The Weakest Step

May 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

I see her in the mountains.

I see her in every saguaro and palo verde and creosote bush.

I feel her in every breath of wind and in the sun on my face.

I hear her charging across the sky.

I look all around me and she is there, breathing life into my aching heart.

With every breath I take I miss my little girl.

And to be honest with you as I always try to be… part of me has wanted to quit all of this.

Run away so I could never feel this pain again. Choose another career that would never break me so intensely. Find another place to work that would never subject me to the cruelty of losing a beautiful, wild, happy, spirited angel with her whole life ahead of her to the horrors of laminitis.

But when I’m at my weakest I look around me and see Chianti peeking over her stall bars, hoping I’ll sneak her a treat or two.

I see Studley give a happy little nicker when he sees someone walking towards him with a halter.

I see my brother Chance, his eyes such a unique shade of light gold, looking at me with such understanding.

I see Sedona sneak a bite of alfalfa out of a passing food cart then try his best to look innocent.

I see Rain – an acute laminitis survivor – walk back in forth with such ease and contentment.

I see Guess happily splash the water out of her tub onto her chest (and part of Bella’s face) and on the ground.

I see Rusty standing patiently while some of our younger volunteers hang off of him.

I see Iron Man, dark coat shimmering in the sunlight, toss his magnificent head.

They still stand.

They still face tomorrow.

And just as I realized when I was 17 and meeting these horses for the first time, if they can live on despite all forces that tried to bring them down… so can I.

I meant to write about my last day with Sonora and how it mirrored our first. I meant to write about what she gave to our ranch and how she was so loved and how lucky we all were to get to love on her one last time.

I still can’t. Maybe someday.

For now, we all still recover. Because as selfish as I am for writing about *my* heartbreak, Nora was a part of everyone here.

She belonged to no one. She was untamed and free-willed and fiercely independent right till the end. But she gave everyone here her heart. Willingly and trustingly.

And she took a piece of each of us with her to the Great Herd last Thursday.

We are all – as always – forever grateful to each of you for your support. I write such a raw post in the hopes that it offers some insight into the reality of the horse rescue and sanctuary world. I write so that you may understand how powerful your place is in our battle.

Sometimes we get our hearts ripped out and torn apart. We face terror and doubt and devastation. We stand on the edge of the abyss. Sometimes we fall.

But with you at our backs, we also rise.

And we keep going.

“The weakest step toward the top of the hill, toward sunrise, toward hope, is stronger than the fiercest storm.” ~ Joseph Marshall

Liz Lee Studios

An Announcement: Sonora

May 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

She’s gone.

My little girl, my sister from the moment our eyes met, my beautiful, young, wild and spirited mare joined the Great Herd today at 12:30.

Liz Lee Studios

Her X-rays yesterday showed further rotation in both front feet and her coffin bones were actually starting to sink. She was losing weight, her poor legs shook with exhaustion, and every now and then she’d put her nose on the ground and stand still as she quietly, bravely powered through a wave of pain.

It was time. She knew it, too.

When she was first brought through the gates two and a half years ago I led her out of the trailer and she stepped forward eagerly, excited at what awaited her. Today, I walked her back up that lane and despite the level of pain she was in, she didn’t stop or struggle. She wanted to go. Everything was peaceful, the look in her eyes most of all.

Her spirit was strong till the end. It never broke, not once. But my heart has.

Early Mornings, Life, and Moving On

July 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have had trouble sleeping recently, but this morning’s restlessness came from quite another source than the unclear reasons that have been making it difficult for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. Today I think I was subconsciously remembering the awful news I had woken up to yesterday. When I awoke around four this morning, I felt exhausted, but my mind was spinning too much to focus on drifting off again.

After an hour or so of non-exciting contemplation, I decided I was not going back to sleep despite the fact that I had gone to bed only a few hours before. So I got up, found my glasses, and crept downstairs as quietly as one can when one’s ancient house creeks and moans with every fraction of movement.

Gypsy was sitting on the rug in front of the front door. There is a narrow floor-length window between the entrance and the start of the stairs, at the bottom of which she usually sits and plots ways to escape and eat the birds that dare to fly past her outside, but today she was not facing the window, as though she had decided to show the birds that they were not good enough for her. As the stairs loudly announced my arrival, she turned to see who had come to join her, gave my hand a disinterested sniff when I offered it to her, then went back to her plotting. Smiling, I left her alone and looked out the window.

It was dawn, and the sun had barely begun its ascent into the sky. More often than not, the incomparable Arizona sky is the purest of blues; today, however, small monsoon clouds were stretched out across it as though someone had taken a paintbrush and swiveled it in the sky. Some were purple and foreboding in the early morning, others were streaked with pink and reflected the sun that was coming to grace us with its warmth. Save for the movement of Gypsy’s bird friends, all was still. The ground, waiting for sunlight, seemed ready and capable for whatever would come across it. Had I risked making the noise of an explosion by opening the front door, I imagine the air would not only have been hot (it is July in Arizona, after all), it would have been very fresh and new, not yet staled by the continued movement of the sun.

