The Victimization of Equines

This is a difficult topic for me. As a survivor of abuse, I find triggers for my own anxiety in the mere thought of any being suffering demoralization, neglect or even worse, violence. Because I run a sanctuary for horses, I see the cost in the emotional, mental and physical bodies of the horses we care for day in, day out.

Yet, the horses (and long ears) find it in themselves to forgive and come around to trusting again. At least, they learn that they can trust us because we work very hard to be trustworthy.

At the sanctuary, we had a mare come in who had to be 30 years old. She was foundered badly and her body was scarred in a unique way. Damaru showed the classic scarring of a victim of “horse tripping” – a violent and deadly form of amusement inflicted upon horses. While we tried as best we could to heal her on all levels, her body just could not repair the damage.

But, Damaru knew love. Great, boundless affection and compassion were wrapped around her every day. She was cherished and she responded in kind; she nuzzled us for treats, she stood calmly for treatments and care and her soul was healed before her body finally gave out.

Damaru arrives at Dharmahorse Equine Sanctuary

Keeping her free of pain became more and more difficult and we finally made the decision to euthanize her (surrounded by those who loved her)… it was the final and ultimate act of love. We were honored to have known her!

While Damaru was with us “after the fact” of her abuse, I watched a horrid scene of victimization that I was powerless to prevent one time when I was leaving a facility where we were preparing for a Horse Trials. I was to be the “cross country steward” that weekend and had been out on the course inspecting the jumps. As I was driving out, I saw a group of men on horseback repetitively roping a young donkey. She was terrified.

My truck windows were down and I could hear the men yelling and laughing – they sounded quite drunk. I was alone except for them at the facility. It was late evening and as I watched the donkey tremble and try to duck away from them, it felt like I was watching a gang rape. If I had tried to intervene, I would likely have been in great danger. I couldn’t call the authorities, what these monsters were doing was perfectly legal, acceptable in the “cowboy” circles…

I cried all the way home and all night. How could humans have so little respect for the precious life they were tormenting? How could I be so impotent in my ability to help her? I decided to try to buy her when I went out the next day. She was gone. So were the cowboys who had abused her. But, in the world of “livestock”, what they were doing was not considered abuse. In my world, it was the definition!

The blatant mishandling and demoralization in those two examples is easy to recognize. What I saw a few months ago is a bit more difficult for some people to understand as abusive. I had gone to an event to watch a trainer’s demonstration and went down to the arena early. This trainer was standing outside the arena with a coming three year old filly all saddled, wearing a halter. He stood beside her with her lead shank looped through a pipe on the fence, standing her just above a patch of green grass. The grass was inches below her muzzle and every time she reached down to take a bite; he hit her in the head with the end of the lead rope. Over and over…

I decided that I couldn’t watch any more. I left. Many people might think that he was “training” her – perhaps “showing her who was boss”. I saw disrespect that was causing confusion and a situation that he (as the one who was supposed to be the thinking part of the team) could have resolved by simply holding her over by the abundant dirt and sand that offered no temptation.

Horses learn that we are either kind and aware or unkind and oblivious.

Horses become victims when the humans responsible for their wellbeing are either deliberately cruel, unconsciously neglectful, blind and deaf to their needs or blatantly self serving. As a species, we can do better. And I live my life trying to be a voice for the voiceless. Let’s all do better.

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Fires at Midnight

We used to live in Tucumcari, New Mexico. In 1977, my Father broke his back and we discovered that our Newspaper Corporation would have to declare bankruptcy – that was on December 21st. On December 23rd, we were sitting with our Editor at our home south of town. The house had no windows on it’s west side and was entirely glass on the east. As we sat, discussing the fate of our business (with 45 mph winds whipping across the dry, native grasses that surrounded us), my brother and I asked each other several times, “Do you smell smoke?”…

I was looking out the back, toward Tucumcari Mountain when suddenly, the whole world was on fire. The feeling cannot be described. I screamed, we all ran out the front door and the sight was like Hades itself. Flames were leaping over parked vehicles, licking up trees and whirling full speed across the native pasture of our 40 acres right for the huge wooden barn full of shavings and our beloved horses.

8-27-2011 10;42;11 AM

8-27-2011 10;42;08 AM

There was a mare with her foal, two young stallions, more mares and many geldings, a small pony and a half Draft horse. They were trapped and all I could think was, “RUN”. And I did. All I can figure is that I can run at over 45 mph because I beat the flames to the barn. I threw open the garage door at the south end and began opening stall doors frantically. Each horse trotted (some galloped) out of their stall and out onto the 40 acres. The blessing was that I had always just opened stall doors to let them out onto the (now dry) pasture and they simply ran on out from habit.

