Refuge Farms home of "Horses Helping..."

The Dunn County News
April 27, 2008

The Old Horse on the Hill

   I slowly hung up the phone. George (not his real name) had a horse that needed a home. Could I come and help him out? I had “rescued” horses from George before. Of course, I never told George that I had “rescued” his horses. No, I just took them in.

   In that first rescue, I had been so naïve. I had actually expected relatively sound older horses that were no longer able to professionally compete in a horse-pulling contest — horses simply in need of retirement.

   I had been totally, completely and enormously unprepared for what was in front of me.

   The November ground was getting hard from the cold nights and there was a cold, sleety rain coming out of the gray overcast skies. It was miserable outside. Upon arrival at George’s, I spotted two large horses standing on a hillside. Like bookends, they stood there with their heads hanging down trying to escape the cold, sharp winds. But what was that lump that they were standing guard over?

   I walked up the hill and sure enough, the “lump” on the ground was a third horse — an old horse with one eye gouged out from a meeting with a bull. His head was enormous! And the body? Well, the body was so small you barely saw it lying there. His feet were huge and stuck out from under his skeleton of a frame.

   How long had they been standing there to protect him? The loyalty of these two big horses was not lost on my heart.

   I spent the better part of the day on that hill in the freezing rain — working and coaxing, massaging and feeding, watering and rubbing, pulling ever-so-gently. At the same time, I was singing and encouraging and praying and crying. I had promised the old horse that if he would rise, I would bring him to a warm barn and warm food and warm blankets. And I would listen to him about what to do with his life. I would do all I could for him, if he would just rise.

   My watch told me it had been a little more than four hours. I decided I would give him another hour to gather up his strength. Then, if he still was unable to rise, I knew I would contact the local vet who could give him relief from that frozen hill.

   I paused for a while and just studied him: a proud horse with a long, worthwhile past, a horse that no longer served a purpose and so was just left to die out here. Freezing to death would most likely be the cause. But not before the wolves, coyotes and rats had a few meals on him.

   Asking him to try just once more, I lifted the rope without putting any pressure on his face. And that old, emaciated, weary, worn-out horse stood.

   And then I saw it. Frozen into the dirt of the hill so solidly that it was actually a part of the hill was a large patch of the hide of the old horse. His right side had been on that ground so long that as the ground became cold, his body lost the fight of keeping his hide warm. And so the hide had actually melded in to the earth and frozen right with it.

   Dear heavens! I was in awe of the strength of that old horse to rise knowing full well that his rising would cause that harm to come to him. But he chose to rise and not die on that hill. A new profound respect for the old horse overwhelmed me. We all four walked gently and very slowly to the trailer. The two bookends never left his side. They walked as if to catch him in case those skinny, atrophied, weak legs gave out on him. But the old horse was proud and had decided he would make it to the trailer. And he did.

   With difficulty breathing and in obvious pain, in a pure miracle of strength and determination, that old horse made it into the trailer.

   Once inside, I threw a horse blanket on him and then stood back. As expected, he was quickly down in the pile of dry shavings. The bookends came into the trailer so all three of them could easily see and nudge each other on the ride home. After closing the doors, I ran as quickly as I could back up to the hill to gather my belongings.

   Without hearing him, George had approached me on the hill. He had been watching from his house and came out to tell me of his surprise that I was able to get the old horse up. But, he said, if the old horse had not gotten up, the other two would not have left him. So he was glad that I could get them all off of the hill. I turned to George and did something I had never done before — and have never done since. I voiced an opinion of the behavior of the person who had abused the animal that I was rescuing. And I voiced my opinion right to his face while looking him straight in the eyes.

   “George,” I said, “you’re gonna go to hell if you don’t start taking better care of your horses.”

   With that, I gathered my items and departed, stopping only briefly to check on the three precious animals inside the trailer, and to tell George that he did a good thing when he called me.

   He agreed with me. He probably had waited a bit too long, he supposed, but he was glad they were in my care then.

   With that simple statement, I felt the weight of all three horses resting now squarely on my shoulders.

   And so, I had “rescued” horses from George 10 years ago. His recent telephone call was for another horse — another “good horse” that he thought I should come and get. The situation had changed, he said. Could I find the way over to his place to pick up this horse? The horse had a bad eye, but he was a good horse. Could I come? Tomorrow?

   With great apprehension, I started east on I-94. What would I find this time? How emaciated would this one be? How bad was it this time? Full of fear but determined to help whatever was awaiting my arrival, I began the journey to George’s farm one more time ...

(The continuation of this story will appear Sunday, May 25.)

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd

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