Refuge Farms home of "Horses Helping..."

The Dunn County News
August 26, 2007

Preparations are in high gear for open barn - Sunday, Sept. 16

   To say things are very busy and hectic around THE FARM is to say something obvious- like the sky is blue on a sunny day, or this summer has been very hot, or Big Guy is a big horse.

   Those of us with experience are advising the new members of our volunteer herd. We're smiling from ear to ear and recounting stories of "back when." The new volunteers just kind of stand there and look at us "olsters" like we were growing antennas out of the tops of our heads. They think we are exaggerating.

   There are lists everywhere around this place-on the barn door, on the kitchen door, on the refrigerator, on the island, in my calendar, in my truck, on my computer and on my desk. Every time I'm driving or have a moment to think-like at a red light-my mind goes immediately to what must be done and I start another list!

What kind of tasks are on these lists? For starters, it's trimming around every tree and fence post, planning entrances and presentations, mowing pastures and cording off parking spaces, putting up gates and planning when to take them down, building bleachers out of hay bales and vacuuming. Yes, I said vacuuming-the barn walls. Starting to get the picture?

   What is it, you ask, that has us so busy and listing like mad? Just what are we up to?

   The open barn-that's what is upon us-the open barn!

   What is an open barn?
   And then you ask, what is an open barn?

The best way I can explain an open barn is to compare it to an open house or a house gathering of friends and family to celebrate an event.

   Just like an open house, to get ready for our guests, at Refuge Farms we spruce the place up, dress up, and have good food and entertainment. But unlike most open houses, we also have vendors in the yard selling their crafts.

   At Refuge Farms, an open barn is the sign of the close of another busy season of doing our best to make a difference. We take this time to celebrate a full summer-of kids and ice cream, crafts and horse hair, hot summer days in the sprinklers, going to schools and churches, saving a few lives and all the things we do in a summer at THE FARM.

   And we also take this time to show off our "kids" of course-just like you do when you have guests in your home. You ask Johnnie to play the piano or Susie to sing or Mikie to do his juggling act or whatever it is that the kids are up to now. We do that, too. Only our "kids" weigh about 2,000 pounds!

   Six years of sharing
   This year we are hosting our 6th annual open barn. Believe it or not, it has been six years since I nervously called Andy at 11:55 a.m. one Sunday morning right before the opening of the very first open barn. (Andy Durco helped me found Refuge Farms.)

   I called him and told him honestly that I was scared. I was nervous. And I was angry that he wasn't here with me. From his hospital bed, he listened and reassured me saying, "You'll do just fine. Just tell them how you feel."

   Good advice. That's exactly what I did. And so began the tradition of the open barns.

   And somehow each year, I find the quiet time right before noon to stop and pause and remember Andy, who has crossed over, and maybe even invite him to come along on the journey of his very special day. I hear myself say, "Come and join me as we witness what we have started and are building here." It's a quiet time for me to reflect and prepare for the enormity and the emotion of the day to come.

   Open barn line-up
   The day begins at 12 noon. Volunteers are here to great you and tell you where to find the horses, the food and the vendors, and to be sure you get a smile when you arrive. And we encourage you to go into the barns and right up next to the horses. You see, we've taken some of the gates down, and you have free access to stand next to April and Gracie and to pet the huge face of Big Guy and see Lanna and marvel-absolutely marvel-at "the babies."

   You'll be able to see Addie-Girl for yourself and pet the new "Baldwin Boys"-Windsor and Star. And you'll have a chance to brush them and listen to their stories as some of the best volunteers around share their knowledge and their hearts with you.

   There will be horses in two barns and in the pastures. All 17 horses will be here for you to see and touch for yourself. You will be able to, finally, "put a face with the name", as they say-only the face is rather large!

   You will have the opportunity to sit in the corral and listen to a few horses stories as we bring some of "The Herd" in to the corral for "Show and Tell". Each year we see progress in some of the "kids". Some that we couldn't even halter two years ago are now (a bit nervously) coming in to the corral and allowing me to tell their story. I am thrilled at their poise and trust. I am the proud parent showing off her kids to her guests!

