Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Twas The Night Before Christmas

'TWAS the night before Christmas
And all through the barn
Not a creature was stirring
Anywhere on the farm

The stockings were hung
On the stall doors with care
In hopes that Saint Nicholas
Soon would be there

The horses were all snuggled
Into straw-banked beds
While visions of sweet feed
Danced in their heads

And Argus was in his blanket
Chubby Half Pint going bare
Both hoping and wishing
Santa soon would be there

When out in the arena
There arose such a clatter!
They leapt into their paddocks
To see what was the matter!

The moon on the puddles
In the wet winter pasture
Made the night light so blinding
They breathed faster and faster!

When what to their
Brown horsey eyes should appear
But a jolly red sleigh
And eight hungry reindeer

In the driver's seat sat Santa
All dressed up in red
And he winked at the horses
As they spied from their beds

Then something odd happened
The horses grew brave
And Santa addressed them
Which made them quite grave:

"Now Argus! Now Half Pint!
Now Odie and Angel!
Now Ginger and Caleb!
And Ridge in the stable!"

"To your herd mates be kind
And don't waste your hay!
Take care of your riders
And love each new day!"

As dry shavings that before
The wild hurricane fly
When they meet with the winds
Mount to the sky

And suddenly the horses
Who before felt quite shy
Felt themselves flying around
With Santa in the sky!

So around the farm
The horses they flew
They looked down on the home
They loved and they knew

And then, on the house top
They thumped on the roof
And the family inside
Heard the pounding of hooves

"What's that?" they shouted
As they woke from their beds
"We thought we heard horses
Loose overhead!"

So out to the stables
The family they ran
Where they found it quite empty
Save for the horse goat, An'

They peered at the sky
For a sign of the equines
And for a moment, saw Santa
Riding Argus just fine

Then suddenly, and quietly
The horses were there
Munching hay and looking sleepy
As if they had no cares

So the lights were extinguished
The excitement went "poof"
And the family missed Santa
Spying down from the roof

To each horse, he gave a gift
And when he got to the last
It was Argus, the white one
He'd seen on many a Christmas past

"You're a good horse, dear Argus"
Santa said with a tear,
You have suffered so long
So many a year"

"I promise you will always
Have a loving, peaceful life
With pastures and buddies
An end of all strife"

Argus thought quietly
About all the nights
And the bleak Christmases of waiting
For the arrival of light

This, his second Christmas
Of freedom and cheer
He'd been a real horse, a free horse
For more than a year

Santa sprang to his sleigh
To his team gave a whistle
And winking once more at Argus
He flew away like a missile

The horses heard him exclaim
As he drove out of sight
"Merry Christmas, dear Argus!
And to all --- a good night!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Five Starfish

Just when I'm starting to feel discouraged, I remember the starfish story.

A man was walking along the beach. Ahead of him, he saw a woman dancing in the waves. As he got closer, he saw that she was throwing starfish, who had been stranded by the low tide, back into the ocean. "What are you doing?" he said to the woman. "I'm saving these starfish," she replied. The man laughed. "There are thousands of starfish along this beach who will die today. You cannot throw them all back in. You cannot possibly make a difference." The woman threw another starfish back in, and laughed. "It made a difference to that one."

Well, five starfish are sitting at the Petaluma, CA auction yard. They are five skinny senior horses who will go to auction on Monday, and they need our help. They are just five of the many hundreds of horses around the country this week who face an uncertain fate, but we have the power to help them. They have been brought there by various people who no longer want to care for them. This auction is frequented by several local slaughter dealers. If purchased by the slaughter buyers, these horses will be destined for a Mexican or Canadian slaughterhouse next week.

A tiny, grassroots local organization, Sonoma Action For Equine Rescue (SAFER), is trying to help these horses. They wish to raise the funds to bid against kill buyers on Monday and either find homes for the animals, or at the very least put them to sleep humanely, saving them the horror of a long, cold ride to slaughter.

Please contact SAFER president Kate Sullivan at or 707-824-9543 if you can help in any way. Can you offer a home, a foster home, or some funds to help Kate help these horses? I have promised Kate $50 toward this mission. Just $5 makes a huge difference. Even if just one starfish was thrown back to sea, it would be worth it.

This was posted by Kate Sullivan of SAFER in the comments section. I copied it here for easy access:

Hi - This is Kate of SAFER. My friend Katie has surprised me by posting on her blog - and I am very grateful! We don't have Paypal yet but if checks are promised I know how much I can put on a credit card on Monday at the auction. I am meeting the fellow in charge of the horses Sunday at 2pm to see what's what and get pictures.
News will be posted on my email list and on the website
We are calling this save "The Christmas Horses: Room at the Inn"
Hozzat for marketing ;-)
Thanks for caring and thank you to Katie for being a great Mom, a great friend and an Angel to horses.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Dear Santa: Please bring me my very own person for Christmas!"


Caleb, the 19-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, is still in search of a forever home. Caleb was sold at auction to a slaughter dealer in June 2008. A former stakes-winning racehorse (registered as "Mac Attack"), Caleb loves to learn and has a strong work ethic. He is a sound, athletic gentleman who loves trail riding. Caleb is learning elementary dressage and is a beautiful, uphill mover. He has schooled over low fences. He's an absolute gentleman on the ground, very easy to lead and handle. Caleb trailers well and is fairly calm in new places. He has had chiropractic and bodywork done. Best suited for an intermediate rider. He's located in Santa Rosa, California. For information on Caleb, contact Katie at


Monday, December 8, 2008

MythBusters Update --- OR --- Odie's 15 Minutes of Fame That Will Never Be...

So many people have asked that I thought it was fair to post it front and center: We received the sad news from the MythBusters producer that the ENTIRE horse myths episode was cut by the production department in Sydney, Australia.

Sadly, Odie will not be appearing on MythBusters! (Shhh....don't tell him!)

Happy Anniversary Argus: One Whole Year Of Heaven!

Today is December 8th, 2008. That means it's been a whole year since the shivering, filthy white horse came into my life. What an amazing year it has been. I thought about how far we've come the other night, when I stood in the barn aisleway, tending to Argus pigeon fever-ravaged chest. A thermometer stuck in one end, and a giant syringe stuck in the other, Argus stood, TIED, dozing while I plunged syringe after syringe into his chest, cleaning the big abscess with dilute betadine. Most horses won't stand for this, but Argus simply fell asleep, happy for the attention.

