Coffee up, it’s going to be a long day

It’s an early March morning and I am sipping hot coffee, gazing out onto the fields. It’s a week past a big snowstorm, the snow receding to piles surrounded by dark mud paths. I gaze around to the various fields, checking on the state of the herds.  Even if I can see just one or two horses, I can tell what is going on; someone frantic, or neighing, or focused on something unseen? Then we hustle down to help. Most mornings there is a quiet horse or two, nibbling on some hay, basking in the early morning sun filtering into the valley, peaceful. This morning, I see a horse laying flat out in the lower field, stretched out on a hay pile, far enough away that I am not sure which chestnut mare it might be. And she might be fine, but it’s a bit early for napping, the sun is not yet in the valley. I watch for other clues and notice no horse is near her; No one was guarding her. Hmmm.. I collect the cat bowls, continuing the morning ritual, then look out again. I recognize her now, it’s Venezuela, one of our teenage arabian mares, and I see her picking up her head and looking back towards her body. Trouble. That’s not a normal look for a napping horse, combined with her being alone and it being early, there are too many clues that there is a problem. I pull on tall muck books, a farm coat and grab a rope lead, and head out the door, leaving the dog inside. The farm is entirely mud right now, and I slip-slide down the first hill, then through a smaller paddock to the next hill and down to the lower field where she lay. She’s flat out on a bed of hay that is really squishy, and has created sort of a ‘trough’ where her body is. I call her, ‘Hey Ven…’, and she moves her head a bit in response. Clearly something is wrong but I cannot tell yet what it is. She flinches at first when I touch her, she’s still half-wild and had some rough handling before we welcomed her, so she is very cautious still with trust. I pet her until she relaxes a bit, visually examining her legs, her body, for any issue. No sign of a break or anything catastrophic, just a stuck horse. I see she has pooped several times so she’s been down at least an hour. It appears she is cast (stuck), not colicing, but even a cast horse can develop distal limb paralysis, or other issues if down too long. The first step is to see if she can get up, as soon as possible. I try grabbing her foreleg closest to the ground and pull up to, roll her over (this is called flipping); she begins to struggle, both to free herself from the earth and from me, and then bites my arm. “OW” I shout reflexively, and jump back, before my brain recognizes she didn’t actually get more then my coat. I am wimpy and would like to stay alive. So, I take the rope and wrap it around that knee, high enough to get some leverage, and stand back out of teeth’s way, and try to flip her again, pulling so her legs are almost straight up, flailing, but I cannot roll her over. I debate going and getting help, because this is better as a two-person job, but sooner is better then anything, so decide to try one more time from the hind end. Both back legs are straight out, stiff and cold, worrisome. I get the rope around her rear leg closest to the ground, hoping not to get kicked, and pull her up, trying to pull her over. Legs go up into the air, flailing, she fights and struggles. I pull and pull, I cannot quite get her over, she’s a big mare, but as I release, the counter swing down is enough to give her velocity in the other direction and UP, she stands…Wobbly but up. She stands and breathes. We both pause, I am sure her rear legs are tingly and partly asleep. She wants to join the other horses and begins slowly, stiffly, walking. I walk with her, about 15 feet off her side, watching her stride. She does not consider me her best friend and did not like the ropes on her legs. No sign of a colic or paralysis, just a stiffness that loosens up as she goes. She gets near her friends where she feels safe and stops, breathing, but shivering a bit. I have a few molasses treats in my pocket, and figure that a jolt of sugar is just what she needs. I approach as softly as I can, and Ven cautious of me at first, (I still have that rope in my hand) but I offer the treat. She sniffs it, then takes it gently and chews slowly. Her eyes light up a bit; it’s helping. But now the other horses get wise to the treats I have and start to come around, begging hopefully. I break a few into tiny bits to give a taste to Alice, Violet, Glory, Duke, Nala and Ven’s sister Moon Mist. Then I give another full one to Venezuela. She’s more relaxed now, eats the second treat with more gusto, then takes a bite of snow…then yawns. This is all positive, all indications she is feeling better. I move away from her since the surrounding herd is becoming a bit excited by the idea of snack time, and wander around greeting and saying good morning while keeping an eye on Ven. She’s moving better and has stopped shivering, so she was just cast. “Just”, fortunately freed and will be fine, I think. Very happy that there are no signs of colic! Nearby, I see the tractor in the next field bringing fresh hay to the bands, so I head up to wash the mud off, and continue the day. The regular chores don’t seem so bad now!

(Venezuela on a non-muddy day)

How long we live

I have been writing and re-writing this blog, erasing entire sections, trying to say what I have to say. I have tried being poetic, or upbeat, something that will breathe life into the reader, something to inspire.

I got nothin.