When they all had gone out, I slammed the end door shut and ran, gasping, to the well house. I opened all the taps and started hosing down the building as my brother and my Mum caught up with me. The horses were confused but not panicked. They gathered in little groups on bare patches of land and the fires rolled around them, the air full of red and black smoke.

We could not see past 20 meters into the smoke and the heat was overwhelming. I pulled my shirt off and wrapped it around my face to breathe through it. Crying, praying, cursing and trying to breathe, I watched embers landing on the roof of the giant barn. What saved the barn, besides the flood of water we were pouring all over it, was the thick coating my Mum had had applied to the (leaking) roof the previous summer. It was, in retrospect, not flammable!

I remember vomiting twice, coughing up blood later, and my eyes swelling almost shut as we suddenly thought about our house! I stayed with the horses. My Mum and brother ran back to the house – it was dark like evening time (at mid-afternoon). I later heard the story of how my Grandmother, Mum and Brother and our Editor used hoses until the home well ran dry, then used buckets to throw water from the swimming pool onto the trees, bushes, under cars and onto the roof of the house. It was surreal.

As I collapsed in the dirt by the barn, too dry to cry anymore, through the smoke, I saw the flashing lights of fire trucks racing across the fields – they just rammed through the wire fences, sirens screaming, and screeched up to the barn to douse it with water then head to our neighbor’s house. More arrived, as the fire burned out on our land, and began soaking the huge manure pile (far enough from the barn) that was now smoldering. Embers were flying everywhere.

I realized that the horses were now loose and most of the fences were down… but they stayed clustered on familiar land and were unnaturally calm. In shock, I suppose, I knew I was.

We later found out that an RV caught fire and kept driving, setting fire to 3 counties of dry grass and brush. The incident made the national news where they said no homes nor humans were threatened – many of us were enraged by that statement!

As things settled and the fully soaked, sopping wet barn seemed safe, I began catching the horses and putting them into their stalls. It was night, the electricity was off, it was getting cold and I was exhausted. The family gathered to assess the situation. We decided that I would sleep in a car driven down and parked beside the barn. Dotted all across the countryside were glowing, smoldering cedar fence posts that looked like thousands of campfires in the distance. And the huge, composted manure pile glowed like a flying saucer. It was terrifying. Over the next few weeks, road equipment kept coming out to grade through that pile and fire trucks came to soak it, over and over. Manure is amazing fuel.

I spent each night in that car for a week and we spent the days repairing fences so we could turn horses out again. Every now and then, at night, I would see a distant Mesquite tree or Chaparral blaze up and burn out over several hours. Late nights were when I could see the extent of the lingering fires… Day time was when the charcoal encrusted vistas showed the damage. My brother and I walked the land with shovels, putting out every smoking discovery, hoping to see less fires the next night.

I have faced other wildfires through the decades, some bigger even, some hotter, some in forests – nothing ever felt so overwhelming as the one in Tucumcari when I realized that all of my horses were standing, trusting, in my wooden barn, bedded in dry wood shavings with that raging fire heading full speed straight for them. Even now, if I smell smoke, my fight or flight response kicks in.

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These Hands

I used to be embarrassed by my arm. After falling through the window and having my hand reattached (severed tendons, nerves, arteries and veins), I have always worn long sleeved shirts. The scars are nothing, really, now – compared to how they looked for those first few years… like an arm sliced up to use in a sandwich.

My hands worked so hard all my life. Decades of struggle; loading and unloading hay, holding onto spooking colts, keeping stallions under control, running printing presses, riding Harley’s, cleaning out needle valves on the carburetor of my Dodge PowerWagon, planting gardens, scrubbing Operating rooms, changing tires, dyeing clothing, kneading bread dough….. the things horsewomen do and healers do… catching my granddaughter at her birth, holding my Mum’s hand as she passed over, holding disabled children on patient old horses…

My hands have been useful. And they have seemed so ugly to me. I had Mark take a photo of the sore my new shoe created on my toe (it should not have happened, there is a nasty seam in one shoe). I saw my hands. I cried. How could they get so battered… so OLD? I’m only 63 years old; they look like a hundred.


