Sunday, June 16, 2013


The Magic That Was Babee Joy

Just about thirteen years ago, Frances Andrew broke the heart of his young, hopeful owner and crossed unexpectedly from a colic episode. I told those who were close to us that "I'll never know or love a horse like Frannie again". And I was right, unfortunately. Frances was only sixteen months and 1,600 pounds of energy and love and hope when he crossed. Gone forever from our barns but still living in our hearts and our Missions.

Then, a mere two years later in 2005, I told my friends through my sobs that "I'll never love a horse like I love Jerry, the Roan Horse. Never again." And I was right. Never have I met a more powerful and loyal and protective horse as Jerry. To his last breath, he protected me with his body and his power. That horse lives on in the heart of Jeri-Ann, who was named after Jerry, the Roan Horse. So it is no surprise to me that Jeri-Ann is large, just as her namesake was large. And beautiful, of course!

And then, just three years ago in 2010, I told you all that I would never know or love another horse as I had so totally and completely loved and been loved by Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare. And, unfortunately, I believe I am right once more. Laddee came into our lives through a devious act and consumed us. She transformed this organization and became the love of my life in a matter of moments, it seemed. Her crossing, we knew, was inevitable and would arrive rather soon. We knew that. Yet, when she did move on, we all cried huge tears and grieved until you could hear our hearts aching. This place and my heart will never be the same because of Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare.

Today, I'm telling you that I will never know or love another horse like I knew and loved Babee Joy. And, I'm so sad to tell you, I believe that to be a true statement, as well. Babee Joy was unusual in so many, many ways. But her impact on my heart and my life was greater than even I realized and knew. It will be some time and even perhaps to the end of my life on this earth before I appreciate fully the impact this single horse has had on me and my life and on the general personality of this rescue organization.

It was August of 2004 when a little moose-like baby horse stood next to a thin, nervous, pawing, bellering blonde mare at an auction in Sarona, WI. Attending this auction with a few friends of mine, we arrived in a car just to "look at horses and see the prices" of the big ones being sold. This mare and her ugly little baby were the last horses to be sold. The mare was frantic and looked a bit more than "hard to handle". The word "dangerous" came to my mind.

Her baby? Well, that was one horse that was easy to look right past. Her brown moose-like coat was curly and fuzzy and really not a coat but more like a pile of sheared wool. Her mane and tail were black and short and kinky. Her head was too big for her body. And her training had been exactly what the mare had taught her to do - dig and kick. Repeatedly.

I wanted nothing to do with that pair. Until I heard the man behind me bid on them and tell his friend that he would "leave the mare for shipment and see if the baby turned out worth anything". My hand went up without even thinking. To seperate these two animals would mean the mare would be killed. And the baby? I suspected the baby would end up in the same trailer due to her digging and kicking. Something told me that changing the personality of this little horse was going to be a painful experience for the human that took on the challenge.

Josephina and the baby came to live at Refuge Farms that very night. I had made a stall for them and the mare soon showed how efficient she was at her digging. A three-foot hole greeted me in the morning. And the baby? Well, she soon showed us all that her technique was beyond reproach since it worked every time!

Some innocent human would be sucked in by this moose-looking baby horse and walk into the corral to meet her. I would warn them but they would look at the baby and think I was just being overly cautious. Disregarding me and my warnings, the humans would approach the baby and bend over to look her in the eyes. The baby would watch. And wait. When the humans were three feet from her nose, she would execute her approach.

In the blink of an eye - literally! - the baby would whip around and, using both hind feet, mule-kick the humans as hard as her legs could manage! Then she would turn to watch the humans howl and retreat. Victory was sweet for this little horse. You see, to chase the humans away meant that she did not feel the sting of those sticks that had been used on her before arriving here - those cattle prods. This little horse had figured out how to protect herself and also how to amuse herself at the same time with these foolish, tender legged humans!

Several weeks passed and Josephina and "the baby" began the long process of learning that they were safe. The baby was becoming rather large rather quickly to all of our surprises! And the mare was learning to be a bit more calm although a leaf blowing in the wind would set her off on one of her snorting, digging, and head-tossing tangents!

MaKenna and I stood outside the corral one day (notice we are still OUTSIDE the corral) looking at the mare and her still rather ugly baby. "What have you named the baby?" MaKenna asked me. I hadn't really put too much thought into naming the horse since I was still wrapped up in trying to figure out how to stop the mule kicking! "I don't know yet, MaKenna", was my answer, "but it sure is a joy having a baby on THE FARM!"

In this young teenagers heart, the wisdom of the world was present as she stated simply, "Sounds like you've already named her, Sandy. Her name is Babee Joy."

So it was. The baby horse was a joy and so her name became Babee Joy. All was complete at Refuge Farms. We have a faith bucket. A horse named Grace. And now we have Joy. A deep sign of contentment came out of me as I stood at the corral and felt the pieces of my life's work come into alignment. I've never forgotten that moment nor have I ever forgotten the total calm and wisdom and sensibility that this young woman showed me. MaKenna left a mark on me and that horse that day. A mark much greater than just the name Babee Joy.

This horse grew so big so quickly that we all stood with open jaws! Her shoulders just shot upward and her hips just blew out to four feet, it seemed, in weeks! And her coat! No longer was she a brown, moose-like creature. Oh, heavens no! This little baby was becoming a blue roan! Rare and strikingly beautiful, our pastures were now graced with the sparkling color of a blue roan with the Fresian mane and tail. Black leggings and a black face completed the most striking look I've seen in a long, long time. Babee Joy was a beauty!

