One year ago today was one of the worst days of my life.
On May 4, 2017, I lost one of my dearest friends in the world.
Having been in the horse rescue world for almost a decade, I love each and every horse I care for with everything I have. They are my brothers and sisters, closer to my heart than anything. When they leave this earth they take a part of me with them.
But I only connect with a few on an otherworldly, soul level.
Sonora was one of the few.
Upon seeing her for the first time, I knew we had broken out of the same mold many lifetimes ago. After knowing her for an hour, I was the only one who could convince her to get in the trailer that would bring her to a safe place, and despite the fact that she didn’t know me and certainly had no reason to trust me, home to Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary she came.
She was the first horse I could ever call my own. She was given to me that very day we rescued her by Jim, who took one look at the way she followed me and said, “You saved her. That little girl is yours.”
So technically Sonora – or Nora, as I called her – became ‘my’ horse… but she wasn’t, really. She wasn’t really mine. In the end, it was always the other way around. From the moment we met to the moment she left me, I belonged to a horse that was somehow a living, breathing extension of myself.
She died on May 4, 2017, after a rapid decline due to laminitis, one week after she turned fourteen.
I have never been the same.
I never will be the same.
But this post is not about what happened one year ago. This is about today, and tomorrow, and every day yet to come.
This is about the future of horse rescue, or so I hope.
This is about telling a story. Our story.
During the weeks that followed Nora’s death, I simultaneously did two things: I Google searched other jobs that would remove me from the horse rescue world forever and ever, amen, and I read everything about laminitis that I could get my hands on. Eventually I did that second thing more than the first.
For those of you who may not know what laminitis is, let me tell you:
It is a killer.
Behind colic, laminitis (lam-in-EYE-tis) is the number one killer of horses. It is a hoof disease that affects the laminae, which are interdigitated, incredibly strong tissues that hold the coffin bone (the bottom-most bone in a horse’s foot) in place. In laminitis, those laminae break apart and the bone separates from the hoof capsule, rotating downward. It is excruciatingly painful and can be caused by a number of factors including a diet high in starch and sugar, insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, steroid use, gastrointestinal distress – even bad trims play a factor.
I’d known about laminitis for some time. I had a pretty good idea of what it was. But after it claimed the life of one of my best friends, suddenly it became imperative to know more.
So, I became obsessed. Everything having to do with laminitis and founder and farriery and contributing factors to the disease and general hoof anatomy, I was there. I’m still there. I’m still frantically reading and learning.
And as I read and read and read academia about laminitis and tried to find scientific articles I didn’t have to pay for and looked up hard, complicated words I didn’t understand, I realized over time I was searching for resources for horse owners that were vet-backed, comprehendible, and geared toward prevention.
I found none.
I found lots of seminars that only vets and vet techs would understand. I found websites with a couple basic paragraphs about the disease.
But easily accessible resources? Tips for recognizing signs? Pinpointed causes? A breakdown of available treatment plans? Knowledge about choosing the correct vet/farrier team? Tips about necessary therapeutic farrier work that was not furthering some sort of hidden agenda about shoes vs. barefoot trims?
Over several months, I spoke at great length about this to our therapeutic farrier at Tierra Madre, who worked on Sonora in her final days and who trims laminitic horses in partnership with equine veterinarians – including Tierra Madre’s vet – on a weekly basis. In January this year he became our primary farrier, and during his weekly visits I pestered him for answers about what was available for horse owners about laminitis.
And through speaking to him, other farrier friends of his who would accompany him on occasion, and conducting my own research over the course of many months, I came to a startling conclusion:
We as a horse community are lacking in laminitis education and awareness as a whole. Just as I had been unable to see what the true problems were with Nora’s feet in the early weeks following her arrival, many horse owners are unable to correctly recognize signs and causes of laminitis. Just as I had been, many are unaware of just how many treatment options are available and how aggressive it needs to be. Nora had had laminitis for years prior to coming to Tierra Madre, and she was treated with absolutely everything that was available at the time, with all the knowledge that could be found.
She is proof that we need more. Owners and advocates everywhere need more than what is currently, widely available.
Furthermore, as evidenced within our own network of individuals who have surrendered laminitic horses to us in the past and stories we hear of laminitic horses in our rescue community, an emphasis on the importance of a unified vet and farrier partnership is lacking. Standards for therapeutic farrier care for laminitic horses are nonexistent, meaning that sometimes, what a vet intends and what a farrier delivers as far as a treatment plan goes can be two totally different things.
Most importantly of all, although Google searches exist, I have yet to find for horse owners readily available, easily understandable literature, videos, webinars, and seminars about each and every detail surrounding laminitis in horses. I have yet to find anything that attempts to piece together the massive, complicated puzzle that is laminitis.
ACTH levels. Insulin resistance. Hoof anatomy. Trims and choosing farriers. Abscesses. Diet. Equine metabolic syndrome. Gastrointestinal distress. Mechanical laminitis. Steroids. Commons signs. What to do if. How to act when. What to do first. What to correct immediately. Why this way. Why that way. There is so much to cover. So much to understand.