Then I thought about all they do and have done. In spite of a near crippling injury and being stepped upon by a horse; being exposed to countless hours in water and being soaked in cleansers… they are so resilient, considering. Years of wearing gloves and not wearing gloves. They have been useful.

I searched for the photo from our wedding, of Mark and me with our rings. I found it. I had turned my hand over because the palm is less abused looking. And I thought about how he, Mark, beloved friend and husband “took” that hand that day. He put a beautiful ring on a funky old finger and never has he seen these hands as ugly.


Tonight I watch them struggle to type, one letter at a time… they serve me well. They succeed even when they ache to the bone. They are precious. They may drop silverware in public and let glasses slip to the floor… let go of the longe line, drop the wand, cramp up and let go of the hay twine, but then, after, they pick things up again.

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Bring a bit of joy…

A long time ago, I was married to a man who actually was old enough to be my father. While our relationship did not work out, there were some experiences I am so pleased to have had during my time with Bob.

He could not swim. Not that he flailed around in deep water – he dropped like a rock! Many of the things most of us have been able to do were impossible for Bob. Like going to the Water Park.

One of my favorite things used to be water parks. So…. with friends in tow who had children (often necessary for a day at the water park, justification, you see), I took Bob to Wet and Wild Water World.

His super pale skinny legs in shorts, wearing flip flops and a Harley T shirt, Bob looked as uncomfortable as he must have felt. At first.

I convinced him to trust me on some small slides with shallow landing pools where I rode down ahead of him, leaped off of my tube and stood by to catch him when he landed. And catch him it was! When he dropped from the slide into the 3 foot high water, he disappeared beneath it and I grabbed under his arms and pulled him immediately up to gasp some air.

Life guards stared and signaled at me and I told them, “he can’t swim” as he laughed and grabbed his tube to go again. “I’ve got him!” I told them and they stayed alert just in case.

Bob eyed the longer, scarier slides and soon found the courage to try them. I told him to count to 20 after I went down so I could get ready to catch him in the deeper water. The entire day was one of adventure for him and I was delighted to be his “catcher”! He never got buoyant, never was able to land on his feet, but he trusted me and had so much fun.

Our only casualty that day was the top of Bob’s feet – badly sunburned they were, having never seen the sun as far as I knew.

When we love, it becomes about that well being of those we love. When we love, it does not turn on and off like a switch. If we cannot live with someone, it does not mean something is wrong with them or with us. Instead of thinking about things that did not work out (in any relationship), I try to remember the times when the best of me found its way to the situation.

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Thoughts gathered, nights of musings

Into what sort of vessel can I pour my doubts? A life of charmed circumstances and a constant flow of love still cannot suppress the mind chatter of uncertainties…

I remove the fly masks from my horses tonight and watch the balloon-like rising of a silvered moon, nearly full, and wonder how I could ever entertain a doubt. But, I do. Once a day, on average, the thoughts of limitation or misdirection creep across my mind as welcome as thorns strewn along a path. I deny them. I banish them with new thoughts of gratitude and the assertion of my confidence. Next day… they return and laugh, no, fart, in my face with such disrespect and ulterior motives. Yet, I will prevail. They cannot bend me.

Perhaps our strength arises from such pestering of doubt – without something of this ilk to work ourselves away from, we might be slack and numb to the disruptions and ignore our lives into a lackluster existence instead of truly being. I feel the draw of sight setting low, of expectations beneath yesterday’s accomplishments. One can be dishonestly proud of oneself in this mode of functioning – or dis-functioning…

Instead, my doubts fuel the fire of decision and devotion. What I choose to embrace will not be discarded on a whim! The voices of disruption, even when they come from my own mouth and mind, have no power to circumvent dreams set into motion… the voices provide a counter energy to remind me of where I refuse to drift. Steady on. Deep breath.

Tonight is a night of lunar introspection. I have learned a lot from this mountain and this moon.

My beautiful picture

day’s end

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Energy beyond aggression

In all of our relationships, the light of integrity is held by Compassion. If we consider something other than our own motives and agendas, we can open to living a real life outside of the world of illusion. With animals, we will establish communication instead of domination. With loved ones, we will share our very souls. With humanity, we will become beacons of reason and unconditional love. We will shift ourselves and those who resonate with Nature to a higher kind of love and life where the demoralizing of others is simply not accepted. ~ Katharine Chrisley Schreiber
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Damned if you do….

damned if you don’t. Running a Sanctuary for horses can feel like that often.

