A Short Modern History of Veganism . . . or . . . Winning the fight for the animals, one veggie burger at a time

When I first became a vegetarian for ethical reasons, in 1982, I was a walking freak show. Firstly, I was the only veggie I knew at the time. I’d met several other people who’d dabbled in it, but both of them returned to the way of the carnivore, and I meandered on alone until my daughter joined me nine years later after vomiting up yet another meal of pork provided by a relative. Secondly, it wasn’t easy to find “safe” food, especially while at other people’s homes or in restaurants (people seemed to delight in sneaking meat and dairy into my meals . . . like, why? Really?) Thirdly, if one more person asked me where I got my protein from . . . OMG . . . please, PLEASE make it stop! I couldn’t tell anyone when I’d morphed into eating a vegan diet because, well . . . it was too . . . time consuming.

Thirty-seven years later, I haven’t yet died the gruesome death predicted for me decades ago, mostly by friends and family who quickly grew bored with my choice, even though I never spoke about it unless asked. I also packed my own food wherever I went and brought enough to share, because, dammit, everyone always wanted some as I’m a freakin’ amazing veggie cook.

But that’s not what this blog is about. At all. Actually, I want to discuss the remarkable progress we’ve made, as well as the fact that no matter how far ethical vegans and animal rights activists have come (some are both, some are not, but they are not mutually exclusive) we will never finish the job if we don’t stop wasting our energy beating the crap out of each other and instead put all our efforts into progress for the animals and for the planet. Because . . . again . . . mutually exclusive movements, they are not.

My husband and I have a farm animal sanctuary named Locket’s Meadow. Most people take that at face value, while others, no matter how many animals we have rescued (so many hundreds . . . and if you count the worms I move out of the road when I walk the dogs after a rain, thousands, maybe MILLIONS as I NEVER leave a worm to die) will argue to their last breath that we SUCK and they don’t consider us a “vegan” rescue because we train horses to be ridden if their health and disposition are amenable to it. Also, people like us aren’t demanding immediate change to turn Earth into a perfect vegan utopia of a world because, truth-be-told, we deal in reality. And . . . whatever. My feelings aren’t hurt by their judgment. The world is what it currently is and we do the best we can with what we have. We can’t waste time on semantics when the immediate situation is so dire. However, we’ve been in this animal-lover/rescue/sanctuary business a lot longer than most, and we see change that we never would have believed. Think about these developments . . .

Vegan Burgers. Thirty-seven years ago, there were no veggie burgers except those we made from scratch with lentils. Now they are everywhere, all brands and kinds. I’m confused by the vegans who argue against the plant-based Impossible Whopper; in 1982 we never dreamed of such an amazing thing! We would order a burger, hold the meat, add extra condiments and pickles, and be happy that Burger King was good like that. If Burger King sells a million Impossible Burgers, how many cows DID NOT get eaten? I’d like someone to calculate that, because I call that major progress. Add to that the many other fast-food establishments that are jumping on board with fake meats and . . . wow! We are kicking ass! Would I rather all meat be “fake” meat? Hell, yes! But we now have a clearer path to that end than ever before.

Tofu. Yes . . . tofu. Do you know if you said the word “tofu” in 1982 people would snicker, if not burst out laughing at the most preposterous “food” on earth? It went like this . . . “Snicker, snicker . . . You’re a vegetarian? Snicker . . . what do you eat, tofuuuuu? Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!” Seriously. Tofu was a legitimate joke food. But two years earlier, in 1980, a newly vegetarian friend (who quickly lapsed) had handed me a booklet about how to cook tofu, and while I had politely taken it, I later passed it around as a “joke” book, much like some do with the Watchtower when it’s dropped off by proselytizing Jehovah’s Witnesses. Like really, you were gonna win me over with TOFU? Hahahahahaha! And the lion will lie down peaceably with the lamb HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! And now I buy my tofu at Walmart, where they regularly run out because TONS of people eat it, and if I say the word in public, NOBODY laughs. That’s serious progress! And if I can go from laughing at tofu in 1980 to eating it in 1982, well crap, anything is possible!