A year ago, Argus was wild, and terrified, and barely halter broke. He could not trot four steps without falling down. He shook violently, breaking out into a chilling sweat, whenever I walked him outside his paddock. His muscles were like soft bread dough. His knees shook all the time. He could not straighten his right leg. He was such a terrible mess.

One year ago, Argus stands in the corner of his paddock, a mere 24 hours after being removed from Hell. The woman in red is an animal communicator. "He misses his old home and his person," the communicator said ruefully, "and he's terrified of your neighbor's flag." Argus reported his mane to be intolerably itchy. We carefully cut it off minutes after this photo was taken. Despite is fear of us, he stood quietly while we hacked it off with scissors and brushed it out.

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Today, Argus is a happy, well adjusted horse who enjoys time out in pasture, a bucket of grain in his stall, and can be led all over our property. He's a saint on the ground, safe and kind. We are lucky to share our farm and lives with this wonderful friend:

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To celebrate the anniversary of Argus' liberation, I bring you wonderful news! The three remaining horses from Argus' former "home," Starmaker (age 22), Destiny (age 18) and Samanatha (age 12), were finally seized by Animal Control two weeks ago and are now safe and happy in CHANGE foster homes. This seizure is the culmination of months and months of work by Animal Control, the Sonoma County District Attorney's office, Dr. Miller and the Sonoma CHANGE Program volunteers and board members. It was truly a group effort, and it was not without its share of nail-biting drama!

After Argus' former owner, Patricia Tremaine, was convicted of two counts of felony animal cruelty in September, she was ordered to give up her remaining horses. Instead, she suddenly moved them off her property, telling Animal Control she had given them away. Those of us involved in this case were devastated. How could this happen??? Several CHANGE board members did some digging and discovered that Ms. Tremaine had attempted to fool the courts and Animal Control, saying she'd given the horses away when in fact she'd kept them and had them hidden at a nearby ranch. Kudos to the amazing CHANGE folks for sticking to their guns and making sure justice was served for the three horses!

Destiny and Samantha are looking for adoptive homes, and they are amazing horses! Destiny is a petite (15.1 hand) grey Trakehner-TB cross (a Tempelritter daughter for those Trakehner folks) who has been used as a lesson horse. She is broke, sweet, gentle and safe and should be sound once her hoof rehab is done.

Samantha is a GORGEOUS 17 hand bay Anglo-Arab mare. She is sound and an incredible mover. She has very little training and is not broke to ride. She has not even had her feet handled much, but she is coming around. Samantha is a project horse.

Stay tuned for Starmaker's rags-to-riches story. It's about as heartwarming as adoption stories come. He went to his new home on Saturday and is settling in nicely in his beautiful new barn. Starmaker's new family will do nothing but dote on him and make the remainder of his life wonderful. Sadly, Starmaker has cancer.

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Although the skies were, for the most part, sunny and mild, strange clouds seemed to loom silently over Watermark Farm throughout much of November. The sudden and shocking loss of our old horse friend Deema dealt a flattening blow to my normally happy family of horses and humans. It served to remind all of us, yet again, to savor all the precious moments of life, big or small, grand or meaningless.

I could not convey this to Ginger, Deema's grieving Shetland wife, who stumbled around in a daze for two solid weeks. To Ginger, my meaning-of-life observations meant nothing. To her, all had been lost on that awful Sunday evening that Deema died. Feed, comfort and companionship were meaningless. She was incredibly despondent. An animal communicator informed me that that Ginger was shocked and grieving terribly. I held the tiny Shetland pony often, weeping quietly with her as we comforted each other in the stall. Ginger, a tiny angel who has patiently carried many a young rider, looked so sad.

Also grieving was the third horse who roamed the yard with Ginger and Deema, a crippled old mare named Angel. Angel was rescued from a feedlot with her foal, both of them starving and filled with parasites. She has lived a happy existence since here at our farm.

Two weeks after Deema's death, the two old mares seem to have made sense of their sadness. They have become friends and are now grazing (and napping) together. Both are still subdued, but I hope that with time, they will find more meaning in the company of one another. Here, on a cold morning, Ginger and Angel nap together:

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The cloud of November seemed to settle on Argus. Sick with pigeon fever, Argus moped around, fighting fevers that occasionally zoomed to 105 degrees. I hovered around him, wishing desperately to give him relief. Finally, the abscess ready to lance, Dr. Miller came for a visit. After having his huge chest lanced, Argus felt some relief! I am pleased to say that he is now well on the road to recovery.

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Finally, so as not to leave you on a depressing note, here are some photos from a Pony Club trail ride. Shelby rode Odie the mule. It was a beautiful fall day here in the wine country of Northern California. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Farewell To A Friend

February 5, 1979 - November 15, 2008

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Our three greys: Deema greets Argus and Ridge on one of Argus' maiden group turnouts. Everyone loved the gentle Deema.

Our beautiful Deema, known to all as the gentle old Arabian who wandered our yard greeting visitors, crossed the rainbow bridge on Sunday, November 15 at 5pm. He lived with his usual gusto right until he became suddenly violently ill around 2pm with what looked like colic, but was later thought to have been some sort of catastrophic cardiovascular event. The vet arrived quickly and helped Deema out of his pain.

Nadeemaah was born February 5, 1979 in Texas. He was a show horse for many years before becoming a lesson horse in a a program for troubled teens. Deema joined our family six years ago. He left us just a few months shy of his 30th birthday.

We were blessed to have this beautiful creature cross our path and will miss his sweet personality and gentle whinny. He was a dear horse who could be trusted with the smallest child. Many children took their first ride on Deema, who always walked so carefully.

Deema's "wife" Ginger, our Shetland pony, has been grieving deeply. Please keep her in your thoughts as she struggles to adjust to life without her constant companion. All of the horses at Watermark Farm had a special affection for Deema, who always offered to groom them over the fence. He was the kind old grandfather horse who made everyone happy.