Isaac, our farrier, saw her for the first time and said to me, "Now here's a horse that's worth some money just because of her color. You need to protect her because people will want to buy her just to breed her." I took Isaac's words to heart and set myself to protect this young horse. She would be safe and no, she would not be bred. Even though people pleaded for the chance to buy her! It grew monotonous.

"How much is the big roan?"
"The horse is not for sale."
"No, really, how much is that horse?"
"The horse is not for sale."

How do I describe her personality? She was extremely large and well muscled in her body but her heart was timid and easily frightened. She had been pained by the cattle prods and moved around in packed steel trailers at a ripe age of 3 months . And she never forgot those fears. A sudden noise or a loud noise or just a new bucket would cause her concern and worry. She would snort and paw, just as her Mother had taught her. Never one to buck or bite, she would simply draw her head back and snort. Wrinkling her eyebrows together and worry, worry, worry that this new feed bucket was going to jump up and eat her!

Babee Joy became a lover. Really, I believe she was a lover all along it was just a defensive technique that she had learned that caused her to mule-kick. And so, in order to keep her here at Refuge Farms, we had to find a way to stop the kicking. A mule-kicking horse would not be safe for our volunteers or our guests and so, in order to keep this baby horse here and let her grow with us, we needed to stop the kicking. How, pray tell, would we do that?

It was late September - only a few weekss after her arrival - that I came into the house and "layered up", as I called it. I wrapped my legs in Ace bandages. Put on tights. A pair of long underwear. A pair of blue jeans. My snow pants over my blue jeans and then my coveralls over the snow pants. I created at least six thick, thick layers of cloth over my legs as a protection against those feet. And then I waddled out to the corral.

The mare I tied, against her better judgement. I would fill the hole she created a bit later, I thought. But right now, I needed to have a conversation with this baby horse. And so, together we meandered out into the general grounds of the corral. 

I had a few treats in my pocket and so I put two in my right hand. Showing them to the baby horse, I moved toward her. I saw her measure the ground between us with her eyes. I took another step. She measured and waited. I stepped and she measured. On my next step, she whipped around and kicked. And I stepped forward.

This little horse turned around and looked at me with bug-eyes wide open. You could see the amazement on her face that the human was still here and still approaching her! One more step forward and that little horse whipped herself around and kicked for all she was worth a second time! Then she turned to face me again.

I stepped forward and fed her a treat. Her entire head turned and she looked at me. Smelled me and then whipped around! I reached over her shoulder and fed her the second treat. This little horse turned gently and ate the treat from my hands. No more kicking. Thank heavens because I needed to get into the house and see how much blood she had drawn!

My legs were green and purple and black and swollen for days. But that little horse did not kick any longer! Why kick if those humans still came forward anyhow? And why kick if they were bringing treats anyhow? Her common sense won out and her life was spared. This little moose was now just a bit peculiar to look at - no longer a kicker, too. Babee Joy never kicked a human ever again in her life.

Just two weeks ago, our Babee Joy came up sore on a back foot with a common abcess. But in a matter of hours, we saw this was no ordinary abcess. And, unfortunately, we were right again. Her life was not to be spared from the abcess and the laminitis that resulted. It was Barbaro all over again.

In order to keep my promises to her, our dear Dr. Anne compassionately helped this little mare cross over to prevent a serious and very painful end-of-life that was imminent. Her foot would drop through her hoof and she would be in excruciating pain. Best to have her spend a few hours with Handsome in the tall grass and then help her cross while she was standing with the sun on her withers feeling rather safe and sound.

Sound, however, she was not nor would she ever be again. The horse that had the most beautiful and flawless feet became the horse that lost her life due to those feet. I'm still wrestling with what could have been done, what could have been noticed sooner, and what was missed when and why. I'm still in the examination of these past two weeks in trying to see how this precious, loving soul could have been spared. I'm still fighting The Master Plan because, right now, from my perspective, I see that The Plan is in serious error.

I have known many horses in my years. This horse had no flaws. She did not test the fence. She did not crib. She did not fight and she did not kick. She loaded into any trailer even though trailers frightened her. She was a peacekeeper in the pasture and she demanded order and quiet when she was in the barn. Just her presence created order as not one horse in the barn would challenge her!

Babee Joy was a sensitive and loving horse. Quick to learn and always looking for reassurement that she was loved and needed. Quick to become fearful but easy to comfort. You simply stood at the head of her and she buried that massive head into your chest to find her comfort and reassurance. Then she would breath and all would be calm again. Easy to comfort and a wonder to hold.

In the few days since her crossing, I find that, of course, I still look for that blue roan butt in the pasture. I still count and fearfully start counting again looking for the missing one! I still hook and standing longingly at her place. Wishing that she would somehow magically appear in the barn to eat her feed. And I still smell her. Feel her strong mane and stretch my arms as if I am about to hug that enormous butt again.

"The emptiness of that hill . . . . " 

One of you wrote that to me today and it so totally sums up the feelings here right now. The hill with The Big Ones is so empty without her. What a presence she commanded! What a sense of calm she bestowed! And what an enormous crevice there is in the hearts of all who loved her.

For a while, it will be quiet around here. Out of respect, we will be quiet because of the horses and the humans that loved her. Because we so desperately miss her. And partly, because some of us are still struggling to accept the fact that Babee Joy is no longer standing in these pastures. Until we can accept it and look at the pasture without crying, we will still count and look for her. Call for her. And wait to hug her. We will live somewhere between wishing and knowing. Not wanting to accept the truth. At least not yet.

Something tells me I will never know or love another horse like I knew and loved Babee Joy. I say that in deep and total grief. But I also say that in pure and honest respect and gratitude for the chance to have known her. And in the good fortune to have loved her. And in the magical grace of knowing she loved me, too.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and The Spirit of Babee Joy

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