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.

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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.

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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.

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Whose eating/whose eaten

In our six years of welcoming horses in need, over 125 of them, we have gotten a small idea of the demographic of this population. They are frequently sound (but if they are then they are untrained), they are frequently trained (but if they are, then they are unsound). Sometimes they are just babies.
Sometimes what is wrong is in the mind, sometimes the body. These are ‘imperfect’ horses. They are not the dead broke, perfectly trained and healthy 10yo horse that everyone wants; that horse takes a lot of time and care to nurture into being (and they rarely end up in need). But they are living, sentient beings that were created and brought into this world, intentionally, by a human. They didn’t ask to be here or to be owned or to do the task set in front of them. Many try anyway, but in the beginning and the end of life, one needs care. A horses’ “productivity” is in the middle of it’s life. True of all species.
We at Rosemary Farm believe that all horses deserve a decent life, and most especially a decent end to a life they did not choose. Slaughter has evolved as another way to make money off horses cast off from other industry, to ‘dispose’ of them. They have not been raised for consumption, do not have any of the policies in place for safe ‘meat’ animals, and are given all sorts of vaccines, chemicals, wormers, and medicines that are UNSAFE for human consumption, or for that matter, consumption at all. If we want to grow horses to eat, that is another discussion. THIS discussion is about the ethical care of intelligent beings that we have brought into the world because we wanted to.
For our part, Rosemary Farm Sanctuary grew up out of a desire to help, and we began by offering what we had; land. We were not horse people. We learned about fencing and shelter and about care of the body and the heart of a horse. We have learned about natural training, about listening to the horse. By no means are we experts, and to that end, we bring in vets and trainers to help us help the horses we welcome. Of course rescues cannot do it all. But what we can do is show what is possible. The ‘imperfect’ horses we welcome transform with care into intelligent, magnificent partners. Many go on to ride and some cannot, but all are gentle beings worthy of care.
We are not horse experts, but if two brooklynites with nothing more then desire, can manage to grow this sanctuary, imagine what all the horse experts out there could do.
Will do. We hope.

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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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A brief outline of slaughter; who NOT to blame

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IF YOU HAVE DELICATE SENSIBILITIES<
DO NOT READ:
With many on our page upset by the ’empty truck’ and calling for some violence towards the ‘kill buyers’, (who is just a middleman in a much larger problem), here are some facts and thoughts regarding horse slaughter;
Horse slaughter in the USA is not banned, technically it is legal, but funding for the required USDA inspectors (that would allow the meat to be used for human consumption) has been cut from the budget for many years (it was re-introduced last year in a BS political move to anger supporters, because no slaughter house could re-open in a year, and by the following year the funding was cut again). So, slaughter for human consumption is not happening in the USA unless you are slaughtering your own horse for your own consumption (yes in many states that is legal). There is still slaughter in the USA for zoo food and other uses. The renderer buys dead horses (but if short of supply, he also buys live horses, kills them) and boils them down for glue, pet food for export, etc. Also some are skinned illegally and the skins sent to Mexico. Those deaths are worse since they like babies and usually drown them in order to preserve the skin.
US horses are allowed to be transported across the Canadian and Mexican borders, by one authorized rep per state, informally called the ‘kill buyers’. These men have contracts with the slaughter houses in those countries. There are certain horses that they avoid at auction; a horse that looks so lame that it wil go down and die en route, a horse that is so pregnant that she and the baby will die en route, or a horse that looks demonstrably ill, (could get the whole load rejected), or old white horses that frequently carry melanoma. When looking at the horse as a commodity, these are logical reasons.
(Fact; at auction, these ‘kill buyers’ will willingly re-sell horses to private buyers and rescues instead of shipping them for kill. Sometimes they ask for a mark up and sometimes not. The author has stood with these men and been offered any horse they had, a line of horses in front of us, and without room at the rescue, could not accept their offer. This was a cold slap in the face, a deep recognition that the problem was not at all these men. I realize they are not all ‘the same’ and some are probably cruel, just like there are cruel people in every industry, but direct personal experience supports the opposite)
The countries that buy horse meat are varied in their own standards about what they will accept; Last year, the countries that form the EU (European Union) instituted additional measures to try and insure they receive ‘safe’ meat, which to us watching the horses at auction is laughable, and scary. Every domestic horse in the USA has received drugs, vaccines, etc of some sort that make it unsafe for human consumption. Whether you give a fig about domestic horses, they are unsafe to eat. This of course, does not protect the wild mustangs we so love, which are being removed from the range by a purely economic push to increase grazing for privately owned cattle.
Since horses are considered ‘livestock’ their well being falls under the jurisdiction of the Ag&Mkts rules in each state, which are very vague to begin with and are really there to protect food source animals. Since horses are not a ‘food source’ in the US, they are not closely watched, and fall in the gutter between farm animals and domestic animals, with almost no one watching as the dealers sell horses from one truck to another, and it eventually gets on a truck over the border.
And thus, the horse is screwed.
There is not one party responsible, certainly not the auction houses or the kill buyers, many of whom were dealers of ‘nicer’ horses until the market collapsed. Why did the market collapse? Economically it’s easy to describe; A combination of increased product and decreased demand, i.e. too many breeding horses (in an effort to get ‘the best’) and dumping the rest, as well as a decrease in overall horse ownership. Breeding needs to be curtailed, and lifetime personal responsibility for the horse needs to increase. Since I don’t know how to install a ‘morality chip’ into people, we can just show what happens when horses are passed along and hope it makes an impression.
IF WE WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, we need to set aside our emotions and calmly think the problem through, and come up with solutions for these 100,000 horses here, at home. Suggesting violence towards any person is not welcome on our page and will get you banned. Why? Because it hurts our cause. This problem does not belong to one person, it is our nation’s problem. Over 100,000 USA horses are being shipped over the border, in a cruel last chapter, for slaughter.

