Many years back, I had an orphaned (at birth) colt who would bite. He just mugged me wanting treats even though I did not feed him by hand. Typical of orphans who have not been raised by their Mum, he didn’t really know that he was a horse, not a human. He spent time with my elderly Appaloosa gelding in turn out, but that was hard on my Appy!
The treats I loved the most were Herballs by Hilton Herbs. I gave them to my old gelding and he loved them (and they were healthy as could be).
I was poor. I struggled to feed myself, my dogs and my horses, teaching Dressage and writing for several magazines… I decided to make my own “herb treats”. I ground flaxseeds, used oat flour for a base and added ground garlic, peppermint, rosemary and oregano. When I gave the first one to Snookie (the Appaloosa), he spent 3 minutes working the chewed-up pieces out of his mouth with aggressive tongue lolling. Oops.
So, I decided to try using them for Dharma Gita (the colt) as a deterrent. When he came at me with his teeth, I popped one into his mouth. He chewed it up then stared at me like, “what the heck?”. Then he spent 3 minutes spitting it out.
I continued to just pop a nasty tasting treat into his mouth every time he was “mouthy”, keeping several in my pocket at all times. It worked. Dharma Gita soon quit mugging me, quit trying to bite and I never had to slap him or get aggressive with him. The treats were safe, just horrible tasting… which had not been my intention. Yet, they were useful!
Ugh, hay prices went up again… one hay dealer is charging $36.00 a bale right now (3 strand grass or alfalfa). It’s the worst time of year to buy hay (prices up, quality down). We can count on the quality improving come spring, but I suspect prices will never come down. We feed just over 3 bales a day at one yard alone – not to mention all the supplements and herbs. When Mark came here in 2015, we thought $18.00 a bale was too high!
Because we are a Rescue/Sanctuary, my “crystal ball” tells me there will be many more horses abandoned or needing homes.
We are in the high desert – no pastures, no choice but to buy hay year-round. And we’ve had some cold, wet weather lately. Feeding extra hay keeps the horses warm… we blanket the elderly and special needs equines (which is most of them!), but they have to have a constant supply of forage (hay).
And the colder days prompted me to get to the Thrift Store for some more warm clothing. I saw my reflection the other day in a window. My “transient look” made me decide to find some more attractive attire. I succeeded on the “warm” front, but now attractive may not be a suitable description – I bought a lot of fleecy tops that now are hay covered. Even the dog hair “block” doesn’t pull off the scraps of hay… maybe it makes my jumpers more valuable with a pound of hay clinging to each one (a pound of hay is worth 36 cents now). It certainly makes me more interesting to the horses!
And last week a tractor-trailer tried to make the right angle turn from Coyote Road onto Arrowhead Road. It got stuck in the intersection, in deep sand with the front and back of it up on the berm that forms because Arrowhead is essentially an arroyo that runs when it rains on the mountain. The tractor was at a 45 degree angle to the trailer. They finally got it out, but we all had to find creative ways around it! Thank goodness for four wheel drive.
This was a grand reminder that I must communicate with the driver bringing our new barn soon! We have a barn, identical to our Infirmary Barn arriving within days. We’ve waited for months for it to be built and it will be delivered and set up all in one day – but it cannot get stuck between roads!
My mind is always spinning. I go to bed thinking about hay solutions; wake up thinking about whether the horses stay rugged or if we need to pull them, then put “pajamas” back on for the night… We need more of the big round plastic feeders that they don’t toss hay out of (seeing the waste can be soul crushing at these prices!). We know they are sturdy because several of the horses STAND in them. Where we got the one we have doesn’t carry them anymore. I found some in Virginia… we’re in New Mexico.
So, mind spinning, I fed my most special needs horses at one yard and helped Mark get hay out to the shelters on the track system at the other stable yard tonight. I left a message for the driver who will bring our barn to CALL me – GPS will send him into a sand pit (or worse). I looked on Craigs List again for local hay, spoke with our supplier (who we LOVE) about what might become available and commiserated with a friend who also runs a Sanctuary about how the hay situation has become a nightmare.
There are vegan substitutes for eggs (also costing an “arm & a leg”, IF you can find some) – there is no substitute for hay. We just take a deep breath and pay what we have to. The horses are the priority. Always.
On October 29th, my friend and I took our small horse trailer over the mountain to pick up two rescue miniature molly mules. As usual, we knew nothing about them. A lady at the facility loaded them. Our 2 horse trailer’s divider cannot be removed anymore – it took a winch to latch it into place the last time (we do loan it to others in need… I think we have to stop doing that, we need it too much ourselves), so each mule was in one stall. But, at first, the smaller one tried to climb in with the lady and the bigger mule. Without thinking much about it, I moved over to direct the little one to the other stall – she kicked me square on the thigh. Ouch.