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Deema counsels Argus about life, friends, pasture and holding still for the farrier. A little white teddy bear in winter, Deema invited hugs and affection from humans and horses alike.

Mourning, too, is our daughter, 10-year-old Shelby. Deema was her first horse and first love. She groomed him daily and always made sure his every need was met. She sat with his body for two long hours after he died, crying softly into his mane. Later, she told me she'd seen a shooting star in the northern sky. "That's a message from Deema," I said, telling her that when my first horse died I, too, saw a shooting star. "It means he's okay."

When Shelby's first pony died on a cold January evening seven years ago, I gazed at the flat winter sky, trying to understand such an unfair loss. A beautiful shooting star streaked across the heavens.

I thought about this as I stood with Deema's body late on the night of his death. I thanked this gentle soul for all he'd given my family. A tear rolled down my cheek as I said a silent prayer. Then I had the strongest urge to look up.

Across the inky dark sky, a brilliant white shooting star flew on by.

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Just one day out of prison, Argus takes his shaky first walk outside the barn. Deema followed along quietly, and seemed to tell him "It's OK! It's OK!"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Dreaded Pigeon Fever

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After a peaceful summer in which Argus led the charmed life of a newly-freed prisoner, fall has presented Argus with challenges. I dearly wish I could somehow protect him from worry and discomfort, but I can't. He's endured enough hard times to fill ten lifetimes.

First, his friend Ridge has lately been confined to what Argus rightfully views as JAIL --- a paddock. Ridge's hind end lameness has progressed to the point where it's become a four-alarm event . We're getting close to figuring out what ails Ridge, but meantime, he's been sentenced to paddock jail with twice daily handwalks.

Argus, meantime, swaps Pigeon Fever stories with Half Pint and Caleb, as all three geldings have contracted this infection so common in California.

It's been weeks now that I've been hot packing and cleaning and draining and cleaning and draining and hot packing chest and belly abscesses. Half Pint was the first to get it. His case has been the most spectacular. Argus followed quietly with a simpler belly abscess requiring minimal intervention. That was so like Argus, to get sick and nearly get better without even letting me know.

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Still, he hasn't felt like his usual, sparkly self for a few weeks, and the on again, off again fever that gives Pigeon Fever its name has taken its toll (the pigeon part comes from the characteristic swollen chest, making the horse look like rather pigeon-like). Argus has lost quite a bit of weight and now, as a second large abscess is developing in his chest, is sore, too.

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His arthritic knee is due for another joint injection as well. His eyes are just a bit less merry than normal as he stalks Half Pint through the pasture. I feel sorry for him, yet, I know he's experiencing life, and all it has to offer. Good and bad.

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Still, Argus makes the most of things. He enjoyed our recent first real rain of the season, rolling in the new mud until we joked that he was dressed up like a bay horse for Halloween. I realized later that this was yet another first for Argus as he closes in on a full year of freedom --- the singular pleasure of rolling in mud that hours before had been dry, powdery dirt.

"It's all normal stuff, buddy," I counsel Argus as he lets me tend to his swollen chest. I wish I could lift his spirits with a deep discussion of the duality of life, and how pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, and health and disease exist side by side. Instead, I do the next best thing and offer him a horse cookie. He accepts it gratefully, chewing it slowly and licking his lips as he half dozes in the warm fall sun.

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Last, but not least, Caleb is still looking for his forever home. He's schooling elementary dressage and recently attended a Pony Club lesson. He is a 19-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, a former stakes winner who won eight major races, most won wire-to-wire. His drive to win is evident in his serious work ethic. Caleb loves to learn and takes our schooling sessions seriously. He is a beautiful mover and is sound, and has a level head on the trail. Caleb is looking for an intermediate adult rider to help write the rest of his rescue story. Please contact Katie at for information on Caleb.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Guilty!!! Justice for Katie, Jack and Yiyo

In memory of the horse Yiyo. We wish we could have spared you such suffering. You live in our hearts, and you will never be forgotten...

On the heels of such sad news with Athena, I'm pleased to announce a GUILTY verdict in the criminal animal cruelty trial, People v. Barrera, Valencia!!! The people who neglected Sonoma CHANGE Program horses Katie and her horse companions Jack and YiYo will now face the consequences of their actions.

I was one of dozens of people who attended the trial. We were told that not even murder trials had such a large audience. This, in turn, generated tremendous media attention.

Following Mr. Barrera's guilty verdict, a stunned audience watched as he was handcuffed in the courtroom and taken to the county jail, where he will stay WITHOUT BAIL until sentencing on November 26. For those close to this case, November 26, 2007 is the day that Mr. Barrera's horse YiYo died an excruciating death, alone in a stall without medical attention, of a intestinal twist.

So here is the press coverage. Please join me in celebrating this victory. Here in Sonoma County, animal cruelty cases have rarely seen the inside of a courtroom. The Sonoma CHANGE Program, The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office, and Sonoma County Animal Care & Control are now working together to set a precedent of aggressive prosecution of crimes against animals. We hope these efforts will inspire other counties around the nation.

Bloomfield couple on trial for abuse in horse's death

Woman in horse-abuse case says boyfriend was in charge

Horse cruelty trial nears conclusion

Defendant guilty in death of horse

Plea bargain in horse cruelty case

Woman accepts deal to avoid retrial in horse abuse

Katie during rehabilitation at a CHANGE Program foster farm:

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Katie rides Katie in a training session last August at Watermark Farm:

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Katie's daughter, Rich Debut (chestnut on right), actively raced on the West Coast in 2008. Please keep your eye out for her as she, like many racing TBs, may eventually need a new home. Katie also has a 2-year-old son living on a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Vacaville, CA. The farm owner would like to place him. Please contact me if you are interested in Katie's son, and I will connect you with the farm owner. These two horses are Katie's only living offspring.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Last Horse Out of Hell

It is with great sadness that I announce that Athena was humanely euthanized today. She was not doing well in her foster home, and was slamming into her stall walls , creating a serious hazard for her caretakers (one of whom was injured by Athena). The Sonoma CHANGE Program provided Athena with separate evaluations from two veterinary opthalmologists as well as Dr. Miller. Athena had no vision in one eye, and a painfully detached retina in the other. She was in constant pain from her eyes and her badly foundered feet. Athena has crossed the rainbow bridge and is now in a better place. You are free now, Athena.

