Head vs. Heart: A Follow Up

I believe in transparency.

I believe in truth and integrity.

I believe our family – be they donors, volunteers, Facebook friends, or longtime followers – have the right to know what goes on within our gates and our ventures and our decisions and our lives.

Before anyone starts worrying, let me just say quickly that all 31 of our herd are good. They’re happy and healthy and while I need to post some updates on some of our usual Facebook stars very soon (Rain, Chiquita, etc.), they’re all doing great. All the humans around here are doing pretty well, too.

Well, I’ll be honest.

Not me so much.

I wrote the other day how we’d been quiet on Facebook because we were busy cleaning up the facility after all the rain.

There’s another reason I haven’t been posting too much.

I’ve been putting all my energy into dealing with a situation that began over a month ago – with a letter from a lady who needed homes for her two horses – that escalated over the past few days.

I told you about the two new horses in a blogpost called Head vs. Heart two weeks ago.

Daisy Mae and Braveheart.

I told you about how their owner had written us a letter begging for help, and we made a decision to give them a forever home after none of the rescues or sanctuaries in our network were able to take them.

This was two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, we said yes, we’ll open up our gates to two more spirits. We’ll house them. We’ll love them.

We started making tentative plans for their day of arrival.

I told all our volunteers and staff about the decision. I told all of YOU guys about the decision.

Most everyone jumped over the moon. The words of love and support lifted me and all of us here to the high heavens.

I posted pictures of Daisy Mae and Braveheart on our volunteer board along with their owner’s letter so everyone could see them and get excited over them.

This was two weeks ago.

As of Tuesday this week, they are no longer coming home to Tierra Madre.

And I’m grieving the loss of those two horses we never had.

Not only am I grieving, I’m deeply scared for them.

Now, I’m having a hard time writing this at all, because there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to talk about the details and just keep this under the radar as not to bad mouth anyone, particularly anyone going through a difficult time.

But I can’t keep silent. I won’t. Because in this big, big mess there’s a lesson here for the entire equine rescue/sanctuary sector to learn as well as horse owners everywhere.

Awareness needs to be raised and education needs to be spread, all for the sake of those who can’t speak for themselves.

This business is messy, because – as Jim has told me time and time again since Tuesday in a valiant attempt to comfort me – we deal with human spirits and horse spirits which are complicated and inconsistent and ambiguous.

That said, I want to really reign in what I write as I tell you all what happened. In my anger and grief and sadness and denial and bewilderment, I don’t want to say anything unkind or unfair.

The long story short is this: Their owner decided she did not wish to surrender her horses to us.

She and I emailed back and forth many, many times over the past two weeks with regards to where her horses would be living, what their current diets were as well as their supplement intake, when she wanted them blanketed, what medications they were on and why, previous vet analyses as well as farrier work, dental work, etc., etc.

She loves those horses. That’s the silver lining in all of this. She cares for her babies deeply and for that, she has my respect.

Sometime about a week ago, she asked if she could hold on to them until her house sold. Only she didn’t know when that would be. Weeks? Months?

Uh…

I gave her a date. I told her we would give her until the end of February to get them to us, but that in our line of work we were used to handling emergencies and urgent situations – holding pens for that amount of time was going to be a stretch. But, I understood her reasoning – she’d gotten a little extra time than she’d anticipated and didn’t want to give up her horses just yet.

Then came more questions. And with them, demands.

I won’t bore you with details. Basically, she wanted to dictate how much of different supplements the two horses received every day and was insistent that they not receive bran, that we blanket them at certain temperatures, that we tie Daisy Mae during feeing, that we…

Again, all normal from a worried horse owner about to give up her babies. I gently told her about Tierra Madre’s feeding routines and assured her all would be well with her kids.

On Tuesday (two days ago), we had our final email exchange.

I’m going to exercise my civility and continue to reign this in in the nicest manner I can manage.

The owner grew agitated and wanted to know specifics about what her horses would be receiving here (again, she didn’t want them to have bran). She also asked if we’d ever had a coronavirus outbreak.