A year ago, a persistent wound in Rhett’s butt was identified as cancer, and we went to war. It was an awful, painful spot, but the horse remained stoic while we poked, prodded, took samples and chunks. Two surgeries and many more chemo sessions later, driving back and forth to the hospital….we are losing the battle. This cancer is a freight train, it will not let go. Every time it has surged back and I have contacted our medical team, they have been sure I was imagining it, worrying too much. This is not a reflection on their skills, because we are very grateful for a talented team that has fought hard for our horse…it was disbelief that it could be back, after having twice been carved out of his hind end, after having been blasted with chemotherapy, comforting Rhett, learning about aftercare, learning how to be soldiers in this fight. All of our efforts have lost. That’s the reality we must live with, while our horse enjoys his last days of life.

I sense this is one of those times when our own emotions, our own tremendous drive to save lives, our sense of success, fueled by our deep love for this kind horse, could overshadow his needs. I have to be the adult and make a decision no one wants to make, and for once everyone here is glad they are not me. Everyone surrounding this horse is distraught with helplessness to stop this from happening. While we all know that everyone dies….not this horse. not now.

In the swirl of emotions, I need to find calm.

I don’t feel poetic, spiritual, or calm and I am sorry if this is going to bum you out. I am angry. I am very sad and very tired. I am throwing stones at Goliath. I don’t want to get up today. But, others require it. I will have years to re-visit and probe for mistakes but right now, chores await. The herds here, living fully, need care. Grief must wait until nightfall. As for Rhett, mentally we are in ‘hospice mode’, which means nothing to the horse, because it is simply more love.

What is it about this horse?

Well for one, he is gorgeous, that tall hunk of handsome to cause women to swoon. But his looks pale compared to his calm spirit. His gentle eyes, and quiet energy. When Rhett arrived he was not quiet or calm, having lost his brother at auction, where they were separated after a lifetime, having moved and moved, being flipped through three auctions as they travelled up from the south, before being intercepted by a kind friend who began his rehab and then got him to us. He was alone in his heart, and very scared. It took time to ground him, to find out who he was, to connect. His throat suffered previous damage, perhaps from ropes in his past, and he was sometimes a runaway under saddle, so afraid of pressure. Rhett was not an old horse, but displayed a lot of fear. Sometimes with huge horses, people change their voices, slip into this fake baritone, ‘hey big fella’ thing, but Rhett has been a little guy in a large body. Once he settled and connected, he revealed his superpower of empathy. Unlike the other horses, who reject weakness, Rhett would hang his head over the stall, to comfort a horse in need. We haven’t seen anything like it before or since. His gentle love has touched us all.  Rhett became family, cherished for himself. He has been with us for five years, and has become the ‘go to’ greeting horse for new arrivals. He leads a sub-band of paint mares, and together they can be moved anywhere, with any of our herds, as needed. He plays with the other geldings, he cuddles with every human, he watches his mares faithfully. He is maybe 15 or 16 years old now, still gorgeous.

I can see the shadow in his eyes now, a veil that is some pain, as we watch and draw out what days and weeks we are able….but he is living today. Living fully, with his family. And yes, it has occurred to me that he is better at this then I. His gift to us should be this simple lesson, but humans are stubborn and slow to learn.





The state of things, June 23, 2016

Nice to update once in awhile, the herds and their various conditions.

Actually super fun to read in a few years, too. There are 66 here today! History shows this number going up, so maybe in a few years this will seem small. 🙂

Regular readers know that we keep our horses in herd groups, and discuss as such…beginning with the Square Peg Band; Zak, staydopted and getting regular interaction, continues to blossom as a young adult, loves riding and is very calm and happy. Still blind! But very happy. His band mates Behr (also fully blind) and Christian (half blind), spent a few weeks in the lower field to give the Maple Field a rest, but are now back home. During this move we learned that Christian cannot live without being near Behr; to say they are bonded is an understatement. Christian seems calm and nice until things aren’t going his way. Nuff said. Sometimes with these three are the mares Annie and Silver Bells. Annie is over 30 years old now, teeth are wearing away and calories harder to take in and keep. We are increasing her food radically, and several hours each day are spent on the back porch, guarding her while she eats. We are guarding her food from Silvie, who is her lovely sidekick and has gotten quite chunky from sharing all these extra meals. This does give us time to brush and play with Silvie, who has really blossomed since she arrived. These two mares spend part of their days in with the boys and the rest of their time right around the house, where they have their own run in shed and unlimited access to the humans on the back porch.

Below we have some smaller groups right now, because of medical or emotional reasons. Our newest mustang mare Senna is in charge of two others, also new, Luna and Ella. Senna is a gorgeous grulla mare, who is dropping her cynicism towards people bit by bit. She’s very smart and enjoys being protector of her chosen herd, especially the baby Ella. Our Ella is a percheron yearling filly who joined us in March. She has severe tendon issues in her front legs and is now in the middle of a course of treatment in order to try and restore her enough to save her life. All of the expense and drama and importance of this is lost on Ella, who is just as sweet a baby horse as one could hope to meet. She is much taller then her adopted family already, but grooms every day with Sen. They share their small field with the mare Luna, also welcomed this year. Luna is a registered quarter horse and was a champion halter horse, before (like many) being flipped to homes, making babies for them, then developing a tumor on her eyelid. This went unchecked and when we took her in, she needed immediate surgery to save her life. Happily, she is now sound and healthy but one-eyed. Luna is very gentle and easy going, seems just fine under saddle, so maybe the right home will come along to welcome her. Until then, she is comfortable with her small herd.

Tonight another two horses are sharing a small paddock; our boy Iron and his favorite mare Ruby. Iron has a hoof abscess and being the delicate flower that he is, he needed quiet time. Ruby had just gotten over a brief fling with the mustang Firefly and was happy to join Iron in a small paddock for two. Ruby is very calm and trusting of her immediate human and horse family now, a far cry from the difficult and sometimes dangerous horse she was upon arrival. Plus she has completely recovered from a nearly fatal joint infection last November. She is leading a charmed life.

Next to the small fields is the Gentle Band, a group of horses kept off the bigger grassy mountain fields for various reasons. Tonight it’s Rhett, Cleo and Jess, as well as Duke, Hannah, Firefly, Violet, Autumn, and the new pair  of geldings. It’s a fairly mellow group, carefully constructed to be as welcoming as possible to the new guys. We are concerned that Rhett’s cancer is back with a vengeance; we will know in a week when he returns for biopsies. Trying to not think about it too much, since we are out of tricks to cure him. His favorite mare Cleo will be going along, because she has a dental abscess. Right now she’s on oral antibiotics, which are working, and the infection is leaking down her face. While it looks disgusting, better out then in! And today, because the hole clearly runs through her cheek, the air in her mouth was causing bubbles to blow out of the side of her face. A sight one does not see every day.

Up in Stardust Meadows is the combined herds of Molly/Finn and River’s band of merry mustangs; 17 horses all told. The horses up in this field are our youngest and fittest, with almost none on any daily medications. In this field are the leaders Molly and Finn, flanked by Clover, Sawyer, Whisper, Katniss, Gypsy, Gracie, Magpie, Ava…while another herd leader, the mustang River, is surrounded by ponies, including Little Nell, Lexi, Shannon, Aimee, Leo and his momma Piper…but there is a lot of cross over in the groups. This field boasts our strongest, all wood fence, which is necessary for some of the residents. They are having a ball and looking very fit. Not a lot to say beyond that, which is amazingly awesome.

Up in Strawberry Field, Remy’s herd enjoys similar mountain views and grasses. With Remy are Hazy, Nala, Alice, Venezuela, Moon Mist, Hamlet, Kismet and Jack! This field is electric and it’s also very hilly, so horses are chosen carefully who will get along, enjoy being up there together, and can manage the terrain. It’s been wonderful to see them happy and grazing. Several on this hill are on special meds, which are prepared in the morning and shuttled up to them during the morning check in. There is hay put out each day as well, if any horse needs the roughage. Hamlet is still on daily supplements to stay healthy, Remy is on daily meds for his cushings, and Nala is on daily meds for her skin flare ups. Several others are on daily equinoxx, an arthritic management supplement. Then a few are terrific, healthy, trained riding horses, especially Hazy and Glory. Hazy was welcomed off the track after being retired and we started her under saddle. Glory was saved from slaughter, miserable and thin, and has gloriously emerged as a vibrant and sassy saddlebred. This has been a terrific summer for them.

