Refuge Farms home of "Horses Helping..."

The Dunn County News
September 30, 2007

What a magical day it was!
Open Barn tops them all

   I don't mind telling you, my feet still hurt. My ankles still feel like they are protruding through my hips. My shoulders are still sore from all the hugging. And my face is still sore from smiling so much. My body is still recovering from the sixth annual open barn and auction. And I'm still humming - what a magical day it was!

   The magic begins
   At 4:15 a.m., I was out in the yard with my eyes searching the still black sky for a clue as to what the weather would be that day. We suffered through rain last year and have paid our dues. "Sunshine, where are you?" I asked.

   In a matter of a few hours, the sun was shining, a southerly breeze was blowing, the early colors of fall surrounded THE FARM, and occasionally, right on cue it seemed, a flock of geese would fly over on their practice runs - honking at us to look up at them and enjoy their beauty. What a day! I could truly have not created a better day for the open barn.

   Corralling the 'Other Herd'
   The volunteers appeared at 8 a.m., just as planned. Hard- working hands went to work immediately: Tables were set up, gates were moved, horses were relocated, and temporary water tanks were filled. And we were right on time for our 11 a.m. meeting and picture.

   As I stood before the sea of blue T-shirts, I noticed nothing but smiles on the faces of this group of dedicated volunteers.

   Who were these crazy people that would come to work so hard so early on a Sunday morning for no pay? They included the "old timers" who had been through several of these open barns and knew - or so we thought - what to expect. They included those who had labored for the past six months and were now just on the cusp of experiencing their very first open barn for themselves. And, believe it or not, there was even a volunteer who had been a guest of Refuge Farms just two short weeks before.

   This crew came together and gave of their time, their energy, their smiles and their hearts that day. I was feeling very blessed and rich beyond words. After a short thank-you message, I read them the blog I had written earlier that morning. It was my prayer for the day. Many heads bowed in observance. Many eyes looked straight at me. But all felt - I hope - my gratitude and appreciation for their work and dedication.

   Early start, record count
   Then it was time to get in our places. Final preparations needed to be done to be ready to open at noon. But wait! What was this? It was 11:30 a.m. and guests were arriving already! Holy Herd! Get into your places! It's time! We're open!

   And open we were! Our clicker to count attendance stopped at 322. My guess? Right around 350 people drove into that gravel driveway and parked in the pasture. That's a pretty good-sized crowd, if I do say so myself! And in that crowd, who were these people?

   Well, they came from all over Wisconsin and Minnesota and we even had a visitor from California. We had great attendance - above and beyond my expectations. It was a time of celebration, for sure.

   Measured by 'the yard'
   At about 12:30 p.m. or so, we brought Bob and his team of Belgians, Pete and Emma, into the corral to thank them. Bob - the kindest man there is - comes to us each year with his beautiful wagon and his loyal team to give our guests wagon rides out in the pasture. What a treat it was on a sunny day with the colors changing. A wagon being pulled by two of the nicest horses I've seen in a long time makes a grand addition to the afternoon.

   The yard was filled with tents for food from Applebee's, vendors selling everything from paintings to sculptures to note cards to iron works. Refuge Farms 2008 calendars were unveiled and you could even get a magnetic treatment from Spader Unlimited and LyonShare Wellness. The yard became the place to sit and eat and soak up the sun - and then follow the kids back into the barns for another round of pets and pictures.

   Our auction surpassed my wildest dreams! The guests understood that every penny raised would go to support The Herd of Refuge Farms. And they responded with open hearts, open wallets and raised hands. Jeff Hines did his usual fantastic job of auctioning our baskets.
Me? I stood behind Jeff with our online bids and did my best not to cry. I "lost it" only a couple of times, and one time in particular. A Mike Murach painting of "Miss April" set an all-time record for our auction sale. We are oh-so-grateful to the artist and the bidder.

   'Show and Tell'
   The "Show and Tell" portion of the open barn featured some of the horses you don't typically see at our open barns. Not that they aren't here and not that we don't love them, but typically these horses aren't the human-interacting types - horses like Miss Bette, and Josephina and Addie-Girl. Of course, we had to show off our babies - Jeri-Ann, Babee Joy and Unit. And our remaining "foundation horse," Miss April, was introduced to close the presentation.
   Lessons of a legend
   Lastly, I mentioned what was obvious. Standing in the center of the corral, I had spent the entire time walking beside or in front of a fresh mound of dirt draped in blue satin. That mound was adorned with a huge urn planted with flowering shrubs, a rainbow flower arrangement, many notes, flowers and even a butterfly. On a short post hung a huge blue halter. Lastly, I mentioned Big Guy.

   Personally, I struggled to talk about him and not begin a new flow of tears again. Everyone granted me the quiet time I needed to compose myself. And then I began to tell them my interpretation of the true lesson of Big Guy…

   I've spent 22 months telling everyone that Big Guy was a lesson in forgiveness. And yes, that horse had a capacity to forgive that I seldom see in any living creature - human or otherwise. But his true lesson? Was it forgiveness? I'm starting to think otherwise. Big Guy was forgiveness, yes, but he was much, much more than that.

   You see, every morning when I arrived in the barns, he greeted me - every single morning for nearly two years. It could be 30 below or 80 above. It could be a blizzard or intense heat. It could be windy or we could be praying for a breeze. Regardless of the day, Big Guy threw his huge head over the gate and greeted me with his eyes alert and dancing with joy. You could see in his face the anticipation of the day. His front feet would be dancing. He was excited and showing the sheer pleasure he took in just being alive. It was written all every part of his body - he was happy and grateful to be alive.

   How could that be? I've asked myself that many times. How could this horse be so eager to begin another day - and with such joy and anticipation? How could he forget the gunshot wounds, the beatings, the starvation? How could he put it behind him? How could he be so darn happy every day?

   And then, just recently, I remembered the very morning I picked him up out of that barn of death. We walked down the driveway and this monster of a horse never once looked back. He showed no nervousness or stress. He never once showed any anger or hostility over what had happened to him there. He showed no need for revenge or final statements of conquering that evil. He simply looked straight ahead - straight down the driveway. And he greeted what was in front of him with his head held high. He left yesterday behind and took on the challenge of today.

   That, my friends, is the lesson of Big Guy: to leave yesterday behind. That is where his forgiveness comes in because, in order to leave yesterday behind, he had to forgive the things that happened to him that were not nice. And he had to forgive the things that did not happen to him that should have happened to him. He had to forgive yesterday in order to meet today with the joy.

   So, for the 22 months that Big Guy found shelter in my barns, every single night, somewhere in the night, he forgave today. He let it go. And he took on a new day with glee and excitement and anticipation. Big Guy had learned the lesson of living, not simply existing. And he was a horse, a simple, huge, gentle horse. Now I ask you, if this horse could learn to live freely and to forgive, can't we?
   Memories are made of this
   The sixth annual open barn is now a part of our history. We have our scrapbooks from the barns. We have the professional photos by Jim D'Angelo. We have the memories of more than 300 people who came to see if there really is magic here at Refuge Farms. And we have our own personal memories of the day.

   But this year, the most poignant memory is brought to mind by this huge mound of soil - Big Guy's final resting place, a spot we can still visit and sit beside. I sit and I ponder Big Guy's existence and why he came here for such a short time, but with such meaning. I ponder the lesson he passed on to me and all the others.

   I have a memory of a monster horse who spent just a short time with us, but caused many of us to study him and be amazed by his capacity to forgive and to live each day as if it were his only day.

   The lessons of Big Guy are difficult to talk about even yet, but lessons I feel we must learn from and teach each other. They are lessons to live by from a horse, a simple horse, who had been thrown away and left to die.

   The sixth annual open barn was truly a day of celebration - a day of rejoicing for another year of making magic here on this little patch of land with horses like Big Guy. Now I ask you, if you were me, wouldn't you be humming, too?

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

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