Yesterday, we were preparing for a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner and Star Party at Dharmahorse. A woman dropped by without an appointment. She was nice enough, I always need to show people around and tell the horses’ stories and explain our mission… so scheduling a visit is important. But, yesterday, I gave her an hour of my (limited and valuable) time. You never know, it could benefit the horses, and that is the focus at all times here. The horses.

We have everything equine here, really. Two foundered and recovering, older horses. A gelding turning 40 years old next year. A mare recovering from a skull fracture. Several horses with limited eyesight in one eye (not terrible, just something to be aware of). A Draft horse with an old jaw fracture and scars on his eyes. A big gelding whose hooves were never sound until we got him and pulled his shoes. A mare who had the worse necrotic tooth we’d ever seen…. and on and on.

We have horses who were starved nearly to death; horses who were saved from slaughter; a horse who was a victim of horse tripping… and all the horses here now are shiny, slick, plump-ish and beautiful. And that’s often a problem. People see them and think that everything is flowing beautifully at Dharmahorse, the horses have all their needs met, the world is soft and easy here.

Old photos and back stories do touch the hearts of those who help us in the support and healing of the horses. People who visit get the back stories because we want them to know how far this herd has come… we are not a zoo! We are a testimonial to love and herbal care…

And, I suppose we must look like we are sailing along because I’ve seen some people start to ask for donations for their horses and calling themselves a Rescue, actually using the words from my own campaigns for donations for our 501 (c) (3), state licensed Rescue!

Let me point out here – Dharmahorse has been struggling. We don’t know where the money or hay for next month will come from! Every donation goes directly into the Dharmahorse account to be used only for feed and horse care. The improvements here (including every fence for pens, arenas, etc.) come out of Mark and my pockets entirely. He and I pay the bills for utilities. He and I cover our own needs and pay the mortgage! We post all of the financial information on the website so donors know exactly how that money is used. That is how it should be done.

So, yesterday, after a tour of the place and hearing the horses’ stories, the visitor said to me that the horses seemed friendly and happy. “And healthy”, I said. “Oh, they’re not healthy”, she said. “They are very healthy”, I responded. She continues on about how they all have such problems…. they are not healthy. I refused to let that stand. I told her they are are all healthy now. “well, they are shiny”, she said.

As I walked her to the gate, I thought about how people see things. I guess horses with some age on them, overcoming brutality and starvation are probably not going to be “usable” in a competitive sense… although our Sage, after four months wearing his hooves how he needed them, competed in the Las Cruces Horse Trials and took second in his division. This was after being unable to walk from the driveway to his paddock when he arrived….

So some people see our shiny, happy, healthy horses and think we’ve got it all under control – and some people see these horses as having no value because they have special needs – and some people can’t bear to hear about the abuse some have suffered nor see photos of their battered, starved bodies. But, some wonderful people truly see these horses and make donations and volunteer to help care for them and become a part of a tribe filled with genuine compassion for this life.

And because of these people, we had a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner and Star Party last night!! Not everyone could come; it had to be after dark, so driving home was an issue for some. I had lost contact with others who I wished could have been with us (but, we’ll do it again!).

And Mother Nature participated in the Love with clear skies, no wind, chilly (not frigid) temps and perfect viewing. We couldn’t have asked for more!




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What scares horsewomen most

The school and boarding stable I had here in Las Cruces (started in 1982 at the Briarwood Dressage facility built around the dome house I bought north of town) was at the back of a long field of alfalfa. My turn out for my own horses was the arena and boarders went out in the field that was fenced with black rubber fencing. The arena was made of 1 by 12 boards on 4×4 posts with one strand of electric fence on top that was only turned on when horses were loose inside.
I had all the school horses out one very windy day – 10 horses of varying ages, sizes and temperaments. I was mucking when the wind actually blew the top boards off of one line of fence, breaking the electric tape as well. One of my school horses was a retired open jumper named Smokie (Holy Smoke) who was the only equine that did not jump the lower boards and gallop off across the country side! He looked at me as if he knew he wasn’t supposed to leave – I yelled at him to “stay” and took off after my disappearing herd of 9! One of those wildly galloping bay geldings was Halftone – the babysitter who could barely do a one mile an hour jog in a lesson… now leading the whole group, full speed down the road and through a large mobile home park set within an orchard. Zigzagging through trees and fenced yards, my herd stayed together and parents were grabbing their children from the swings and slides, holding tight to them. I was gasping for air, legs cramping as I tried to keep up (foolishly) with my horses.
They made their way around and turned back toward home. When I finally got to the barn – my neighbor (a young girl who took lessons from me and knew each of the horses) had put Smokie in his stall and was slowly catching the exhausted, sweating, just a bit too pleased with themselves school string. We pulled their water and started rubbing them down, offering small drinks until they had all cooled. The wind kept howling. I thanked my neighbor profusely and never charged her for a lesson after that day.

