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...
It's always nice to have good news at the ranch! A couple of things to report...
Our new arrivals, whom I haven't even had a chance to put on the home page, went off to a foster home today. This 30-year-old Appaloosa and 18-year-old mini-donkey were rescued November 23rd from a field near Wings. The owner, who lived across town, was found dead in his home and no one knew where his animals were. They were found in a pasture with very little grass and no water and Debora brought them to Wings immediately. The next day when I arrived to work, the first priority was to clean up the Appaloosa's back end, which was covered in frozen poo. Yuck, poor guy!
We had some damage from that crazy windstorm two weeks ago. I happened to be finishing up my shift at the barn when the wind started, and it was quite intense. I had to try and get the big barn doors closed so they wouldn't get ripped off the buildings, and luckily I was able to do that. A few times I just stood there with my arms over my head while the tornado-like wind swirled around me. Dust everywhere! Debora drove in with a horse in the middle of all of this, and while she was unloading the horse it panicked and got free.
Laura Weise is a Wings volunteer who lives in Stevensville and will be bringing you stories of life at the barn.