Second Chances

24 Jul


Listen, today has been rough.  It’s personal. It’s family.  Its not something to write about at the moment…but it got me to thinkin’.

…I’ve had a full weekend of events and friends and easily five blogs worth of one-liner similes and metephores to go with ’em.  I could paint you some verbal pictures that might just raise the corner of your mouth, or make you join the “amen” chorus of, “Am I right, or am I right?!”  And those blogs would prob’ly be more fun to read as well as write.  But I just ain’t got it in me tonight.  I know you understand, you’ve had those days too.  Instead, I think I’d like to tell you a story…it’s true.  I heard it first-hand on Saturday, as I joined The BFF on a Grant Writing interview.

…And I pick this moment above all the rest to record for you, because its important for me right now to remember that green grass follows the storm…you just gotta give it some time.  There are alternate purposes to events in life…and it’s never worth a “give up” scenario, despite frustrations and losses that may come.  As long as there is life, there is hope and reason to fight.


A little back story: 

There is a family in Poulsbo, WA who is one of twelve certified rescue farms for horses in the U.S..  Now, I’m not much for farms…and aside from the occasional glance or random passing whim, have never thought much about horses…but even were this your stance too, you’d have been impressed by end of a two-hour meeting with the man in charge.  I certainly was.

He’s an “old school” cowboy look…leathery, long hair with a wave to it, deep smile crinkles at the eyes…68 years-old, and has lived at least three lives (the ones we were told about, anyway.)  He is very, in walk and talk and manner, of the Sam Elliot vein…always with a slow grin like he knows something you don’t yet (and let’s face it, prob’ly does), but is self-modest, boastful of his friends, family and peers, and has reached the point where he knows the next heir apparent needs to be crowned and legacy passed on.  We were there, not to supply hand-outs or milk donations…only as part of a “Will and Testament” on his behalf: to leave those who have been in his care for decades, with enough to support the work he has begun. To protect a two-fold project and lifestyle, that began when he was a boy in Colorado, got left by the wayside for the next many decades of his life, and picked back up again…fifteen years ago.

The boy loved horses.  Loved farming.  Love a man he called, “Mr. Peyton” (and still does to this day): A Buffalo breeder on a Halifax County farm who taught the young man everything he would ever need to know about livestock, and being a horseman.  The boy was given a pony little more than a yearling to break on his own and did, managed stables, broke and trained the horses: cared and worked with them. And then the boy grew up, moved away, married, and lived a life.  It was (as usually is) hitting rock bottom, that brought him back to his first love again.

…With no home, no job, no prospects, the man knew he had at least one thing in his mind’s pocketbook to help him: he could be (if he dusted the saddle off again) a horseman.  After all, those were the happiest years of his life, looking back…and why not, (he reasoned), pick that to make your future as well?

So he did.  And has.  For the past fifteen years.  But it came with a catch…an asterisk coda next to the title of profession.  The man did not choose to trade in breeding and breaking and buying and selling.  His life had taught him too many lessons not to share them, with those in need both animal and human alike.

This ranch, which we visited, of which this man and his family runs and owns purely on non-profit basis, is set as a certified horse sanctuary…and one of only a handful of those dedicated to serving as home for the full remaining lifespan of it’s occupants.  They adopt wounded, worn, blind, cast-offs from neglect or ill owners with zero compensation, and specialize in rescuing retired race horses from the meat block. 

…Over thirty-five animals across a host of pasture lands and stalls, today call this place “home.”  Non-solicited donations have given badly needed fencing, renovated stables and exercise arenas off and on across the years.  Dues are paid (when they have the money) by parents seeking significantly cheaper riding lessons for their children, day in and day out.  When dues become issue, a shrug of the man’s shoulders serves as free-pass…so no child within his family of classes is turned away, should circumstances arise which might otherwise require it.  Taught  primarily by teens and twenty-somethings, who themselves grew up on the ranch, they pass on their trade as it was to that boy once, all those years ago. He has now become the much revered and loved “Mister” of the herd (both animal and human versions), showing the children how to keep the land clean, composted, recycled, organically planned and innovative in it’s daily runnings. It is kept healthy by two veterinarians and an ecologist specialist, whose helped the family rework and irrigate their land to the optimum benefit for horse and pasture life, nothing is wasted…and the students are taught to earn their keep, and must work for what money cannot buy: more one-on-one time with their favorite four-legged friends. 

