be. And I appreciate the contentment and peace that knowing this brings to my heart. And so this Christmas, tears of joy escape these eyes. I am at peace with who I am and what I do with each day. I have faith beyond description that what we do is what we are destined and trained to do. That we are living as we should be. And saving those we must. What we do is good. And I am at peace. Finally.

The singing? That comes from my joyful heart. The heart that is grateful for Andres and his willingness to fill my truck with wood for the wood stove so that on a morning like this morning, these cold walls will be heated with the warmth of burning wood. A fire in the wood stove will relax us all in this house - me, the cats, and the guests. When you come in the door today, you will be greeted with warmth. From the fire, from the cats, and from me. We will be cozy in this house because of that warmth.

My singing comes from the people who have seen the works we do and who stop by to say "thank you". A gentle hand shake. A strong hug. Or simply a smile from the heart. Each and every one who lends a hand in some form or fashion gives us strength to face the heat of July and the cold of January. It may be the milk crate filled with blankets and fly masks. The bag of Pro-Bios horse treats found hanging from the door knob. The Christmas card with tender words written inside. And the emails of consideration and kindness. My singing comes from knowing that I am not alone in this task. That there are others who share the burden of worry and stress. Of hard work and blisters. There are many others who, too, have the calling to help in some way. My heart sings at their presence - however that may be felt.

But mostly, my singing comes from them. The face of Shortey. The big doe eyes of Faline. The playful spirit of Ella. And the newly learned trust of Hollie. The determination of Liz-Beth. The calm of Big Lanna. The unending stubbornness of Miss April. And the many needs of Roman. The calmness of Faith. The steadiness of PONY! The leadership of Helen. And the gentle ways of Alexius. The anxiety of Josephina. And the true joy of Unit. The pride of Duchess. And the total and complete grace of Gracie. The quietness of Handsome. The compliant demeanor of Beauty. The spunk of Spirit. And the watchfulness of the Standard Bred. The loyalty of Babee Joy. And the love of life in Jeri-Ann. My singing comes from them. All these lives saved when no one wanted them. Others had thrown them away and we were there to take them in. To give them shelter and time and patience and love laced with understanding and gentleness. Out of those cares came the gift of them. My singing comes from them.

This Christmas morning brings an entire bouquet of emotions pouring from my heart. And these emotions escape as tears running down my face. I am worried, yes. But I am full of faith. I am frightened of what this season will bring. But I know we will do what is humanly possible for us to do. I am grateful beyond words and so I struggle to express with them. And I am at peace. More than anything, on this Christmas morning, my heart is peaceful. I feel their presence in this dark cold of morning. I feel them all - horses and humans. And when I feel their breath on my neck, I know they are still with me. Encouraging and supportive. Helpful and watchful. Guiding us on our journey. And loving us each step of the way.

Earlier this week, I felt a strong need to connect with my Father. The working man who was never at rest. The man who built homes that still are warm and cozy in the winters of Duluth. The man who loved his wife and his two daughters. The man who cried not because the disease was taking him but because he worried for who would be there for his family. He worried for us - not himself - and so he cried.

I needed to feel the presence of the man who is my Father and so I dug and found the suitcase of his news clippings, his tie tacks, and his letterhead. I found his cigarette lighter that still smelled of lighter fluid. And I found his Bible. And in that Bible, I found what it was that I needed to find the man. His bookmark. I found his bookmark.

In my twelve years with this man, I never saw him read anything other than the newspaper and his Bible. He was a quiet man who turned to that book when he was troubled. Even in my youth, I knew when this man was tormented by his face and by the fact that he sat at the end of the couch with his coffee and his cigarette and he read his Bible. Mother would be in the kitchen secretly watching him. She was worried because he was worried. But they never passed the worry on to Donna and I. No, they just sat together quietly while Dad read the Bible. Then they would move to the kitchen table to talk. Over more coffee. Then there would be an agreement and we would all move on.

So, in finding my Father's Bible I found the man. And the bookmark was were he had left it. I haven't read those pages yet in these forty-plus years. But the bookmark? I have it memorized. It is an old bookmark from a company called "Crex". It appears that they made materials for rugs and carpets. Regardless, my Father kept the bookmark, I believe, because of the verse on it. That verse reads:

I know a place where the sun is like gold
And the cherry blooms burst with snow,
And underneath is the loveliest nook
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

One leaf is for hope, and one is for faith,
And one is for love, you know;
And God put another one in for luck -
If you search you will find where they grow.

But you must have hope and you must have faith,
You must love and be strong, and so,
If you work, if you wait, you will find
The place where the four-leaf clovers grow.

On this Christmas morning, I wish you everything that is good. Everything you need to make you sing with joy. To sit quietly and contemplate what you appreciate. To cry with joy. And to cry with worry! To do it all on this day filled with so many emotions and expectations. And may you find a four-leaf clover in your stocking!

Merry Christmas and God Bless,
Sandy and The Ones Who Take Refuge at This Place

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