The small one was obviously unhandled. The other, totally “in your lap” confident. We had a safe trip home with them. We had secured a board atop the back of the trailer above the rear doors, in case they might get turned around (so they would not be able to “jump” out). We did not tie them, they were not haltered… we came home nice and easy, stopping to check on them often.
Back at Dharmahorse, we had the Quarantine Pen ready for them to share. We backed the trailer up to the open gate of the pen, made sure all perimeter gates were closed and opened the trailer doors. Nothing. They just stood in the stalls. So we gave them time to settle. It gave us the chance for Mark to put a halter on the tame girl through the feed door (she was on the left side).
Hindsight really is 20/20. We should have turned a halter inside out & put it on the littler one, fastening on the off side… but, truth be told, it would not have actually helped. She might have even gotten hurt wearing it because we could not have taken it off (I had no leather halters that small!).
Two hours passed (I’m not kidding). They would try to step down, but it scared them to back out. We comforted them and did try to drive them backwards with some swishing of a bag at their chests. Nope. They were stoic.
Realizing the trouble was the “drop” as they stepped back, Mark got a pallet with a piece of plywood on it and we set it (carefully) at the back of the trailer. I watched the little one (we named her “Pumpkin”) like a hawk! To step down now was only an inch down. We put a longe line on each side of the haltered molly (we named her “Willow”) and ran the lines back to “line drive” her, straight and steady, to back out.
Willow yielded to the lines and backed out – the second she did so, Pumpkin came out like a flash! Willow was obviously a “pocket pony”, so we took her halter off. Pumpkin was obviously totally feral… untouched by human hands (except, as we later learned, being trapped by panels to enable the blood draw for her Coggins test and microchipping). Which actually, was a breach of trust for her. We had our work cut out for us!
Fortunately, we have on our team, a remarkable woman training the green equines. Her skill and compassion are a thing of beauty. When we were able to break quarantine and eventually separate the mules, this lady started the long, patient process of building Pumpkin’s trust. First, she just stood, neutral, in the pen with a wand and directed Pumpkin to face her, then to stand, then to let the wand near her and to eventually, touch the wand with her nose. She slowly got to rub Pumpkin with a glove on the end of the wand. And today, she had her first touching of the little mule’s face with a glove on her hand! See the video
Here you can see the difference in their personalities! And over the Christmas weekend, Willow went to a wonderful adoptive home (on trial for 10 days, it has to be right for Willow and her new family). While Pumpkin and the other equines here need to be in sanctuary, Willow is physically and emotionally healthy, young and loves people – she needed a family of her own.
We’ll see how it all works out for Willow. She will always have a home here, but her new digs include 5 acres, a barn, pasture and a stablemate. Our fingers are crossed!
There is a saying, “chop wood, carry water”. In this cold silence of a winter morning, we are chopping water on frozen tubs for the horses. We have two facilities, one owned by the Sanctuary, one at my home where everything started.
While Mark cares for the herd at the big facility, I do meds and treatments at home where more special needs horses live with individual pens and shelters. This morning is bitter cold, but there is no wind… it looks like we’ll have sunshine, so the high desert will warm up soon. It is eerily quiet in the cold, crisp air.
The horses are wild! They buck and run around as I feed their breakfast hay after giving meds. I pull blankets so they won’t sweat when the sun gets higher. And I chop water. There is a layer of ice on every tub. When it is thick, I pull off the sheets of ice with bare hands (don’t want wet gloves!). When the sun hits the dark water tubs, the water will warm up for them. The chopping is done with golf clubs. We have found them the most useful tool for the job.
I am planning for New Year’s Eve when fireworks will go off around the neighborhood. There is valerian root syrup to make; fed in their mashes at supper that night, and again before midnight, it calms them naturally. We set up lights everywhere. We play Equine Relax Tracks on a professional sound system at the main facility. The sound system was a donation from Equine Audio and has been a godsend for the horses. At home, we will play it on a less impressive system.
This morning, I’m sitting with my cup of tea and making the notes I need to remind me of what needs to be done. Some things (feeding, treatments, chopping water) are just done by rote, day in, day out. Others, like fireworks prep, I need a guide because they are out of the ordinary (thank goodness!) and even with a day planner, I forget what day it is.
All of our focus is on the well-being of these horses. Every day is an adventure!
A new year approaches… I’m caught between relief to see 2022 come to an end and excitement (plus apprehension) about 2023. Each new year offers a different energy and I’m using this Solstice time to gather notes about all that I’ve learned this year.
