Saturday, June 22, 2019


The Story of Ella, the Rodeo Champion Penning Mare

It was 2005 and I was in the rescue barn seeking Duchess, a starved little wise mare who appeared on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal. As I walked past a front stall, I noticed a woman struggling with a stocky red mare who was NOT willing to have the needle placed in her neck. I offered to help and went into the stall uninvited   to assess, and hopefully help, the mare. 

It became obvious that the needle was not an injection of antibiotics for the messy right side of her face but a catheter being inserted to “put this beast down”. Everyone was frustrated and getting angry – the mare, included.

With what little bit of history I could obtain, I asked the woman to wait while I contacted Dane County and inquired about the mare. Quickly, I connected and asked about the Foundation Quarter Mare. She was labeled “a killer” and was to be euthanized as treatment and handling was impossible. The mare was strong and in pain and panicked and thus deeming her dangerous.

“If you can hold her for 2 more days, I will return day after tomorrow to pick her up. And I’ll sign whatever I need to sign to document I understand she is “a killer” and potentially dangerous.” Those are the words I did not ponder. They simply came out of my mouth.

“She is not dangerous, Sandy. She is deadly.” was the response.

“Cool”, I said. “I’ll sign the paperwork. Just stop the process NOW. I’ll be back on Thursday to get her.”

With that, Ella, the Rodeo Champion Penning Mare came to Refuge Farms and received The Three Promises before her hooves touched the dirt of the driveway. 

With her came an ugly wound where her right eye had been gouged out on “equipment”. The impact, we presume, caused the left eye to become blind. Instantly blindness was the new daily wear for this little mare of high intelligence and strength and instinctual desire to run to herd those cows!

In the summer of 2017, her right eye developed a growth that was removed and deemed to be cancer. From that point on, Ella was monitored very closely for any change in any eye tissue on either side.

In the winter of 2018-2019 on the morning of -47 degrees, as expected, Ella was outside the barn on the east side standing in the brutally cold sunshine waiting patiently for the feeling of heat. She had two winter blankets on her body and was warm underneath but the cold had done its damage – her left eye was a new yellow/gold color and the shape was not the usual round eyeball. Instantly, I knew that eyeball had frozen with the severe cold.

In just days, not knowing any of this history or the presence of Ella’s now frozen eyeball, Luanne Volk-Meinholz celebrated her birthday by opening a fundraiser for Refuge Farms on Facebook. In a note, I thanked Luanne and expressed my gratitude for the expansion of her love and support of her Beautiful Beauty and little Gracie-Girl to our Missions in general.

As I watched the generous support of Luanne’s friends and family, I again sent a note to Luanne asking her permission to use those funds to help support the costs of Ella’s upcoming surgery. Luanne’s response was, “Use the money wherever you need it most! Please do help that blind mare.”

Hence, the first 50% of our surgical costs for Ella’s surgery was received. Thank you, Luanne.

It was the time of our customary Spring Breakfast at the Menomonie Applebee’s and so I worked with Ella and her boyfriend, NewMan, and practiced walking down the driveway and into the big trailer. Ella was such a pro at loading and unloading that I soon saw that part of the event would be simple. And NewMan? Well, that little guy would follow his lovely Ella wherever she went. So I knew we could get to Applebee’s! But how would they react in the corral in the front yard of the restaurant?

Going to Applebee’s that morning was a bit tense. This was the first time NewMan was leaving his new home in eighteen months. And Ella! Ella had never left Refuge Farms in her fourteen years with us. And remember, Ella was still a stout mare with a huge neck and on very healthy, strong legs!

Nick and Brandon are good with horses with their even temperaments and their keen eyes for signals on the horses’ mindsets. Those two men stayed glued to the horses the entire time and Ella’s steps were spent looking for the gate in that little corral so she could get some space between she and NewMan. NewMan simply placed himself in the center of the corral and let Ella move around him. And around him.

At the end of the Annual Spring Breakfast at Applebee’s, we had the funding we needed to take Ella to surgery. The attendance by our supporters was the largest ever for a breakfast fundraiser! And some who could not attend the event sent donations specifically for Ella’s surgery. Now we waited simply for the weather to moderate and to get the surgery completed before the flies appeared! We were ready to go!

On Tuesday, June 18, 2019, Ella and NewMan loaded smoothly and rode the journey to Stillwater. They were placed in a single stall and quietly awaited the next move. Such calm displays of trust and security on their parts was not missed by me or many members of the barn crew.

Ella's Right Eye Prior to Surgery

The plan was to open the right eye and search the tissue in that cavity to insure healthy tissue. If ANY unhealthy tissue was located, my orders were to “get it out”.

Ella's Left Eye Complete with a Frozen Eyeball

Then the surgeon would move to Ella's left eye. The plan was to remove Ella’s remaining eyeball and review the surrounding tissue to insure good health. Again, if ANY unhealthy tissue was located, 

"get it out" was the directive.

The next morning, I arrived at Stillwater and dropped the trailer, paid the bill (in cash!), and then went to the stall to retrieve our couple. Quietly standing in the center of the stall, head to butt, they were dozing after munching their hay breakfast. Ella was a bit swollen and stitched but no oozing. I hugged her and she let me hold her head. Ella was weary and ready to go home.