Marshall’s Band, morphed into “Baywatch”, lives in a large rectangular field & barn, safest for our senior horses, which is what that band mostly is. Dedicated stalls are provided for horses that need or want it, including Melody, Stella, Freddy, Oliver, Zoey, Sable and Duncan…all with varying medical needs. Some others in this herd have access to the fields 24/7, including Mira (she detests stalls), Dante and Havelah and the leader himself, Marshall. This group has most of our thoroughbreds and some of our oldest horses, including the beloved Oliver. He is getting weaker this summer, fading gently. Nothing specifically is wrong (which is amazing to be able to say!), but his strength is fading. About a month ago he suffered a strong kick that left him unable to walk for days. We are lucky to have the space to give him the rest and tlc that he needs to be a happy senior horse. Beside Oliver is the quiet mare Zoey, an ex-amish buggy horse, who has slowly opened up over the years. Like many horses here, Zoey is not sound for ‘use’ but is happy finally being a horse. Opposite Zoey is the ‘stallion pen’ (although we do not keep stallions here), a shared indoor space and private turnout area, where lately the pair Duncan and Sable spend the sunny afternoons, in the shade napping. Duncan is also a cushings positive horse, a very gentle and giving senior haflinger, who has really settled into love here, with Sable. She’s a retired polo mare, still spirited and beautiful. Both are showing age, which is why they have a separate space for part of the day, it’s helped them remain strong when they are outside. At the opposite end of the barn, Melody is the smallest horse in this group and perhaps the most fierce; Melody cut herself open over her eye about two weeks ago, in her stall. Yes, in her stall! We have no idea how, but the stall walls were sanded anyhow. Melody is not easy to care for in general and that spot is not easy on any horse, but after we got it cleaned up, we fitted her with one of our equivizor masks, and that kept the wound totally clean, speeding up healing time. Melody is stalled beside Stella, a warmblood mare who is the largest horse in this group, and with the most eye issues. It’s been 18 months since we finally removed one of Stella’s eyes and we are fighting to keep the sight in her remaining one. She has uveitis, so our odds are not good…but who knows how much time any of us have? Stella gets very very scared and reactive when she cannot see, and is not a candidate to be a blind horse. But we use a mask on her when she is in sunlight, and she has a complex daily regime, and people who love her, so we are managing alright, today. On the other side of Stellas’ stall is Fred’s stall; he is doing very well now, his lyme is in remission and with rest and tlc, Fred really enjoys his time outside. Fred is the tallest horse in the barn, a senior thoroughbred who was once a police horse and is now enjoying his retirement. When Fred is outside, he hangs out a lot with the couple Dante and Hava, who are like matched beautiful white horses. Dante, an Iberian Andalusian, has a tumor behind his jaw but it’s kept under control with a daily medication and he is slowly putting on weight again. His mate Hava is a Lipizzaner mare, turning 25 this year, and despite some old damage to her rear leg, looks fantastic. Marshall is the youngest in this herd, and a thoroughbred. Sometimes he does get a little bored, but he is way too herd bound to leave (yes we have tried). Once, years ago, Marshall was diagnosed with a neurologic issue and so is not adoptable as a riding horse, but we still give him sessions in the round pen, to keep his mind active. Lately there has been a change in Marshall, a new settling in, he really looks forward to his humans arriving and waits for attention. It’s taken years for this change and we are thrilled, quietly, to have more access to his heart.

At a nearby barn, Rosemary Farm is boarding four of our special needs horses. There are the pair of senior arabian geldings, Magic and Ice, who were part of a large group of arabians welcomed last summer. Both of these boys are thriving with dedicated love and care. They are probably past any ‘riding’ or ‘use’ but fortunately they are loved for being themselves. At the same barn is Zee, a magnificent barred buckskin QH gelding, who suffers from navicular. He is being well managed and finding friendship and soundness. Zee is a terrific riding horse but it’s sporadic right now…maybe he will find the right home but if not, he is safe under our care. Toby is also at this ‘all gelding’ property, making friends, riding regularly, enjoying care. Toby is one of our most well trained riding horses but he can be ‘studdy’, challenging other geldings for leadership, and so we are very careful about where he might go. He is my personal favorite as a riding horse, but is doing very well at this closed environment. This is the kind of decision that we make to benefit the horse first.

On Long Island with a friend is one of our newest horses, a gentle quarter horse gelding named Will. His owner died. Will hasn’t been ridden in a decade and spent his entire life at one barn, so this change has rocked his world. We had a friend who was physically nearby, and had a free stall, pick Will up on our behalf and is working on getting him caught up in his physical care. This has been a complicated save but we are glad that Will is part of the family.

Lastly, in a separate group for the time being, are Puck, Honey Pie, and the Princess Yanaha. Yanni has no physical issues now but likes to be near her adopted mother HP< who does have extra needs. She has skin issues and right now also has this head shaking syndrome, so is inside during the heat and sun of the day. Yanni takes it in stride, and the pair are in opposite stalls during the day, where they both sleep, relax, and enjoy being spoiled. Come sunset, they are turned out in a wide variety of places, depending on everyone’s mood. Tonight, they are joined by Puck, who was up in Stardust Meadows for five days but was not welcomed. Last week he was below, but the arrival of our newest geldings, Puck had a temper tantrum and was overdriving the others and was becoming unsafe. Puck is our special child, needs a lot more attention, training and care then most. He arrived as part of an abuse case which gave him a lot of mental issues, and separately, Puck was born with dwarfism, affecting many parts of his body. The combination is sometimes a lot to manage, but like any abused child, with love and patience he can show an incredibly soft and gentle side. Time, patience, and love, like any living creature.

That is the family tonight!