We will start a new (safer) social media presence. We have a new, modular barn coming to the facility. We passed our State Veterinary inspection. This coming year we will have an inspection by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. We hope to move up from “verified”…
This past year we got the water line system installed. It runs from one end of the property to the other! With the bitter cold weather we’ve been having, things are better this winter than last in regard to frozen faucets and ice filled hoses (our new faucets are freeze free and we need fewer hose pipes!).
I’m counting blessings. Grants, patrons and donations mean we can soon fill the hay barn again. Costs went through the roof this year, but we are maintaining the exemplary care we provide for all the equines. We have extraordinary skilled helpers. Mark, Billy and I are holding the form in our personal lives – good health, able to buy groceries and pay our bills… you see, none of us get a dime from the Sanctuary. Every bit of money for the horses goes to the horses!
The battery on my car failed just before the cold weather – I’m always grateful for that sort of timing. My ancient Toyota keeps going! Our truck is small and is 12 years old… we’re sending out energy for a bigger, dependable truck for the sanctuary. We need one to pull horse trailers and haul feed, etc. But, that will also mean insurance costs and upkeep, where, right now, Mark and I use our own vehicles for Dharmahorse. We are dedicated to this sanctuary. It is our life’s mission.
December means doing all of the donation receipts (I’m behind on that – caring for infirm horses the past few months used up my time and energy). It also means getting all of the financial information together for the accountant! The realization that I only have a handful of days left to do these things is a bit stressful!
I have disengaged from the world around me (society, politics, humanity, in a sense). My world is this sanctuary. To keep my sanity, I have to stay focused on the mission. We’ve had a few demoralizing years… while awareness was necessary through the overwhelming events worldwide and the bizarre happenings in this country, I can no longer become inundated by the outside forces that distract from our mission. We made it. We rose to each occasion. I have to trust that we can do so again if necessary.
So, looking forward feels uplifting. Being open to possibilities feels empowering. Taking care of horses feels edifying. Living this life is a gift.
How many people have had a horse since the beginning of his or her life? There is such value in knowing about everything that has happened to a horse, both physically and emotionally. Questions are answered easily about “what is that bump”, “how did that hoof get like that”, “why does she always get scared of those”?
Because the horses that come to us in Sanctuary can arrive with many mysteries, we often wish they could simply tell us about their past and their feelings. If we are open and really pay attention, though, we can figure out a lot about a horse. And if we get background information, we can set things up to comfort the new arrival with as much that is familiar as possible. Horses are comforted by familiarity, especially when what was familiar was kind.
Each horse comes to us with a well of experiences. Each experience in his life is like a “drop” into the well, like water filling a vessel. We can tell early on if a new horse’s “well” is of mostly positive or mostly negative experiences. The horse will approach each new thing with the expectation of what has usually happened.
With the horse whose life has had mostly positive experiences, there is an openness and curiosity about his surroundings and the people who have contact with him. The horse with a well of negative experiences will be suspicious of anything new and will often shut down to protect his emotional body if he thinks something negative is happening. The horse who has experienced aggression will prepare for fight or flight. We can even overfill a well of negative experiences with enough positive experiences to eventually overcome the negative – and, sadly, the opposite is also true.
A friend of ours bought a lovely horse whose sellers told stories of how to “handle” him and the equipment to use. After bringing him home, our wise friend took the time to listen to her new horse. She backed off of the severe equipment. She changed from a bit to a bitless bridle. She built a relationship with this horse. Now they have a bond and trust in each other that most people dream of. Instead of taking the human advice, blaming the horse, insisting on maximum “control” and ignoring the horse’s perspective – she put herself in her horse’s place and thought about how she would want to be treated. Because she has a lifetime of experience with very many horses, she had a personal “toolkit” to draw from and help her horse.
I have worked with a lot of people whose first instinct is to blame the horse for anything that goes awry. I always told all of our young riders that they can take credit for the good things they get the horses to do. It means they communicated clearly and when a horse understands something, he is able to respond. This also means that, when we are unclear or abrupt, the horse cannot be as responsive as we want him to be. If we take credit for the good stuff, we must take responsibility for the “bad” stuff. And, horses do not have to let us handle or ride them. They are ten times bigger than we are! They partner with us because of their kind natures and their generations of bonding with humanity. If we work to understand each horse as an individual, we can build a foundation of trust.