…And the reason this slick-as-bells-and-whistles organization needs help at the moment is part longevity, part general repair, and part the abnormal lifespan of their live-in “guests.”

The average life of a horse is roughly twenty-five years.  Much, much less for those abused in sport, or neglected and abandoned day-to-day.  Horse Harbor Foundation is nearly at half in upper twenties, with a few reaching mid to late thirties.  They won’t die.  Why should they?  Saved from abandoment  or worse, put through health screens and therapy…exercised and re-educated, and then making friends with a handful of special children has given them new leases on their lives…which has grown the herd beyond holding capacities, and made staffing, feeding and housing them more difficult than the original “business plans” had allowed. 

…But a promise is a promise, and this: their home until they choose to leave the earth they stand on. So, the family continues to hang on. 

…And that was why The BFF had been called in: as “fresh reinforcements” to the cause, which even now, the man was uncomfortable in asking help with.

…Which goes even deeper, should the animal-lover gene in you alone, not have been enough to impress you.   And herein is where the story I set out to tell you, really begins.

A rescue place for horses.  A mother with limited funds hears it is in her area.  And she has a son: severely autistic…at age thirteen has never spoken a word or walked one step into a schoolroom.  But he has shown interest, the therapists say, in horses…pointing at pictures in books as a constant repeating theme and indicator.  Perhaps to see one live, meet one, touch one, might give him some secret inspiration of some form of communication or opening up.  The mother decides to reach out and give it a try.

“Might we visit?” She asks, explaining her cause to the stranger across the phone.

“Of course,” the man says.

“We’ve tried it before, but no one will allow it.  Not only because of his handicap.  He’s also a haemophiliac.”

“I have just the horse…a mare, blind, gentle as a lamb.  Come on out.”  The man replies.

…And one day soon after, a boy with no voice was standing face-to-face with an old mare.  He looked.  He touched it.  He was put atop it.  No visual change in facial expression, no noise of communication given.  Then, the man got an idea (knowing boys and horses as he did)…that maybe a little private bonding time was called for, excused the mother to outside of the barn door, and spoke up to the boy.

“I’m just gonna go get a lead from out there and be right back, okay? If she starts getting fussy at all, just rub her neck like this and talk to her a bit.  Keep her company while I’m gone, if you don’t mind.”

…And he walked out.

…And the boy…who had never spoken in thirteen years…when left alone with his horse, decided to make a new friend. 

He spoke. 

…And kept speaking. 

…Through enrollment of his first school, through making up all the grades he’d missed, through graduating the school with honors, through getting his first apartment, and job.

…A second chance for two new friends destined to meet, which created and then became the ranch’s Harmony School of Horsemanship, still pairing up special needs children with retired, abandoned and otherwise less fortunate four-legged friends to this day.

The children are taught to care for and build relationships with the animals, to nurture and be thankful for the bonds they share, to respect one another’s difficulties, and specific needs.  It’s a partnership which has gone on to win ribbons at rodeos and The Junior Olympics, built lifelong horse ownership with the kind of responsibility one should have, has majors in Equestrian sport at colleges, and even while we were there: teenage teachers on the track, handing down the lessons they have learned like a holy passage of rights.

You cannot see these kids without shaking your head in wonder.  You cannot talk to this man without wanting to comb the countryside of every influence within grasp who you know, who might help them.  It isn’t golden paddocks they want.  No hand-outs of charity.  They don’t make any money off of it, and seem perfectly content with the “cause” being reward enough.  What they need are basics: hay feed, and fence extensions, and water irrigation for their herd to stretch out. With a chuckle, the man seems quite tickled with the “Senior Citizens” in his care…pointing to one (the oldest) long retired even from the “school,” who they several times a day have to mix a special mash-up for, on account she no longer owns a tooth in her head.

“Lookit her,” he grins as we stand by a gate looking out to the pasture,” so old she falls asleep middle of eating sometimes, but give her a sunny day, and you’d never know she’s sp’osed to be dead ‘most fifteen years ago.  Just nippin at the grass and loppin’ along, and ‘time to ‘time old friends and new one come on back to pet and remember her.”

“It’s a pretty good set up,” I agree with him.

“I don’t like to toot m’own horn, but it’s a pretty great way to spend your retirement years,” he winks back with the confidence of one who outta know.

…And I just thought you should too. 

“Know,” I mean.



Talk To Me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: