Define “fence”. Go ahead.

(If you read this within 24 hours of it’s publication, I ask that you read the postscript added since then.)

We share our stories and adventures honestly, even when they do not work out at planned. We risk baiting the critics…BUT with our adventures, we learn, and with our sharing, others learn, and that is larger than ego.

SO, yesterday we set out to move River’s band across the road, back to Stardust Meadows. With a proper set up and humans on hand, this is a smooth endeavor, and yesterday the actual move was smooth, when we got to it. Before the move, however, as we were separating the horses that were to go, we accidentally had Little Nell and her (adult) daughter Katniss on the opposite side of a gate, and I remember thinking that I needed to correct that, but thought I had time. I was wrong. Little Nell did not want to wait, the separation was against the natural order of things, so she went over/through it, destroying it and getting some minor cuts herself.

No, this was not good.

With these minor wounds, she and her daughter were going to need to remain at the home barn (near our medicine), and River’s band would be traveling across the road without them. This did not please anyone, and they were loudly protesting the split. However, we pushed forward, with seven horses crossing over, quickly and safely. After River’s crew was safely moved, they continued to call to the pair of mares over here. Then Finn, Molly, and the other horses all started calling also. The calls were going back and forth. I began to question the wisdom of my decision to split the herd (they were 23 strong) but the reason was to give each slightly smaller herd a size-appropriate field. With 7 on one side and 13 on the other, I thought we were creating safer, more manageable herds. HAH! The horses laugh at my folly. By nightfall all was quiet, both sides grazing peacefully and I hoped we were all good. I was wrong! Apparently my reasoning was lost on the horses, who really, really, wanted to remain together as one big happy herd family. This morning, our big beautiful new fence was strong and intact, but empty;  one of the horses in River’s herd had played with the chain long enough to open the gate, and River’s small band of 7 calmly walked out, and were waiting by the home entrance at sunrise. Fields of grass and freedom surrounded them, but they wanted home. Sunrise, and River was the first to walk over to me, returning my gentle greeting, no treats, no rope, and walk with me to the gate that I opened for him, and let them peacefully walk back inside. Through a gate that means nothing, but a home that apparently, is everything.

When we are able to purchase more land (more money, more donations, more growth), and have intact 30 acre fields (right now we have many fields but they are 15 acres at the largest), our home will be the size it needs to be for everyone, without splits, without moves, without these questions. It is great to learn. For now, we will continue to work together to find solutions that keep everyone happy and safe. And allow me to sleep in on occasion. 🙂

P.S. I wrote this blog yesterday, about our attempts to move a portion of a larger herd, and how it backfired. In my sharing of this series of events, and my anxiousness to ‘take responsibility for it all’, I think that I actually missed some very significant milestones. River has been here for over two years, a mustang that has been untamed. Many tried and he knows every move. Instead here, we have been working on trust…that elusive ingredient that cannot be trained or forced. Our trainer has made the most progress with him, but it’s been very slow, and I was less sure about my relationship with this beautiful wild boy. Thus, his possible escape has weighed on me, because I am responsible for his safety and care. What a word, ‘responsible’. So I keep making decisions to try and set us up for success; this included building a big strong fence, giving River a herd group, and giving him training sessions every week, as we tried to build a bridge to him. All of these tools were in the background yesterday, as I walked up to this mustang at sunrise, loose and free in front of our property. Breakouts are much less frequent now, as our fencing skills have improved and usually it’s human error such as leaving a gate open, that has allowed a romp. And generally a loose horse will romp for a bit, joyously, before peacefully coming home. So there was River, in misty morning light, standing there. River and his band had opened the gate at Stardust Meadows sometime in the night, and he could have been anywhere, anywhere. But he was standing right by our property, waiting…He sees me from 150 feet away, as I leave the house and begin walking across the dewy lawn. “River” I call his name softly, and he lifts his head a bit, recognizing my voice…”Hey boy”, I say, and he walks slowly towards me and I slowly towards him. I am careful to keep my gaze ‘soft’ and my gait easy as I near him, because River has ‘spooked’ many times when humans approach. Several feet apart, we greet, I keep it brief and without touching (I am a hugger so I have to remind myself to leave it!) and I veer left towards the paddock gate, and he turns and latches onto my shoulder. Without looking I know he is there, his soft footfall echoing my own. I open the gate, which pushes in, and invite River into the space; it’s a small space really, but his definition now of ‘safety’ was within that space, rather then out in the world. River walked past me and over to a hay pile and began munching, and my attention turned to the other horses in his group, who were watching and waiting. Sawyer, Leo, then Piper, Aimee, Shannon, then Lexi, all followed in, ambling easily back into their home. Now, loving horse owners get used to seeing this with their domestic horses, who know where home is and are happy to return….but mustangs….well with a mustang, you really do need to earn it. So while mistakes happen and need to be corrected, the years of building trust were there.
How can you explain the breath catching experience of having a mustang trust you? We will keep working on that. 