Ella, and questions


Our most intense journey right now continues with Ella. She is probably just turning 1 yo about now, we don’t know for sure when she was born or where she is from. Saved at auction in November by a private home, already showing severe untreated laxity in her front legs, Ella was surrendered to RF in March of this year. Since that time,10 weeks ago, this percheron baby has grown in her training and we have been trying to set her right. Our fabulous trimmers have worked on her every week to give her healthy percheron baby hooves, and we have been providing supplements and rest and a small horse family, and exercise in limited doses, lots of handling and love. She has blossomed, but her severe angles have not appreciably changed, all the while that tall butt grows higher, dumping more weight on those front legs. Just 10 days ago we began a course of care with a fantastic new rehab brace, and it is doing it’s job, supporting Ella’s front legs at new angles. She wears them briefly every day and we were very excited at first. However, the leg still needs to respond, and change, to heal; the brace provides the environment. Now, however, we are seeing some stress and fatigue with Ella. Of course we are questioning ourselves; were they on too long? Not long enough? Is this part of healing? Is this further decay? Did we start to late, or was this never going to work? Do we continue? Do we stop? No one can really help us with these decisions. Ella is unique in her untreated issue, and it’s tempting to give in to anger at the person who sent her to auction as a baby, like this, alone, with no history and little hope. History might help us right now, but we don’t have it and without it, we just need to move forward with the horse in front of us. So we make decisions here with our team.  Every horse is best served by those who love and care and see her every day….so that is what we are doing. Day by day decisions made together, here, with Ella and her care team. This is just by way of sharing for those out there, who also care. We are still trying for Ella. We aren’t feeling very good today, but we are still trying.


Way back in the early days, in 2010….

This was one of many incidents between myself and Molly, a black percheron mare that I connected with at auction and bought back off the slaughter truck and brought home. That was November of 2009. Molly was quiet and seemed docile, until you asked her to do anything! Then she informed you that she was in charge, in various ways. It took awhile for me to become her leader, with the sage advice of two people especially, Faye Benedict and  Daniel McCarthy. What began as an emotional save, one of the earliest, has become a significant lifetime relationship. So it was June, about 8 months from saving her, and I go down to the fields and see her on the far side, standing. I call her, a greeting, and she nickers back, ‘COME’. When you can speak with your horse this is as clear as any language, and I ran; over the fence down the path, across the field, to where she was, in the far corner, in a scrubby area, just standing, looking calm. I will add that she had a two week old colt at her side, who later got sick and died, but at the time of this telling, looked as calm as his momma, standing there. What was wrong? I slowed as I approached her, greeting her and scanning for the issue. She gestured with a small flick of her head to her rear foot, and I see some old barbed wire, tangled and coming out of the dirt, and wrapped around her leg. That nasty stuff is everywhere on old farms, to our dismay, and can kill a horse. Molly stood there, waiting for me and for help. She was not cut at all. I had nothing on me, not a rope, certainly not a knife. I paused, not wanting to leave, so instead I went to her head, petted her, and put my hand on the bridge of her nose, applied soft pressure, and asked for a ‘back’. She took a half step back, and I turned her head towards me, and to the barbed wire, asking for a counter bend, to provide some laxity and a second of time, and reached for the barbed wire. It was too far away, she was too big. So I let go calmly of her nose, picked up the rear hoof, loosened the barbed, and slipped it off her leg. No damage done. As soon as she was free she trotted a bit, letting out some of the energy she had been holding in. Free and happy. And unharmed. Because of trust.


“We choose you”

The choices we make and the choices we live with.
Friday there was a horse auction we had hoped to attend. We do so because there are always horses there with no further hope or chance of a humane death, horses who will get directly on the slaughter trucks, without intervention that is not likely to come. These are the lives we set out to help with RF was founded, horses in dire need. But sometimes the horse in dire need is able to be helped before auction. So last Sunday, on Easter, two of the RF crew spent the bulk of the day with the trailer, going to get a mare in dire need; Luna.
This beautiful black mare, 20 yo is a registered APHA halter champion and behaves like the royalty she is; calm, mannered, trusting. From what we can gather, about 18 months ago a minor tumor was identified outside her eye. In between that time and last Sunday, there are a lot of words, but the reality for the mare is that tumor grew without treatment, until it had grown unchecked into her eye, with a raging infection dripping down her face. This was what we saw in the photos and this is why we set aside our plans, hooked up the trailer, and went to get this mare. We will never know who we missed helping on Friday, so we focus on who we have helped.
This week, Luna was welcomed into the RF family, surgeons contacted, and an unlikely opening on Wednesday got her into surgery, a procedure that we did not know whether she would live through. She was lucky, and every indication is that the cancer that had invaded her eye was contained. Both the eye and the cancer were removed safely. She will live! She came home on Friday and we will get to know her, heal her, see if there is an adoptive family, if that is the right path for her future. Yesterday she was hand walked, still bandaged, to give her some exercise and let her see more of the farm. She is still learning who we all are, but her life was changed by our choice. Made with the help of all of you.
A choice we can live with.