We are better then this.
Horse ownership is a choice, and horses can live for 30 years, so it’s a lifetime choice. It’s an incomparably exciting journey to have a horse in one’s life. It’s requires a sea change of structure and choices to own horses ethically. By far the cheapest and most rewarding way to own horses is to own land and have them with you, and obviously that means structuring one’s entire life around horse ownership. Not everyone can do that, so a stable, reliable, calm boarding barn is an excellent way to keep a horse, with other owners offering moral support, and your horses’ ‘herd group’ made up by other horses at the barn. It’s a choice, and a beautiful one when done with respect to the other half of that relationship, the horse.

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Here is Molly, purchased back from a kill buyer while standing in the chute getting ready to get on the truck to Canada. The canadian waybill was literally pulled off her butt; it doesn’t get more real then that. The seller did not have to do this, and in fact he had to revise paperwork, creating more work for himself.  He did not have to sell me this mare, but he did, so she could live. She is a herd leader here at Rosemary Farm, safe for life.

Other horses that have been bought back from kill buyers for little or no profit; Mira, Autumn Moon, Phantom, Abbey, Hannah.  In addition, three horses were donated to Rosemary Farm from a dealer; Honey Pie, Annie and Trooper. Others we purchased at auction directly, and when the kill buyer saw us bidding, he stopped. Now, I understand that their choice in profession is confusing to us, even reprehensible, but they see it as an economic and humane choice, better then starving in a field. I believe there are better choices and we as a country need to find them. But too many ‘kill buyers’  have helped horses get to us, for me to just write these men off. They didn’t create the problem, and they will also not be the ones who fix it. As long as there are breeders creating too many horses that continue to glut the industry, we will have a problem of too many horses that need help.

Trooper’s Last Day and the Conundrum of Compassion

TrooperBarnTrooper was a horse with a deformed leg.

It’s hard to talk about Trooper without talking about the leg. It’s degree of deformity was severe, and the very fact he was allowed to live with it, gasping. Trooper raised more questions then he answered, about morality, about kindness, about what it is to be alive. Trooper also had a remarkable spirit, a strong soul and  energy that reached out, so that all who knew him connected with his calm gaze, in a way that exceeded his leg. Trooper was a magnificent presence.  While those things are true, that is about us; that is about how WE connected to him.

