It's almost over. Today has been a sunny, breezy day, the air filled with red, yellow, and orange leaves. I know I griped about this very time of year in my last blog entry, but I'm determined to be like our dog Clem and live in the "now." I will banish all thoughts of sleet, dark days, muddy and unwieldy horse blankets and will pray for another snowless winter, that is, except for the one week before and the one week after Christmas.
Dolly heads up this entry since the color of her coat is in keeping with the season. She is what is termed a "red" mare. And there is an axiom about red mares: they are temperamental and oppositional. But that's not the case with Dolly, who is sweet and eager to please. That's why our local vet declared her not red but "pumpkin," an even more seasonal appellation!
Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue
This past Saturday I took a break from the farm and drove down to Haddam, a charming town in southern Connecticut, to attend the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue's Octoberfest. Some of you will remember that I bought Dolly for sixty dollars over the phone with a credit car from a wholesale auction house in order to prevent her from going to slaughter. I didn't want to drive down to New Jersey to pick her up. An equestrian magazine was interviewing me that afternoon so I wouldn't have arrived in Jersey until well after dark. A more compelling reason was I didn't want to drive down there with a four-horse trailer: if there were other horses about to be shipped out to slaughter I didn't trust myself not to plunk down $180 and take three more. Fortunately, I was put in touch with Debbie and Jeff Blaschke of the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue. They were going down that morning to pick up a little Haflinger mare.
The Blaschkes immediately discovered that Dolly was semi-feral: she'd had never been handled other than to be corralled into a stock trailer along with her emaciated herd mates. It took Debbie and Jeff over three hours to get the terrified Dolly into their trailer. The original plan was for me to meet them at their place in Connecticut, but they decided it would be in Dolly's best interest (and mine) to drive her all they way up to Windflower Farm. This added five more hours to what had already been a long and difficult day. So, when I saw on their Facebook page that they were having an Oktoberfest I jumped at the opportunity to re-connect with these wonderful people and to get an up-close and personal look at some draft horses.
Haddam and its sister town of East Haddam are charming but complicated little towns. Cell phone reception is sketchy, and my Garmin GPS navigator decided that this was the place to totally pack it in. Add to this mix a Map Quest printout that not only baffled me but also every person in Haddam and East Haddam who had it thrust in front of his or her face by an increasingly desperate me. I was in trouble. I stopped at a service station whose only attendant waved me off with a disinterested dismissal: "I have no idea. I can tell you where you are but not where you should go." I stifled an impulse to tell her where she should go.
I pulled over when I saw two teenage girls wearing t-shirts, shorts, and walking along the road in bedroom slippers. Haddam is not only complicated but apparently quite informal as well. They said they could help and the one in lambskin slippers dialed her mother. Here are snippets of what I heard:
"Mom, how do you get to Moodus Road. I'm near Sharon's house."
"No, we're not going to Moodus Road. There's someone here who's asking directions."
"Mom, it's a lady." Pause. "I said we aren't going down to Moodus."
"No, we're nowhere near her car! She just needs some help."
"Mom, she's nice--she's got a puppy with her!"
Gender, their lack of proximity to my car, as well as Clem's presence, finally put Mom at ease and directions were relayed via her daughter. I was to turn around, go straight until I came to a 7-Eleven, then turn left. That would be Moodus Road.
But that was not to be. I ran into a road block and a detour! I stopped (despite a number of cars behind me) and told the policeman there that my final destination was Rock Landing Road and the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue.
"Never heard of either. And I've lived here twenty-six years. You're in the wrong town."
Argghhh! After I insisted that I was in the right town, he did give me directions to Moodus Road. However, following his directions to the letter I soon found myself right back at the service station with the disinterested attendant.
As a last resort I managed to place my cell phone in a spot that received slight reception and called Juliane back in Acton. After multiple, crackled repetitions I had some sort of number. I dialed but no answer, just Debbie's friendly recorded voice promising to get right back to me.
Actually there were even more twists to my crazy search--but I'll spare you. I was just about ready to surrender and return to Acton when I saw a couple walking a Golden Retriever. Between Clem's excited barks--he'd been in the car way too long and wanted to play with their dog--they told me I was in East Haddam and that I wanted to cross the bridge to get to Haddam. Been there, done that about ten times I declared. But then came this interesting bit: there was piece of Haddam, like a kind of island, that was actually encircled by East Haddam, and there were a couple of horse farms there. All right, one more time. A horse farm would likely have heard of the Draft Horse Rescue. And after the husband and wife settled their argument whether I was to turn right at the second light or just after the second light, I reversed course and gave it one more try. I turned onto Haddam Neck Road, a name unbeknownst to me and Map Quest.
