The Promise: My Defining Moment

By Laurie Wagner, Volunteer Ambassador

Days End Farm Horse Rescue
You know, I’ve had many people tell me I should write a book about my life. I thought I would start here, about a story of a “promise” that was made at a horse rescue, back in the year of 2000. It was when I was going through one of the roughest times of my life. But I guess the best place to really start would be how my son, Jimmy, and I got involved with this place named “Days End Farm Horse Rescue” in Lisbon, MD.
During my separation from my husband, my son and I moved to my grandmother’s house in an upstairs apartment about a mile down the road from Days End. My grandmother had passed away, but my uncle lived downstairs and my mother lived next door. My son went to a Christian daycare in Lisbon, which was right across the street from Days End and one day when I came to pick him up after work. Ms. Betty, the school administrator, said that he was in the field and wouldn’t come inside. He was only 4 yrs old at the time. So I went over to him and he told me, “See that white horse mama? I’ve named him Snowball and one day I’m gonna ride him.” I looked at him and told him, “I’m sure you will son.”
So the next day guess who stopped by the farm? Me. That’s when I met Mr. Bob, the Farm Manager at the time. I asked him how I could get my son a ride on that white horse? He told me that he was sure that they could work something out if I would signup to be a volunteer. So I filled out the paperwork and Jimmy and I started volunteering. I had grown up with horses and my sister and I would ride our horses bareback together with our neighborhood friends and have a blast. I wanted Jimmy to have some of that in his childhood. So we took the volunteer orientation together that the farm gave and he learned how to groom a horse and clean its hooves. He learned how to approach a horse and how to lead one. We loved it! He and I were volunteers working on the farm and being around these majestic animals and making a difference in their lives. They were also making a big difference in my life only I didn’t realize it yet.
Jimmy’s first experience grooming an animal was a steer named Norman who was in the petting zoo with all the goats and sheep. He was nothing but a big puppy dog and he let Jimmy do anything to him.
Jimmy’s 5th birthday was coming up that June and Ms. Karen, who worked there, made arrangements for Jimmy and my niece and nephew to ride Desperado, the horse’s real name that Jimmy loved so much. He got to ride “Snowball” and he was in heaven! The farm has been a big part of our lives ever since.
It’s been over nine years since that day. But since then a lot has happened. Most people ask me how in the world I could spend time at a farm that has sick animals. How could I stand seeing them when they first get there and how malnourished and neglected they are? Well, to me, the farm is a beautiful place. I can see the work that Jimmy and I do is very much needed. And most all the animals that go there find wonderful homes to go to and have wonderful last years of their lives. If they do pass away, I know that we gave them our best shot and what time they did have at the farm was wonderful and they died with dignity and love around them.
Later that year I was driving home from work one day and it had been an unusually bad day. I had just been to the courthouse to file divorce papers with my ex husband, and I felt like what was the sense in going on? My son would be taken care of if I were not around. I felt like such a failure in life and on top of that, all the issues with my father dying from cancer and my cancer problems came back to mind. I was contemplating some unquestionable things.
But as I was driving past the farm I noticed the trailer backed up to the gate. That told me that a new member to the farm had arrived. I decided to stop and I walked into the barn. All I saw were these two beautiful ears sticking out of the second stall right next to Bobo. (Most people knew him as Indigo). Anyways, I went to the second stall and my eyes were filled with this beautiful little horse named Promise. She was nothing but skin and bones. She had been tied to a tree for a year and a half and left to starve to death. She was 300 lbs underweight and was begging to learn how to trust again. I reached in to pet her face, but she backed up in the corner like a little puppy dog. She was scared, but she wanted to make friends so badly. So I decided to give her some hay and talk to her and sweep the barn out instead. Then I thought, why don’t I go ask Kathy if I could stop by every day after work and see if I could sweep the barn out and visit with her? Typically, they close the farm at 5 p.m. But she had no problem with that.
So..after work I picked up Jimmy across the street and then went over to sweep out the barn and talk to Promise. She seemed really content with the company. Each day she would get more trusting. I would always give her some hay and we would chat while I was working. Eventually one day, she would let me rub her muzzle, then between her eyes, then the length of her neck, until she eventually let me rub her whole body. That is when you know you have a horse’s complete trust. There was one spot that she was very protective of though and that was the bottom of her neck. That was where she had been tied to the tree for so long. But sometimes, if I were having a bad day, she would let me hug around her whole neck, and she would just stand there. She seemed to sense every emotion I was having. The first time she let me do that was when I made that promise to her in that stall that I would make the rest of her life the best it could possibly be. That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
If I felt good…she was frisky. If I was down..she was very calm and comforting. She loved the attention. She was a beautiful red color and when she was cleaned up…she knew it! Every day Jimmy and I would take her out in front of the house at the farm and let her eat some fresh green grass. Jimmy and I had a ball sitting there and talking to her. She was our best friend and seemed to understand our emotions every day, no matter how our day was going.
At first it was very difficult to find a buddy for her. When they had her in the indoor arena, they would try different horses that they thought would best suit her. Well, everyone they put in with her…she would kick and have a fit. She was a very bossy alpha mare. She may have been 25 years old at the time, but she was still young at heart! Even when they put Calvin, a very laid back Palomino, in with her..she didn’t like him. So they decided to just let her out in the middle mare field and see how she would do. Well, she ended up doing great! If she wanted to be alone..she would just go to the end of the field and stand under the trees.
Every day Jimmy and I would stop by and visit her, groom her and love her. We would also scrape the rain rot off of her skin, which is very painful. That comes from being out in the elements with no protection for long periods of time.
