Meet the Animals
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
To save a soul like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see…
We call her Big, Old Bessy Girl and believe me, she is all that and so much more. A mighty Appaloosa, approximately 28 years old and completely blind, Bess was a force to be reckoned with when she first came to live at the sanctuary and more than a couple of times, sent my husband diving into the dirt to escape the wrath of her powerful back legs. If we tried to approach her, she would swing her head violently from side to side as if to say, “Don’t you dare come any closer!” And for quite some time, we didn’t.
Blind horses cannot turn away and run from that which frightens them. Their only recourse is to face the fear head on. Bess’ approach was to puff up her massive chest, strike a pose and courageously stand her ground. As fearful as I was of her, I so admired her bravery. Not wanting to add to her anxiety, or ours, we decided the best course of action was to just leave her be. We would visit with her many times every day, but always from afar. If she happened to be standing near the fence line upon our approach, she would quickly move to the center of the paddock.
I was beginning to wonder if we would ever gain her trust and then one day, one very special day, she sauntered over to say “hello”. I will never forget the moment. I like to think it was as magical for her, as it was for us.
It is our policy that all horses at the sanctuary have a buddy, but try as we might; we could not find a buddy for Bess. Her dominance over the other horses always lead to tense situations until one day, a tiny, malnourished, five week old blind filly named Ciara came to live at the sanctuary. It was “love at first sight” for these two blind horses. Theirs is truly a match made in heaven.
Today, Bess is calm, polite and very, very gentle. She has found her way, and she has found her purpose in Ciara. We are so happy for her.
Ciara, the Blind Filly
We rescued Ciara from a breeding farm in Central California when she was just five weeks old. There she was, a completely blind, very underweight Quarter Horse filly, prancing around in an old, dilapidated barnyard. She reminded me of a princess in rags.
Taking any baby away from its mother at such a young age is generally not a good idea. In Ciara’s case, it was an absolute necessity. She wasn’t getting enough to eat and her little body showed the signs of way too many encounters with sharp objects.
She spent the first five weeks of life in a large pasture with her mother and eight other mares. Her initial encounter with people happened about an hour prior to our arrival, when she was herded into a barnyard area with her mother. The immediate task before us was to get a hold of her, put a halter on, pick her up and put her in the trailer. How would she react? What would she do? Whispering a ton of baby talk, we simply walked up to her, put a hand out, touched her on the chest, and she stopped, standing perfectly still while we secured the halter. My husband, Jim, bent down, picked her up and carried his 40-pound load to the trailer and put her inside. She didn’t seem to mind. If anything, she was curious about the goings on and spent quite a bit of time investigating the inside of the trailer. Unwilling to leave her alone and unattended, Jim and I took turns riding with her. For the record, I do not recommend riding in the back of a horse trailer. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done yet not once, during the 7-hour trip back to Greenwood, did Ciara cry for her mother and never, ever did she lose her cool. She was so brave.
About six hours into the trip home, she finally laid herself down and by the time we pulled up to the ranch, she was sound asleep. We had a special stall area ready for her in the barn where she lived for the next two weeks. During that time, every available moment was devoted to Ciara. We introduced ourselves to her with touch, food, language and lots of love. It was a wonderful bonding time. Then one very special day, when she was ready, we led her out of the barn and into nature, complete with pastures, trees, hills, water, and the companionship of a blind 28-year old Appaloosa named Bess, who remarkably took Ciara under her wing, and to this day, nurtures, protects and teaches Ciara the ways of being a horse. Thank you, Bess.
When Ciara was six months old, we decided to proceed with a surgery called Enucleation, or complete removal of the eyes. Her little pink eye buds “teared” constantly and the flies were a nagging bother. She was obviously in discomfort. We anguished over having to put her through it, but as always, in true Ciara fashion, she experienced the journey with dignity.
We have enjoyed the pleasures of Ciara for a little over a year now and oh my goodness, what an amazing journey it has been. She listens, she thinks, she is really smart and not surprisingly, she now has quite a fan club. Who would have thought a little blind filly could be such an inspiration to so many people.
A visitor asked once, "What's the best thing about Ciara"? Undeniably, the best thing about Ciara is that she is just down right happy. She celebrates her life everyday. Isn't that what it's all about.
The unfolding story of Bridget
…she and two of her companions, Merlin and Bess, were the impetus for the creation of HartSong Ranch Animal Sanctuary.
Two years ago, I was looking for a riding horse and found three blind, old horses in deplorable conditions in small stalls where they had existed for two years. There was no kindness, no cleanliness and an environment that was chilling in its lack of anything a horse needs to survive. With such defeat, horses often exhibit either a complete shutting down of body and spirit, or fear expressed as anger and violence. Bridget was the latter…
As I looked at these three, I felt a compelling need to adopt them and take them home. It was unthinkable to leave them as they were and so, HartSong was born with the arrival of Bridget, Merlin, and Bess.
Although all three were blind, each was unique and in need of different handling and healing ways. Bridget presented a particular challenge. Anger and fear were her two primary emotions.
Her first year with us was very difficult… she could barely comprehend that we offered her a choice – and that HartSong was a place to find her way and heal within Nature. We began to watch and wait, trying to understand what she needed physically and emotionally to begin to adjust. Her extreme fear made her dangerous to handle as she had learned to strike out to protect herself. Bit by bit, we could see her begin to be aware of the all-encompassing safety, respect, and harmony that is HartSong. Ever-faithful Merlin stood by her side, never angry, never harming her and gently helped her along. Slowly we began to see a glimmer of hope through the eyes of Bridget.
Bridget’s heritage as an Appaloosa begins with the proud Nez Pierce Indians of the Pacific Northwest, whose Appaloosas were always free, always swift, and exhibited a bravery and free will most prized by the Nez Pierce. They believed the white spots on the Appaloosa’s back reflected the blessings of the Great Spirit. Undeniably, this magnificent heritage was vibrant within her and at last, out of dire experiences, comes a proud, noble horse… accepting of our love and beginning to share hers with those around her.
Still, Bridget remains a mystery to me. I am awed by her struggle to be and by her courage. It makes my soul sing whenever she accepts a soft pat or my arm across her back. As we continue to give to her in time and care, I know she will replenish us with wondrous gifts… forever.
THE SOUL would have no rainbows,
if the eyes had no tears
–Native American Proverb