Settled in 1712? Well, you'd think that the inhabitants would have had ample time to become familiar with their own roads.
As Pope said, "hope springs eternal" and after a half mile or so I saw white fencing, a barn, and lots of parked cars. My hope was springing!
And then this--yay!!!
That policeman who redirected (or misdirected) me hadn't lived in Haddam long enough!
Meet Jeff and Debbie Blaschke holding the picture of Dolly I brought them.
Jeff and Debbie Blaschke Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
And now amazing Grace!
Grace Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Grace is a ten-year-old Percheron mare that the CDHR rescued, along with her four-month-old foal, from the New Holland auction house in Pennsylvania. Those of you who have read The Eighty Dollar Horse already know about this place. It is run by the Amish, who along with the "killers" constitute the greater part of the bidding audience. "Killers," who buy the bulk of the horses, mules, and donkeys, cram them into stock trailers and drive them to slaughter houses, the majority of which are in Canada (miserable death) and Mexico (horrific death!)
As was the case with Grace, many of the horses who go through New Holland are skin and bones, aged, lame, or have open sores from the ill-fitting harnesses they have worn doing years of farm work. When people hear the word "Amish" many conjure up bucolic images of a simple, God-fearing people who eschew modern conveniences and serve up great traditional fare at their numerous restaurants that cater to tourists. They are pacifists who believe it wrong to hurt a fellow human even if they hurt you.
But many Amish are cruel to their animals. After years, often decades of hard work, when the animals are either too old or too lame to pull farm equipment or buggies, it's off to New Holland or some other like-minded enterprise. I myself have seen a number of lame horses--mostly Standardbred track discards--trotting down unforgiving pavement driven by unforgiving Amish drivers. Why does it count as a sin to have a telephone or a freezer in your house but it's just fine to mistreat your animals?
Fortunately for Grace and her foal, Debbie and two other founders of the rescue, Stacey and Elyse, were there and able to outbid the killers. Had they not been in attendance, mother and daughter would have been sold individually and ruthlessly pulled apart before being loaded onto the trucks. Rescued and in Connecticut, they lived happily together until the filly was old enough to be adopted into a loving home. Here are two more shots of the majestic Grace. The first I took from the seat of the carriage when it was my turn for a ride:
Grace Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Grace Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Another Draft Pick
Lacey Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
This is Lacey, a twenty-one-year-old Percheron cross mare saved from the killers. I haven't spent much time with draft horses, and when I did, they were either being exhibited or in harness working or about to work. This was the first time I was in their company when they were at home and at rest. They are so gentle, so kind, and there is such a nobility about them. I hope the above photo of this magnificent mare conveys these qualities.
More Draft Picks
Sally and Belle Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Meet Sally and Belle, affectionately known by the rescue volunteers as the "Goldie Girls." They are both Belgians and in their mid-twenties. They were pulled from two different auctions but, as you can see, they seem to have been friends from way back.
Both mares were amenable to being photographed, though I had to wave them back or you'd just be seeing photos of an ear, an eye, or a few whiskers. When I tried for a more "artsy" shot and lay down on my back, they both hastily repaired to the inner sanctum of their run-in shed. Sally and Belle had obviously not come across many supine humans. And they were not about to come back out. Debbie could not stop laughing when a couple of volunteers tried and failed to coax them forward by calling them their names. No dice.
Sally and Belle Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
At first I thought I'd just walk in and get behind them. On second thought, no. I'd be putting myself between two enormous hindquarters and the back wall of their shelter. Of course, they were friendly and sweet but they had already declared me a person of potentially malevolent interest. And I'd broken more than my quota of bones this year, so I left it to their good friend Joe to come to the rescue:
Joe and the Goldie Girls Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Still shy but not fleeing:
Shy Goldie Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Better, but the retreat option is still on the table:
Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
I'm sorry to have caused Sally and Belle even the slightest distress. After what they have been through they deserve nothing but days filled with hay, oats, security, and kindness as well that occasional extra streak of purple in the mane that a volunteer lovingly applied (see the photo above, "Shy Goldie").
Final Draft Pick
Faith Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Last and least--in size only--is Faith. She came to the rescue by way of a local auction that usually limits itself to cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. She is part draft and part something else, perhaps paint. She is five, just beginning her training, and, as you can see, a lovely mover. Her canter is a lofty three beat, so she is going to make a wonderful sport horse.