Molly and Finn, and the changing of the guard

There is change happening in our herd.
Change is the normal evolution of life, everything changes. It’s our human nature to label it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but those are subjective terms, attempting to stop the flow of life. Here today, the change I am thinking about is with Molly.
Stepping in as herd leader in 2010, Molly is our force-of-nature percheron mare saved from slaughter. She is a great teacher because she is not easy, with a checkered past. Finn was just a youngster when he arrived but as he grew, the pair meshed and have been a dynamic force leading the band, as RF grew from a young private sanctuary to a growing non-profit. Molly has welcomed, disciplined, guided, and shaped our herd. But things are changing, as I mentioned. Molly is starting to show her age.
She was likely mid to late teens when she was saved, which puts her in her early 20’s now. She still looks magnificent but there is a new breathing issue, we believe it’s in her airway, called ‘roaring’, which is a problem with oxygen airflow. This is slowing her down, and River, waiting on the sidelines, can see it too. River is one of our mustangs, a wilder one, gorgeous and a good leader, but not too close emotionally to humans. River has been increasing his challenge to Molly, and Finn is increasingly running interference. Lately, Finn has been spending more time with River, Sawyer, and their band of pony mares, while Molly has been with some of her older friends, Clover, Whisper, Gracie….Since Molly is still powerful, and is aging with the herd, she will likely not be kicked out, she has the respect of an elder. It’s hard watching this change though. And yes, I am interfering sometimes. River knows that I will defend Molly and run him off. I know that I am not there all the time to do this, and he knows it too, so it’s a gesture of loyalty to her, but not going to change the flow of things in the end. Since Molly’s band is growing in size and we are preparing our new field, we may divide the band, and give Molly some protection that way. Actually it’s been dividing naturally, since general herd size is under 10 horses and there are over 2o in that band.
I am unsure what will happen to the alliance of Finn and Molly. He is much younger then her, strong and wise, and we are lucky to have him here. As a leader, he cannot be bested and as a connection to humans, his trust is strong. It’s not entirely up to me, which is good. They will have a say as time continues to pass, as horses die and others arrive, and the life of the band, which is the protection of the HORSE, continues to ebb and flow.

“Falling on your own knife; when your desire to help is used against you”

The trend has been growing. Social media sites carrying photos of animals in need; dogs, cats, and probably because of my circle of friends, horses. Photos of horses being sold in ‘kill lots’  with the metaphorical gun to their head; ‘The truck is coming! This horse will die without your help!” The message quickens ones heartbeat, because we know there is truth to it. These kill pen pages, these last chance posts, these dire photos showing a sad spent horse in bad lighting, being held “hostage” for what is called ‘bail’, a price well above the street value of most…and women, (because it is primarily women) smart women who don’t buy shoes without trying them on, will plunk down large sums for a horse, pay to get it quarantined for health, pay vet bills and trailering, to save a life, and yes, usually they have their own dream attached to the horse, the dream of a bond, and based on the description (“sound, just needs weight”, “10 year old”, “child safe”, “draft cross”, “anyone can ride”) feel they are doing a good deed AND fulfilling a lifetime wish all at once….and generally, most of the time, if the horse even lives to meet them, the dream is not what they thought. Off the trailer comes a 20 year old bitter and broken horse, or sometimes a sweet young untrained horse, sometimes a pregnant horse or a stallion or another version of expensive surprise, and now things get tricky. Because actually that living breathing victim of a horse didn’t write that description and has no idea what you are thinking and now your dream money is spent and you have a problem. Trainers, vets, time, stress, all add up to a ‘what the heck did I get into?’, and a rescue is called to ‘take over’. Or the horse is taken back to auction, put on craigslist, passed along, and the cycle repeats itself. It’s happened too often even in my own small circle here.

Now sometimes it works out just right, you have still spent a fortune and you don’t mind because you love your horse, but the kill buyer, looking for the next one “of you”, goes to auction and outbids the neighborhood rescue, or private buyer, because now the kill buyer has a new line of clientele online, and what he doesn’t sell just goes on the truck.

Or perhaps, you just contribute to a ‘kill pen’ horse. “Doesn’t matter where the horse comes from” you say, “It’s in need, who cares what he is asking”. And you are right; a horse in need is a horse in need. And those horses ARE in need. They are owned by people who probably WILL sell them to slaughter, if they are able, or re-sell them to whoever will pay. It’s an ugly business. The problem arises for the rescues because we attend the same auctions that these buyers do, and we will take home one or two horses, and we will see them purchase 1–50 horses that night, and we will see how low they get them for. The next week, while we are quarantining and vetting and evaluating and nursing the one we saved, they have re-listed the ones they bought for twice, three times, five times the amount. Now our horse is getting healthy and their horse is getting flipped again. Now they are sometimes professionals and will not be cruel (some are, yes) but many want the horse in good shape; the very process of selling and re-selling, the moves and the stress wear them down, the horses. And the rescue will pump several hundred dollars in that first week towards health, and in a few months or a year they may adopt it out. And will be criticized if they ask anything beyond ‘sale price’. And that’s if you can get an adopter to come out. Because while that one horse is nursed, truckloads are selling for a lot more money each week, on these sale pages.