Athena was the last horse to leave Argus' hell. Last Monday, she waited quietly in the littered pasture for her long-awaited rescue, alone in so many ways.

Athena, we discovered sadly, had become profoundly blind. An opthalmologist confirmed the next morning that uveitis, untreated, had robbed Athena of her sight. Her retina is painfully detached. The prognosis is not good.

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She stretched toward our voices, her beautiful face bright and eager. She could see our general movement, light and shadows, but that was all. Still, she trusted three Sonoma CHANGE Program volunteers to halter her, even though touch was so unfamiliar, and scary, and allowed me to lead her through the junkyard that has been her home since birth.

This is Hell: This is the home where Argus and his horse family spent their lives. You can see the infamous mare motel in the photos. This is where Argus was locked up for 15 years:

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I could sympathize with Athena's blindness, with the challenge of walking through narrow pathways between piles of junk. The saying "seeing red" came to mind, for I had come face to face not only with the blind Athena, but with Pat, the woman who had cruelly imprisoned and mistreated Argus.

Pat The Hoarder followed behind me, shouting: Get your hands off her face!! I want some pictures of her. I need to get her set up for pictures! I rode this mare's father, and mother, and grandfather! She's a champion! I had her whole family! Now get off her face, god dammit!! Get away from her!

It took me everything I had to maintain control. "You've had your chance to take pictures," I growled, shaking, with shallow breath. My field of vision became narrow, spotted, red. Blinded by rage, and dragging a strangely trusting blinded mare behind me, I fled down the driveway, to the country road below.

"Just walk with me, sweetie, I won't hurt you," I whispered urgently to Athena, as we stumbled down Goodwyn Avenue. "We are here to take you to a safe place. You must leave this place now. Please walk with me, trust me."

And she did.

This place. This hell. This raging madwoman trailing behind me, screaming about photos and "setting her up." I had, at long last, come face to face with Argus' jailor. I was filled with a sort of blinding rage that I've almost never experienced.

Here is Argus' prison. This is the mare motel where he spent his whole life. This is the tiny 12 by 16 paddock that was home. This is the still filthy water tub that he drank out of for years.

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This was Argus' view from prison:

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Two doors down, the TV show "Extreme Home Makeover" had once descended upon the neighborhood to tear down an aging farmhouse and rebuild it into a country estate. I remember visiting the site and watching them gut the house. I did not know that, just a few hundred feet away, Argus eagerly took in the activity:

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At the trailer, Athena sniffed hopefully. To our knowledge, she'd never set foot in a horse trailer. The former owner stood behind us, barking orders that made no sense, rambling on and on about horses, and Athena, and how finely bred she was. I stood inside the trailer, speaking softly to Athena, urging her to step inside:

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Horses seem to know when you are trying to help them. Strange things happen in the urgent atmosphere of a rescue situation. Horses who have never been handled allow themselves to be haltered. Blind mares who have never been transported climb willingly into a horse trailer. And that is what happened with Athena. After 15 minutes of inching into the open trailer, bumping her sightless head into the sides and trusting the voice of a stranger, Athena climbed in.

Her jailor stood behind her, watching with palpable rage before silently disappearing into the house. The last horse to go.

A prison decommissioned.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Katie Gets Her Day In Court

Do you live in Sonoma County? Do you have time to attend part of a trial next week? The trial "People v. Barrera & Valencia" is scheduled to start Monday, October 20. Salvador Barrera and Laura Leticia Valencia have been charged with felony animal cruelty. They are accused of starving three horses, one of whom died.

Katie, who has been profiled in earlier blog entries, was one of their horses. She survived by eating tree bark and her own feces.

Please visit the Sonoma CHANGE Program legal message board for trial schedule and details. If you live in the area and can attend, they'd love to have you. Filling up the courtroom sends the message to everyone that animal abuse will not be tolerated, and it will not be kept secret.

Thank you!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Fourth Season

FALL IS HERE, ushered in by crisp nights and warm days and the first Canada geese to arrive, jet lagged and relieved, for their winter lodging. The stately old flowering pear tree's green crown is polka-dotted with gold and crimson leaves. Soon, it will be a fiery mass of red standing alone near the farm's entrance, ushering in another season with a joyful shout.

As summer slides into a casual California autumn, the horses wind down. Once sleek, they take on a fuzzy quality, silhouettes soft against the kind of fantastic jack-o-lantern sunsets that only October can bring. Sensing the change, the pasture residents wander in earlier in the afternoon, nosing about their feed boxes for scraps of hay and looking wistfully toward the warm box stalls in the barn. Andy the goat assists them, opening paddock gate latches with his prehensile lips, putting himself away with his best friend, Half Pint.

Argus is entering his fourth season of freedom, bringing full-circle the happiest year of his life. It's his first fall out in the world, and he's having so much fun. His life in prison came with a good view of a quaint rural valley dotted with cottages and trees, and Argus became an observer. His name, after all, means "watchful." Now Argus is a participant; he rarely raises his head to look for things in the distance now. He's a real horse, head down low to the earth, sharing grazing rights to the last of the summer grass with migrating birds, his three equine siblings, and a goat that thinks he's a horse. Last week, our first rain awakened sleepy seeds, and now fragile emerald green baby blades of grass peek out from the earth and reach for the sky. The horses are delighted with this sweet and unexpected treat.

Argus has been free for 10 months, and it shows. Even in bright sunlight, I cannot always tell Ridge and Argus apart, the words "which one are you?" constantly on my lips. Argus really looks like a Thoroughbred now, his body no longer kinked and atrophied. It makes me wonder how he'll be with another year of pasture life under his belt. I look at their tails, once the best indicator: Argus' tail was short from where it had been hacked off just below the tail bone. A year later, it's below his hocks, and soon to catch up with Ridge's. Argus proudly uses his tail to protect Ridge's face from flies.

