Picture with Santa and the Horses

Rachael, Princess and Santa

Thanksgiving weekend, the barn where we now board our three horses had a picture with Santa or picture with your horse or both santa and your horse day.  My oldest daughter Rachael posed with her horses and with Santa and with both.

Major, Christmas 2012

The pictures are great, but even better than that, was spending time with the horses.  Before we came to this boarding facility, we boarded at a place ten minutes away and we went every day.  Now our boarding barn is 50 minutes away.  It’s a much nicer place, and cheaper, but we only get out once, maybe twice a week.  And rarely do Rachael and I go together.  It’s becoming kind of a problem.  And spending time with them this weekend, made me realize how much I miss hanging out with them on a regular basis.

Princess, Rachal and Major

Major and Princess and Galloping Grove

In September, 2012, we moved Major and Princess to a place in Wisconsin called Galloping Grove.  We wanted lots of room for them to roam and graze.  The problem with this new place is that it is a 50 minute drive from our house.  So, now we only go out once a week. 

Major, Princess and friends in 5 acre pasture.
Major grazing
Looking in at the smaller paddocks.

Rocky and Junior

Rocky and Junior

When blind Rocky was still at our old barn, every night we’d go out and graze and exercise and around 8:15 or 8:30 we’d come in.  Most people were gone by then and in the aisle of stalls where Rocky lived, there was one stall where the bars had been removed and the horse could stick its head out.  This was Junior’s stall.  He is a 20 year-old, ex-racehorse, thoroughbred that was owned by the barn.  I would put Rocky on one of the cross ties next to Junior’s stall and Junior would stick his head out and play with Rocky.  Sometimes they’d grab each other’s halters.  Or at least Junior would grab Rocky’s.  Or they’d just sort of butt each other with their heads.  It was very controlled.  If Rocky felt threatened he’d just step over a step and then Junior wouldn’t be able to reach him.  But more often than not, Rocky would come back and they’d play some more.

As we did this more and more, each night when we’d walk in, Rocky would purposely stop at Junior’s stall.  Sometimes I’d look over and they’d begin grooming each other.  First just a little, then at times, Rocky would stick his whole head inside the stall and they’d groom each other’s backs.

I was so grateful to Junior for his kindness.  He never bit Rocky or hurt him.  He seemed to understand Rocky needed some horse companionship.  When we found out the barn was closing, I worried about Junior.  He was owned by the barn and I wasn’t sure what his future would hold.  Though he couldn’t understand me, I told him I’d make sure he found a home.  I wouldn’t let him just go to a horse trader.  I owed him that much for the kindness he showed to Rocky.

Little by little all the boarder horses left for their new homes, then Rocky left for his new home.  Junior was the only one left.  There were inquires and possibilities for a new home, but they fell through or weren’t responding to call backs.  So, I waited a week and then decided I would take him to the barn where our other two horses were.  I’d buy him and then just keep him up for sale.  I’d figure out a way to afford it, until I could find him a good home.  It was the least I could do.

Me and Junior, Christmas picture at our new barn – out grazing.

Rocky and the Herd

Rocky on the right with some of the horses of the herd.

Yesterday I got an email from Sandy at Refuge Farms with pictures of Rocky out with the herd, standing with the other horses.  Finally, after about three months, he’s finally not afraid and he’s allowing the others to come up to him or maybe he goes up to them?

Rocky grazing with the herd

Now I know, he’s finally home.

Rocky Rides

Rocky at Refuge Farms Gala Fundraiser.

My second visit to see Rocky was November 3, 2012 for a yearly fundraiser that Refuge Farms puts on.  It took place at the equestrian center at the Univerisity of Minnesota on their St. Paul campus.  Halfway through the evening they presented a procession or parade of blind horses all being ridden.  Rocky (a surprise to me) was one of the horses being ridden in the parade.  A woman named Shar who is a trainer near Eau Claire, WI was riding him.  And he seemed to be loving it.  She had first been on him only a week or so before and told me that he seemed to love being ridden, they assume because he was able to go as fast as he wanted without being afraid of bumping into anything.  He really did seem happy and at ease even in a crowd of people.  He really looked good.

Later Sandy, the owner of Refuge Farms told me how calm he had been throughout the whole day and evening.  The other horses were more stressed out as they weren’t used to being in new places and to being in a stall.  Rocky, of course, was too used to being in a stall and it turns out is pretty used to having a saddle on and being ridden, although that hadn’t happened in years.  I do know that he had been ridden since going blind, but it was rare and it hadn’t been in years.  I had never seen him ridden and it was a joy to see.

I spent the night near there and the next morning discovered he was still at the University.  It seems that there really wasn’t enough room in the trailors and since the horses were stressed, they decided to wait until the next day to bring Rocky back home as he seemed just fine at the University.  So, instead of visiting him at the farm, I headed back to the University.  When I got there he was quietly standing in his stall.  I took him out and we went outside for some grazing time together.  It was just like old times, he and I out in the grass – eating, walking, eating, and me snuggling up against him to try to stay warm.  There were other horses turned out so we strolled around their paddocks and said hi and fed them some hay that had fallen outside the fence.

When Rocky got nervous because of a strange noise we just walked until he calmed and went back to eating.  Over by the other horses, he was very calm though.  When he knows he is safe on a lead rope, he prefers being in the company of other horses. 

