Thursday, October 9, 2014

Compassion Fatigue

             There is a very real problem with those of us involved with animal rescue, sanctuary work, and the veterinary field as well. It is called “Caregiver's Burnout”, I think I have it. For the last 15 years I have watched my beloved animals grow old and frail. I have been there to care for them every single day. I have held them in my arms for their last breath. My last gift to them. Some people think it gets easier each time you loose one, that's not entirely true. It gets harder as each new loss stirs memories of heartache. Each one adds to the last until you just can't.
           They come to us so broken. Their minds, their bodies, their spirits, so broken. I can so identify with them. Horses have Post Traumatic Stress, anxiety attacks and pain. None of this can be expressed in words. We can only guess, but I have been there too.
I have held the faces of 30 horses, that I can think of off hand, as they died. Not all of them were mine, but I felt that they needed to know that they were loved, no matter what. If their owners couldn't do it, I would.

            We have 10 horses and ponies left at EOTS, the four ponies are all young but the horses are between 24 and 31 years old. They are all broken beyond repair. I watch as each one grows older and fades away. Czardas at 31 is being provided with hospice care, any day can be her last. My beautiful Faith at 24 has just gone blind in her other eye. Auto-immune disorder I'm told by the vet. She went blind in her right eye four years ago, now her left one is gone too. My heart is so broken, at times I can hardly breath.

           We lost four horses in the last two years. At those times my mind somehow shifts me into what I call “the gray place”. This is new. I don't know how it happens, but I feel nothing. I go about the business of what needs to be done and manage to go on. When my own horse Fancy left me at 31 years old, I kept asking myself “Why don't I feel anything? What's wrong with me? I've had this horse half of my life and I feel nothing...”I don't cry much anymore. It usually takes alcohol to get me there. I don't really want to feel anything, good or bad, staying in neutral is a good thing.
           Recently a woman who was an animal behaviorist committed suicide. Looking out at the world and the horrible atrocities committed against animals that are so wonderful and intelligent is sometimes too much to bear, knowing that there is nothing we can do about it. I guess she was too young to have found “the gray place” yet. So very sad.
         The best we can do is stay inside our own little bubbles, care for those within it and not look too closely at the horrors going on outside. Make things known to the masses. The the voice of the voiceless, and then, let it go. Feel comforted in the fact that you've done the best that you can, then hug your own animals.
          We are their care givers. We can try to find a way to go on if we can. Some of us can't.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Eye of the Storm Equine Rescue and Sanctuary

      Eye of the Storm is a horse rescue and sanctuary that has been in operation since 1999, housing between fourteen and eighteen horses at all times. We usually take in end-of-the-line horses that can live a long, healthy life with the help of people to care for them despite their infirmities. These horses would otherwise be euthanized or sent to slaughter. Most of our horses can no longer be ridden, due to blindness or career-ending lameness. One had post-traumatic stress, which caused debilitating nightmares and anxiety attacks from having been “trained” as a Spanish dancing horse. She recently died at age 29, in our loving arms. Like her, most of our horses remain with us for their entire lives or are fostered to trusted friends. We do not adopt out our horses to the general public. Most of them could not thrive elsewhere.
Pink during an episode of PTSD being comforted by her friend Aly

      We also educate the public on the plight of the unwanted horse as well as expose atrocities within the industry from a common sense prospective, through our blog and Facebook page. We are internationally known for finding a natural remedy to manage Equine Cushing's Disease. We are the longest running small equine rescue in the state of Massachusetts and are completely run by volunteers. 100-percent of all the money raised goes directly to the horses' care.

      Many young girls have grown up as Eye of the Storm volunteers. One is now a marine biologist. Another, Jessica has gained her license as a therapeutic riding instructor for people with special needs. She has discovered “clicker training.” This is how sea mammals and other exotics are trained; it is a reward system that works well on horses and gives them much-needed stimulation. Jessica, now an adult, is still with us and is a valued part of our rescue.
One of Jessica's rescues trained entirely with "Clicker Training"

      All our little girl volunteers have one of our horses or ponies as their special project to clicker train. So, from our teeny blind miniature horse Butterfly to our 16.2 hand Thoroughbred, the equines are learning new and fun things that do not require being ridden.

      Most of the girls who have come and gone through Eye of the Storm have been unique, artistic and creative people. Horses tend to ground us in an otherwise difficult world. Most of the girls have told us about their difficulty at school and with friends; some had formerly considered suicide. The horses provide them a healthy, safe relationship free of judgment or bullying. We strive to teach responsibility and compassion. So far, they have all grown up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. Many start out doing community service for us, but end up staying for years. Horses and our girls thrive on their love for each other.

