A Four Legged Christmas
Exactly 7 years ago, I adopted Mia at Christmas (actually I fostered, and then foster failure followed but that’s another story) and a few years later realizing I could not foster, I had the opportunity to help out Paws New England in a pinch. Just in time for Christmas we transported a dozen animals from Tenessee to New Hampshire, from a place which did not want them to homes in time for the holidays and it was the most wonderful experience of the true holiday spirit.
This year I was able to head to a different type of rescue operation. Little Brook Farm in Old Chatham New York is one of the oldest horse rescues in the country, and has 96 worthy equine souls in their care as well as dozens of cats and a pig, who scared the daylights out of me when it emerged from under a tarp.
I headed out to the farm to volunteer, bring donations from the community and take photographs. There is nothing so humbling and centering the smell of horses, mucking stalls, hauling bucket after bucket of water, grain and hay.
My first task upon arrival was to walk Paul Bunyan, a former Amish plow horse who with a lot of work went from terrified of humans to a golden retriever. A Belgian, Paul is 19.1 hands small, that’s about 6’3'“ to his back. It is a big like walking with an elephant and as I looked down at his platter size footprints in the mud beside my suddenly petite prints I was reminded of another reason horses are special. Horses have been humans partners for centuries, millenia even.
We have forgotten in the past 80 or so years that the horse power in our car actually refers to these guys. Before the car humans traveling anywhere across land, caring for farms, doing any task really, worked in close partnership with some breed of horse fitted to the job at hand. There is a kinship here that I think we miss out on. We underestimate the value of our furry community to our health and happiness. And the humility we keep from partnering with others, outside of our human community. With the absence of such partnerships from most of our daily lives, we have achieved a hubris, thinking too much of ourselves, and too little of our fellow animals. I absolutely feel this is something current generations are the worse for.
As the day progressed, I did the rounds of the outer farms with Summer, who runs Little Brook, with her mother Lynn and an army of dedicated and compassionate volunteers. With so many horses, neighboring farms have struck up a wonderful partnership, they lend unused barns and fields (common in horse country like this) for LBF horses, which the team cares for, and in exchange the land owners have beautiful rescue horses on their land with no labor on their part, and an agricultural tax break as an additional benefit. Turning the unused land into gold for all. I love witnessing this kind of ingenuity and kindness.
On one of the bigger outer farms I met some of the 15 “wilds” horses who came here in the past few months when another rescue turned out to be corrupt, and rather than allowing them to go to slaughter Summer and the team went over their abilities and took them anyways. The horses had been left in a field, feral and unfed, to breed and be forgotten, except occasionally to be sent to slaughter, where sellers get money per pound of horse meat.
These beautiful sweet animals are slowly coming around, as they were never abused, just severely neglected and starved. Some have already found homes, but many will take a lot of work to come to feel comfortable with humans. It is hard to find time for training when there is so much work to do daily to meet the basic needs of the animals, but the team is beginning to get ahead of it all. This affords time for Summer to work on gentling and training, Tracy to give equine massage and others to bring their special skills to bear.
At another property, I met Jen, a bland name for a beautiful percheron mix, whose fur thick with her winter coat and swirled into beautiful textures by the solstice rains. She placidly let me walk all around her taking photographs of her forelock, main, and tail, once she realized I didn’t have any food for her.
Irish, a gentle draft kicked in the face and left to starve with a broken jaw also grabbed my heartstrings. His adorable overbite and snuggles reminded me just how deeply resilient animals are. With food, water, safety and kindness they give so much.
Although I am usually as much a genius with animal names as I am inept with human names, all the way up to my last hour at the farm I was still meeting new horses-it was very overwhelming and only filled me with more appreciation for the enormous task this dedicated team takes on daily. You cannot stop a task because your back hurts or you don’t feel well - animals will not have food or water. Rescue is a serious commitment to hard work and emotionally challenging love, while many animals make it, some rescue animals do not.
And winter is a tough time on the farm, thick with mud, horses have to be housed indoors, brought out for exercise, and ice is a constant worry for their delicate legs, and it is hard to negotiate with full wheelbarrow or sledge full of food. This is just life on a farm. And I look forwards to returning soon to meet more horses, volunteers and take more photographs. It was such a privilege to meet so many of the amazing people and animals at Little Brook, and the beauty, mud and all was evident.
My stay was all too short and I look forwards to heading back soon.
For more photos from this trip.
$6 - One bale of hay
$20 - Bag of grain
$50 - One month of bedding
$100 - One month of hay
$200 - One month of hay and grain (donate here through paypal or mail a check)
You can also pick a horse to sponsor, or if you are able to do more, check out their amazon wish list.
Additionally Summer keeps Patreon patrons updated on farm life and events, which is another more engaged way to both give and be involved from afar!