These two are almost never apart, and move in unison in a way that I have not seen before in pasture mates, like an unmounted, unbridled pas de deux. They are so beautiful together. Ridge, whose hocks are fusing, and who is sore while we wait for this process to finish, prefers to move at the walk as much as possible. While the rest of the herd pounds in at a gallop, Argus jogs patiently alongside his friend. You can see it on his face, the restraint it requires to, for a few moments, gear down from his spectacular, ground-eating medium trot. He tempers his love for floating about the pasture with his admiration for his best friend, who cannot fly with him just yet.

All these things I observe closely, as I learn much from Argus: How to be a friend. How to appreciate quiet moments, like a tart fall apple, or a smile from a stranger in the grocery store. How a gentle hand and some patient words might alter the course of a life, although we may never know it. How to slow down and look around, breathing in the season at hand, sitting expectantly underneath an autumn sky. How to appreciate anger and sorrow as catalysts for change. How moments and days and weeks and years are woven into an intricate web that is a life.

We, the weavers, choose the colors of the threads, and the beauty of the pattern. It's behind us, within us, and ahead of us, a vision always in the making, never finished, continually changing. Our animals, our children, our friends and lovers, all part of this intricate pattern. Argus runs through my tapestry, a slightly tattered white thread that wraps itself around a myriad of events from my 40th year, sent here by forces unknown to remind me and the world that life, with all its pleasures and heartaches, is a beautiful creation well worth clinging to.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Handsome Caleb, Beautiful Katie, and Famous Argus

Last July, a 19-year-old Thoroughbred gelding named Caleb (formerly called Cayenne) joined the adoption program here at Watermark Farm. Caleb was rescued from a feedlot -- and slaughter -- by my friend Nanci.

Here is Caleb when he first arrived at the farm. He was standoffish and unfriendly and just so sad. You can see the many bite and kick marks on his body, probably a result of putting him into a feedlot full of strange, and equally stressed, horses. Auctions and feedlots are very stressful places.

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Here is Caleb last weekend, with Nanci on board. He's now a happy fellow with merry eyes. He's come a long way, and is now officially available for adoption. Could you be Caleb's forever partner?

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Caleb is fun to ride (has a western background), likes to work and learn new things, and bathes, ties, trailers and travels well. He is a good trail horse. Caleb is learning elementary level dressage and enjoys basic fencework. He is quite sound, and a lovely mover.

Caleb has had dental care, chiropractic care, is fully vaccinated and wears front shoes. He has nice feet, and would be a good barefoot candidate.

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KATIE is happy in her new home in Colorado. Her new mom, Robyn, is riding her and getting help bringing Katie along in her training. Here is an excerpt of her latest update:

Katie has really settled in. She seems very happy to be back working. She was ridden 4 times last week and 4 times this week. As she's been able to handle it we've made each ride more interesting/ more work.....
....Katie knows I'm not the food lady. But I am the lady with the yummy stuff. I bring her a little bit of senior mixed with the probiotics and electrolytes. So I get nickers for that. Yesterday we had a good rain storm. The barn roof is metal so it can be loud during a down pour. Katie didn't care. She likes to stand with her head sticking out into her run (not when its raining) and watch what is going on in either of the outdoor arenas. And she does like her neighbor Blue the 27 year old - old guy. She nickers if he is out and comes back in. ....
I've made sure someone is babysitting me when I ride Katie. But I feel really comfortable with her. I think riding her is definitely within my abilities, but I like my back up team to help make sure we keep her relaxed and that I am fair about what/how I ask. I've got such a nice, soft, sweet mare I don't want to mess with that!!!


ARGUS, well, he's just Argus. He continues to build muscle and look more like a horse. His routine is the same every day. He's turned out 24/7 with Ridge. In the morning, Half Pint and Odie the mule are turned out with Ridge and Argus, and the four friends have breakfast together. After a long drink, they make their way out to the far reaches of the pasture to graze. Back and forth, back and forth, all day they come in for water and go back out for the brown, dry grass. It's a small turnout, only 6 acres, but to Argus it's an entire universe.

Every evening, Odie and Half Pint are brought back in, and Ridge and Argus, our two resident "skinny" Thoroughbreds, are presented with piles of hay and their buckets of feed and supplements. The only time I see Argus weaving, these days, is when he's patiently waiting for his evening feed.

If I ride Ridge, Argus watches calmly from his pasture. He's not herd-bound, and happily accepts the company of whatever equine is with him. Sometimes, I bring Argus into a paddock while I ride. Because he becomes a bit anxious at times when he's locked into a paddock, I keep these sessions short, and full of fun and feed. It's important that Argus retain the ability to be confined, but I cannot blame him for feeling anxious. I would, too!

The other night, I gave the horses a midnight snack, and spent a few minutes standing at the gate, talking to Argus. "Do you have any idea how FAMOUS you are, Argus?" I asked him. "Did you know that people from all over the world love you?" I gave him a hug as sidled up to the gate, telling him how much I loved him and how happy I was that he would stay with me forever. We ended the night with a smile and a hug. I really do think Argus understands.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


"GUILTY -- a delicious word, so much more satisfying than french fries!"
- Anonymous reader comment

TEN POUNDS OVERWEIGHT, I sat yesterday in my Suburban in the parking lot of Burger King, trying to overcome a rare urge to eat french fries. I'd been stacking 110 pound hay bales all day, and was exhausted. I estimated I'd moved nearly 5,000 pounds of hay, all by myself. Surely I'd burned enough calories to cheat, just this once?

I was seriously contemplating fried food when the cell phone rang. It was Dr. Miller. I had been waiting anxiously to hear about the outcome of the hearing of Argus' former owner.

"Guilty!!!" Dr. Miller announced proudly, "She's guilty of two counts of felony animal cruelty."

Argus' former owner (let's call her the FO) had waived her right to a trial in favor of an open hearing where a judge would decide her fate. Last Friday, September 12, justice was at last served. The FO will not serve jail time. She will, however, serve three years of probation and she may not own animals during this period.

And what about Sammy, Destiny, Athena and Starmaker -- the four remaining horses? The FO has 30 days to sell them or give them away. But don't panic!! Any new home must be approved by the director of Animal Services, AND they must go back to court to seek court approval for a specific new owner. Basically, they've made it extremely difficult for the FO to dispose of the horses improperly. She may NOT sell them for slaughter, and she may not euthanize them. The local auction yard, rendering pickup man, and slaughter buyers have all been informed that these four horses are protected under court order.