Ella's prognosis is excellent! No sign of cancerous tissue was spotted in either eye! The right eye socket was “full of scar tissue”, which is understandable considering it was removed by a collision, not by a surgeon. And her left eye came out “cleanly”. Our girl is set for the rest of her life and will soon be running again in our pastures.

 Ella's Newly Inspected Right Eye Minus Skin Tags 

This first picture is a picture of her right eye after being reopened and inspected. No cosmetic surgery was completed. Ella has earned those scars and they are part of her history. Besides, Ella is beautiful to us, just as she is!

 Ella's New Left Eye After Removal of the (Frozen) Eyeball

This is Ella's left eye which had the (frozen) eyeball removed. I will post pictures of her new pretty eyes after the swelling is down a bit more and the stitches are removed. We have three more days of penicillin shots – which she stands beautifully for, by the way! – and bute powder in her feed. Which disgusts her. We will pull stitches on July 2nd.

Many, many thanks to Luanne for the original fundraiser, to Robyn Feld and Marti Rooney for donations, and our  so very generous guests at the Annual Spring Breakfast at Applebee’s! Heather Kurth and her crew at the Menomonie Applebee’s were strong supporters again for us and this time, for Ella. It is only with this greatly appreciated support that we can keep this, Laddee's Promise, given to Ella:

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.

Friday, January 27, 2017


The Lessons of Faline, the Shire Mare

She came to us so very thin . . . her ribs sticking out like sharp "v" lines through her hide, her spine so easily visible and dangerously exposed, her butt checks with my hand width of air between them, and her neck so very thin - like a doughnut trying to support her enormous Shire head. I could not help but wince when looking at her. It was a cold November day when she stepped out of Auntie Trish's trailer and onto the gravel driveway of Refuge Farms. However she did not shiver. This was my first inclination that this girl was tough.

A member of our farrier's community had owned this mare for her entire life. She had served him well as a brood mare and a plow horse. Her large feet showed how sturdy she would be in the harness and her frame showed me that, hopefully, in her younger days, she had been full bodied and strong. But today, this little girl was bone thin, filthy, and puzzled. However, she was steady and confident and not the least bit intimidated as she held her head high and surveyed us all! I liked this girl from my first glimpse of her.

Those first three days, I watched her very closely. She did not eat grain. She did not drink out of the stock tank. And she did not come into the barn. Instead, she ate any snow that she could find and used the manure of the other horses to fill her tummy. And she simply stood outside with her hind quarters to the wind and her head down. This told me of her harsh life and her need to find water and nutrition in what had been available to her. Her own manure was very loose and did not have the usual healthy smell. I feared she was very close to death.

On the fourth day, I contacted the man who buries our horses and asked him to come and dig a hole for this new mare. I told him she was "way too thin and way too far gone to make it through the winter". The response was a practical response: digging a hole now only means the hole will freeze and we still won't be able to bury her. The advice I was given was good advice: "Just make sure she doesn't die until the grounds are soft."

Twice daily for every day for the next thirty days, I took this mare into the barn and tried to coax her to a feeder. It took all thirty days before I could get her to stand quietly at a bucket holder, but once that was accomplished, I then began the job of teaching her what feed was and presenting her with some once she stood at her designated spot. I needed to push feed pellets into her mouth and hope that some stuck - at least stuck long enough so that they would dissolve so she could taste the sweetness and perhaps want more. In less than a week, we had feed being carefully picked and consumed. And within a month, we had a mare who loved her feed! Now, she had a chance!

Water from a stock tank, however, was a different story. Whenever we made it to the tank, the horse she would see looking at her from inside that tank was enough to make her turn and run out of the barn! Seeing that her reflection startled her, I started bringing her water in a bucket. Again, within a week she would drink from a bucket and once she learned what joy that held, her daily waterings were anywhere from five to six buckets of water every morning and every evening! Water, like feed, was a wonderful thing!

It wasn't too long before this little girl was eating feed, drinking gallons and gallons of clear water from the stock tank, and beginning to mingle with the other horses. It would take time for this little mare to grow comfortable and "own" her space at Refuge Farms but she was still a tough mare. Not easily pushed around and certainly not one to spook or panic. This big shire mare was strong and steady as they come - and without a name.

It was deer hunting season and my first impression of her was of those big eyes of hers - enormous brown eyes that protruded from that skin-and-bones body. Given the season, I began calling her "Bambi". Within a couple of weeks, one of the Refuge Farms volunteers reminded me that Bambi was a buck and this horse was a mare - hardly appropriate. So, I asked someone to tell me what was the name of the "fairest doe in the forest" that Bambi chose as his companion? That doe was Faline, they told me. Hence, I later spent some private time with this mare and told her that we would call her "Faline" because she truly was the fairest mare in the barn.

It was November of 2012. For the next five plus years, this mare remained strong and steady - just as she was on that first day walking out of that trailer. She loved, loved, loved her feed! And after slurping up her feed, she would back out of her tie stall and lower the stock tank by a minimum of 4". Faline loved her water, as well.