There is seldom a horse lover who isn't a dog lover as well. So, when you meet a horse rescuer chances are you're meeting a dog rescuer, too.
Brindle Greyhound Girl Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
This girl is an off-the-track rescue I met at the Fest. Those elegant and gentle eyes should never have had to focus on "Swifty" the mechanical rabbit, nor be kept in a cage for twenty plus hours a day--for years. At last she has what she needs: food, freedom, and a family who loves her, not for how fast she runs, but for who she is.
Civil Disobedience from Clem! Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Those of you who regularly follow my blog will recognize the above pup. Yep, it's our own little rescue Clem who I brought along for company. He and I obviously hail from the same family since he, too, believes lying on one's back is the thing to do when in the company of draft horses.
Passive Resistance Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
In his patient non-violent refusals, Clem must be a disciple of the dog world's version of Ghandi! Despite verbal encouragement and commands, coupled with gentle tugs on his leash, Clem demonstrated--passively, of course--that he had no intention of following me into the barn to see the draft horses. The last time he entered a building--other than his own house, that is--it had been an animal hospital where he experienced unpleasantness in the form of two shots. But civilly disobedient Clem got lucky. He found a wonderful friend in Hayley, who happily dog-sat while I got a barn tour from Debbie:
Clem and Hayley Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
After the tour I lingered with Clem and his new best friend. Hayley informed me that she herself had a dog like Clem except he was dark brown. She asked me to guess his name. Not surprisingly I struck out three times.
"His name is Cocoa, and guess what he's going to be on Halloween?" After my having failed to guess her dog's name, Hayley excitedly supplied the answer without so much as a pause: "A cocoa bean!!"
CDHR Trips to New Holland
The New Holland Auction takes place weekly, so thousands of horses do not get rescued. Surprisingly the horse that the killers prefer is the Quarter Horse. That breed has a better meat to bone ratio than all the other breeds that come through, including the drafts. Quarter Horses are often backed at the ridiculously young age of two when their bones, ligaments, and tendons are not yet developed enough to sustain the sliding stops and spins, the constant rocking back on their hocks in reining and cutting, nor the bursts of speed required in racing. And when their young bodies give out, off they go! There is no shortage of them at the auctions. If you look at the lists they are often only five or six years old.
Rescue groups attend these auctions but only when they have the money and space to bid. The Amish are the principal buyers and sellers. On a good day they can purchase the replacement for the animal they have just brought in, to use their term, to be "beefed."
The Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue can only return to New Holland when they have placed enough horses in homes that adopt them and as a consequence have more available stalls of their own. They make the trip down to Pennsylvania with an eight-horse gooseneck trailer several times a year. (On occasion they have squeezed ten draft horses in the trailer in order to save two extra.) The average bid they must make to beat the killers is three hundred dollars though on one occasion there was one horse so sick and so skinny the killers didn't want him. The Draft Rescue bought poor Curly for $25. The rescue intended to make him comfortable for a few days before humanely euthanizing him. But damn, if that old boy didn't rally! He has since been adopted as the contented pasture-mate to another horse. He does have cancer and will have to be euthanized when it incapacitates him, but right now he is enjoying a wonderful life.
At any one time the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue houses eleven to fourteen horses. Each consumes between a bale and a bale and a half of hay a day, plus grain and vet expenses. The monthly costs of the Draft Horse Rescue average six to seven thousand dollars, so they are always in need of donations and volunteers. If you have time, money, or would just like to see some beautiful creatures click on here: http://www.ctdraftrescue.com/
Note: Of course, not all Amish are cruel to their animals. I know of two who are excellent Natural Horsemanship trainers and very kind. I'm sure there are many more. Unfortunately, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Additionally, I must add that none of the information contained in this entry about New Holland or the Amish was provided by the New England Draft Horse Rescue. I have known about Amish cruelty to their animals for decades. I have, however, recently learned something new: The Amish are now known for maintaining hideous puppy mills. They are found in barns and kept out of sight. Many of these dogs don't see the light of day until they are sold to some pet shop or an Internet buyer who thinks he is getting a deal And though their religion prohibits them from using the Internet the Amish happily engage the "English," i.e., us, to post these pups online. They employ the same third party hypocrisy with a number of horses they breed for sale, particularly Haflingers.
I will close with another fall foliage girl. This is Firefly on a crisp morning:
Firefly Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly. See you soon--
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