Everyone is hoping and praying that the 30 days will pass quickly, because at the end of that period (October 13), the FO must surrender the horses to Animal Services, who will in turn surrender them to the Sonoma CHANGE Program.

Arrangements are being made for temporary foster care, but these horses need loving, permanent adoptors waiting in the wings. Are you in a position to give one of these horses a forever home??? All four horses are tame, friendly, and were once ridden and shown. They are heavier type Arabians, or Trakehner/Arabian crosses. All are in their teens or early 20s. Please contact me at if you would like information about adopting one of these sweet horses.

So many people have worked so hard on this case. Many thanks go to Dr. Grant Miller, the Sonoma CHANGE Program, Sonoma County Animal Care & Control, the district attorney who worked so hard on this case (she's a blog reader now, too), and the commissioner who decided it was time for justice. Thanks, too, go to all the neighbors and concerned citizens who kept up the heat.

Today, I drove by the FO's filthy property. I could see all four horses from the street. Two are out in pasture, and two are locked in the mare motel. They are beautiful horses, three dark and one gray. A friendly bay gelding with a wide blaze and a swollen sheath limped along toward me, nickering softly. His dull eyes were puffy from flies. We were less than ten feet apart. "Just three more weeks," I whispered as he looked at me, "we will get you out of here buddy, I promise."

Most of the horses look heavy, with fat, cresty necks and lumpy bodies. They have probably foundered in the past. Since all four have been owned by the FO for many years, they have likely never received regular deworming or hoof care. We do not kow how sound they will be. They certainly have not been fed properly! In the mare motel, I saw rotting produce and a dirty plastic bag in one horse's feeder.

It was hard to drive away. As I did, I looked in my rear view mirror. The bay with the blaze watched me solemnly as I disappeared from sight.


For those who keep asking about Odie and MythBusters, we still do not have an air date! I have been asked to check back in early October. The show will not air before November. I will post a date as soon as I know!


Thank you for all your beautiful words and warm wishes on our adoption of Argus. We are lucky people to have such an amazing creature like Argus in our lives. We are also lucky people to have such tender-hearted people, all over this beautiful planet, who share Argus with us. Thank you!

Some have asked what they can do to help with the ongoing cost of keeping Argus. Please consider making a charitable donation to the Sonoma CHANGE Program or another animal welfare organization. The CHANGE Program subsists solely on donations, which stretch far since Dr. Miller donates so much of his time to the program. If Argus' sister and her brothers are brought into the program, as we hope they will, CHANGE will need some assistance with the cost of their care until they are adopted.

Helping animals in need does not have to involve donations, either. PLEASE, if you see an animal in need, pick up the phone and call your local Animal Control department, and report it! Follow up on your call, and don't give up!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Ending. Happy Beginning.

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"...and so I have nothing to fear; and here my story ends.
My troubles are all over, and I am at home."

--Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

TWICE IN MY LIFE, I found myself pondering the upcoming placement of a foster horse with a feeling of weight and dread, a sort of uncomfortable lump in my throat that would not go away. It's always bittersweet, releasing the amazing souls who have crossed paths with me into the hands of someone kind and deserving. I know I will miss them terribly, yet I know their path is meant to curve gently away from mine. I watch them from afar, like a mother bird whose fledglings one day fly purposefully away from the nest.

Twice, and only twice, I've not been able to bring myself to be that brave mama bird, feeling, instead, that I was the one meant for this horse. The first time, with my gray gelding Ridge, I felt ill each time I made an adoption flyer, or placed an ad, or talked to potential adoptors. It was a strange feeling of unrequieted love, as if we were star-crossed friends destined to part. I took Ridge to dressage shows, on trail rides, and spent sweet moments having quiet chats with him in the stall. He felt like my horse. I wanted so badly to keep him.

But it's not always that simple, especially when you already own several horses and, at times, struggle to pay for it all. My husband (bless his heart), who grimaced silently when I finally confessed my pain over Ridge, simply said: "Happy Mother's Day --- Forever!" And with that, Ridge was mine, and the unbearable weight of not knowing was lifted.

With Argus, it has been different. For months, I have trudged along with the honest intent of placing him. Placed ads. Made flyers. Wrote about him in a blog that I sincerely hoped would produce a few good home leads. The amazing thing is that with thousands of people reading Saving Argus, in all these months, not one person has wanted to adopt Argus. Not one single inquiry. Not one.

It's hard not to love Argus. Despite years of abuse, he is an innocent, a sweet, gentle, wise old soul who's quite unlike any horse I've ever met. I watched a horse who was once miserable and confused transform into a happy little being who sort of skipped through every moment of his day. Eating, sleeping, drinking and companionship were a joyous new dance for Argus. It reminded me that my seemingly mundane life, and the sometimes daunting responsibilities that come with it, was more a little slice of paradise than a burden. Gaining this sort of perspective was a blessing. Getting it from a horse was nothing short of amazing.

Every day, I watched Argus amble happily through the pasture, Ridge faithfully at his side, the two of them moving in such unison that they looked like mirror images. Every day, I saw Argus blink sleepily at Half Pint's half-hearted instruction, or nuzzle Odie's flank under the shade of the redwood tree. They looked like a little horse family, the four of them together, and I was struck by the feeling that Argus was just so damn happy. How could I take that away? How could I uproot him from this happy life? How could I take him away from his family?

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And so, after great consideration (and the promise of ongoing help from a few friends), it's been decided that Argus shall stay at Watermark Farm. Forever. He's been adopted by us.

