Refuge Farms home of "Horses Helping..."

The Dunn County News
June 28, 2006

   It's June for sure. I know that not by looking at any calendar or by listening to the radio. No, I know it's June because Refuge Farms goes to Camp Quest in June.
   -Camp Quest? What is that, you ask? It's a ton of hard work, let me tell you! But it's 30 hours of smiles and giggles and tears of amazement and times when you stop and watch something that makes your arms fill with goose bumps. It's an event that Refuge Farms does every June, for free, that rejuvenates the very soul in all of us who make the effort to go.
   The Center for Independent Living for Western Wisconsin, Inc- (whew!), sponsored by the Dunn County United Way, ghosts an overnight camp each Spring for young adults, ages 14 to 21. The camp is held at Beaver Creek Reserve near Eau Claire- The reserve has an observatory where after dark we use huge telescopes to look at Jupiter and Venus and the moon- It also has nature trails, a nature center, and a butterfly exhibit. It's great!
   And these young adults are just as active and rammy and noisy and moody as any group of 14 to 21 year olds! They are excited to be away from home and away from their parents for an overnight and determined to soak up every single minute of the adventure.
   Each camper comes with their sleeping bag, their clothes, and their meds. You see, these campers are young adults with disabilities physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and sometimes a combination of both. Camping is probably something these youngsters have never done before. And many times, this overnight is the very first time the parent has been separated from the child for such a long length of time. I'm sure you can imagine the stresses for Mom and the behaviors that may appear in the child. The camp experience is not without it's bumps, but overall it is a marvelous growing experience and an opportunity to get really dirty!
   This year, Refuge Farms brought three horses to Beaver Creek Reserve for Camp Quest. Usually I only bring two horses, but the volunteer team supporting me this year was the very best we have at THE FARM, so I brought ole' man. Cole, our anchor, Miss April, and our little newbie, Grace.
   Now, I have to tell you, that while hauling this mini-herd to camp, I had some anxious moments myself, much like some of the camper's parents, I'm sure! What if ole' man Cole got in to one of his stubborn streaks? What if Miss April stepped on someone with those club front feet of hers? And I had no way of knowing even what to fear with Gracie! She had only been at THE FARM for three months and so this was an act of faith, believe me!
   Bringing such a new horse (and a blind one, at that!) to camp was faith. Pure and simple.
   Kathy, Tara and Lambing Barb were the magic behind the scenes, however. These volunteers were everywhere and "safety" was at the front of their minds for the entire time. The campers were always welcomed to our camp site any time anyone wandered in. The horses could not have been better cared for. We quickly became known as "The Horse Ladies." Cool, eh?
   And each camper was given ample time with the horses to brush, to pet, to smell, or to just be near them. Those campers who wanted to were given the opportunity to hang on to a lead rope and "lead" a horse... Wow! It was magic at its best!
   For instance, there is Charley. Miss April was surrounded by campers when Charley started coming up behind her. She could see him back there, but she was puzzled, so I turned Miss April around and we walked her up to Charley and I said, "Charley, this is Miss April. April, this is Charley."
   I gave April some lead rope and then she smelled. First, she smelled Charley's face. Then she smelled his feet, tucked under his torso. Then April smelled the foot rests of his wheelchair. And finally, she smelled Charley's hair. Then "it" happened. Amazing. Miss April was comfortable with Charley "and chose him as her friend. So this horse then gently rested her chin on the top of Charley's head. And just stood there.
   These two were connected and just spent time touching each other. Together. Quietly in the presence of each other. Comforting each other and relating to each other on the problems of having feet and legs that don't work like they're supposed to.
   My tears ran. How did April know? How did Charley know? Why were they not afraid of each other? What were their hearts saying to each other?
   Their relationship grew all throughout camp. Whenever Charley appeared, Miss April would move over to be close to him. And Charley would smile and spend as long as he possibly could, just looking at her huge face. A face that was just inches from his! The intermingling of their breaths was almost sacred, it seemed to me.
   That is just one of the stories I could tell you. There's also Alex, who was a most helpful young lady. And there was Meredith. So much in love with any horse. And there was Andy. Andy chose ole' man Cole and took special care to direct him away from the trees and lead him straight to the water. Smiling, the entire time, Both of them.
   So now you know how I can tell when it's June. It's time to load up and set up a temporary pasture at Beaver Creek Reserve and move feed and water buckets and wheelbarrows and hay and hoses and forks and fence posts and buckets and water tanks and horses for an overnight stay with some very special friends. When we finally get home, we were all pooped. But we have more memories and we know, absolutely know, that we made a difference in some camper's lives with these horses that no one else wanted. Just like Andy said. "Sandy, you take this horse and make difference in somebody's life." How am I doin', Andy?

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