RiverRunStMe2

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.

RhettWalk

 

 

 

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!

Gloryrun2

Ella, and questions

EllaBraceday1a

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.

 

Yes, we ride. And no, we don’t ride.

If you know one thing about Rosemary Farm Sanctuary , it’s that
“success” with our horses is not defined by “use”.
Success at Rosemary Farm is defined by the degree we can restore a horses inherent characteristics, it’s ability to “be” and “enjoy being”, a horse. To restore a modicum of health, emotional and physical, so the horse can have horse friends and family, can feel safe in our environment with horses and humans, can feel some enjoyment at being alive. This is success.
Riding is optional, and it’s really wonderful to partner with a horse in this manner, but it is not required here to feel successful. It’s also really wonderful to feel the trust from a horse, to breathe together, to groom, to enjoy the warmth of each others’ company, while on the ground.
Riding is optional, just as adoption is optional.
Since most people want to do the first, the second does tend to wane. That’s ok. We are here for our horses first.

This does not negate the importance of training, quite the opposite. We restore trust, or build new trust, so we can handle our horses for care and for enjoyment. This is paramount. Then, there may or may not be a next chapter. For riding or driving, we require our horses to be 1) Sound, 2) Trained, 3) Willing. First we work on #1, health, and with that, we find a degree of #3, connection, or willingness. If we have health and willingness, we explore further training. Many of our horses have been emotionally scarred and it’s ‘too late’, reasonably, to ask this. (yes someone will say its’ never too late and technically you are right, but practically speaking, if the horse is happy here with it’s herd and doesn’t want to leave or train, why make them?) Instead we turn that energy towards someone young, eager to do more with people, unspoiled. Because the youngsters we raise are just that; eager to do more.


SO, if you know one thing about Rosemary Farm, it’s that success with our horses is defined by trust, in whatever form works for everyone involved, horses and humans, deciding together.

Visit. See for yourself.

 

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.

Me&Mollyinside

“Why save the freaks?”

Lameness, soreness, dental infections, flat feet, thin feet, dropped coffin bones, dropped backs, EPM, kissing spine, Intestinal Bowel Disorder, tendons that are swollen or bowed or pin-fired or blown out entirely…. wobblers syndrome, “lupus-like” skin photosensitivity, decaying pasterns, founder, cancer, Lordosis, Cushing’s, impactions, string-halt, severe worm infestation, severe tick infestation, rashes and hives, tumors, shattered stifle, cracked ribs, cracked pelvis, severe laxity, starvation, severe ulcers, chronic lyme, chronic choking, chronic colic, cryptorchids, cribbing and wind-sucking, snapped coffin bones, sarcoids, tumors and cysts and lesions, more cancer, Uveitis, orbital lock, dwarfism, blindness…

We have seen everything on that list here at Rosemary Farm, and some of the horses suffering from one or more of these ailments looks a far cry from a ‘beautiful horse’; in fact, they look like freaks, and not worthy to live. Expensive and a waste of resources.