He still doesn’t trust the other horses at Refuge Farms though and stays by himself in the pasture.  He does go out now with them, but stays alone away from the others.  This breaks my heart some, as I want him to have friends and be part of a herd as I believe every horse should.  But I know that will come in time.

It was very hard to leave him.  I know he’s happy, and very well taken care of, I just wish I lived closer so I could still be a part of his life.

Rocky at the Gala after the parade

Rocky’s New Home

Rocky and Clyde Mare grazing free in the yard.

Rocky lives at Refuge Farms now.  I went to visit him the first time on Oct. 13, 2012.  It had been about a month since I’d seen him last.  I got to take him out in the yard to let him graze and then the owner, Sandy, suggested we go out in the blind herd and try to get him used to it.  He goes out with them a few hours a day, but he is very nervous being out there around horses. 

At the beginning of his stay there, he was out in a separate area with a shelter and fenced in grassy area.  He was in there with only one other horse, a big Clydesdale mare named Cyde Mare who he got along with.  He would follow her around and eat all day.  But for two hours a day, they’d go out in the big 5-acre pasture with the blind horse herd.  Clyde Mare does fine, as she could see.  Rocky doesn’t do so well.  He’s very nervous.  I had really thought he would love being with other horses.  I think, it may be that he’s just been alone for so many years, that he’s afraid that the other horses will hurt him? 

When I was there and we first went into the herd, he was fine.  I had him at the end of a lead rope and a few other horses came up to sniff and then leave.  Rocky seemed pretty calm.  I eventually unhooked the rope and even then he stayed calm.  One of the volunteers on the farm introduced me to many of the horses, most of which, not only were blind, but had had their eyes surgically removed.  They all roamed free in this 5-acre pasture and there were two big round bales of hay for them to eat in addition to the grass in the pasture.  Of course, the grass was dying as it was October in Wisconsin.

There were two other pastures on each side.  Both of them had horses that could see but that had come to the farm to live, most of them after being abused or neglected and starved.  They had the same set up.  A grass pasture and a round bale of hay.  Each had an open barn they could go in and out of at will for shelter.

It is a good life for a blind horse, though I still worry about Rocky.  I hope that, in time, he will learn to trust the other horses in the blind herd and will be comfortable being out with them.  It makes me sad that he still must be confined in a separate area from the others, much like he was at his old home.

I did notice though that he does pretty well off his lead rope.  I saw him, more than once, stop right before he ran into something and walk around it or past it.  I think it’s wonderful that Sandy has trusted these blind horses enough to allow them to get used to life without stalls and without always being on the end of a rope.  It’s wonderful to see all the horses roaming in the big pasture.

Rocky is also a hit with people.  He is a hard horse not to love.  I’m told that the volunteers and kids that come to the farm all like to handle RockMan (his new name).  And no matter what, true to his nature, he is accepting of whatever his life brings.

Rocky’s Transport

Rocky in the yard at his new home.

The time between when we learned that the barn was closing and the time that Rocky actually left were some of the hardest days of my life.  Once I knew that he was going to the horse rescue farm, I was thrilled he was getting a chance at a new, much improved life, but knowing I was losing him as part of my life broke my heart.

I was also nervous about the trip to the new farm.  As a matter of fact, I was worried about all the horses at the farm and how their transports would go and how they would adjust to their new lives.  The farm that Rocky was going to was six hours away. I didn’t know how Rocky would react to the trailor and even though I believed in him, I was still worried.  I set about getting him used to strange surfaces under his feet.  I’d spend time taking him over wooden planks.  I’d stop at the board, tell him a new surface was coming, and to step up.  At first, he rushed over it, nervous, but as we did it more and more, he’d step onto the boards and walk calmly over.

I also wanted to make sure I never forgot anything about him.  As he would graze, I would pass my hands and my eyes over his back, and his chest, his ears, his nose, his legs.  I wanted to memorize how they all looked and how they all felt.  I wanted to remember how the muscles in his chest moved as he took a step, how his ears moved and his mouth chewed when he was trying to figure something out.  The flecks of white and grey fur on his back.  I wanted to be able to recall how he looked, how he moved, even how he smelled.

And I cried, and cried, secret tears.  And by the time, the day he was leaving came, I knew we were both ready.  A volunteer with Refuge Farms came and got him on September 23, 2012.  When she drove up and opened the back of her trailer and I saw there was no ramp, I sort of panicked. 

I had picked a bag full of grass for Rocky to take on his trip and also to use to coax him in the trailer if we needed it.  The barn manager and Rocky’s owner walked him up to the trailor and encouraged him to get in.  He tried to lift his foot, but either didn’t quite get it or didn’t want to?  After about five minutes or so of trying to get him in, I grabbed the bag of grass, walked into the trailor, took a handful of grass and said “come on bud” and in he jumped, like it was nothing.  It was a three horse, diagonal trailer and he rode in the middle.  There was a window by his head and a feed trough full of hay and what was left of the grass.  He seemed calm and accepting.

Sometimes I think one of the biggest lessons I learned from Rocky was to accept life.  He had learned to accept so much in his life and just go with it.  He may have balked at things here and there, but in the end he accepted what his life was, whether it was something major like going blind or something small like going back into the barn when he’d prefer to graze.  And I knew that now we would both come to accept his new life.