I hope you will stick around and keep reading about the continued adventures of Argus and his twin brother and soul mate, Ridge, as well as all the other denizens of Watermark Farm. For now, it's an ending to one story...and the beginning of another that I hope will continue for years to come. I sure would like it that way.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Courtroom Antics

I jokingly call Dr. Miller "the Jack Bauer of the courtroom" because he's one tough cookie who won't back down. It's because of the hard work and tenacity of Dr. Miller, the Sonoma CHANGE Program, Sonoma County Animal Care & Control and the Sonoma County District Attorney's office that we even have an Argus to blog about. Without their efforts, Argus would still be a nameless soul stuck in hell on a dirty 3-acre farmette. Without their efforts, Argus' former owner would not be facing two felony counts of animal cruelty. It's taken more than 15 years to bring this woman to justice. Here's where things stand:

The defendant smartly gave up an August trial in favor of a plea bargain, which means she agreed to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a lesser penalty. It's done all the time. Pushing a case to trial is time consuming and opens one up to the whims of a jury, and many juries just don't take kindly to horse abusers. Today, a plea bargain hearing took place. The outcome made those of us working to save the last four horses pleased. The judge offered the defendant a good deal which involves giving up her animals and serving probation. The defendant did not like the offer, and asked to go to trial anyway. The judge gave her 7 days to decide whether to accept the plea bargain. If she opts to go to trial, we will be in for many more months of the legal process in action. A trial could be very bad for her.

So we'll know more next Friday, when the next hearing takes place, and we find out whether the defendant will accept the deal on the table or continue professing her innocence and push for a trial. It sucks, but that's how the system works. This convoluted and incredibly fair (most of the time) judicial process is part of what makes our country a good place to live. We have the right to a trial.

The defendant would be wise to accept the judge's offer. But she might not, because she's a hoarder, and hoarders don't think like normal people. They hold onto their animals until the bitter end and would prefer to take their animals down with them.

For now, the four horses remain in the defendant's possession. They are not safe.

I drive by the four horses every two weeks. They are not suffering. They are neglected but are living out in pasture. They have not been locked up like Argus. Their feet are long, but I've seen worse. They have foundered in the past, so that's the biggest worry about them. Their manes are knotted and dreadlocked just like Argus' mane was. Their tails are matted and awful. But they are not suffering terribly at this point. They are all Trakehner/Arabian crosses, very pretty horses, mostly in their late teens. One is gray. Their names are Sammy, Athena, Starmaker and something else I can't remember.

All we can do is say some prayers this week. We will know next Friday, September 12, what will happen next. I will post a case update as soon as I know something.

In the meantime, please say a little prayer that the defendant will return to court next Friday and accept the plea bargain.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

See next post

See next post for court case update.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"You Complete Me!" Katie Finds Her Forever Family

ONCE UPON A TIME there was a horse named Katie. She was born in 1999 in the state of Washington and became a Thoroughbred racehorse named "Di's Debutante." Katie was exquisitely beautiful, but her beauty did not win races. She ran too slow, and was retired to a breeding farm, where she had three beautiful foals. Katie was friendly, and liked being a mother.

Katie's happy times ended one day, when the breeding farm sold her. She eventually wound up living in someone's back yard. They did not understand horses, and often forgot to put out hay. There was junk everywhere. Katie and her two horse companions grew thinner and thinner. Eventually, the people stopped feeding them at all.

Time went on, and Katie grew desperate. There was no feed. She ate tree bark and her own manure. She was no longer the beautiful debutante of her racing days. Katie grew depressed. Eventually, one of her companions died. The people did not care.

One bleak winter day, when she had nearly lost hope, Katie had a dream. In her dream, white trucks pulled up, and people got out. She heard voices speaking urgently. A gentle hand slipped a halter on her; a quiet voice told her she was safe now. Katie did not want to wake up from this dream.

Suddenly, Katie did wake up. She was being led toward a trailer, where she and her companion, Jack, were loaded up. Katie felt hope for the first time in a long time. She was taken to a beautiful farm. A tall young man with a kind face looked her over and gave instructions for her care.

For the next four months, Katie slowly became a princess again. The young man (a horse doctor, she surmised) visited her often. She and Jack gained weight and wore warm blankets. They roamed a large pasture with friends, eating grass and their fill of hay.

Katie felt happy again, yet something was missing.

One day, her foster mother came to her and said: "You are healed now, Katie. Soon you will go to a farm where they will find out about your training."

Katie soon found herself in a trailer again, heading north toward a small, quiet farm. She liked it there and settled in well. She liked the food lady, who always seemed surrounded by dogs and children. The food lady let Katie show her all the things she knew --- how to take a bath, how to be fly sprayed, how to go into a trailer, and how to be ridden. The food lady got on Katie's back and together, they learned more about riding. Katie liked this.

Time went by, and Katie was happy. She loved people, and dogs, and other horses. She loved going places in the trailer. She loved the food lady, who made sure she always had food. She loved the children, and even the chickens.

Katie was happy, but something was still missing.

One day, the food lady came to Katie and said: "Katie, it's time for us to look for your very own home now. You will go to a home where you will always be cherished and protected, where you will never be sold, and you will never feel hungry or desperate again." Katie thought this sounded like a good idea. She had heard about horses having their own person. She thought this sounded very nice.

Not long after, a lady from Colorado saw Katie's photo on the internet, while she was reading about another horse the food lady was helping: Argus. The nice Colorado lady emailed the food lady, and they began to talk. They talked and talked. They talked to the horse doctor, too. And then the food lady talked to the Colorado lady's vet, and riding coach, and horse friends. And then they talked some more. After that, it was decided that the Colorado lady would come to California to meet Katie.

The Colorado lady and her adventurous husband drove and drove, all the way from Colorado to California. She was so excited! She had known the first time she saw Katie's picture, that something was special about Katie. When she met Katie she knew: this was her horse. She spent five days playing with Katie and riding her in California.

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Katie soon discovered that she had figured out what had been missing: her very own person. She snuggled into the Colorado lady's arms and listened to stories of all the good times that lay ahead. "My very own person," Katie thought happily to herself. Katie, at long last, was now complete.

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Katie with her new parents, Robyn and Mike of Colorado. Katie will join the family's horse Dalton and her canine sister, Taya (who also traveled from Colorado to meet Katie). Besides being wonderful people with a tremendous sense of compassion and responsibility, Robyn and Mike are long-time horse owners who view Katie as a member of their family. Look for Robyn and Katie in a hunter/jumper show in 2009!!

Many thanks go to the hardworking Dr. Grant Miller and the many volunteers of the Sonoma CHANGE Program for making Katie's happy ending possible.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Oh Argus, Get Over It!!"