      One of our goals is to set up an area of the barn where these girls can feel safe and comfortable. We want a warm and nurturing place where they can do their homework while sitting with their favorite pony. We would like to be able to encourage them to pursue their talents and teach them that being a little different is okay. They feel valued because the horses need them. They would be welcome to stay with us long term, or just stop by when they need to.

Some of the ponies being groomed and "Clicker Trained" by the girls

      Our problem is that the property that we rent does not fulfill our long term goals. Our aging landlord is now considering selling off the property, leaving our horses homeless. It is an old chicken farm and the barn, built for chickens, is over 70 years old with outdated electric and water systems. (I routinely have to fish small wildlife out of the well.) There is no bathroom or caretaker’s living quarters on the property. We’re constantly trying to patch the barn and its roof, but sometimes it seems that it is only being held together by love. We really need to move before the situation becomes more dire.

      We want to rent or purchase a farm that fits our needs. Any grants approved will go into an account specifically for this project. Our target goal is $500,000. We, of course, still need to feed and care for our horses at our current location, but can no longer spend any money improving the building or fences.

      What we need is a place to house our horses, an onsite house or apartment for the horses’ caretaker, and money to hire a general handyman, hopefully a veteran.

      We are requesting any amount of money that you deem fit to help our cause. The sooner we attain our goals, the sooner we can set up our program to help all involved. We have proven that we are in it for the long term after being in operation for over fifteen years. Thank you so very much for your time and support.

Nina Arbella
Eye of the Storm Equine Rescue

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Not Another Sad Story, Yay!

       In my last article I was angry. In that state sometimes I get a little preachy, sorry. As I watched our beautiful Pink mare struggle in her last nightmare about the terrible abuse inflicted on her so many years before, I could only watch her and try to comfort her. I could not take away the horror that she had been carrying all that time. It was obvious she could not understand why so much pain had been inflicted upon her. What was the purpose? What was it that “The Torturer” wanted from her? It was obvious that her “training” was never completed, but what did happen completely shattered her mind and body. She could never forget, asleep or awake, she was haunted by the memories.

       Yes, I was angry. I hate being helpless, but I could not help her. Only death could take away her fears.

       Then, one day Jessica discovered “Clicker Training”. Ever a sceptic, I refused to believe! Why bribe a horse to do things that they should be doing anyway? After all we don't ask much of them here at EOTS. They only need to be respectful of us humans, stand for the farrier, move out of our space as we work around them, etc. For the most part they do all those things. In exchange we cater to their every whim and need. All of that works well enough – so there...

       Then along came Zephyr, my beautiful, incredible foal!! So kind, so good, with that “all the lights are on” look in his eyes, so focused on me, completely untrained. I knew the moment I saw him at 3 months old, just a little non-descript furball with sticks for legs, that there was something special about him.

       We got him and his mother, Thursday, in December and put them in a stall and did not have a chance to handle them much until Spring. By then Zephyr was bigger and untouchable. We managed to separate him from Mom in and ajoining stall and wrestle a halter onto his face, but he would throw himself over backwards if any pressure was applied. He also was still a stallion which comes with it's own group of problems.

I am 63 years old. I have been with horses every single day since I was 12 years old. I knew how to ride a horse before I ever actually rode one. Horses and I have always “known” each other. I have seen the progression of “training” methods in this country grow and change. From the tie them down, to bucking them to a stand still, to terrorizing them into a “safe place”, and all of the other stuff in between. I watched as the “natural horsemanship” craze kicked in, some of it was just a more updated version of cruelty practiced through the ages. Through it all many horses actually learned stuff, from “trained helplessness” to spinning in tiny circles on one hind leg until their bones and muscles gave out. Ever obedient slaves. All of it just a testament to their ability to learn, no matter how brutal.
To me “clicker training” was just something else to add to the list of training fads that have come and gone in my life.

Well through the years I have made a multitude of my own mistakes. Through ignorance and a seriously insane temper, I have instilled fear and probably caused a few nightmares myself. Not knowing any better is the worst excuse of all, at least for me. Though most humans would not agree, I am not like that anymore, for the most part. Most humans are not able to live inside my energy field but the horses seem to like it. So do I. The horses know they can count on me (almost) all the time.

I always felt there had to be a better way, that communication was the answer. But how? Horses have always been more intelligent to me than everyone else thought. They have been kind and patient for a very long time, though you can see the frustration in their eyes while trying to “explain” to us stupid humans. If we take the time to look, there is always a reason for their actions.

And so here I have this brilliant foal, a pure clean slate, a sponge to sop up all the good on the bad of the world. Here too, is another chance for me too, to do it right this time. I felt this way about Viking Too in the beginning, but his spirit is Loud!! His actions are violent and he and I never “clicked” (forgive the pun). He is a horse for a younger person to deal with. Jessica who is 24 years old is taking him to her new farm in Maine. They will have a blast together. I am too old to be yanked around by the likes of him!