After eating, she would find her favorite spot inside the barn and take a long nap. Not one to lie on the ground, this mare stood when sleeping and snored even while standing. Faline tolerated the hugs and kisses bestowed on her and welcomed the times she was brushed. Again, a new experience, she grew to love the feel of the bristles on her withers and would even lean into the person so they could get a better reach to her protruding spine.

In her years with us, we worked very hard but were never able to cover those ribs with any fat. It was my opinion that she just was so depleted that her body absorbed every calorie and used it to restore her inner organs. There were no excess calories to store! Only calories to try to restore the deficit. She had, after all, depleted all of her fat and so the calories we presented to her were swallowed and absorbed before she could even digest them!

On this brisk morning of January 27, 2017, our Faline was lying in the hay when I came to the barn for feeding. This was very unusual for her and so I went directly to her. She had been in the hay for a long period of time and she gave me no indication that she wanted to get out of the hay. But I knew a big horse cannot be down for long or they cannot rise. I prayed I was not too late.

We made two gallant attempts to raise that strong, long-legged body up off the earth. With each attempt, she would get herself to sitting on the ground on her butt - like a dog. I would let her rest and when she showed me signs of getting restless, then I would help her and ask her to stand. Her hind legs would not and could not get under her.

Two times we lifted her, waiting for her strength to gather, and two times she leaned forward as if to rise and I assisted her with ropes, collars, and the equipment. And two times, she simply went down onto her side and stayed there.

Dr. Rande was called and our beloved Faline was helped to cross at approximately 10:30am this morning - in the sun on a brisk January day.

What had happened? Something was amiss, I knew it. For three days this little mare that loved, loved, loved her feed ate very little of her feed. She drank only a few swallows. And her hind legs showed signs of oozing and a light trace of blood. I suspected her kidneys were going into failure and so I had called to schedule a blood sample be taken to confirm the kidneys and so, in that way, we would be prepared to support her journey onward.

However, this morning, Faline took control of her own destiny. In a quick examination, Dr. Rande could see a tumor that had penetrated the wall of her vagina. And truly, if there is one tumor there were many more in her body. Remember, too, this is the mare that had a tumor on her brain that was growing out of her left ear! For the last 18 months, I have checked the whites of her eye to see if she was in pain and for those last 18 months, we had treasured that ear as the growth caused it to be a horizontal ear rather than the usual vertical ear.

Faline crossed with the same bravery and strength as she had lived - no fear visible on the outside. No hesitation or spookiness. Only her face in the wind and held as high as she could manage while lying down.

Arriving November 12, 2012 and gracing our barn until January 27, 2017, Faline was a steady example to the new, frightened members of our herd. She did not pick fights. She did not require "territory". She did not push the smaller and weaker horses around. No, instead she simply worked her way to her tie stall, found a safe place to sleep, and waited her turn at the stock tank.
                                                    Faline, September 2013

Faline was a compliant and considerate mare who lived each day in gratitude for the shelter from the winter winds, a love of her winter blanket that was honestly visible to her human, and a showing of pure joy at the feel of a fan in her face in July. She lived and taught us all about gratitude. And as her eyes failed and she learned to deal with total blindness, she taught us of tolerance and digging deep inside for strength. Many of us will remember her lessons and examples of kindness and joy from the presence of something as simple as clean water.

Today has been a difficult day. I could see she was beginning to struggle but I had asked her to try to hold on until she could eat the green grasses. But she knew better and so she chose to move toward today's sunshine rather than become weak and feeble and a burden. Strong and solid to the very last of her.

Faline, I love you enormously and am so very, very saddened at your crossing. I wanted to brush you in the warmth of the spring sunshine and take you into the yard for the sweetest grasses on this earth. I wanted to baby you a bit more with blankets and treats and hugs and kisses. And I wanted to keep you here, in this barn, just a bit longer.

But you, in your wisdom, knew I would never be satisfied and never be ready to let you go. I would always want just a little more time. A few more meals for you. And a few more days of warm sunshine. You knew that letting go is not easy and so you chose to move on and you did just that - in your own way on your own day.

May you find unending fields of sweet grass, streams bubbling with cool water, trees for shade, and a gentle breeze. And please, Dear Faline, get yourself to the front of the herd when I finally wander across that bridge myself. Please, Faline. I want to kiss your mustached muzzle one more time.

Shire Mare
Arrived: 11/12/12
Crossed: 01/27/17
Estimated age: 38 to 40 years young

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

Monday, September 15, 2014


The Giant of Gentleness

It has been two full weeks. In my efforts to deal with life and the loss of Handsome, I managed to keep myself busy and not allow myself the time to sit and absorb what had happened on Labor Day after public hours. I simply could not find the strength to think it through, remember it, grieve over him, and communicate to the world. I dug deep and found that "it" was bigger than me. At least for these past two weeks.

For those days, I busied myself with supporting the horses through the heat and then the freezing rains. We had two busy weeks at THE STORE and I worked at the desk in the evenings rather than go outside except to care for them. Avoidance was my tactic.

Yesterday was a sunny day and our Blind Horse Parade Unit practice went well. It was mid-afternoon and I had a decision to make - continue avoiding Handsome or finally, finally go to him and think it through. I took myself to the west lawn and to Handsome and Babee Joy. And finally, I sat in the dirt and dealt with "it".