You could almost hear him shouting: "My bum is clean! My bum is clean!" as he scrambled in a circle around me, wild with a kind of half-frightened, half-satisfied excitement. It was Argus having a bath, but this time "going all the way." For 15 years, water and baths were not part of Argus' life experience, so the going has been slow. Months of hosing only the front legs, then the chest. He learned to like that. We moved on to the back legs and the belly. Then the neck and shoulder. And finally, yesterday, my patience wearing thin, I went for it, told Argus to "get over it!" and hosed him down completely. He stood quietly for most of it, but circled wildly around me once we got to the forbidden zone: his rump.

So yesterday, Argus stood before me, shaking and quaking but not terribly afraid. We both got a bath, my bum being the only dry part of me simply because it was located on the opposite side as my soaked front. Argus stood, dripping. I patted him and cooed at him: "Oh, Argies! You are SUCH a good boy! You are SO smart! You are the BEST and SMARTEST horse ever!"

Argus looked pleased. Argus looks pleased a lot these days.

I released him back into the pasture, where his twin and constant companion, Ridge, stood waiting. They commiserated for a moment, breathing secrets into each other's nose. Maybe Ridge was telling Argus bath stories from the race track, but whatever, they both stomped off in mock disgust at my insistence that Argus have a wet butt.

And they both rolled right in front of me, one wet, one dry, as a show of solidarity.

This full-monty bath came on as a result of the fact that Argus was actually really sweaty. For although Argus leads a life of movement and leisure in a 6-acre pasture, and he trots and canters neat little circles on a regular basis, he doesn't exactly break a sweat. Let's just say that he need "more cardio."

Behind our property is a hay field that's farmed by a grumpy hay rancher. Finally, Mr. Grumpy Hay Rancher has picked up the 650 bales that peppered the field. They sit in a neat stack. We ride in this field every year once the hay is picked up, so yesterday Demi and Odie The Mule took their first hayfield ride of 2008. Argus' eyes practically popped out of his head. Back to the old high-headed, distant gazing stance he went, spacing out and trembling at the sight of a speck of white mule cantering 20 acres in the distance. All the other horses looked out at Odie in the hay field with amusement. For Argus, it was A Big Event.

"What a horse he might have been," I thought as I sighed and watched this magnificent animal, with his fabulous, uphill, suspended trot float around the pasture. "He had the talent to be an upper level horse," I observed as Argus' picked up the canter, making a tidy 20 meter circle to the right, then executing a perfect flying change of lead before re-balancing himself and circling left.

If you squint your eyes when Argus moves like this, blurring your vision for a moment and ignoring the disturbing pelvis, the ribs, the sea of awkward, jutting bones, the hooves flared to support years of constant weaving, the freakishly unlevel sacrum, and a front left limb that quivers from knee arthritis and contracted tendons ---- for a moment, you can imagine Argus in braids and a saddle, chugging down the center line in a dressage test.

He'll never carry a rider. For his deformed body, it would be too painful. So Argus executed his own little test out in our pasture as he watched Odie in the distance. When he had completed his workout, his neck and shoulders were glistening with a kind of healthy, clear sweat. Just like a sporthorse in training, Argus ended his session with some words of appreciation, cookies, a bath, and a roll. I like to think the other horses were giving him nods of appreciation, and maybe a "10" for effort. I certainly was.


Katie is coming along so well! She's learning the fine points of half halt (translation: BRAKES), and yesterday took her first trail ride through the vineyard with me. It's always an adventure to retrain a horse whose earliest rides took place at a gallop in a large, open space (the race track). Katie took one look at the long, manicured rows between the vines and I could feel her heart start to pound, some distant memory awakened. "No Katie," I told her, "no racing today." Riding a somewhat unknown track-broke horse out on the trail for the first time can be an adrenaline-filled experience, even for the most experienced person. Katie was a doll, soft and mostly calm, never spooking even when vineyard irrigation pipes made snake-line noises at her.

On our maiden trail ride, we kept Katie sandwiched between Odie The Mule, who is a trail expert, and Ginger The Shetland Pony, who's older than time. Katie appreciated her company's casual approach to the whole experience and didn't seem to mind that her field no longer consisted of fellow fine Thoroughbreds but a funny old mule and pony. She buried her nose in Odie's rump and used Ginger as a convenient place to scratch her itching head (an activity curtailed when it was learned that Katie had secret plans to kick Ginger!). Katie finished the trail ride at the back of the pack.

Katie is such a wonderful horse; she deserves a lifetime of love ahead. She suffered unspeakably at the hands of someone who felt she didn't deserve to be fed. Her former owners will stand trial on felony counts of animal neglect in early October. I will attend the trial (and as we get closer to it, I will post the trial information so that locals can, too!) in early October and let you know what happens. It was quite an experience to sit in the courtroom recently and watch the defendants enter their "not guilty" pleas. I kept hearing Dr. Miller's voice: "Katie was surviving by eating horse manure." I can still see the image of Katie's dead companion. Are the defendants at all haunted by the misery they created?

Not guilty? We shall see.

Last month, a Colorado reader of this blog emailed me, asking about Katie. Long story short, after weeks of emails and phone calls and reference checks and more reference checks and more phone calls and more emails, this potential adoptor is driving to California from Colorado AT THIS VERY MOMENT to meet Katie!!

Stay tuned for the next chapter of this story! The adoptor and I will spend the next four days together getting to know each other and Katie.

Katie's recent rides:

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Cayenne is now Caleb, after the biblical Caleb who survived hard times to find the promised land. This darling little horse absolutely shines. He loves his new, more fitting name and seemed to know it instantly.

Caleb and I are working on basic dressage in the arena. My sense is that he is a very seasoned trail and ranch horse but hasn't had tons of arena work. Nevertheless, he likes to learn and he's enthusiastically agreed to some dressage lessons. We're working on half-halts and leg yields, and we've hacked around the property. You could almost hear Caleb sigh in relief when I took him on his first hack, as if he was saying: "Finally! She's letting me do something familiar!!"

Caleb is no longer the shell-shocked survivor. He's a confident, playful, friendly boy who has all four feet in the promised land. And he's ready to find a human who will share it with him.

Scenes from this week's rides:

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Here, my 13-year-old daughter, Demi, is riding Caleb:

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