The quiet, gentle spirit of my Zephyr is more my speed at my age. I am so charmed by him. With his huge liquid eyes and the softest nose in the world. He came along just in time to help with the heartache of loosing 4 beloved old horses in the last year.

Now Jessica is my teacher. It was really hard for us to swap roles. For the last 10 years I was the teacher. But she has discovered the thing that I believe I have been searching for all my life, a way to communicate with non-humans.

I watched the kids play the clicker game with their chosen ponies at EOTS and thought it was cute. The ponies responded and were taught to target and do little tricks. I still wasn't particularly impressed. When I was their age, unburdened by glimpses of mortality and the ability to ride any horse at all. Horses that willingly did anything I asked of them, I needed more convincing.

Enter Zephyr. I had no control over him what so ever. Though we had some kind of bond from the very beginning, he was still not halter trained but very excited to learn things with me. But where to begin? So Jessica said “Why don't you just teach him to stand still?” … “Huh?” was my intelligent response. So Jess taught us our first lessons in clicker training. I am now a believer. In less than one minute Zephyr was politely standing next to me with his head turned slightly away, a click and a treat and he would have done that all afternoon!

This came in very handy when the huge oak tree over his barn needed to be trimmed and he stood beside me for an hour while chainsaws screamed and huge branches swung from ropes while a man was strapped to the tree high above us. He was afraid at first, but the clicker game was definitely more rewarding and as I calmly stood there he felt safe. At that time he also learned to hack up. All of this took place without a halter or lead rope. He has since learned to walk beside me at the proper distance. We continue to progress together.

He has now been gelded and is ready to move into the main barn where there are lots of mares. I could no longer put it off. At 1½ years old, he had to be halter trained. With no real trouble at all, using the lead rope as a “target” if he began to get confused, I get his focus back by asking him to touch the rope with his nose.

All that I know about clicker training is what Zephyr and I have learned together. Jessica is becoming and expert.

And so just when I thought it was over for me, as I waited for the last of our old horses to die so I could quit, a new chapter begins. I guess you really can teach an old nag new tricks!

When I remember out poor beautiful Pink and all the horrors she survived during “traditional training”, I am so sad. This needs to be a new chapter for us all. Horses don't have to be terrorized or forced. We owe them the chance to show us what they can really do by this form of communication.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Letter to the Torturer

I just want you to know that Pink hated you to her last breath, who ever you are.
She was soft as a kitten and the color of pink cotton candy. She should have belonged to, and been loved by a little girl all her life, but she wasn't.
She was tortured by you. She tried to dance for you during her episodes of Post Traumatic Stress, we saw the anxiety come into her eyes when she remembered you. She would lift her legs, one, two, three, four. Then she would growl, roar, and kick out, she would bite the wall in rage! You think you broke her? Well you're wrong!

I saw her when she lay down for the last time, the ligaments in her legs gone. I watched her dream about you. I saw her kick and strike and bite you over and over again. All the years that went by, but she never forgot you. I pray that during this very last dream she finally killed you.
I sat at her head and petted her face, wiping the tears that fell from her eyes, I told her that I had her back and I would protect her from you while she slept in peace until the very end.
And so, Torturer, in the end, she won. She fought you one more time. Her spirit so strong that you could not break it.
She now is peacefully dead. Safe from the memory of you, never again will you haunt her. Awake or asleep she could not escape the memory of your abuse. It is over now.
And so all you others out there that think it's okay to abuse “dumb” animals, all you who think it's okay to maim, cripple or mutilate them in the name of sport, fashion, or “tradition” - cutting off dog's ears, horse's tails, horse tripping, bull and dog fighting, abusive “training” practices, the soring and tail breaking of the gaited horses, Spanish “dancing” horse trainers, Rollkur, etc. - Do you really think animals are so unaware? That this is acceptable? Really??

Well Mr. Torturer of Pretty in Pink, you are a Loser! This dear sweet soul responded to our love, she chose a human to be her very best friend. She loved her Aly. She came to us emotionally damaged and mentally shattered, but she never stopped hating you. Do you think horses don't have emotions? That they don't remember their enemies? Well, with my own eyes, I am a witness that you are dead wrong!

And so, soon, justice will be served. You will not be torturing horses much longer. I pray that you get to face the sins you have committed against Pink and. all the others that you have “trained to dance”. And to all the other torturers out there, you will pay. Very, very soon it will all end. There will be justice for the innocent ones, for none of them belong to you. They are the possessions of the creator of the universe and he is watching you! “revenge is mine, I will repay, says Jehovah” (Romans 12:19) All of the chapter eleven of the book of Isaiah describes the paradise to come concerning animals and humans “they will do no harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain”. At that time all the torturers will be judged. Where will you stand?
Poor innocent, beautiful, little Pink mare, may we find her again in paradise, untainted by fears, horror, and hatred of the torturer.