Written By Barbara O’Brien
“Some people can’t be trusted.” At least that is what my son, Wes, would tell you about me and my husband, Kevin. What started out as an innocent, overnight trip to celebrate our 29th anniversary quickly turned into a horse rescue adventure. Now, we need another horse like we need a hole in the head. We were up to fourteen a few years back and were now down to eight. This has proven to be a nice, manageable number with a good mix of young and old.
When we left that day, Wes, ever the eldest, warned us, “Now, don’t get into trouble, you two.” How much trouble could a middle aged, small town couple that didn’t smoke, drink or gamble get into?” I thought. I must tell you, we are actually pretty boring. We usually get a room at a B & B, have a nice dinner at the Branding Iron, and then spend the next day poking around antique shops. I forgot that Kevin and I are dangerous when we are away from the responsibilities of the farm and family.
As we were driving to the Preston/Chatfield area in Southeastern Minnesota I mentioned to Kevin that I had seen a post on one of my horse internet forums about a herd of over 40 Morgan Horses that needed to find new homes quickly or they ran the risk of being sold to a slaughter broker.
It was a just a casual comment, but Kevin was intrigued. He has the biggest heart in the world and this is why he is not allowed in animal shelters. “We don’t need another horse,” I said. “I only mentioned it because I think it’s sad to see someone lose their farm and have to sell all of their carefully bred horses.” “Where are they he asked?” “Mason City, Iowa,” I replied. “How far is that?” he wondered. “Only about 100 miles from where we are staying tonight.” I could see him thinking about it. “Let’s go see them,” he said finally. “Why? You know we would want to bring at least one home.” “Com’on, it will give us something to do tomorrow.” His eyes lit up like a little boy who has a wonderful plan in mind. “You don’t want to go back right away do you?”
I need to preface that last sentence for you; you must understand that, because we have kids and animals, we never go on any real vacations. This one night, annual get away to an area only about 70 miles from our home is the only non-work trip we take. We would do anything to not have to go right back. We like to drag out the experience as long as possible, usually not arriving home until well after chore time.
“Besides,” Kevin continued, “you can take some pictures for them and that may help the horses place faster.” I looked at my ever-ready camera and had to agree. More pictures are always better than fewer. And the rescue group’s most recent pictures were taken during a snowstorm, so they might appreciate a few more with better light.
We mulled the idea over dinner and then I contacted the rescue group and they said they would be thrilled to have us meet the horses. That night, at the bed and breakfast, just as we were about to go to sleep, we both swore that we would only take pictures and not bring home any horses. Absolutely not!
The next morning, we drove to Mason City, Iowa, where Kathi Ring, of Gentle Spirit Horses, the rescue group, was waiting for us. She introduced us to the owner. He was an older gentleman, who, because of a death in the family and facing eminent foreclosure, was being forced to sell the horses. We felt bad for him, as the herd represented over 30 years of some of the finest names in the Foundation Morgan horse world. He had been offered $250 per horse by a slaughter broker, but chose instead to ask Gentle Spirit for help.
Since he had lost his farm, the stallions and young stock were being housed at two adjoining feedlots and the broodmares were in a small grass pasture. With my camera in hand and Kevin ready to assist we went into the lot with the 2-7 year old mares and geldings. We had been warned that they had not been handled much, but within moments, we found ourselves being mobbed. Bays and blacks, buckskins and chestnuts and even a grulla came to see what we doing. They sniffed us and many allowed themselves to be scratched. My camera and the fact that I was crouching to get a better angle fascinated them. Kevin was surrounded by curious youngsters as he unfurled the disk shaped reflector we use to bounce light on a subject.
I tried to shoot as many as I could but it was hard to get individual horses, as they naturally stayed together in tight little bunches. I settled for grabbing a few headshots of as many as I could. The young horses were all very sweet and well bred of course, but it was easy to walk away. With their breeding and temperaments, I told myself, Gentle Spirit would have no trouble placing them.