Why do we save the “freaks”?

Why do we save the horses with ‘issues’? Why not just the ‘nice’ horses, ready to go? Ready to be adopted, and used again? Why waste money on the ones in need?

Why, indeed?

Why are we here?

We are here, ostensibly, to help horses in dire need.

Yes, there are horses in dire need with nothing medically wrong, and actually a fair number do end up here, but they don’t get the same public attention as the ones in need. Sometimes also, while nothing physically is wrong, emotionally there are issues to uncover and heal. Despite our opening list, ’emotional scarring’ tops the physical ailments 10 to 1. The physical issues are what we can see easily see; the mare stumbling with severe neurological issues, or bleeding from the skull, body broken, mind gone, not even fit for the slaughter trucks…. These are the ones most in need, because despite what the pro-slaughter proponents will argue, the old, broken, and feeble horses are not even wanted by the kill buyers. So, the rescues are there. If we feel we can manage it, physically, financially and emotionally, we welcome these horses, and manage somehow, and either fix the horse, stabilize the horse, or give it a peaceful passing.  Journey complete.

But still, why help these expensive saves rather then ones that could ride again?

If we were here to serve humans, here to focus on providing riding amusement, that would be a valid question.  We are not here to help humans.  We are here to help horses.  And horses are not on this planet to serve man.

And yet, we are not here to just help horses.

Have you ever fallen down? Have you ever been ill?  Has anyone in your family ever suffered from cancer, or been ravaged by another disease? Has anyone in your family ever grown old, feeble, unable to work, to support themselves? Have you, yourself, ever been left without help in your weakest moment, your hand in the air for a help up that didn’t appear?

Whether the answer is yes or no, perhaps there is a glimmer of understanding about why we do what we do.  Why we stay up late, get up early, bother vets non-stop, research more supplements or exercises, then share photos and stories about our efforts. Share our journey and the journey of the horses we welcome. To us, life matters. Yes, these horses lives, but your life, too. The “life” here on this planet, how it goes about the business of living and yes, very much, how we go about dying. Now, one might argue that such broken life, in nature, would be swiftly ended. There is some truth to that. However, these horses do not live in nature; most were created by Man, and born into captivity. Even the mustangs, once born wild, that are now ‘owned’, were captured and removed from the level playing field of nature. Their choices are restricted, their ability to move, fenced off. Their ability to forage or find a new band or a warmer locale, gone. By removing these choices, we have assumed their care.  And in a life they did not choose, the least of our humanity dictates a kindness in care, in life and in death. In short, we created them, we owe them dignity, and we owe ourselves the dignity of humane stewardship.  We owe ourselves to be the best ‘human’ we can manage.

So we save the freaks because they matter, as each life matters, even if that means a kind end.  We save the freaks because odds are, one day that will be us in need. We save the freaks because we want the same kindness, and dignity, returned, because we want the philosophy of ‘humanity’ to carry the weight that it was intended to carry.  And in the process of ‘saving the freaks’ , something extraordinary happens. By connecting with these living beings, the kodachrome spectrum of life, a life without expectation of performance, the inherent astounding beauty of these creatures, is fully revealed. A sensitivity, a connection to an astral plane that humans can only dimly perceive, is reflected back to us. It’s a gasping beauty, in a different language then our limited forms of communication. And the distance that some of these souls have traveled, the depth of pain and despair that they relate to us about their journey here, when they are brought back, and the immense gratitude that they return to us… well, it is humbling. We are lucky to share their lives, we are lucky to get to know them as themselves.

We save the freaks to see the world without a human lens, to see ourselves as the freaks, then to rise above the idea of any living creature being labelled a freak.

We save the freaks to save ourselves.

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“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.
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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.
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“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