The horse who started it all, the first horse of Rosemary Farm Sanctuary. Jack is an off the track thoroughbred, and was considered ‘a contender’ in his day, but lacked the racing heart to match his huge size. There were health issues and surgeries and before he knew it, Jack was in upstate NY being peddled a a trail horse even as he aspirated food out of his nose. Handsome Jack is happy here, in sanctuary, still the tallest thoroughbred we have ever met, and here he gets the extra care he needs to enjoy is life. This photo shows this party animal ringing in his birthday in the field. We love Jack and hope we are able to enjoy his company for many years.
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)
(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.
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.
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!