Ok, so say you are thinking ‘so what, the rescue saves a few and more are saved through the kill pages, what is the problem?’. The problem is that the kill buyers are STILL SELLING TO SLAUGHTER. The horse you save just provides more funds to buy another three horses in the back, horses you will never see. Slaughter isn’t being stopped when a horse is purchased. This is the part that just slays us emotionally. Here we sit with a bunch of horses safe, in varying stages of training, honestly represented, with vaccines and health and back up, and few adopters. And the overpriced, frequently misrepresented horses in the kill lots sell and sell and sell. And the funds raised buy bigger trucks, the better to take their equine brothers to the slaughter houses. Now do you see what we are stricken with all sorts of feelings of frustration and confusion and knots in our stomach?

So, should we buy from kill lots or not? Should we profit the sellers who we are working to put out of business, in order to save a life? Do we help them buy the gas to take their brothers to slaughter?

There is a cold hard moment when one realizes that these ‘kill pen pages’ these re-sale hostage posts, exist BECAUSE you, and others, care. Your caring is the knife and you are also the victim.

Every rescuer I know has done a lot of soul searching on the subject. The horses advertised online frequently bring new support to the rescue, and can usually get funded, at least to start. But we know that money is going to buy three more next week. What is right? And the rescues squabble and fret and judge and fret some more. Maybe in this impossible scenario there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. There are always horses in need. I know that here at RF, we cannot welcome every horse, no one can. When we welcome them, we are fully committed to them, whether they ‘ride’ or not does not matter. It’s great when we have adoptions, but we have standards and want forever homes. Yes, that probably makes it harder. I don’t know. I do know that the photos I see online affect me as much as they affect everyone else. The noise noise noise in one’s head can be overwhelming, trying to do the right thing. The frustration with the prices is real, the problem is never ending, and some days you just want to help one horse. As short term as that is, you just want to help one horse out of the nightmare.AuctionAd

A tale of brotherly love, a tale that’s lacking thereof…

Once upon a time, (a few years ago) a pair of boys arrived at sort of an orphanage…they had been taken from their mothers and put together and had formed a strong bond, and trailered together, and when they got out, shaking, they were all each other had. Luck soon turned up one of their moms, who also found sanctuary, and took both boy under her protective wing, and the three formed a little family. The boys grew, played, made other friends, went to school together, seasons turned into a few years; their attachment to their mother faded, but they remained together, thick as thieves. They were very different height and very different physical abilities, and were often found apart, playing with friends that matched their temperaments, but when one was in trouble, a shout would bring the other running. They grew into confident, happy young adults, together. They were family.
In another once upon a time (also a few years ago) in a different world, another two brothers, twins, grew happily together, with their family. Wild. Untouched by humans. Unusually handsome, with dark coats and blonde tails, the pair could be found always in harmony, no matter what they were doing. But one day, they were taken prisoner, locked into a jail, for no crime at all, just for living in the wrong place. They spent as long in jail as they had been alive, but they had each other. They survived.

In due time, someone came to get them out of jail, to adopt them and give them a new life in the east. They were to be ‘a driving team’, a matched pair.  Together, the brothers made the long journey from Oregon, their home,  to upstate New York.


Training began, the pair managed to learn (we will not say ‘excel’). It was a huge, seismic shift for them to become captive but they tried, and at least they had each other. They were their only remaining herd, but now lived with a small group of other mustangs. They were officially ‘adopted’ a year later.
Then, tragedy struck. One of the brothers broke his leg, found in the field,  and suddenly his young life was over. He was put down. The remaining twin was bereft, so shaken by this last loss. His owner lost interest in him, then moved away. She gave him away. This lonely scared boy was given to someone charged with finding him a forever home. Not many want a tiny, sad, scared mustang. This new person did not have space or skill to keep him forever but she tried to find it for him; she looked, and she found a nice gentle man, who promised to  finish the training and find him a home, and the story should have ended happily there. You can guess, it did not.
Two short weeks later, instead of training him and finding a home, the mustang was taken to an auction. Fact is, this man takes a lot of horses to auction, after telling a lot of people that their horse will be ‘safe’. Too common a story.
The auction, for this little mustang, was overwhelming; the noise, the strangers, the amount of horses was terrifying, and it looked like this would be the last place he would see alive. Kill buyers bid to sell his meat and his hide. It was by chance, totally luck, that the same kind woman who had tried to help him once was there! She grabbed a friend, and together, with no plan, they bid and won him, to save him from slaughter. The pair stayed with him, got him back out, and to a borrowed field to search, again, for a safe home. A rescue was contacted, Rosemary Farm, and initially said ‘no’;  the rescue is constantly full and had no free space for quarantine; but the discussion continued, and the identity of that dealer is known. A new plan was put into place; IF the women could do his quarantine and his initial medical care, Rosemary Farm agreed welcome him. This could work. Weeks passed in this field, the vet was brought in, they drove to visit and care for him, and the little mustang rallied his spirits. So much change.

