Horse Sense

I had a dinner date on Saturday night, at Tamber Bey Vineyards, a winery in lovely Calistoga. The weather was warm, the scenery and surroundings glorious. My dinner companions greeted my arrival with obvious enthusiasm despite their lack of finesse. Some of them paced back and forth, making no secret of their opinion that I should get a move on, while others snorted and a few stamped their feet.  I had dressed for the occasion, but my dates declined to comment on my ratty work boots, my old T-shirt and the jeans I bought at Good Will. When you show up to feed 25 horses their dinner, they don’t care what you’re wearing. As a volunteer and board member with Sunrise Horse Rescue, hauling buckets and throwing hay is my idea of a good time. I return home tired, sweaty, with bits of hay and half-masticated bran mash sticking to me and a smile of satisfaction on my dirty face. My husband knows this about me, and so he waits patiently while I clean up, and pours me a glass of wine while I chatter on about all the antics of my equine buddies. He knows that hanging out with horses calms me, centers me, and puts me in touch with something central and basic and mysterious about life.

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A lot of people feel this way about horses. Maybe you do too. Perhaps, like me, within you resides a 10-year-old horse-crazy kid, one who never got over her first pony or maybe never got the pony at all. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to spend big chunks of your life with horses. Perhaps you’re someone who has seen firsthand the particular magic of the horse-human connection, when someone — maybe an at-risk teenager, maybe a child with disabilities, maybe a veteran whose inner peace has been shattered by PTSD — is transformed, at least in the moment, by their interaction with a horse.

So I was happy to spend a good chunk of Sunday helping out with an event to benefit Sunrise: a screening of the movie “Harry and Snowman” at St. Helena’s own unique and wonderful Cameo Cinema. Attendees sipped bubbly or wine and nibbled on goodies from Dean & Deluca before gathering in the theater to watch the film, along with Sunrise Horse Rescue’s own story. I needed hankies. “Harry and Snowman” is a true story about Harry deLeyer, who back in the 50’s rescued an Amish plow horse off of a truck bound for the slaughter house, paid $80 for him, and brought him home. There the man and horse formed a lifelong bond, and Snowman went on to become possibly the world’s most famous champion jumper. The movie is available on Netflix: if you can watch it and get through it without getting misty-eyed, then I owe you a dollar.

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Beyond Snowman’s story, our guests learned that every horse is potentially vulnerable to being sent to auction and from there to a horrible end. It happens to over 100,000 horses a year in the United States, who get bought for pennies on the pound by kill buyers who load them into trucks and haul them — often without water or food — over the border to Canada or Mexico where they are slaughtered under terrifying, inhumane conditions, and I could show you much worse pictures but I’m not going to do that because I want you to get a good night’s sleep. Just trust me on this. Or don’t: check my facts at The Humane Society’s website.

. — Kathy Milani / HSUS image.

After the wine and nibbles and films came “the ask”, which was kind of my job, exhorting the folks in the audience to dig deep and support what we do at Sunrise. It’s not just about taking care of our own herd, although that in itself requires a lot of work and resources as well as the dedication of our amazing volunteers. We need to find our own permanent home, where we can take in more horses and offer more programs to those who benefit so deeply from the horse-human experience. We need to make sure we are around far into the future. Because these animals, even when they’ve been injured on the job or have grown too old to keep performing, have so much to offer.

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For me to ask people to shell out their hard-earned dollars to support a cause, it not only needs to be a effort I believe in, it needs to be on behalf of an organization that I have confidence in. One that has a sustainable, professional model. One that honors its donors and funders by using their support wisely, ethically and effectively. One that operates transparently, and one where the organization’s core are people who lead by example. Which is why, although I pretty much suck at asking for a raise or setting a fee for my own work, have no problem putting the touch on my friends and neighbors and network on behalf of Sunrise Horse Rescue.

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And that goes for my readers. Interested in making a difference in the lives of horses in need, and thus humans too? Here’s a link to the Sunrise Horse Rescue Donation page. Contributions are tax-deductible; you’ll get a receipt and the deep appreciation of everyone involved. Especially the horses.

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If you live anywhere near Napa Valley, or if you’re planning a visit, come on out and meet the herd! Just let me know in the comments section.

Speaking of comments, they are the apple slices in my feed bucket, so please share!