We then went out to the pasture that held a group of bred broodmares, three young stallions and mare with her foal. They were also curious about us and came up to be petted. I spotted a mare with palomino foal lying in the corner of the field and managed to get a few shots of them before they got up.
As I left the mare and foal and was framing my next shot, a particularly lovely bay mare walked right up to me. She was accompanied by her offspring, a two year old bay filly and a yearling buckskin stud colt. I scratched her chest and told her she was good mother and then moved on, hoping to get all the horses done before we lost our light. This merry trio, with the bay always in the middle, began to follow me around the pasture. Almost every time I tried to take a picture, the bay mare rudely interrupted me, by nosing my shoulder.
It was then I looked deeply into her kind eye and I knew in my heart it was all over. This mare would have to come with us. Now, I work with animals all the time. There have been countless puppies and kittens from animal shelters, and I even occasionally help out other horse rescues so I am pretty immune to their plight. I have managed to harden myself to their advances, as I must keep my numbers manageable. It wouldn’t be fair to the animals if I had more than I could love and care for. But this mare was special, and she was doing everything in her power to tell me that she was supposed to be mine.
Maybe the universe told her that we had lost our beloved bay Morgan mare, Cinder, to cancer two years ago. Or perhaps my first horse, who, coincidently, was a small bay Morgan mare that looked just like her, whispered to her from horse heaven. It was like she knew… and I’d have to agree, I knew it too.
I didn’t say anything to Kevin although I could see he liked her also. She wasn’t even halter broke but she let me pick up her hoof and moved softly away from pressure when I asked. We finished up with the stallions in the front lot and said our thank-yous and good-byes to Kathi and the owner. We didn’t say much on the way home and, anyway, I was doing a rough edit of the images on my laptop. As I viewed the images, I was struck by how kind the eyes were of every horse I photographed. They were intelligent, curious and so typically Morgan. I hoped my efforts would help them get new homes.
My mind kept drifting back to the mare. She was so sweet and kind. Even though she was not broke, I knew it wouldn’t take much to bring her around. Morgans are, as a rule, willing and thoughtful horses. They are the Border Collies of the horse world. Give them a job to do and they will do it. And they will enjoy doing it, too.
That night, after dinner and chores and we were settled in, I said to Kevin, “We really don’t need another horse.” He looked down and slowly shook his head. “Agreed?” I asked. “Agreed,” he said sadly.
I tried to sleep but I was still thinking about the mare. I knew that we were doing the right thing. We can’t go along rescuing every poor horse we see. As one of my other sons, Warren, would say, I was letting my “impulses pirate my thought processes”.
Suddenly, I had the image of Kevin as a pirate in my mind, “Arrgh!! Lassie, she is a fine horse and we should go and get her,” he growled in his best pirate voice. “But we have enough already,” I protested weakly. “No, me fine Lass, you can never have enough horses. Let’s set sail for Mason City, Iowaay and bring her home. Arrgh!”
I tossed and turned and finally fell asleep. The next morning I woke up to a horse snorting and nickering outside my window. It was exactly the sound I hear when the horses have gotten out and are wandering around. I ran to the window and looked out and saw the bay mare standing in the yard below with my other Morgans. She was flanked by Beauty and Finn, once again in the middle. “How did you get here?” I wondered, and then I woke up. I had been dreaming all along. Was it some kind of sign? Kevin heard me moving and was soon awake himself. I looked at the clock. It was only 5:00 am.
“Barbara?” he said quietly. “Are you awake?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I think we should get the horse.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Me too,” I whispered. “Me too.”
“Agreed? He said. “Agreed,” I said.
Later that morning I contacted the rescue and sent them the check to bail my mare out.
She will be arriving just in time for Christmas. When I told Wes about it, he laughed and said, “I knew it! I just can’t trust you guys. You always get in trouble when you go out of town.”
I haven’t named the mare yet. The rescue is still working on identifying who her parents are and who the sire is of the foal she is carrying. It really doesn’t matter to me. I
know her heart, and she knows mine, and she will tell me her name soon enough.
If you would like to help with the Gentle Spirit Horse’s rescue/placement efforts you can find more info here: