Refuge Farms home of "Horses Helping..."


Age: mid 20s    Arrived: November 22, 2001    Crossed: March 25, 2007
July 16th, 2005 - It is unbelievably hot in Spring Valley, Wisconsin. I can feel the sweat running down my back and neck as I walk to the barn. Today is Saturday, July 16th, And it is a record setter - the hottest day in 7 years. And it is the date of the Refuge Farms First Annual Summer Social. Oh, well...

Once in the barn, I am amazed to see a variety of visitors - each equally uncomfortable in the heat - but talking with Refuge Farms volunteers about a horse or a story or yes, the heat. The volunteers have come for the event, as they promised they would, and we have pies and ice cream and root beer floats and guests! My energy and excitement immediately return!

I work my way up to a woman about my own age. She is standing quietly observing one single horse from afar. I stand next to her and introduce my presence by saying, "She's a beautiful horse, isn't she?" The woman turns to me and agrees and asks just what is the story of this horse?

I go on to explain how Bonita came to us on Thanksgiving Day in 2001…

"This huge, blonde mare was standing alone at the edge of the kill pen when I came to select my Christmas present to myself - a rescue horse. The mare caught my attention due to the positioning of her feet - all 4 of her big feet were in a 2' circle directly under her belly. She looked like an inverted pyramid. Obviously, this horse was in trouble.

BonitaOnce I was closer to the horse, I could see the pain in her eyes and the disaster of what had been her feet. It took me over 3 hours to get her in to the trailer but she did come home with me. Once home, I gave her The Three Promises - plenty of food, plenty of love and good care, and a permanent place to be for as long as she wanted to be.

I sensed uneasiness in this big shell of a horse, and, sensitive to her pains, I additionally promised her that as long as she came in to the barn for grain, I would support her the best I could. And I told her that she didn't have to hurry in to the barn for her grain - I would wait for her as long as it took. Just come in and I would know she still chose to live another day.

And, I concluded, when she would someday decide it was time to move on, all she would need to do was to lie down in the pasture and not come in for feed and I would know she was done. And that would be okay."

As I'm telling the story of Bonita to this woman she is looking at Bonita and me and the question is written all over her face. In fact, her face is pulled together in the perplexity of this story. "But", the lady asked, "What's wrong with Bonita? Why would you promise such things to her?"

I point to the feet of this huge Belgian mare and explain that Bonita had been a brood mare…

"She had been bred and put in to a box stall until she delivered her foal a little over 11 months later. At that point, she and the foal would be moved to a small pen where the mare would be re-bred and the foal weaned at 12 weeks.

Then Bonita would then begin the process all over again and move back in to the box stall for yet another 11 months of waiting. Bonita's entire adult life had followed this routine until she no longer went back in to heat. It was at this time that this beautiful blonde mare was shipped to the kill pen.

Unfortunately for Bonita, the box stall she waited in was not cleaned during those 11 months. So soon, this mare would be standing in "wet muck". After months and years of standing in a wet stall her feet began to decay.

When I found Bonita in the kill pen, all 4 of her feet were total disasters. Upon arrival at THE FARM, I had attempted to help her, or so I thought, by trying to soak and scrape off the "muck" which had dried to her legs. What I found was that removing the "muck" took her hide off with it -
I had exposed her bloody meat below the dried crust. So I was forced to let the cleansing process take a more natural route - the snow would do the trick without causing Bonita any more pain. It's has been 3 years and her feet have recovered as best as they can. The hind feet have re-grown and are relatively solid. In fact, her hind feet actually look pretty normal! Her front feet, however, are not so fortunate. Since this large horse places 65% of her weight on her front feet, these feet are grossly misshapen - but they still do their job of supporting her!

BonitaBonita's biggest issue with her front feet is the abscesses. The abscesses began to erupt at a rate of 3 to 4 per year. Each abscess will plague her from 6 to 8 weeks until it finally erupts as a hole at her hoof hairline. Once erupted, the pain will dissipate and in another full year, the hole will grow out to the end of the hoof. Finally, after 14 months, evidence of a single abscess will be gone. This past year, however, has seen the number of abscesses dramatically reduce. In fact, this past summer, Bonita had only 2 episodes the entire year! Hurray!

The thickest draft shoes that I could find now support her front feet. Bonita wears these shoes year round and it takes the pressure off of her toes and makes it possible for her to walk - each evening in to the barn for her grain.

So now she has good grain, clean hay and water, shelter from the weather, a home with other companion horses and shoes on her feet. But mostly, Bonita has the choice. The choice of being inside or outside. A choice she has never had before.

BonitaBonita teaches us Human Beings about determination and endurance and patience. She is strong. And everyday she shows me her contentment in just being alive!"

By the end of this story, my visitor had tears in her eyes. Then came the statement that has encouraged me daily since then. This kindly visitor simply and quietly said, "Just imagine the story Bonita is telling her ancestors while she sleeps." Amen.

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