Today started out with frosty windows and chilled to the bone temps – then, we started burning weeds in the driveway at our original facility! We had a lot of old wood we added to the burning pile. Soon, I was regretting the flannel lined jeans I’d grabbed at 5:30am…
With the help of amazing friends, we got DH1 tidied up and kept the fire burning all day (we call in for permission and call back when we finish). The rains this year were often and dramatic and weeds went wild at both facilities! It’s almost 4:00pm and I’m watering down the embers, raking and soaking, raking and soaking. You can see smoke spirals coming up from other places, it was a clear, still day and neighbors are on the same mission we are.
The work is never ending. In between outdoor chores, I got Thank You cards in the mail to donors. I ran back to DH2 to do Dream Cat’s treatments and check Hubba’s hoof boots (still on, pleased about that!). It will get cold again tonight (low 30’s) and even colder (20’s) next week. But the horses have winter coats, heaps of hay and good shelters to choose to use, so, we won’t blanket them all… yet. If the temperatures get too low, it gets windy or we get moisture, we will put their rugs on.
Now, myself, I need my flannel lined jeans lately (with the exception of tending “bonfires”!). A dear soul gave heated vests to Mark and to me – a miracle for us for winter. I’ve already worn mine!
I’ve lived in cold places, hot places, wet places, dry places, always with horses. I rode colts off the track in Florida in my teens; lived in Boulder, Colorado with only a motorcycle or giant horse van for transport through a winter (moved to New Mexico after that); I lived in southern Arizona with my horses when the days stayed 114 degrees or more and nights cooled to a disappointing 98 degrees… I’ve lived at a family estate back east, in a very tiny cottage on the mountain and in a shack (I’ve even lived in a pasture with my horses). The real consistency in my life has always been horses and being responsible for them.
So, no matter the weather, Mark and I make each day as comfortable as possible for these equines. We miss driving an hour north to the hot springs to soak… that stopped during covid and now, we can’t find time to do that again. I think we need to. Hot Springs heal mind and body… It is especially wonderful in the winter! Hmmm… some needed human comfort, methinks! I like being too warm better than being too cold!
We woke to thick fog after a night of drizzling rain. We shifted horses around so everyone could get under a roof (we’d had Sage and Hubba in the giant round yard for weeks)… not that they used them. Most stood in the relatively warm rain. But they have to have the choice of shelter!
The air was dense with the smell of desert plants – chaparral, chamisa, desert sage and our pine trees. It was strong! And wonderful.
I sat “in the clouds” as the sun rose, feeling that emotional high from the scents surrounding us. Aromatherapy is a real thing! Essential oils (and the volatile oils from the desert plants) trigger our emotional bodies – often with feelings from memories (a father’s aftershave, smells from childhood or from places we’ve visited).
As the weather and the light change approaching winter, we have to shift routines and supplementation here at Dharmahorse Equine Sanctuary. With horses from different backgrounds (some with health issues, some as old as 36 and young as 1 year), we tailor our programs for each individual.
Our herbal health protocols for winter here are designed around specific herbs to maintain health and prevent disorders. Of course, this information is never meant to replace a health care practitioner.
ANISE seed, Pimpinella anise, is an herb we use to prevent and in treatment of colic in horses. It is also great for coughs and lung disorders. We add the powdered herb to a bucket feed using a tablespoon once daily as prevention for horses prone to colic. When a horse is starting to look distressed, we feed a quarter cup of the ground seed in a very wet wheat bran mash with an ounce of milk of magnesia.
We feed it similarly for lung disorders, usually with large amounts of Yarrow tea either dosed carefully into the mouth (keep head low to avoid aspiration into the lungs!) or used to soak the mash.
CALENDULA,Calendula officinalis, blossoms are fed to horses to support skin health and healing. I’ve fed it to mare and used homeopathic calendulated oil topically to heal her severe rainrot. It is high in vitamin C, vitamin A and phosphorus. Calendula ointment made with blossoms infused into olive oil and stabilized with bees wax is used to dress wounds, burns, rashes and chapping.
We have used calendula tincture on bruises and strains. It has some good anti-inflammatory properties used externally as well as fed in the bucket feed. I feed one or two big handfuls of the dry blossoms daily. The oil is a good treatment for mud fever / scratches, rainrot, rope burns, eczema and contusions.
CINNAMON, Cinnamomun zeylanicum, is an evergreen tree whose dried inner bark is used as a culinary herb / spice and as a medicinal herb for people, horses and dogs. The scent itself has immune boosting, antiseptic and anti-nausea properties.
Horses with conditions like Cushing’s Syndrome can be helped with the addition of half ground Cinnamon, half ground Fenugreek seeds to the ration – about 2 tablespoons daily. Horses prone to gassiness or flatulent colic can be aided by a half Cinnamon, half Fennel seed mixture fed daily 1 to 2 teaspoons.