King, as he was called, was brought to my attention by a horse puller I knew. He had a horse "with a bad eye" and wondered if I would be willing to come and get him. On November 20th in 2007, I drove my trailer to the familiar farm and met Don and his neighbors, as arranged. His neighbors were there, they said, since "King didn't like to load much" and they would help me. "You just get him close to the trailer. We'll get him in for you." The "tools" in their hands told me what their plans were.

One man held a heavy duty cattle prod. Another had a chain and a whip with weights of some sort tied to the end of the stinging line. The third man held a 2x4 with nails and screws jutting out of the end. I thanked them for their help and smiled. I was literally vibrating I was so angry! But, I explained, this big horse needed to load for me from now on and so we would get it done together - just the horse and me.

They snickered. "We'll stick around. You just wave and we'll help ya."

Sitting in the dirt yesterday, I once again told King how very, very proud of him I was from that day! How he had dragged me through the burdocks, the weeds, the woods, and the brush! How he had almost killed me more than once and how I had used the trees to stop him so I could rest! How I had pleaded with him to come with me and how each time he turned and saw that trailer sitting there he would begin dragging me again.

When we finally did approach the trailer, I stopped him and hugged him. Kissed him. And promised him safety. I turned his head so he could not see the trailer or the men in the pickup. I put everything I had into my words and promised him safety, food, and care for that eye. Plus, I told him we had very good looking mares where he was going. That did it! In we went.

Both King and I were trembling when we stood in that trailer. He was cautiously eating some hay and I stood next to him with my right hand on his chest. We rested and then I heard Pat Parelli for the very first time once again. Pat was just a young kid in Norman, Oklahoma and his entire seminar was given with him standing on the roof of his trailer so we could hear him. Andy and I sat and listened and we liked this young rodeo kid. We liked his view of the horse and how to think like a horse. Pat was screaming at me in my head while I struggled to stand next to this infected horse in this trailer so many years and horses later.

And so, listening to Pat and praying to Andy, I asked King to come outside with me. Against everything my instincts told me, I took this horse outside to the grass and let him look around once more. A bit of the fear returned but I talked with him again. Rubbed again. Hugged again. And then I asked him to come with me again. And he did. Into the trailer we went.

Right than and there we were one. Right then and there, I loved him and he trusted me. Right then and there, I stood in that trailer with those three men gawking at the doors to the trailer as I cried and gave "Handsome" the three promises. Right then and there, this lanky, tall, stinking horse was mine. 


Handsome met Dr. Anne when we removed that cancerous eye. The cancer was deep and we took more than just the eye, but Dr. Anne thought she had it all. After that surgery, he struggled to get that big body off the mat but he finally did. Those big bodies, once they rest, just don't want to get up again. Dr. Anne told me years later that she warned Handsome that she wouldn't go out and tell me she couldn't get him up. She had warned him that she would harness him and lift him up if she had to but she wasn't going to lose him in recovery. He listened. He trusted her. And he got up for her.

In his life here, Handsome ventured with us to schools, to Wal-Mart, to Applebee's, to galas. Handsome was always the star of every tour - the horse I held for the end of the introductions. Everyone who met him loved him. No one ever just moved on. Everyone stood in awe of this huge Gentle Giant. Pictures were taken with him. Everyone wanted to touch him. The star was what he was.

After that first day, he never once hesitated to load for me and each time he did, I kissed him when we finally stood in the trailer. We left those men behind us. With the ooze and the hunger and the pain and the work. With those prods and those chains and that whip that lanced his eye. With that owner and with that name. We left all those things behind us that day in November of 2007. I told Handsome he was brand new that day and he was. And he liked living here.

During his years here, Handsome received new love from humans and from horses. His first horse love was Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare. Laddee adored and trusted Handsome and only under his careful watch would she lay in the hay - on her side and completely vulnerable - and snore in her deep sleep. Handsome would stand over her and doze and once in a while touch her with his nose. He loved the smell of her. He had recognized the smell of her bad eye and he was there to greet her when she returned home from her surgery. Again, Dr. Anne had taken all she could but we could not cure Laddee as we had Handsome. Only help her and Handsome somehow knew that. And so he stuck to her like glue for as long as we had.


When Laddee crossed, I worried that Handsome would follow. He fell off his feed, didn't drink, and really rarely moved. He stood in the corner with his head down. He missed his lovely Laddee. I had taken him to smell her but he refused to get close to her. And I understood. There is something about remembering them the way they were. Handsome began to sink and I called the vet to warn him that should I make that telephone call, he needed enough medicine with him. This was a big hearted horse.

Handsome recovered with the help of his next love - Gracie. One morning after breakfast, Gracie wandered over to Handsome. Not even touching his breakfast, he still stood in the corner getting ready to wait out the day. Gracie walked over to him and scratched his chest. He shook her off. She scratched again. He shook her off. She continued to scratch him as high up his chest as she could reach and finally, the big head reached down to scratch Gracie's back. He almost pushed her over but I stood in tears as I watched that little blind pony reach out to that giant and save his life. Gracie and Handsome soon became a pair.