Gypsy had risen as I stood looking out the window and walked over to rub her head against my legs, mewing. Wordlessly I picked her up and held her to the window so she could see more than she could at ground level. Usually when I do this in the early morning she struggles until I put her down again, but today she must have caught sight of the sky, because almost at once she became uncharacteristically still. Suddenly her eyes weren’t big enough to capture all the beauty of the world outside and, I found as I turned back to the window, neither were mine.

There is something so striking about the start of a new day, something about it that makes me stop and reflect on happenstances and ideas that often come to my mind without me realizing I’m thinking them. Silence and stillness have a way of bringing suppressed thoughts to light. As Gypsy and I stood together – or rather, as I stood and she sat contentedly in my arms – and looked outside at the world that was beginning anew, I thought, as I so often do, of so many lives that are not here to witness the miracle that is an early morning. Little Ame Deal, a Phoenix girl whose horrific murder I have not forgotten to this day. Horses that I knew and were my dear friends that have moved on from this life to the next. Victims of war across the globe. Children who will not survive the planet’s daily dose of malnourishment or thirst or disease. And, more recently, the twelve moviegoers in Colorado who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Death that has occurred senselessly is something that cannot be understood. We can learn the motives behind the ones who were responsible for ending such sacred life, but death itself, brought about by emotion or mental sickness, is something no words can wrap around and describe. I humbly believe all we can reasonably do during times like these is simply bow our heads and thank whatever deity or energy or giver of life you believe in for allowing such life to exist, if only for such a short amount of time. Times like these strengthen my resolve to ensure that such tragedies don’t happen again and my desire to find solutions to unanswerable questions. But most of all, times like these just make me sit back and look at not individual threads of life, not bits and pieces of what is meant to be a larger picture, but the entire grand design of existence itself.

Life has a beautiful and mysterious way of always moving on. The lives of our fellow human beings are taken – often ripped – away every single day. And yet, although it seems cruel or unfair for it to do so, the world knows its responsibility is to keep on turning. It goes on gently but steadily, as though undeniably aware of our pain, yet forever reminding us that with each end there always exists another beginning.

Those who do not walk with us today are witnessing something far grander and far more beautiful than anyone on Earth could ever imagine, something far more incredible than what Gypsy and I watched this morning. They are celebrating in a place we know not of, and though we mourn them today, we must remember that wherever they are now, they are at peace. They are content. They are joyful. We are the ones stuck in a world where the bad too often arises over the good. We are the ones left to ponder the meaningless or confusing ways in which their earthly lives were ended. And we are the ones who must stand together if we are to see our ways through the unbearable sadness.

Now more than ever is the time to celebrate the lives of those we have lost. As we move on from what is now now and continue on into the future, we will find that each now is the time to remember them always. We owe it to them, to their memories, to simply remember. Furthermore, we owe it to them to live our lives in such a way that when we die, we will leave behind a world that is a little better than it was when we entered it.

Whenever the ranch I volunteer at loses one of its beloved horses, the owner of the ranch, my dear friend Jim, always quotes White Elk: “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

Today the world goes on.

Today we try to make sense of a tragedy – and indeed, many other worldwide tragedies – that simply cannot be understood.

And today we remember that while those who are gone are rejoicing far away, here in this world, we are all we’ve got. And surely as the sun will rise again tomorrow like it did for Gypsy and I today, that is a fact that is never going to change.

Tyler’s Story

June 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

The other day I was going through random piles of junk in my room when I found one of my old songbooks under my keyboard. Upon opening it, I revisited the stories behind so many lyrics I had written between the ages of twelve and seventeen. (I have not written any songs on my piano in several years, but I think if I really searched for it, the instinct might still be there.)

Anyway, as I was flipping through this notebook, I came across the lyrics of a number I had named, “Tyler’s Song”. And in a flash his story came back to me. It is one that I have carried with me for years and one I will not forget until my dying day. Above all, I think it is one worth sharing – if anything else, perhaps it will serve as a lesson to those who read this.


Just before I turned fifteen, my family and I moved from California to Bradenton, Florida, a little city on the west coast that is roughly ten miles north of Sarasota. I attended Lakewood Ranch High School. Maybe the awful experiences I had at that school (and in Florida in general) made what happened even worse in my mind, I don’t know. Either way, telling Tyler’s story always brings back feelings of deep, deep sadness and regret.

One November day when I was in my seventh period chorus class, an announcement came on over the intercom system telling all teachers to immediately turn their TVs to the school channel. (LRHS had its own news channel within the school that was run by students; that’s how we got our announcements in the mornings.) So my teacher flipped on the TV and we saw my principal sitting behind his desk, looking at the camera with a very serious look on his face. Immediately the mood in my class sank; we knew something was wrong.

Our principal began to speak. He told us how that morning, two students had left campus without permission: Tyler and Amanda, he said, were their names. Tyler, a sophomore, had been driving and Amanda, a junior, was in the passenger seat. To this day it is not exactly clear why they left campus before school ended.