Trooper was a HORSE. Why do I use caps, why do I emphasize the word ‘horse’? Trooper was not a human, who could rest his weary leg with a movie marathon. He was not a human that could understand confinement as a necessary part of healing. He was not a human that could find enough life through their mind and intelligence to survive the things he lost with that deformity. Trooper was a HORSE, and horses were made to run.

Simple. Horses are made to run. The best runners survived and made more baby horses. Horses with heart, strong legs, sensitive ears, quick reaction to predators, strong herd instincts, horses that were fast, survived and made more baby horses. It is inherent in a horse to run. To deny a horse that freedom of movement is to deny them access to the very thing that defines them. What do you get if you put the wind in a jar? Stagnant air. Trooper was a horse and Trooper wanted to run. Trooper’s deformed leg was the single major stumbling block to his most heartfelt innate desire.

So what do we do here, when an adult horse, breathtaking but untrained, with a deformed leg, is dropped off? After we cry and we curse and we analyze and we blame, we go about and try to find a compromise between what the horse wants to do and what he is able do. We try to give his life meaning, value, interest and pleasure, despite that leg. Now perhaps I should try to describe the leg. His problem was really in his left rear fetlock, sort of like your ankle. From our best guess, he was born with a severe twist, and was not corrected when he was a babe. During those early years as he ran on his foot, the motion caused another twist, so there was a double rotation going on, which caused one’s eye to look and look again at his movement, trying to interpret what one was viewing. It was unnatural, like an Escher drawing, viewing all sides of the leg at once, with the bones pointing the wrong way and the hoof turned inward, so that rear steps landed on the outside hoof wall as the fetlock pointed sideways. Really no one had seen anything like it.

Why had Trooper been kept alive before he got here?  A dealer dropped him off, and I suspect that Trooper was unfit even for the slaughter truck. A horse is ‘supposed’ to be sound at the walk to endure the travel to slaughter, and if Trooper went down in a truck it could taint a whole load. Now that same dealer could have just shot him in the head, so I would have to guess that the same charm that befell all of us worked for Trooper that day as well. Before that, how did Trooper get to be 5yo? Since we have no history, we can only guess that it was his beauty, inside and out. One meeting with Trooper was enough to connect, and everyone shared a desire to help him. But why had no medical help been provided when he was young and it could have helped? I can’t say. By the time he arrived here, in the fall of 2014 as a young adult, the bones in his leg were beyond fixing. We x-rayed him, we discussed his case with surgeons, we asked questions, we tried to learn and absorb this situation handed to us.

But Trooper had lived all his life with that leg and knew no other. To Trooper, it was painful, but it was just his leg and he made the best of it. We decided that there could be pain present but also love of life, and this razor thin place is where Trooper reigned King. Contained within his paddock, with his new girlfriend, Trooper lived as fully as a horse could ever want; Trooper loved getting treats from humans, grooming with his mare and defending her honor over the fence. He loved rolling and sunbathing. Trooper even had sex! Did you know that? Yes, he was a gelding, and geldings can have sex. They don’t always, as captive horses, they need to develop their inner ‘mustang’, to live as naturally as possible and to bond strongly with other horses, for that nature to awaken. During his seven months with us, Trooper got to know a life here that was full. Trooper ran in his paddock with the full enthusiasm of any horse, with surprising agility. He had learned to manage that leg, at least in controlled environments, and he was proud. As improbable as his life was, it was his life, and we continued to work around that leg, to find compromises for Trooper that would allow him to be his full self, even as we tried to protect that leg from the very thing he wanted to do more then anything; RUN.