"Kindred" an original by Mike Murach

She would stand under him in the rain to stay dry. Or she would stand under him in the sunshine to stay cool. Regardless of why, when she wanted out from under him she didn't move. Heck, no! She would simply bite his knees and get him to move! He did so with a bit of complaining but he did move. He loved that little peanut of a horse and he would comply with her wishes.

They spent time together and rested together. Handsome filled out again and Gracie was content. They were an odd couple but I was so pleased to see them both with a mate. Life was good for the giant horse again.

Gracie began experiencing seizures and so Handsome was moved to the pasture with the "big horses". In that pasture was a yearling already bigger than most full grown quarter horses. She was white and then black and then silver and then white again. We didn't know what she was but she was young and big and terrified of the world. And Handsome would protect her and was in love once again.

The two of them liked peace and quiet and so when the other babies would play and cause a ruckus, those two would wander off and stand off to the side. They didn't like to move much. Just stand and be together. They would scratch each other with vigor and finally Handsome had someone who could scratch his withers! This huge gelding taught this young mare the art of peacekeeping and she learned well.

You see, Handsome was never one to fight. If another horse bothered him, he didn't demand they move or change, he just moved away. If another horse came up to him and attacked him, he did not respond - he made noise and then just walked away. This little mare learned from him and she, too, became a protector and a peacekeeper in the pastures. Babee Joy learned from the best.

Last summer, when Babee Joy unexpectedly crossed over, once again I called the vet to warn him about bringing enough medicine. Once again, Handsome fell off of his feed, the water, and he withdrew. And honestly, he never came back from her loss. He never found another mate in the pastures and he never became content again. Babee Joy left and Handsome, I believe, just waited it out until he could join her.

His right front foot was working through a hoof wall abscess. This wet ground allows small stones to penetrate their hoof that otherwise would not bother them and this spring, his pasture was wet until mid-July. Only one month of decent weather and then we were back in the wet again. His right front foot bothered him and caused him to put his weight back onto his rear legs. And those hips. Those hips that were worn out before he came here from years of competitive pulling and field work. Hips that we had been treating with the same meds as Liz-Beth had been receiving. But his hips are different than her knee.

He spent time trying to wait it out but Monday late afternoon, those hips had to rest. They just had to rest. And so he was down and resting. I let him rest until he sounded like he wanted to right himself and so I prepared him to get up. We prayed and I asked for the wisdom to know what to do. In my mind, I already knew the answer but my heart would not give up. We would try but Handsome was tired.

Three times he had the chance to put his feet on the ground and three times he let his weight bend his legs over and go back down to his side. My prayers had been answered and I detested that answer. I hung onto his head and told him I understood his decision. I told him I truly did. But I also told him I didn't want to let him go! But I respected him and so I would help him go.

Amazing Grace was in his big left ear as he crossed. My arms were around his head. And I prayed he rest and be whole again. Only yesterday was I able to think it through and remember his life with us. Only yesterday was I able to acknowledge that Handsome had crossed. I still detest it but I am accepting it now.

How empty is that barn! The pasture just isn't the same - all the horses are dark and that huge blonde frame is missing. September 1st was the start of daily feedings for Handsome and Faline in preparation for the coming winter. And this coming winter, I will not be visiting the barn at 12, 2, and 4am to bring hot oatmeal to him. Bringing him hot, wet food in the freezing cold kept him in the barn and out of the trees. I will certainly miss those intimate times together this coning winter but I will treasure the months of feedings of last winter. I will miss them and his joy at hearing me coming. Always happy to see me with that bucket in my hands.

In all of this grief, I keep thinking that I want only to be more like Reilly. This young lady also loved big Handsome and she had hugged him Monday before she and her family headed home again. I had called her Mother late Monday evening to tell the family the news of his crossing and Reilly's response is how I want to think of Handsome. Upon hearing of his crossing, Reilly didn't cry for her grief. Nope. Her first response, instead, was one of compassion. She said, "Oh, how happy Babee Joy must be to see her Handsome again!"


From the children we learn how we must be. From the children, the wisdom of dealing with this loss comes. From the children, we will remember how he won them all over. Every single one of them loved "the big horse".

For the children we will continue our Missions. We will fall back on our faith and remember the words of Andy. We will keep our eyes on the horses and remember to treasure each day we are given. Such huge lessons taught by horses that no one wants. And the children who love them.

Handsome - You were a giant among the big ones. You taught us about trust and forgiveness. And you were a living example of grace and tolerance. I desperately wanted to keep you with me but I loved you enough to hear your wishes and help you. But my dear Friend, I miss you so! Thank you for your patience in waiting for me to accept the loss of you. Stay close, Handsome. I desperately wait to feel your breath in my hair and on my neck again. It is with honest respect that I call you The Giant of Gentleness.


In awe and with respect and true love of this horse we called Handsome,

Monday, June 16, 2014


Until We Meet Again

She came to us about as beat up as I've ever seen. Rejected from the slaughter trucks due to the infestation of maggots in her rear left leg. The homemade bit of two strands of barbed wire over her nose and under her tongue had done its damage in permanently marking her nose. Just so she could remember the pain of it all. And her disposition was one of pure survival. No human - NOT ONE! - could be trusted! They would hurt her, electrocute her, beat her, and make her work until she dropped. She came to us about as beat up as I've ever seen.