Less than a mile down the road that led away from the high school, our principal went on, Tyler lost control of the car. He hit the median in the road and the car swerved to the right. It rolled over several times and crashed on the driver’s side on the side of the road.

Amanda had been wearing her seat belt, and walked away with no major injuries. Tyler had not… and he was killed on impact.

Our principal paused for a moment after saying these words, as though the weight of them had made him physically unable to speak. “I cannot stress how important it is that you kids always, always wear your seat belts,” he said, choking a bit as he spoke. The rest of his words were a blur. He went on to say something about how there would be grief councilors at school in the morning to speak to us, and said a few words I can’t recall about always remembering Tyler. Then he was done, and my teacher wordlessly reached and turned the off TV.

The memory of the stunned silence that followed the end of the broadcast has not left me to this day. I remember only murmuring an explanation to the girl next to me who didn’t speak English very well and was confused as to what had happened. Besides that, everything was silent. We were horrified. We’d heard about deaths from car accidents all the time. Certainly they happen in the news all the time. But the idea that this time, this time the one who had been killed was one of us, somebody our own age, taken from us not a mile from the school where we sat…it was so much. So much to take in.

I was in shock for at least a week. My mom wouldn’t let me go to school the day following the accident; she said the atmosphere of the school would have been too grief-stricken for me to handle. I objected but she insisted so much I got a feeling that maybe she just wanted to keep me close to her out of gratitude that she – unlike Tyler’s mom – was not a mourning parent. So I sat in my room with my textbooks instead, trying to read but thinking of nothing else but what had happened.

I had seen Tyler walking around school every now and then. He was always surrounded by friends. He looked happy. The idea that he was dead because he hadn’t put on a seatbelt, the idea that his life was taken away in less than sixty seconds because of a stupid mistake, was mystifying to me. I just couldn’t understand it. I still can’t.

They say during the grieving process, people need to have some sort of closure, some way of remembering the ones they’ve lost in order to start moving on. I wouldn’t describe my reaction to Tyler’s death as “grieving”, but I certainly felt I needed to do something. I needed to honor this poor boy in some way. And so I did the only thing I felt I could do – I sat down at my piano and wrote him a song. It only took me an hour. Of all my songs it was probably the easiest to write. It helped a little bit. But I could not forget Tyler and how his life was tragically cut short. I still haven’t, and never will.

It has always been a habit of mine to put my seatbelt on the second I step into a car. But ever since the day Tyler was killed, I always think of him whenever I pull that seatbelt over my lap and click it into place. There have been a few times since I got my license where I’ve had friends in the car that simply refused to put their seatbelts on when I was driving them places. I’d remember Tyler every time. I’d put the car in park and refuse to drive until they did as I asked. And as we drove, eventually, I’d tell them his story.

Tyler’s death was tragic. But if anything good can come out of what happened, it’ll be the fact that those who knew him will be sure to put their seatbelts on in the future. As my principle said in an article written after the crash that you can read here, “”We always have to look for any good that can come out of any tragedy. If it’s for Tyler that you will put your seat belt on every time you get into a car, then that’s what good will come of it.”

We are not immortal. We are fragile, vulnerable beings and vehicles have the potential to be dangerous. So the next time, reader, you want to skip putting on a seatbelt while driving or being driven somewhere, think of the thousands of people who have died needlessly in car wrecks because they didn’t take the few seconds to put their seatbelts on. Think of Tyler, a poor boy who needlessly died at sixteen and left those who loved him forever grieving. Put your seatbelt on for him, if for nothing else.


Tyler’s Song

Sometimes we make mistakes

Ones that we can’t retake

in this whirlwind we call life

Often our faults can break…break us

We never think these errors can take us


He was a boy, and she was a girl.

Both of them lived in a normal world.

Then one November day

one of their lives was taken away . . .



Never knew seconds could be enough,

never knew God could take someone so young.

Sometimes I wonder, I question fate:

Was it meant to be or was it a mistake?

The rest of the world will go on and on

acting like nothing was ever wrong

Our lives are paved but we just don’t know

For now it’s a broken road


He was going too fast

Thought that his speed would last

But it turns out he was wrong

One quick turn and his car was in the grass

And onto its roof they crashed…he was gone on impact


He was a boy, and she was a girl

Both of them lived in a normal world

She wore her seatbelt that day

He did not…and she walked away…



Never knew seconds could be enough

Never knew God could take someone so young

Sometimes I wonder, I question fate

Was it meant to be or was it a mistake?

The rest of the world will go on and on

Acting like nothing was ever wrong

Our lives are paved but we just don’t know

For now it’s a broken road


How can it be?

Losing your life when you’re only sixteen

I never knew him but to this day

I can’t understand how he was taken away



Never knew seconds could be enough

Never knew God could take someone so young

Sometimes I wonder, I question fate

Was it meant to be or was it a mistake?

And the rest of the world will go on and on

Acting like nothing was ever wrong

Our lives are paved but we just don’t know

For now it’s a broken road


Sometimes we make mistakes…

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