Trooper’s desire for life and his magnificent personality are what kept us going. As we explored new options, we learned about braces, and found a talented orthopedist who thought he could help Trooper. To make this happen, however, many steps had to be taken. Trooper had very little training, did not want that hoof touched and was not accustomed to ropes or handling; all that had to change to consider a brace. Lessons were increased as we worked with him, getting him trained to the kind of handling that the brace would require every day, several times a day. We switched his girlfriend to make this more viable, and introduced him to other horses that were trained and could help him learn. Then, even MAKING the brace was a challenge, since that involved, first, a cast that needed to be sent for a custom build. The cast needed above freezing temps in a well below freezing world. We converted the grain room, beside Trooper’s area, to a medical room, because we were going to need to make a mold of his leg using fiberglass.  Since January and February were the coldest months on record in our area, hovering around 0 most days, and we needed to find a way to get the grain room over 40 degrees for the fiberglass to cure. We saw a day in the forecast above freezing and rushed;  we had the casting materials sent overnight; but bad weather turned the overnight delivery into four days, and that window was missed. “That’s ok”, we thought, “more time to train!” and we set our sights on the next break in the weather.  A week turned into a month as we struggled against bitter winter just to survive. Trooper learned to walk into that closed space, turn around, have some grain, have his hoof lifted. Then he learned to have items ‘strapped’ to his leg, in a semblance of what the brace would do. Finally we saw another rise in temps, we got our schedule clear, several people here to help, and we were able to make the mold. Big day! and the fiberglass cast was finally sent. Our hopes were raising that maybe this would provide Trooper some relief.

I should add, our entire team was not in agreement about this hope. More ethical debates raged over this horse then any other to date at Rosemary Farm. What was right, what was fair, what was kind, what was humane. I have seen our same discussions reflected on our page. While many have supported trying to save him, many others have understood the true dilemma in keeping a horse like Trooper contained. Big, young, and with a thoroughbred heart, everything about Trooper struggled with his restriction. His new girlfriend Jess was about a pretty and vibrant a young mare as any gelding could wish for, and together they played, groomed, and napped through the end of winter, in a small paddock adjacent to the larger one, with a herd of horses. Trooper watched the herd with longing. All he wanted was to run down the hillside, into their midst, and frolic with the geldings, run into the brook, to be a horse. He would ask me over and over to open the gate and let him free. I could not. But on his last day on this earth, Trooper got his wish.

It’s not uncommon for our morning office work to be broken by someone needing an extra hand with a horse or farm project. On that morning, the disruption was short; ‘Trooper and Jess are out”. Humans had been nearby when Trooper took down a gate and went over it, and went to join the herd. Mind you, I am not blaming Trooper; it is never the horses’ fault. It is our job as his owners and caretakers to provide a safe environment. That gate had not been taken down before, but I guess had not been subjected to the powerful yearnings from the strong Trooper, and it collapsed under the weight of his desire. Trooper and Jess had taken off down into the herd, where I could hear the commotion and the delight with his presence. I wish I could have felt happy for him but all I could think about was the ice, the slippery paths, the inclines that I knew he was navigating. Getting the pair back up and inside again was not hard, they were both well handled, but as soon as I saw that misshapen leg, I saw the change. If possible, it was worse, the fetlock larger and the angle more extreme, and Trooper could barely walk. We called our vet, to get science to help give us some clarity, and a few hours later our fears were confirmed. Trooper had blown out his collateral ligament on the outside of his leg; this is sort of a rubber band that was the last thing helping to keep Trooper’s hoof sort of underneath him. The joint was now collapsing and the pain was excruciating. The run that Trooper had dreamt of, he achieved, but it was his last.

The ethical questions had reached an end, as Trooper’s leg was damaged beyond repair. Despite painkillers, he was in agony. I had to make the decision to put him down. There was no ‘stalling him for a month’ with a cast, there was no keeping him from the other horses, there was no keeping this spirit in a box. Amputation was out of the question; not only for a horse like Trooper, but honestly the limitations of our current barn and accessibility to hospital rendered that idea out of the question. I believe it would have been a living nightmare for Trooper to wake up without his leg. That is not to say it’s not right for other animals or even other horses but we had to decide for OUR horse. Trooper wanted to RUN. TrooperBarn Now, the body was done, and our moral obligation as kind caretakers was to let him go.

I am writing deep in the dark night of grief.  Time may allow me a different perspective, one that agrees with some of the critics out there. I can only answer that we do the absolute best we are able with each horse here, each day; each horse that no one else wanted, each horse that challenges our knowledge, our skills, our facilities, our hearts. Our best tomorrow does not change what was our best yesterday. Trooper was beloved here, and his loss cuts us to the quick. We did our best to allow him time, allow him seven months to proudly be a horse. We have to be content with that. Easier to type then to feel.