out of hibernation

a running chestnut arabian stallion
rescue stallion feeling the spring

mea culpa; apparently, i go dormant every winter.

after the coldest winter probably since the apex of the last ice age, spring is finally nosing its way in the door finally in the mountains of vermont. on monday, it was 70ºF, the first time it’s been that warm since October. The average temperature this past february was 5.1 degrees.

i’ve been having a tough winter. aside from the punishing cold, i also spent a day or two each week this winter volunteering at lucy mackenzie humane society, a local no-kill shelter that seized 23 horses last november that were being starved to death. the catch? these were horses i knew. about 13 years ago, i worked at a private breeding farm that specialized in polish arabians and had an equine population of about 40 horses. it was a stressful place to work, quirky with lots of drama and an employer who was both incompetent and unstable. the turnover was terrible except for the handful of “agricultural exchange students” (veritable slave labor), who were tied to the place for a year. i stayed there almost three years until the unreasonable demands of the owner finally got to be too much and i left. i loved most of those horses and was heartbroken to leave, but this is the line we walk when we horse people work for horse people: we love their horses, but they’re not our horses. we always have to leave them at some point, unless we get the chance to buy them. in the case of my employer, the two mares i wanted desperately to buy she refused to sell to me. she made many excuses, but i think it boiled down to her perception that i wasn’t good enough to own them by virtue of the fact that i was her employee and therefore a lesser being. i spent nearly all of those three years trying to wrest those two mares from her, but she dodged, weaseled, and flat out refused. i finally gave up and got my first rescue horses: two four-month-old PMU weanlings out of manitoba, canada. those first two led to others, to fosterlings and adoptees, and changed my life pretty profoundly.

fast forward to last november when authorities went to the farm where i used to work and found the remaining 23 horses starving and neglected in dangerous, fallen down barns with no electricity, no running water, and, in many cases, no walls, since the horses had eaten the wood inside the barns to stay alive. one stallion had already died from the neglect on the farm. two other stallions were nearly dead, too, and a handful of geldings and elderly mares were in rough shape. none of them looked like horses should look. they were thin with dull, broken fur, rain rot (a bacterial skin infection), overgrown hooves, splinters in their mouths, scrapes and gashes from the nails left behind after they had consumed the wood. worst of all, among the refugees, i found my two old girls, the mares i had wanted so badly to bring home for so long. now bona fide old ladies nearing 30 years old, they were in bad shape, but were better than most of the herd. the two ladies who had inspired me to rescue horses now needed a rescue of their own, so i used vacation time, depleted personal days, and gave up weekends and holidays to help in their recovery. i had originally hoped to bring them home to retire and complete my story with them, but i had some tough news early in the winter which changed a lot of my plans, including my plans to take on a couple more horses. fortunately, another volunteer who was also a former employee at the farm and who has a couple of young horsecrazy daughters very much wanted the opportunity to bring them home, so i happily relinquished my dibs to her. i understand that the mares are being spoiled absolutely rotten, which makes me so joyful. they are special girls and deserve the best.

the mares were the first to be fostered out. in the meantime, the owner lost custody of the horses and all but five of them have found foster or forever homes.

it has been a pretty great experience; i got to spend some time with some horses i loved and have missed for many years, met some interesting people, made some friends, and spent my off-time this winter pretty productively. i was also reminded to take joy in the time i spend with my own little herd, something i was starting to lose sight of. chores had become just that: chores. i had forgotten why i was out there working so hard.

my day job has been tough this year, i’m not going to lie. sometimes the stress can knock out everything else going on in my life and make me pretty gruff and grumpy. i used to describe my job as riding a desk, but this winter, my desk seemed to be riding me.

yesterday afternoon, i went out with a pocketful of peppermints, picked up a shedding blade, and quietly fed my soul. the early evening was cool, quiet. the springtime cacophony of frogs and plague of blackflies hasn’t started yet. a few robins shouted from the treetops, water gurgled in the low spots as the snow melted doggedly off, the sky was brilliant coral as the sun went down to the homely shuff shuff shuff of the blade working long winter fur off the hide of four happy horses.

i am continually rescued by these horses.

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