A New Spirit
It was a warm, fall afternoon in September 2007. The 6th Annual Open Barn had just concluded and on all accounts had been a huge success. The sunshine was bright, the sky was blue, and if you didn't look too closely, you might think it was a spring day instead of late fall. My mind wandered as I drove home from work...
Several of The Herd had crossed already in 2007 leaving me with a heavy heart and enormous, numerous new Memory Beds to create. I would ponder the design and contents of each and certainly not hurry the process. Out of respect and out of love, I would build a memorial for each Minister that had crossed. And I knew from experience that it may be several years before all of the pieces would fit together and I would be able to stand back and say to one, "There. Now you are completed. Now you look as you deserve. Now we both can rest."
The ones that had crossed in 2007 were some of the ones with very special needs that escalated in the bitter cold of winter. Tractors at the ready to right a lying monster horse. Dried, fresh horse blankets twice daily to insure body temperatures were maintained even though the horse would spend most of the day and night lying in the wet snow. Dry bedding and plenty of hay in a huge stall since the outside was too brutal for the one whose feet were too slippery and whose body too brittle for the hard, icy ground. Those who had crossed took many needs and cares with them. And selfishly, I was feeling a bit relieved and thinking that this winter may actually be a relatively easy one for a change.
Heading home, I had my eye on the western skies. Dark, rolling clouds were heading our way and heading fast. Better get the nightly chores completed and the barns closed up for rain...
While in the barn as I was cleaning from the day, I heard the radio continue its beeping and airing of National Weather Service warnings. Or were they watches? I can never keep them straight! Which one is more severe? Regardless, I began tidying up and thought it about time to close up and latch doors against the wind and rain that was coming. The telephone rang and it was Gina. Rotations in Glenwood City! Take cover now! Get in the house and get safe!
I shifted in to high gear, closing up the big barn and headed up the driveway with Little Man to close two more doors on the old barn and then in to the house to close windows and wait it out. Heading to the doors of the old barn, I started to close the doors and then stopped. Something was different. Someone had been in the barn. I could feel it. Couldn't see anything, but I knew, absolutely knew, that someone had been in that barn. My nostrils were working hard and my eyes started squinting. Who had been in the barn?
Then I spotted the difference! The door to one of the box stalls was closed. Who would do that? The stalls were clean and I always left the doors open to let them air out. I felt it important to always have stalls at the ready to receive a horse in case of a medical emergency. Going up to the stall door, my face registered my anger. Inside that stall were two little brown ears sticking up. Now who in the world put Gracie up here in the box stall? Who was moving my horses around?
I flung open the door as if the human culprit would be hiding in the stall with Gracie! But unfamiliar brown eyes met mine. Ears that weren't Gracie's came forward at my presence. A strange nose with a button scar smelled me. And I asked, fully expecting her to explain to me, "Now, who are you?"
I stood and watched her while my mind flew and I tried to understand just what had happened here. She was a year? Maybe a tad bit more? Stunted in her growth, that's for sure. Ribs showing. Hipbones sticking out a bit. Long back legs. Cute little face with that button scar on the very end of her nose. Short mane from other horses chewing on her? Or from her rubbing? I reached out and touched her and she was as calm as could be. "Who are you, little girl? How did you get here? When did you show up? Did someone just leave you here?"
It was dark in the barn due to the storm, so I closed the stall door and flicked on the light switch. So much for being safe in the house during this storm! I was in the house long enough to grab a flashlight, a pair of gloves, and a brush. This horse of someone's in my barn was a real puzzle to me...
Back out in the barn and now with lights on and my eyes adjusted, the obvious became crystal clear to me. Someone had dropped this horse off and put her in here knowing I would find her. Someone had simply dropped this little girl off. Huh. Why was this so obvious to me now? Because, now that I could see clearly, I could see her legs and I knew she was no ordinary horse. This was a three-legged horse.
I had never seen one like this before. Let alone had one like this deposited in my barn before. Wasn't sure what to do about this one. I set about searching for a note that was left by her owners. No note in the mailbox. No note on the porch or anywhere in the barn with her. No note in the horse trailer or stuck in any of the doors. No note at all. Just her old lead rope left on the door to the stall.
While the storm raged outside, I spent the next ninety minutes going over every inch of her. Her left front chest was very underdeveloped. Her body was probably sixty to seventy percent of what it should be for a horse her age. She was hungry - eating anything and everything around her. And she drank like water had been scarce. Her hind legs? Well, one side was perfect and dainty and quick as lightning! The other, however, was far from normal. It was scarred and huge and scabby and dirty and I knew that plenty of warm water and soaking would clean off the wound, but the proud flesh was beginning. And when she stepped, that rear leg went up in the air and kind of waved around on its way back down to the ground. Almost like she really didn't know where it was going to land. Too late to restore that rear leg but I could help her with what was left.
That front leg, though. That's what puzzled me.
Her one front leg appeared longer than the other leg. She stood, in fact, with the long leg down and the hoof turned upside down. Kind of just hanging there while she ate. When it was time to move, she hopped forward on her good leg and just dragged this bad front leg along with her. The top of the hoof was rubbed smooth from all the dragging it had been through. She put no weight on this bad front leg. She was truly a three-legged horse.