   It's a time when you can ask questions and learn about the horses, about THE FARM, about a particular horse or about feeding. Just about anything you want to ask, we'll try to answer!
   This "Show and Tell" is the part that makes Kathy Myren, our operations manager, the most nervous. You see, for weeks ahead of time, we plan this program, deciding which horses go in, and in what order, and witch volunteers will bring them in. And I've been known to halter things, I mean alter, on the day of the open barn, like telling Kathy over the PA system to bring in a horse like Josephina, who wasn't even on the presentation list. Though Kathy's eyes spring open with surprise, she's good at what she does and, sure enough she'll deliver Josephina to the corral.

   After "Show and Tell," we encourage you to shop the vendors in the yard for jewelry, homemade soaps, pottery, art-work or even some honey. And when you've shopped a bit, stop and have a chicken wrap or a grilled sandwich with the food supplied by our friends at Applebee's. You'll have a full stomach and then, when you're starting to think it's time to head home, you'll hear that familiar voice of Jeff Hines as the live auction begins.

   We have more than 45 baskets of new items and services donated by local merchants that we will be auctioning on that day. We have tools, quilts, office supplies, cosmetics, diamond bracelets, school supplies, horse tack, dog baskets, cat baskets, Spiderman toys, stuffed toys, and baskets just for her. I could go on and on. Just trust me - we have baskets, all brand new, all donated and all being sold to raise money to help pay for maintaining the health of The Herd.

   When all is done
After the last guest has pulled out of the driveway, we begin the process of cleaning up and putting away all the tables, chairs, papers and T-shirts. It's a long process, but the volunteers-"The Other Herd" that has been at THE FARM and preparing since 7 a.m.-do not stop until it's all done and put away. What a crew! You must come and meet them!

   When it's all over and done and I'm taking my sore feet out of my boots, I realize that what I like best about the open barns really isn't the "Show and Tell" or the food or the live auction or the horses in the barn. It's the people. That's what I remember most about the day.

   I see friends that I haven't seen since last year's open barn. I meet new friends and do my very best to remember the face and the name.

   I listen to your horse stories as you tell me of the great horse you had when you were a kid or before you moved or the one that just crossed. I look at the pictures of you when you were young or of your grandchildren or of your new horse.

   I meet the ones who grieve from a loss, like the woman who stood off to the side with tears streaming down her face. She had come to an open barn alone because her daughter, who loved horses and was going to attend, had just been killed in a car accident. The woman came anyhow, because her daughter would have loved Refuge Farms.

   And I see little children petting Big Guy or Babee Joy. And then I see the magic right in front of me! Those 2,000-plus-pound horses see a little hand and just wait for that soft, gentle touch-huge animals soaking up the love of the innocent little human being. And I remember how they were when they got here-how nervous, how defensive, how scared.

   And I look at the horses now and I realize that I am seeing forgiveness and trust and a willingness to give. It's right there in front of you-even from those most abused.

   If you look, you'll see why I call these horses "ministers." It's because they are just that: ministers.

   An invitation
   So, it's open barn time! And busy, busy, busy! But on that special Sunday afternoon, nothing more will need to be done. It will be time to relax and enjoy and to share the wealth I have in this herd of volunteers and herd of rejected horses. If one, just one, of my guests finds the magic, I'll have done what I was born to do for that very day.
Join us for the open barn on Sunday, Sept. 16, from noon to 4 p.m. The live Jeff Hines auction begins at 2 p.m. For a full listing of auction baskets, go to our Web site, and select the Auction Book button from the homepage.

   So, if you want to check out the jungle of pumpkin vines in the Kid's Garden, sit under the Andy tree, sit next to the Frances Andrew Memory Bed, look up at the FAITH bucket hanging from the rafters, pet our little Grace, sit on the Hope bench in the yard, or just have some fun, joy, friendship and good times-and maybe even get a hug or two-come to THE FARM for the open barn. It's free, like the love and respect we give all year long.

   Experience the magic of Refuge Farms for yourself.

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

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