The wound was cleaned and the leg examined. The metal blade had cut clear down through the hoof and into the bone of the leg. There was no way to remove the proud flesh and allow the wound to heal over. This little mare would be living with this open wound the rest of her life.

The nose and the tongue would heal as best as they could. The nose would always be marked with bare tissue exposed to the sun to burn and blister. And her tongue would always be jagged and tender. But all of these were livable wounds. It was her shoulders and her neck that plagued her.

Being a rather small horse and asked to be in the harness with full-sized Belgians, she had to pull and be mighty fast in the fields. If she should fall behind the big horses, then the load would fall on her slender withers until she could manage to pull up next to or ahead of one of the bigger horses. Then she could carry her share of the load and not be asked to provide the constant, exceptional power. Her neck and her front shoulders were so sore and worn out that there was no cartilage left to treat. Her neck was bone on bone. And soon, with a bit of rest, was her right front knee - large, lumpy, and bone on bone.

Her wounds, however, seemed to strengthen her resolve. She fought me with everything she had! For her first three years here, I was unable to move her with a lead rope - she simply walked over, through, or away from me to the safety of her companion, Ole Man Cole. She would stand next to him and that lower lip would begin to flap. She was worried about my retaliation and so, in fear, she would stand behind Cole and that lip would flap. I would walk up to her and her eyes would be frantic! She was terrified I would strike her and, instead, I would reach out and touch her. That startled her more than anything and so she would leave me again.

For three years, we continued this routine until, finally, she believed that I was not going to beat her or whip her for running away from me. Instead, I brought her treats or feed or a brush. Or simply a gentle touch. Hugging was not her strength or to her liking and so I resisted the urges to hug her and sing to her. Instead I would stand three feet from her and talk while smiling. What to do with this crazy human was very perplexing to this horse. What to do with this crazy human . . .

The fourth year of her life here at Refuge Farms was a turning point for her. She lay under a blanket of deep snow in a major blizzard of heavy snow and 80+ mph winds. Finding her by dipping the fork handle into the snow every foot, I dug her out and laid down on her so I could massage her freezing body. I swam as fast and as deep as I could. Kicking my feet, flailing my arms, raising and lowering my head for air - I was in the Olympic pool! But I worked at it and her limbs began to move. That huge brown eye looked at me and pleaded for warmth.

Once in the barn, she struggled repeatedly to stand. With sheer determination alone, she raised that worn out body up onto her feet and focused on just standing. I scraped snow and ice off of her and layered her with electric blankets under insulated blankets and offered her hot mush and warm soaked hay cubes.

She did get pneumonia and she struggled, but by spring she was back to her full strength. The only reminder of that blizzard was in the minds of the two of us and her face. You see, the episode had turned her face and neck white. Her fright had been deep enough to change the color of her coat. But in that fright, somehow, we had become friends.

From that point, we grew to care more and more for each other. I won't say we loved each other - we still had our times when I wanted to go west and she took me east. We had plenty of those times. But I believe she began to see that, even though I might have asked her for things she did not want to give, I was asking because it was the best for her. Slowly, and with great concern and trepidation, this horse began to trust me. This human. Who never hit her or beat her but asked her simply to walk with her. To tolerate a bath and a brushing. To allow me to clean her leg wound. To give me her mouth to administer her bute meds. And to give in when I could no longer resist and I just had to hug her!

Elizabeth gave me examples daily of patience and endurance and faith. She looked at each day as a chance to live - not just survive. She had a boyfriend this spring in Big Boy! And I watched as she chased the other mares away from him!

My regret is that I separated her from Big Boy and her stall and put her over in the old barn pasture with Handsome. I was concerned with Big Boy's size and blindness and how he may bump her fragile skeleton. My regret is that I shortened her love life and asked her to stand in a barn that was not her home. Liz-Beth was not happy in the old barn. She loved and considered the big barn home and I took her out of that home for the greener grasses of the old barn pasture. I regret doing that very much and Elizabeth, please forgive me for doing that to you and not seeing your unhappiness. I tried to do what was best for you. I see now that I was wrong.

The mud was too deep and the wet ground was too cold. The storms were too strong and she had been down too long. Once again, out of sheer will and determination, she stood and walked to her usual stall in her home barn. There she tried to stand, but the internal damage had been done and she gave in. She did not cross alone and she heard the singing of "Amazing Grace' as she crossed. She was told of my love for her and I repeated it in case she didn't believe me the first time. She grew quiet and I hugged her. Hugged the life right out of her.

Bless you Liz-Beth for coming to us. Bless you for showing us what patience can give. Bless you for enduring my attempts and bless you for showing me, in your own way, that you, too, cared for me. I will tell your stories forever! I will carry your will and your strength in me and share them with anyone who will listen. Your picture hangs in my parlour and we will place a special picture of you in THE STORE. I will adorn your grave and stop to share a story or two with you. And yes, I will insulate you for the cold of the winters.

You were loyal and honest and true. You were strong when I was weak and you were determined when I was about to give up. You were waiting every single morning for your breakfast and you were gentle and forgiving with me when I was late. You were a living, breathing example of grace and I will carry your face with me until we meet again, Liz-Beth.