There is no cure for laminitis. Prevention is the only cure, and without education there is no prevention.
While continued laminitis research must play an enormous part of this battle, until we know how to prevent and protect, horses will continue to die despite them being in the most loving of hands.
I wondered why someone didn’t just start something that would accomplish this goal of gathering a team of people together who could help the horse community at large. And then, alongside many other realizations as I navigated life without Nora in it, I realized… I am somebody.
And so, I present the beginnings of an organization that will be dedicated to offering education about laminitis to both horse owners and rescues who too frequently treat laminitic horses saved from severe neglect and abuse.
We will focus on each miniscule detail that envelops the complex disease including basic anatomy, signs, causes, treatment, and prevention.
We will break down scientific, vet-backed evidence and research to create online content including articles and videos. Additionally, we will begin teaching workshops in January 2019 that will be open to the public.
We will target riding barns, tack stores, farrier shops, horse shows, and rescues to spread awareness. We will do outreach and network and offer help to any horse owner who wishes to challenge themselves to learn more about laminitis.
We will fundraise for what I foresee to be minimal costs of writing and producing educational content in order to provide free education to the public. Within five to ten years, I sincerely hope we will be able to award small grants to owners struggling with the financials of bringing a horse back from the disease.
I am currently going through the process of legalizing my organization through the Arizona Corporation Commission. The next step afterward will be to obtain my legal 501(c)(3) public charity status through the IRS, after which it will become an official nonprofit entity.
And while it is certainly a work in progress and I expect to see it grow within this year as I identify members of my team, I would like to introduce my board of directors that has been with me from the very start, and thank them for their support:
– Jim Gath, my partner at Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary – out of which we will be operating until the day comes I get my own facility – whose guidance will help us target different sections of the horse community here in the Valley. As someone who founded a nonprofit horse sanctuary over a decade ago and who has dealt with laminitis back in the days where very little education was available, Jim will bring a needed perspective to our future articles, videos, seminars, and workshops.
– John Samsill, APF, Tierra Madre’s therapeutic farrier who has personally seen the effects of laminitis in horses over many years and not only understands the importance of education for owners, is committed to ensuring that correct guidance is given. With his help (and patience for my thousands of questions) I have begun to map the outline of the educational content our organization will offer, and he will be instrumental in guiding our workshops we will someday offer.
– my husband, Alex Ferri, my chief technology officer, has spent the past several months building our website, which will be launched towards the end of this year. He will also assist me with some of the technical aspects of running a nonprofit such as web upkeep, email software, etc.
My next target is to get a certified equine veterinarian on my board, who will serve as an advisor for all content that we release to the public. I will continue to define roles that need to be filled and seek out hoof specialists, equine welfare organizations, nonprofit professionals, and certified veterinarians all over the globe who would have valuable insight as to what horse owners need to hear.
Well, there’s a lot to do. A lot will happen over the next six months. In January 2019, I hope to be ready to launch.
If you are interested in joining our future newsletter to hear the latest news and updates about this organization and its mission, you can email me at my newest email address which I will post below. Stay tuned for the launching of our website, volunteering opportunities, ways to give, and ways to commemorate a horse you love who was lost to laminitis. Best of all, stay tuned for the downloadable content about all things laminitis as well as future dates for our first few workshops in Cave Creek.
And one year from now, I hope to look back on today and think, one year ago was the beginning of an organization that will bring about change in the horse community.
An organization that will help people and horses alike.
An organization that will decrease the number of equine who die every year from laminitis.
An organization that embodies the will to fight my Sonora carried with her till the end.
And perhaps most importantly of all, an organization that tells a story: the story of a beautiful red mare with an unbreakable spirit, who died far too young, too full of the will to live.
Laminitis takes so much from the creatures that built this country, from those who literally carried us into gunfire, from those who pulled our plows and dragged us across the untamed West to build what is now the United States of America.
Laminitis takes what we always take for granted in any living being. It takes health and energy. It takes weight and strength and the spark out of horses’ eyes. It diminishes the reckless, breathless freedom that horses embody and instead inflicts pain and suffering. It begets hopelessness and despair.
It takes life.
It takes just about everything. But there is one thing we can’t let it touch.
It cannot take away the will to keep fighting.
Whether you win or lose, you fight. When you are up against all odds, you fight.
Grief can stop you – oh, how I know it can stop you. Or it can fuel you.
One year ago today my little girl left me. I still can’t believe it’s been that long. Some days, it feels like yesterday. Others, it feels like it was eons ago.
One thing is certain.
Nora, my wild one,
I miss you. I will always miss you.
This is for you.
Sonora’s Cure is an upcoming 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Cave Creek, Arizona that will offer easily accessible and credible education about the causes, signs, treatment plans, and prevention of the fatal hoof disease laminitis.
To join the future newsletter list to receive our most current updates, please email the founder and president of Sonora’s Cure at email@example.com.
Snail mail and inquiries can be sent to:
Attn: Alexis Roeckner Ferri
27115 N. 45th Street
Cave Creek, AZ 85331
Alexis can additionally be reached at (480) 208 – 6896 or firstname.lastname@example.org.