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And the winner is…

A “Win – Win” situation… I hear that often. It is a truly profound statement when it is used. Most times our society is equating winning with being higher, better, stronger, smarter than others who must, therefor, lose.

And it is dramatic when a rider is told to “show him who’s boss”; “you must win the battle with your horse”; etc.

Battle? If a battle ensues within a relationship with a horse, the human is 99% of the time the instigator. A battle can demoralize one of the parties and it invariably ends up being the horse.

snookie jump

So, this “Win – Win” situation sounds like the best way to approach relationships and dialog with horses… heck, with all beings! I have personally found my way there through decades of experience and relationships with Appaloosas. Oh, I have owned and schooled Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Mules, Quarter Horses… you name it! But the time I have spent with Appaloosas has honed my skills as a proponent of “The Middle Way” and brought me to a place of thoughtful consideration of the other party in each relationship. Appaloosas have an acute sense of what is fair and the ability to know if you are honest and mean what you “say”. They will hold you to task. And I appreciate that.

If we seek that “Middle Way” of partnership with our horses (and family and coworkers and neighbors, etc.), with respect for the other’s feelings – knowing that there are always reasons for how we all respond to life – we will All Be Winners. No One has to lose!


I once was told that my ideas were too “simplistic”; that the way I lived was “idealistic”. How COOL! I will gladly fly the SIMPLE flag and hold myself to the idealistic standards of compassion and trust. If we all just cave in to the idea that struggle, brutality and force are the normal aspects of life and relationships… well, what sort of life and relationships will we experience?
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Being Conservative – this isn’t what you think….


I was raised to be conservative. To conserve water… the land, food, trees, petrol, propane, toothpaste, toilet paper. I grew up with the mantra “save some for tomorrow”. My grandfather, Charles Hodel, was a famous conservationist. He fought strip mining. He made our family legacy one of awareness that too many humans would plunder this world and that “less is more”.

I also grew up running printing presses. The real kind. Lithography… I even learned some Letterpress… but with the lithographic process, you are mixing water and ink. The ink sticks to the places on the printing plate that have an image and the water coats the blank parts of the plate with no image.

So, the pressman is constantly balancing that ink/water ratio with dials that release each onto rollers inside the machine. When the image starts getting too dark, some operators add more water. When the image lightens, more ink. You see where I’m going with this!

I had to learn to balance that ratio. Every good pressman learned that. I thought about these things this morning in the shower. The water started cooling as I washed my hair and I instinctively turned down the cold tap (instead of turning up the hot). I thought about a step daughter who I took care of during a teen pregnancy who took long, hot showers twice daily. I swore that she took the shampoo & conditioner instructions literally; “wash – repeat – apply conditioner – leave conditioner 5 minutes – rinse thoroughly”… my conservationist self squirmed!

I fed her and myself with a garden I started in February under cloches (I wrote about them for Organic Gardening Magazine, called it “Cloche Encounters”). I hope that I taught her ways to conserve; ways to live well with little. I have not heard from her in decades…


So, I sit here on this New Years Eve contemplating my lovely new life. My new name. My new dream. My new focus. My new horse!

One thing that will never change for me is my deeply rooted practice of conserving. That Middle Way of balancing the things of life and Earth is ingrained into the cells of my body… it is genetically encoded into me. Granddad Hodel was born of Swiss immigrant parents. He was entered into the Congressional record upon his passing and they called him the “Albert Schweitzer” on crutches… I’m so proud to be the daughter of his daughter!

My Australian husband is making me some toast. He is chilling Celtic cider for tonight. I am starting potato, beet, parsnip and kale soup for tonight in the crockpot and have the black-eyed peas cooked already. We will trim Dream Cat’s hooves in a few minutes and I have one lesson to teach before noon. I now have stepsons on the other side of the planet… life is such an adventure!

We must step into this New Year, into 2018 with dreams intact. With a focus upon simple, logical, compassionate themes and a bit of that “save some for tomorrow” mentality… truly, LESS IS MORE.

Rock on

Katharine Chrisley-Schreiber!



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