Our little mini-donkey Ariel passed away today from complications of liver failure. It's always so hard when this happens, especially when it's a sweet soul like Ariel. She was always so friendly, coming up to me looking for treats and letting me pet her. The last time I saw her I was helping our volunteer Justin brush out the last of her scraggly winter coat before she left for her summer foster home. She was so good, she just stood there and let us brush her with the shedding blade.
It's been a while since I blogged because I became ill and had to be hospitalized briefly. Compared to being at Wings, being in the hospital is like a visit to another planet. It's been a bit more than two weeks since I've been to the ranch and been able to say hi to the horses. It feels like a piece of my heart is missing. I'm recovering well and plan to be back at the ranch for an event next week, but it's been a difficult time. Being ill is bad enough. Being away from the horses...I miss them more than I can say. They have been a huge part of my life for more than a year, and I know now that I don't want to live without horses in my life. If you've ever spent time with horses you know what I mean.
I missed all the fun the past two weeks. Wings in the Memorial Day parade, Wings at the Montana Mule Days, and Wings' new HorsePlay Days program. I loved seeing posts on Facebook but I miss all the people and animals that make Wings a special place. I hope some of you got to see the equines at Mule Days and meet some of our staff and volunteers.
The thing I miss doing the most is feeding the horses. There's something so basic and fulfilling about caring for them, making sure they have water, giving them their mash and hay, nurturing them just by making sure their basic needs are met. There's a new rescue I haven't even met yet, and I really miss seeing Baby Ellie growing and learning. I'm doing my best to get well quickly so I can get back to the things that really matter to me: horses.
by Phil Connelly
The Wings mini horses Lucy and Dancer paid two visits to the residents of Sapphire Lutheran Homes in April as part of our community outreach. Laura, Sherry, Karen, Debora, and Lisa accompanied the mini’s. Residents very much enjoyed spending time with the horses. Lots of photos of the horses and the residents interacting were taken (some of which will be shared with the folks at Sapphire). Residents of Sapphire can look forward to two additional visits which will take place in May.
Yesterday I got to meet Ellie, the baby mini-horse who was born at 2 a.m. on May 1st. Her mom, Dolly, came to us at the end of January. She was rescued from a breeding facility along with other mini-horses, mini-donkeys and mini-cows. We weren't sure when Dolly would deliver her foal since no one knew when she had been bred, but there are certain physical signs that birth is imminent so Debora just kept checking her. We got a stall prepared in the barn with comfy bedding, a red heat lamp and a table outside the stall stocked with whatever might be needed to assist in the delivery. Dolly started showing signs that she was almost ready. And we waited...and waited. We put Dolly in the foaling stall at night, and Sherry and Debora took turns checking on her all night throughout the last week. And we waited...
It's always a relief when Spring arrives! I love living in Montana, but the winters can be tough to take sometimes, especially working outdoors. I always look for that first buttercup in my front yard, and that gives me hope that the warm weather is coming. This spring was tempered by the loss of our beloved Spike, who died in his sleep at the end of March. He was so sweet, such a wonderful spirit, and it's always hard to say goodbye to a friend. Debora wrote a nice memorial to Spike, and it reminded me of my own animal friends that I have loved and lost. I always try to remember that the joy they bring to our lives outweighs the pain of saying goodbye. I'm so glad I knew him.
It's been an amazing year for me as a Wings volunteer. I started last March as a total beginner horse person. I hadn't been near a horse in probably 15 years, unfortunately. Now, I can walk out into a field, catch and halter a horse, bring it to the barn, groom it, and pick hooves. I've learned a little massage, I've done PEMF therapy, I've even washed a horsey rear end! I never thought I'd be doing all these tasks, as well as regularly feeding horses and helping make decisions on their daily care. I've gone from newbie to board member and volunteer coordinator. I never could have done all this without the great team at Wings that takes such good care of these animals.
These are the contents of my pockets these days, horse treats to get the horses to trust me, hair ties to keep my hair from being a snarl at the end of the day, and a little Craftsman pocket knife that my dad gave me when I was ten, because he told me you should always have a little knife handy in case you need it to fix something. I'm always trying to be a little more organized and efficient at the ranch because there's a lot to do to take care of roughly 30 equines, so my dad's advice has come in handy. There are so many times I've been out and about on the ranch wishing I had a knife, so I finally pulled "Old Crafty" out of a drawer.
Wow, it's not even the end of January and I'm so tired of the ice...I mean the mud...I mean the icy mud! I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about and have some version of this mess in your life. At the ranch it means pens full of snow that became puddles, then lakes, then ice rinks, then mud pits. I don't remember ever having such crazy up-and-down temperatures in winter. Our staff and volunteers have been busy just trying to manage things during the weather changes and everyone has really pitched in to make sure the horses and donkeys are as comfortable as possible. For the most part this means breaking up or covering up ice, checking blankets and replacing bedding.
It's a new experience for me to work outside during the winter. I realized that after living here for 23 years I haven't really felt winter the way I have this season. Instead of spending just 15 minutes at a time outside with my dogs and then running in the house to sit in front of the woodstove, I'm now spending hours at a time outside and running into the feed room to warm up. :-) I'd have to say that so far it's been okay. I had the foresight to get a good Carhart jacket with a hood and a really good pair of winter muck boots. Those two things, combined with down-filled gloves my mom bought me and a cowl she knitted (thanks Mom!), have made all the difference.
It's never easy to say goodbye and Amigo was no exception. He was a big, swaggering dude of a horse. It always made me smile to see him come walking up for food. He reminded me of how John Wayne walked...and I kept trying to get it on video but he was too quick for me. By the time I would remember to get my phone out and get the camera going he'd be at the fence looking at me as if to say, "C'mon already! I'm hungry!" I groomed Amigo quite a few times this past spring when I first started volunteering at Wings and he was always patient and let me work on him. For a bit...
Laura Weise is a Wings volunteer who lives in Stevensville and will be bringing you stories of life at the barn.