And that wasn't the worst of it. Her knee on that bad front leg was the size of a cantaloupe. Huge. Full of fluid, I suspected. But upon examining her, I found the knee to be hard and solid and not really painful to her. Full of bone and cartilage from a bad, bad break.
I fed her and watered her and bedded her down for the night. Then I took the only step I knew that may reach her owners. I changed the road sign to read: "What happened to her legs? Was she born this way? How old is she? Leave a note - no names. Please." Maybe someone would leave a note or a voice mail message and I would know a bit more about her.
For the next several days, the road sign remained pleading for information - anonymous information. None ever came. So I set about trying to decide what to do with this little girl. Was it humane to support her? Was she in pain? Did she enjoy living? Was she happy and a horse? A three-legged horse, but a horse?
My answer came the very first morning she was here. It was a morning with heavy dew and so I staked her out in the yard on a forty-foot line to eat some fresh green grass. And so that I could observe her as I worked in Memory Beds and prepared the yard for the coming winter. About thirty minutes in to the morning, this little girl took her long rope, her stake, and herself straight down the driveway one step - no, one hop - at a time. With never a glance back at the stall she had spent the night in or at me, she walked - no, she hopped - down the driveway and to the barn where The Herd stood eating their breakfast.
Once in the doorway, she stood and surveyed them. Calmly. No noise, no head tossing, no snorting. Just standing there quietly and looking at them. Once she had surveyed The Herd, she then turned her head to me and in her eyes I saw that she was telling me that this, in this barn, is where she belonged. Not isolated from them, but a part of them. She was home. This little girl had traveled a long road in her short little life but now she was home.
Since the stake hadn't held her, I put her in the corral for the day. Never once did she whiny. Never once did she holler for any other horse. She watched and she ate. She had no need to smell the noses of the others and they had no need to smell her. It was like she was home for them, too. This behavior was very unusual, since a new horse usually causes quite a commotion. At a minimum, the babies would smell and holler and snort a bit. But not this time. It was as if they had been waiting for her all along.
Time passed and I soon came to put the pieces of the puzzle together. From soaking and cleaning her rear leg, I can tell you now that she got that rear leg caught in wire or that new baling twine that never rots and cuts like a knife. Her leg has ridges around it in several places and shows me that the line or wire was around that leg while she fought to free herself. And after the wound, no one had cleaned her leg and so the scar tissue and swelling and nerve damage have set in.
Her front leg? Well, I think she blew that knee out while fighting to free her rear leg from the wire. And it just hung there now. Just hung there and was dragged along as a useless limb. But we were about to change all that!
I began physical therapy with this little girl. First, I would halter her, put a lead rope on her halter, and then tie another lead rope around that useless front hoof of hers. Then I would stand directly in front of her face and pull her forward one step on her good leg. Just one step on that good leg. And then I would do two things at once: I would say, "Walk" and simultaneously pull that useless leg forward so the bottom of the hoof was on the ground.
That leg bent out at an odd angle and had no strength. But I forced her to walk on the bottom of that hoof by then pulling her forward while that bad leg was out front. At first, it was one of those "who can stand like this the longest" kind of contests. And sometimes she would win and sometimes I would win. But she got the hang of it. And if I stayed in front of her and kept her focused, she could kind of hop-walk, I called it.
Every day, four times a day, we had our rehab session. Physical therapy also included stretching that leg and rubbing it. When I pushed her too hard, she simply swung around and used her good rear leg to kick me! Clear communication at its best! I knew exactly what she was telling me - this session is over!
About ten days after her arrival, it was a beautiful evening as I went to the corral to bring her in to her stall for the night. I opened the gates to the corral and stood in the center of the opening with her halter in my hands. For ten days, she had been hop-walking (kind of) up to me and I would halter her and then wrap a rope around that foot and force her to walk in to the barn for the night. But not tonight! Nope! I saw her tummy from the underside as she reared up on those hind legs and then off she went! She flew past me on all four - yes, all four! - feet and ran in to the barn! Little Man hid in the bushes as mud was flying in the air! It was a flashy illustration of her new running skills!
Once I recovered, I, too, ran in to the barn and hugged her little neck! She could learn and she could learn quickly! She was now a four-legged horse! It was Magic! She had learned to walk!!!
There is still work to be done on that rear leg - much healing yet to be completed and maybe even some physical therapy back there, too. And the front leg? I now proudly walk beside her just like I walk any other horse! A bit more slowly, perhaps, and with one eye watching to make sure she walks and doesn't drag that front foot. Her head bobs a bit more than most horses because of her limp, but I am grinning from ear to ear! She can walk on the bottoms of all four feet! I am so very proud of her!
Her future? We take it one day at a time here at Refuge Farms. Perhaps some of the Annual May Walk for Refuge funds will be used to x-ray that knee of hers. Perhaps there is something we can do for her to help her walk a bit more easily. I just know she is here to love and adore and marvel at now.
Dr. Brian said it best, I believe, when he examined her on her first weekend here at THE FARM. He simply said, "Someone loved her a whole lot to give her up. And what better place to have a horse like this."
This little horse is determination. This little horse is patience. This little horse is stamina. This little horse is persistence. This little horse is strength. This little horse is intelligence. This little horse is playful! And this little horse has a strong will to live! She is Spirit! And this little horse is home.