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.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


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:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Friday, August 8, 2008

Argus Artwork!!

This is so exciting! A young artist in Australia has created a beautiful rendition of Argus. Kris has captured Argus perfectly!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

You may order this print (minus the 'Argus' text) by visiting the artist's website.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sweet Cayenne, Sexy Katie, and "The Boys"

To The Owner Of This Horse
~ author unknown

Alone I stand in this dark stall - staring into space
Wondering how this came to be my final resting place.

I think back on all I did for you and try to understand,
Why you would let me fade away beneath your very hand.

I gave you all I had to give, and still you wanted more,
I pushed myself so you'd receive the very highest score.

I forgave you when you were too quick to punish or to scold,
I just remembered you were young, and wished that you were old.

I always carried you safely through each trial and each course,
And all I wanted in return was for you to love this horse.

Yet here I am - alone and cold - a mere shadow of myself,
With our pictures and Blue Ribbons still displayed upon your shelf.

I do not feel selfish, in this, my final plea,
I just want to understand why you did this to me.

I know that as time passes, people will change their ways,
And children will grow up and forget their younger days.

But how does one forget a friend - someone they once adored,
And start looking at their old champion as nothing but a bore?

Now I know my coat has faded and my eyes, they aren't so bright,
But I assure you that within my heart still burns a quiet light.

Yet, here I stand alone and scared of what may lay ahead,
Will I ever know another kindness or have a warm dry bed?

So people, when you buy a horse, just please remember me,
And what sadness I endured despite the life I tried to lead.

Love your horse with all your heart - give him all you can,
Do not forget to rub him with a calm and soothing hand.

No matter what life brings your way - remember till the end.
When you break your horse's heart, you betray your truest friend.


Our formerly sad Cayenne has life in his eyes. He's in love with Katie (who's a bit sweet on Argus), and he's found that the "food lady" (that's me) puts grain into his bucket every single night.

Cayenne has discovered that people oooh and aaah when they see him, and want to feed him cookies (which, thanks to our friend Hannah, he has finally learned to eat). He's found out that hands are gentle, and eyes regard him with respect and admiration, and voices are soft, and cooing. Slowly, our sweet little pepper, Cayenne, is coming out of his shell. He greets me heartily each morning, ready for his day of turnout. He greets me like an old friend at day's end, shoving his nose into his halter, ready to retire to his stall for the night. After all, the grain waits there.

Baths are cold, and not that welcome, but feeling clean is good, and Cayenne expresses his gratitude by rolling enthusiastically. Fly spray is scary, something remembered from days long past, a faint memory of better times.

Slowly, slowly, Cayenne is learning to smile again. He stands quietly while I tack him up, relaxed. Being a riding horse is obviously something he enjoys. I ask for a trot, and he gives me a j-o-g, begs me to put my reins in one hand, and worries when I ask him to extend his stride a bit. I sit for a breath of a half-half, and Cayenne slams on the brakes. We stop and laugh, the dressage rider and the obviously former ranch horse, tack all wrong and signals crossed. Somehow, Cayenne and I will learn to dance.

Cayenne at the feedlot in June. His tail was matted from the end of his tail bone to the ground. You can see the remains of his hip number from the Toppenish, WA livestock auction, where the kill buyer purchased him:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Cayenne's first tack-up at Watermark Farm. His lungeing skills were rusty, but there. He was worried at first, but relaxed after a few minutes.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Everyone loves Katie. It's hard to live in the shadow of such a beautiful woman. Today, a visitor visited, a potential adoptor. I took her to meet Cayenne, who promptly walked away, and Argus, who stood shyly in the pasture for inspection, like the older boy who never seems to leave the orphanage. Katie hung her head over the fence, blinking her long lashes at the woman, smiling with her eyes. Party Girl Katie, beckoning. "That's Katie," I say. "She's so friendly and sweet."

I can hear the woman suck in a little breath, smitten. "She's beautiful!" she gasps, and wanders absentmindedly to the fence to get some Katie love, turning back toward Cayenne for a moment, half-heartedly offering him a cookie. "Everyone loves Katie," I tell her, and laugh, weakly, not wanting her to feel bad for ignoring Cayenne.


I've been on vacation for the past week, and missed my horses tremendously. Sitting in a cabin at beautiful Pine Mountain Lake, sans the endless barn chores and horse care, I found my thoughts on "my four boys," as I call them. The pasture crew. Half Pint, Odie, Ridge and Argus.

I found myself thinking fondly of the boys and their antics, which I watch with great interest from the house. I missed Ridge's possessive hugs, Half Pint's itchy skin and the great lengths he goes to to scratch it, Odie's sad mule eyes and placid disposition, and Argus' happy face.

That's the thing with Argus --- he's always happy. He'd wear a smile on his face if he could. His funny, flat eyes always content. I am grateful for his presence on our little farm. Argus reminds me to be in the moment, to enjoy what's in front of me, to close my eyes in the sun and simply swat flies.

During our long drive home, I could hardly wait to see my pasture boys. As we hit the long driveway, the long rays of the late afternoon sun streamed across the pasture, where the boys stood, napping. They caught sight of the white Suburban crunching toward them, and four pairs of eyes were upon us. Sleepily, Argus blinked at me as I bellowed "Hello, Boys!" out the car window.

I swear I could hear him muttering "Just another day in paradise," as he closed his eyes, and, casually, went back to sleep.