As time went on, she gained weight and her health was in good shape. When she got to her peak fitness at the time, the trainer took her out to the round pen to see what level of training she had. She was great! She knew both Western and English riding and was great at neck reining. The day that I rode her for the first time I was very nervous. It had been years since I had been on a horse. But I tacked her there with Karen around in case I had some questions. I had never ridden a horse that neck reined and I grew up kicking the side of a horse to get them to go. But with Promise just the slightest pressure on her sides and off she went! She was the most gracious creature I ever had the pleasure of knowing. She raised her head and tail up and acted like she was in a show. She made the ride so easy for me it was unbelievable. Anyways, I passed the riding evaluation and I was so relieved and happy. I could ride her every weekend if I wanted. So the next weekend I went to ride her and I took her to the outdoor arena and she was wonderful. Little did I know that they would be the only two times I would ever ride her.
The next week at work I received a call from Karen at the farm. She said that Promise came up lame and the vet was out and determined she had arthritis in her front knees. I would not be able to a ride her anymore, but Jimmy still could. They wanted to know if I was still interested in adopting her. I couldn’t believe they asked me that question! It amazed me. Karen said that you would be amazed at how many people would not be interested in adopting a horse anymore if they couldn’t ride her. I told her that Promise was not only my pet, but my friend and I wanted her regardless of whether I could ride her or not. She was tickled to hear that. Promise may have arthritis and some problems with her sight a little, but she was a life just like me. And I would hope that if I were older and had some health issues that no one would want to throw me away like I didn’t exist.
She arrived at the farm in July 2000 and I adopted her that following year in February 2001. It took a little while to find a farm that I felt was good enough for her. But I think I found the best place I could keep her at other then with me. That was at “Many Blessings” farm in Lisbon. Just down the street from the rescue farm. Sharon Sachs is the owner and she is wonderful. She usually didn’t board many horses..she had a few of her own. But she felt that what I was doing was such a wonderful thing, that she couldn’t turn me down. She ended up loving Promise as much as I did. If she needed another feeding and if there was the slightest problem…she was always there for Promise and me.
I had just moved out to Taneytown, which was about 45 minutes away and I could only see Promise on the weekends and in between going back and forth to work. But I knew that she was in very capable hands with Sharon. I’ll never forget the day that I had to put Promise to sleep. It was the weekend before Christmas 2003 and on Sunday afternoon Sharon called me and told me I better get out there. So I called Dr. Donetelli and he came out to look at her. She was colicky and he said he would give her some oil and then see what would happen. Jimmy was with his father down in Annapolis and I called him to ask him to bring Jimmy up so he could say his “Goodbyes” to Promise. I knew that if something happened to Promise that Jimmy would be so upset if he wasn’t there. His father fought me on it, but he finally brought Jimmy up. Jimmy laid out in the field with Promise’s head on his lap talking to her. I remember Sharon coming out later and telling me that his father asked her if she felt this was necessary. She said that Promise was part of the family and of course it was, for both Jimmy’s and Promise’s sake. She told him that he must have never had an animal for a pet then.
That next day Promise wasn’t any better. Dr. Donetelli came out and said that her intestines were about to tear and I had to make the heartbreaking decision to put her to sleep. Somehow she told me with her eyes that she was ready and she thanked me for the best last years of her life. Her field buddy, Ms. Darby, was right by her side when she went to sleep and I was with her through it all. Its funny, they say that animals feel sorrow and miss their buddies and I believe it. Ms. Darby was a draft/thoroughbred cross and she stayed right there under that tree she was standing by when Promise was put to sleep for the next several days, almost like she was waiting for Promise to come back. It turns out that she missed Promise so much that they had to move her to another farm to find a buddy more suitable for her.
Jimmy and I have been off and on with Days End, but we’ve stayed with it through the years. It can be difficult at times to keep coming over to the farm because of working full time and being a full time single mom. But when I need a boost or to get myself grounded again, I just walk on that farm and feel at home. Kathy has always made Jimmy and me feel at home there. We’ve foster cared for several horses. Jimmy loved Playboy who was this sharp looking Palomino that he fell in love with. We dressed him up as Spiderman for the costume contest for the horses one Open House during the fall. Jimmy was so proud to walk Playboy out for everyone to see. I had colored his fly mask to look like the face and eyes of Spiderman and I found the material of a spider’s web that we made into a cape for him to wear. Both he and Jimmy were adorable. One year he and one of the sheep, named Moose, dressed up as farmers for the costume contest. It took him and two men to walk moose out of the arena…hence the name.
We’ve even adopted another mare from the farm named Caramel Sunday…but we’ll save her story for another time. And boy what a story that will be!
People wonder how we can volunteer at what would seem like such a sad place. Ironically, it is exactly the opposite there. It can be sad at first, but most all the horses that come there get their health back and find happy and loving homes. p My mom always complains to me that I don’t go to church. Well I just tell her that the rescue farm is my cathedral and that is where you literally have a part in God’s work.
Jimmy and I have had the fortune of seeing horses come in there starving who were pregnant and have come back to health, full of life and have had wonderful healthy babies right in front of our eyes!
Kathy and the staff have always been very thorough in their job of finding decent homes for the animals that have graced their presence at Days End.
If you adopt from there…Days End still owns the horse for up to three years after your adoption. Each year for three years after the adoption, Days End will send someone out to inspect the facility where you have your horse at and if they find that it is unsuitable for the horse or the horse is not being taken care of they have the legal right to take the horse back to Days End Farm. I’ve seen it happen with a horse named King Kong. If the facility passes the inspections each year and the horse is in good health you will get formal ownership papers of your horse.
I missed that mark with Promise by two months, but I know that no one owns horses. We were put here on this earth to be caretakers of all God’s creatures. It’s just a shame that so many people in this world don’t seem to understand that.
Learn more about Days End Farm Horse Rescue.