ECHINACEA, Echinacea Augustifolia / Echinacea purpurea, is an effective remedy for bacterial and viral infections. It “boosts” the immune system and therefore is contraindicated for any being with auto-immune diseases. The root and leaves are both used. We tend to use the root for treatments; the leaves for prevention. It contains vitamins and minerals (ZINC, iron, manganese, selenium and silicon) and “undiscovered properties” that make it a premier herb for all infections – from tooth/gum infections to lung disorders to hoof abscesses – added to the bucket feed. We feed a handful of the dried leaves daily to a horse for at least 21 days or a heaping tablespoon of root in the feed for at least 14 days.
FLAXSEEDS, Linium usitatissimum, are a nourishing herb that is used for humans, horses, dogs, cats, cattle, llamas, you name it! The seeds contain 40% fixed oil, linoleic, linolenic and oleic acids, mucilage, protein and linamarin. The oil (edible, coldpressed flaxseed oil) is used as a daily supplement to strengthen and heal the lungs, heart, digestive tract, skin and mucus membranes. The seeds can be cooked into “linseed / flaxseed jelly” to be fed to horses (the raw seeds can colic a horse – they release gases) or ground into a meal.
Flaxseed Jelly: For each horse use one handful of seeds and 2 quarts of water. Soak the seeds overnight (for 8 hours). Then bring to a boil, watching constantly! If this mixture boils over, and it tends to, it will make a gooey mess. Use a non-metal or enameled pot and wooden spoon. Stir often. Boil for a full hour. You will have reduced the water considerably and have a thick jelly to add directly to a bran mash or hard feed of grain or pellets. Do not strain it (you can’t!). Just mix it well into the bucket feed and offer it 2 to 3 times a week in winter.
MILK THISTLE, Carduus marianus, seeds are the supreme liver support and healing herb. We add 2 tablespoons of dried seeds to the bucket feed once daily for a horse with liver stress.
I have seen milk thistle cleanse the damaged liver of a gelding in his 20’s who had been dosed repeatedly with Ivermectin wormer until he jaundiced (mucous membranes turned yellow).
ROSE HIPS,Rosa species, are rich in vitamin C, A Rutin, selenium, manganese and B Complex vitamins. Rose hips can be fed whole or ground to horses in a bucket feed for stress, coughs, inflammation, infections and to support hoof health.
WHITE WILLOW BARK, Salix alba, is “Nature’s Aspirin”. The bark contains Salicin and Tannin. White Willow is actually used to heal digestive tractdebilities, so it is not an ulcer inducing compound like regular aspirin is (which is synthesized from the medium of the bark). It can be used for pain and inflammation relief for people, horses and dogs but never for cats. Just as aspirin tablets can be deadly for the feline; white willow bark’s salicin is contraindicated!
The pain of loss, the pain of betrayal… even the physical pain of torn muscles or stepped-on toes, time brings a lessening of the sharpness, an easing of the ache.
I’ve been dreaming about horses, dogs and people we have lost this past year. That pain takes a real chunk of time to alleviate the suffering. I don’t think it actually ever goes away, we just have to continue on with the care of others and stay focused on the now to remain functioning human beings.
Our facebook fiasco has brought clarity on how we want to move forward on that platform. I’ve heard everything from “We thought you had shut down”, to “I don’t see Katharine begging for money anymore”, and it has lent an awareness about who we want to connect with in the future. Time to ponder the energies of the past and which energies we need to draw to us in the future is a kind of a gift.
One remarkable thing happening right now is an influx of donations (funds, feed and support) to the horses that has us mindful and grateful. That’s an amazing place to be. Just when the experiences of the near past feel overwhelming in a harsh or wicked way, we have been overwhelmed by kindness and compassion. I think I feel much the way these horses feel when they come here, into sanctuary. They may have felt “beat up”, confused, sad or defeated… then, great love rolls over them. They can breathe. They are safe. They know that someone genuinely cares about them.
My brother and I have been a part of a program (No Barriers), for special needs people and their caregivers (I am his caregiver). In that model, there is a concept of a “rope team”. I even climbed a high wall at a retreat (I am afraid of heights) with a Rope Team and it was life changing. The realization, today, that Dharmahorse has a powerful Rope Team of individuals and organizations who realize what we do and who we are, and care that we continue, is more healing than time.
There will always be glitches, there will always be sad days. There will also always be days full of wonder and days full of joy. I can choose to reflect on all of the good things happening and hold in my heart the pure, dynamic spirit of caregiving. I can know, really know, that we make a difference in so many lives. That is an amazing reason to wake up every morning and power on!