The Sunday arrived to move him, the new paddock at the rescue was ready, everything in place; but when the trailer arrived, he refused to get on. And who can blame him?  Hours were spent, he said NO. The trip to the rescue was cancelled that day, the mustang was left in the field, and instead, another horse was brought for company. Were they keeping him after all? Rosemary Farm reminded them that there was a horse in need nearly every day, so if the mustang was no longer ‘in need’, if they wanted to keep him, that was great. It would make room for another horse in trouble. We hoped that an attachment had formed. I do not know how much was debated, but after their care and the effort, the women were reaching their own end of energy; after all, this was not a situation they created. The statement from Rosemary Farm, about ‘if he was no longer in need’, had been misinterpreted as a decline of the horse; while waiting for a call if the horse needed sanctuary, the woman began other plans.

The woman  searched for somewhere closer, and two days later the mustang moved nearby to a nice family, a family that said they wanted him and would work with him. Well, it was ‘supposed’ to last. Neighbors of THIS family,  an amish family who had a lot horses, offered to “help”, and jumped on his back to ‘try him out’. Without any riding training, the little mustang panicked, and their rough handling terrified him. He was declared bad, and unsafe and they were advised to get rid of him immediately. Ownership transferred, again.. Now the mustang was owned by an amish horse dealer.
The end of the week; what was it about that day?
The rescue called after him; it had been just five days since he was due to arrive and plans changed, so he should still be in the same field. Had the woman made a decision? Was he still possibly coming to the rescue? Was he well?
He was not well, and he was not even where people thought he was. Suddenly there were MANY phone calls. Where was he? It was auction night and everyone had a sense of dread. The very first woman who helped tried again, calling friends, found one going to auction who knew the horse, and agreed to check, but no one thought he was really there. There were many horses at auction that night, surely he wasn’t among them? Surely he was safe at his new home?
Way in the back, getting the stuffing beaten out of him by a tired old amish buggy horse, was the little mustang. A dealer had brought him in. Again. Just FIVE days after he was safe in a field. Not much left to his spirit or his body. Nameless and unloved, limping and shaking, getting ready to sell to kill.
Many friends who had never met him went into action that night, as a trailer was hooked up, a bidder was ready, and the rescue community stepped up. By the time he ran the floor that night, the team was waiting and his safety was won for $255. Cut and bruised and exhausted and spent, he loaded quietly on the trailer to the sanctuary, where he is recovering today.
He is just six years old.
In the nearby paddock, the adopted brothers Sawyer and Hamlet are together and can see the new mustang, who has to start out alone for health reasons. Over a week ago, Hamlet went to the hospital for a few days and Sawyer won’t let him out of his sight now. It is not surprising for us to witness strong family ties in horses, but it’s surprising for many. It’s even more rare to have them respected and honored. We pay attention and protect these bonds. Yes, that makes it more complicated, but it’s the honorable path. As I watched these brothers tonight, calm, healthy, gentle, and then turned to observe the broken spirit of our newest charge, I was flooded with his sorrow and his loneliness. He matters and his feelings matter. And yes, he has them. All we can do now is try to slowly build new family with him.

It will take time to heal his broken heart.
Our new little mustang cannot go home, and will never see his herd again. He is alive, and he is young. He will never be the same again, but, there is hope that something new will grow. There must be.


A love note to the elders

We’ve had horses here at Rosemary Farm for almost six years, and there are several seniors that have been here for 4-5 of those years. It’s interesting watching an old horse grow healthy, then age; it is a blessing. A blessing…and in the quiet of the barn, the aches and slowness are recognized as natural aging, and we are grateful to be able to share it with them, and to protect them.

To this end, we will be making a few changes in our herd groups, further creating safe havens for a few that are likely heading into their last three seasons; the spring, summer and fall of their life. Winter is so hard here. We will move gently, we will remember that a peaceful last chapter is a victory over those who throw away a horse just because it’s aged. Our elders of any species are the gold, compounded the longest by the toughest forces, by the joys and trials of a long life.

Gently, so gently, we move forward.

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