Thursday, November 28, 2013



T - The bottom line to our existence is what we do with and how we spend our precious TIME. Never having enough time. Always running out of time. And wishing for more time. Maybe, just maybe, our lives would be richer and we would be happier if we simply made better use of our time. If we spent time enjoying our time. Treasuring and manifesting each second of time.

H - Once a HEARTBEAT begins, it arrives, does the job it was intended to do, and then moves on - never to return again. As Andy told me, "You can never get a heartbeat back, Sandy. Enjoy every one. Once a heartbeat is spent it is gone forever." Physically concentrating and feeling your heartbeat gives you a sense of living. Spend each heartbeat wisely for they are far more precious than gold.

A - We waste our time and our heartbeats on ANGER. Each and every day, I pray to be more like the horses who know nothing of anger. They know nothing of forgiveness since they hold no anger or grudge to anything or anyone and so have nothing in their hearts to forgive! They live today. Right now. In this very second. How remarkable and righteous to be a horse and live without anger. How much the world would improve if we could just be more like the horses.

N - One word, I was taught, that one does not want to use is NEVER since we do not know the future and so to say never is asking for the unexpected to occur. However, I can honestly say that at this age, I never expected to be working 2.5 full-time jobs with 22 horses as my family and entire herds needed the assistance of this organization. Never did I imagine that I would never retire. However, I am not complaining! Only marveling at how my life has transpired. Truly, I would have it no other way. I never planned my life to take these turns. Never planned to operate a horse rescue and sanctuary for the diers. But then . . . I guess I didn't ask God what He had planned, now did I?

K - Every morning I take the time to get a KISS. No matter the weather and no matter how behind I am and no matter how worried I am. I look for the horse that is waiting for me and I hug that horse. It seems they confer and take turns at who will be the giver on any particular morning. Just like clockwork, I get the kiss of that day's chosen horse. Sometimes with a hug, too! But it is the kiss that is my daily dose of medicine. My daily dose of endurance and encouragement. My very soul hungers for the kiss and these horses never fail me.

S - The world sometimes seems so tipsy and out of balance and just plain crazy! The news only causes worry and stress in my gut. I see people fighting themselves and each other only to see that the issue they were fighting over really are insignificant. My medicine and my remedy is found in the barns. Inside the walls of those barns stands my medicine. The horses. Those creatures that try so valiantly to teach us of acceptance and order and tolerance. Of peace and companionship and respect. Those SOLID and reliable horses. Oh, to be more like the horse every single day! To receive the compliment that I am a solid person!

G - It is the holiday season - the season of celebrations. We give gifts at this time of year. Sometimes the gifts are funny or prank. Sometimes they are plain because we are busy or dislike the crowds or just don't know what to give! My favorite gift is very simple - it is a hug. A genuine, heartfelt, arm-wrapping hug. Not a polite hug but an invading hug. A hug that invites you to hang on and rest for a second. Let someone else hold you up for just a few seconds. A hug that lets you know there is genuine caring involved. The best gift is not a gift at all because each time a hug like this happens, the gift giver gets just as much as the gift receiver. Give the GIFT of a hug today.

I - My insides are a barometer and after all these years, I am only now beginning to listen to my INSIDES. I used to fight them and ignore them. Go on with my plan regardless of what my insides were telling me. But life with the horses has taught me to listen to my insides. Respect my intuitions. And react to what my instincts are telling me regardless of what it may appear to be. Good lessons learned from these horses. Listening to the insides and your conscience. Your instincts. Your heart.

V - My passion is the horse. Rescuing and supporting and assisting the horses that others think are useless and simply not worth it. The diers. The horses that even the other rescues do not want. I become their VOICE and together we show you, if you are willing to look and listen, that even the worst of them all are the most beautiful. The potential in every living creature is limited only by what you are willing to learn from them. Their voice is strong and brilliant and clear and so vibrant! All it takes is for a moment of silence for you to hear it. The voice of the knowing ones.

I - In this world of rescue, there is no I. No one person can perform the acts of rescue alone. There are complete support systems in place and without those systems, not one creature is rescued. Theses systems sort paperwork. Empty a ton (literally!) of feed. Pick poop. Repair fence. Tape newsletters. Sell tickets. Wash donations. Move boxes again and again. Without these efforts, not one horse is rescued. But with them nothing is impossible! I am thankful for being a part of a remarkable machine called Refuge Farms, Inc.

N - We make meaningful promises to these horses when they come into our barns. Promises that mean hard work, financial sacrifice, and consistent energy. These promises require you to give of yourself and adopt them - not as a hobby but as a way of life. When all seems lost, NOTHING is allowed to prohibit us from keeping our promises to them. Not public opinion. Not the lack of funds. Not the tired bodies. And not the lack of hope. We find a way. We keep our promises. Nothing keeps us from what it is that we are intended to do - rescue the diers. Hard work. Tons of tears. Humans disagreeing. But the path shown clearly what it is that we must do and so we persevere. Letting nothing come between us and their needs.