Again, I believe in transparency.

I believe in truth and integrity.

I told her yes, we’d had a coronavirus outbreak a year ago, but that we’d managed to contain it within a week or two thanks to our heroic vets and our hasty sanitization of our property. I told her only a few of our herd had been affected.

Then, I told her that at Tierra Madre, we do things a certain way based on our 100% success rate with our feeding schedules and supplements and medications. And at our ranch, at our vet’s recommendation, we feed daily bran mashes with electrolytes and mineral salt in lieu of psyllium pellets for colic prevention (a few other horses in need of a further boost in gut health also receive beet pulp and apple cider vinegar). And since changing a horse’s diet all at once is irresponsible, I told her we would gradually wean her horses onto our tactics.

When she emailed me back, I must have read through everything four or five times in shock and bewilderment.

I fear this is getting too long and gossipy, so I’ll suffice it to say that she became convinced we were putting her horses in an isolation pen away from the other horses; stated I’d lost her trust since I wasn’t going to follow her instructions; implied that any ranch with a coronavirus outbreak wasn’t suitable; questioned “what we’d done” with the horses that came down with the virus (um, we healed them?); and came to the conclusion that we were hiding other things from her.

Did the words, “Wait, what?” just come out of your mouth?

Yeah, they did for me, too.

Here’s the lesson that needs to be shared with our community, and it is a little dosage of something called Reality:

Once you surrender your horse to a facility that operates as a rescue or sanctuary, you lose the right to have any say in that horse’s diet and overall care.

Our vets have worked wonders on our herd since 2004. We’ve been doing this for over a decade for horses who have walked in our gates in worse conditions than should ever be legally and humanly acceptable in a living creature. We know what the hell we’re doing.

Sometimes horses come in with misdiagnosed conditions and our reevaluations pull them onto the path of recovery. It’s happened many times before.

But Daisy Mae and Braveheart’s owner didn’t like this answer and said she’d take her chances keeping them with her. Nor did she accept the aerial photograph of our facility I sent her, pointing out where her horses would have gone so she could see it wasn’t an isolation pen. And when Jim called her himself yesterday morning to reiterate what I’d said over email and express concern for the wellbeing of her horses, I’ll only say publically that she didn’t like what he had to say, either.

So.

Saving horses is the name. Sometimes, broken hearts is the game.

The past few days, I’ve wanted to curl into a ball and cry and scream into the wind and shake this owner by the shoulders and yell in her face, “Do you KNOW what happens in an auction ring?? In a slaughter house??”

I know she’s clinging to them desperately. I get that.

But what on earth will happen to those two horses when her time runs out?

Jim tells me she might call or write again in a few weeks or a few months or whenever her house sells and she can’t find another rescue or sanctuary that will meet her demands. It could be in a few weeks, they could be in our pen and I’ll write on here to say everything changed again.

For those horses’ sakes, I surely hope so.

I am trusting that she loves them enough to do what is right, and that she won’t bring them to a facility that might tell her what she wants to hear then separate the two of them and sell them to the kill buyer the moment she walks away.

But I just can’t believe this.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blogpost about how we were getting two family members. That I was so glad that in the decision making process, I’d listened to my heart and not my head.

Two weeks ago, I was imagining these two new spirits and wondering about them in excitement.

Who would they be? What would their personalities be like? Who was the leader in their little herd?

Where would they want to be scratched? How would they take treats? Would they vacuum them out of my hand like Sedona or take them gently and one by one like Heighten?

I could already see two pairs of bright eyes watching me with excitement as I came over with halters to get them out of their pen for playtime in the arena.

I could already hear two new whickers of excitement as I came around with the food cart.

Two weeks ago, I sat in the knowledge that we’d saved two more innocent souls from the horrors of slaughter.

Today, I am scared for them and am hoping with every fiber of my being their owner sees reason soon and puts them in a safe place, because kill buyers are around every corner.

Today, I’m sitting in grief, looking out into the field at the corner office that stands waiting for two family members who – as of today – will never come.

That pen is empty.

And so is my heart.

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