G - As we quickly reach the 1,000th life saved, I will share my vision with you. It is a vision that I call upon when I am too tired to walk. Too tired to sleep. And too sore to move. I find the strength and the will to continue by imagining this:

It is a sunny spring day. There is a light breeze and I feel the sunshine on my face. I am walking - pain free! - in a meadow of knee high grasses sweet to the taste. I am alone but happy. Birds are singing all around me. There is joy in the air. I am smiling. And moving forward. In front of me is a big wooden bridge. It has an arch in it and so I trek up to the top of the bridge and then look forward. There, standing before me in the grassy meadow on the other side of the bridge are GIFTS. Over 1,000 of them. Jerry. Laddee. Ima. Halima. Ruby. Big Jim. Duker. Miss Bonita. RedMan. Richard. Addie-Girl. Lady-the-Dog. Hannah. Joseph. Judy!Judy!Judy!. Lassie. Blaise. Frannie. And my dear Andy. My Father, Mother, and Sister stand together over off to the side, smiling their satisfaction of my work. Over 1,000 gifts standing there with peace and love and appreciation in their hearts. They await me and I cross the bridge to be engulfed in the love of them.

From this I get my strength and my will to continue. Knowing that someday I will be surrounded by love and joy. May you find the source of your joy and true peace in your heart on this Thanksgiving Day.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herds - On This Earth and The Herd Already Over the Bridge

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


Hay Raffle Results!

Telephone calls are being made

     and telephone tag is being played

The results will be published

     as soon as all the calls are finished

A great response

     and a great result!

Refuge Farms will NOT come to a halt!!!!

Blessings to all and I will post as soon as all of the winners are notified!
Sandy and The Grateful Herd

Monday, August 26, 2013


Winter Hay Raffle on Labor Day at THE FARM!

August 25, 2013



That’s what we received when we opened the email from our hay supplier with prices for hay in 2013! The same round bale costing $65 in the fall of 2012 was now $110! OUCH!

Now, this is NOT the season to be searching for a new hay supplier. Everyone from the hay suppliers to livestock owners is hoarding hay! The Spring of 2012 taught us several lessons and the impact of those lessons is being felt by all of us as we head into the Winter of 2013-14.

Refuge Farms increased our hay budget for 2013 from $65 to $85 per bale. In our innocence, we believed a 30% increase would be sufficient. Hearing in July that our hay prices were increasing by over 70% was startling, to say the least!

In an attempt to meet the financial demand for this basic food for the horses, we are searching every corner for grant possibilities. The Store continues to bring in revenue and we’ve added this cash raffle for additional much needed support. All maintenance projects are on hold. Every ounce of every one of us is geared toward finding the funds to pay for our hay! Our goal is to bridge the financial gap of over $9,000 by Labor Day so we may begin the process of moving our winter hay supply home to our hay pad.

We need your help! Without hay, our horses will need to be re-homed or euthanized and our rescue efforts will come to a screeching halt! Many helpless and hungry horses will die needlessly! Grant applications are being submitted but those responses take months! We must buy our hay NOW and be prepared for the onslaught of unwanted horses that is just around the corner with the cold weather!

 Plus, you could be a BIG winner! How fun would that be!! All ticket sales will go directly to the Hay Fund for this season’s hay supply. Plan to drive out and join us on Labor Day Monday  here at The Farm where we will draw the winners and spend time in the barns with each other and the reasons we all work so hard – these marvelous horses!

Your support is remarkable and it allows us to continue our Missions – with horses #942 and #943 being rescued from Eastern Wisconsin on September 9th. Sadly there is no end to them, my friends. But our little corner of the world is better for those who cross our path. And without your continued support, we cannot continue our Missions of rescue.

Abundant blessings and thanks to each of you for your help with our hay! And hopefully, we’ll see you at The Farm on Labor Day Monday!
With Gratitude and Hope,
Sandy and The Herd

2013 Refuge Farms Hay Cash Raffle Details

   1.  Raffle License Number: R0025990A

2.  You need not be present to win

3.  Drawings held on Monday, 09/02/13, during Public Hours at Refuge Farms (10am-3pm) – please join us!

4.  Your donation is tax deductible with this letter as your receipt – simply print and complete the sections below and save with your tax receipts

5.  All proceeds will be used to support the purchase of hay round bales for the Winter of 2013-2014

6.  For every $55 you donate, you will have a $55 ticket created for you. These tickets will each give you a     1 in 18 chance at $500 cash! We will create "buckets" of $55 tickets of $1,000 totals and then a winner will be drawn from each "bucket". The more the tickets purchased, the more the "buckets" we will have and the more the lucky winners there will be!

7.  For every $110 you donate, you have a $110 ticket created for you. These tickets will give you a            1 in 18 chance at $1,000 cash! We will create "buckets" of $110 tickets of $2,000 totals and then a winner will be drawn from each "bucket". The more the tickets purchased, the more the "buckets" we will have and the more the lucky winners there will be!

8.  All winners will be contacted by Refuge Farms for the issuance of their winnings

9.  Your tickets and donations must be received at Refuge Farms on or before Saturday, August 31st to be included in the raffle drawings! And yes, PayPal donations from our website are included in these raffles!! So no need to worry about the mail reaching us in time!

I purchased ________ tickets at $55 each
I purchased ________ tickets at $110 each for a
total donation of $ ______________________

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?