Non-dairy milk. Thirty-something years ago, I used to drive two and a half hours to the Brattleboro Coop in Vermont to pick up cases of parmalat soymilk. While I was there I also stocked up on organic granola, in case you didn’t think soymilk made me crunchy granola enough. Go look in the refrigerated case at any supermarket today . . . soymilk, almond milk, cashew milk, oat milk, coconut milk and every combination of the aforementioned. (Oh yeah, and dairy milk . . . whatever . . . there’s less of it being sold every single day) But wait . . . there’s more! This time of year we can even get vegan EGGNOG!!! Holy Cow (and I don’t say that lightly as I happen to think cows are pretty-darned sacred,) vegan life is getting pretty damned good!

NON-DAIRY CHEESE! And not the waxy, non-melting garbage they tried to pass off on us in the early 2000s. This stuff is the real deal, and it pairs well with chocolate, wines and PIZZA! Way back in the olden days we had to order our pizza with no cheese and then pay extra for veggie toppings as nobody would make substitutions. As if broccoli costs as much as cheese . . . sheesh! Vegans aren’t stupid, we know you were all raking us over the hot coals piled in the interiors of your brick ovens . . . laughing at us (Tofu! Hahahahahaha!) And yet, we persisted . . . and because of that, we now have dozens and dozens of varieties of non-dairy cheeses (those of you who say you would be vegan except you would miss the cheese . . . it’s a COP OUT! You can now have your cheese and EAT IT TOO! Thank you Universe, you are so very kind . . .)

Volume! Numbers! Visibility! Look around you. You know a vegan or two. You know a few more vegetarians, as well. You even know a handful of pescatarians (those that are “vegetarian” but eat fish.) You know people who participate in meatless Mondays. You even know people who aren’t vegetarians but who actually EAT TOFU ANYWAYS!!! Bill Clinton, famous for his forays into McDonald’s, IS VEGAN! In 1982, I was all alone, and here’s what’s even weirder by today’s standards . . . I assumed I would be all alone forever, going to restaurants and eating a side salad with vinegar and oil and a baked potato with no butter as my main meal for the rest of my days. Today, I actually have a choice of vegan restaurants should I find the time to get off the sanctuary and eat out! Hallelujah!

Is life perfect? Hell, no. It won’t be perfect until no animals suffer in factory farms, in slaughterhouses, in dog-fighting rings . . . as long as hens languish in battery cages, sows in gestation and farrowing crates, calves in veal crates, and oh, dear Goddess of the Universes, fur animals in their tiny, little hell-holes awaiting a terrifying and excruciating end . . . I could fill pages, but that’s not for today . . . today’s blog is not about what we haven’t yet accomplished, but rather, about how we are on our way, and the momentum is OURS and if all the varying factions of our movements would stop wasting time denigrating all of the other factions, would take those billions of hours of playing Negative Nellie keyboard warrior and instead focus on encouraging positive change, we could make progress that is pervasive, permanent and life-saving for animals and our struggling planet (details for another blog, but if you can’t take the suspense, Google “diet to save the planet.”) Being positive is just a suggestion, really . . . because few people actually care about my opinion, and plenty others think name-calling is the most effective way to sway opinion . . . but think about if every effort made for animals was progressive instead of negative . . . I swoon while merely contemplating the possibility . . .

Because real change is really possible.

And how do I know that, you ask? How’s this . . . I can’t remember the last time someone asked me from whence do I get my protein. 🙂

I mean, come on people! WE’VE GOT THIS!!!

Kathleen Schurman and her husband David are owned by the animals of Locket’s Meadow. They spend their days catering to about 150 of them , while trying to make a living in their spare time as their endeavor is mostly self-funded. While they are cool with being vegan, they prefer the more all-encompassing term of “compassionist” because it includes all living beings . . . even HUMANS!


What’s up on the farm . . .

Hello all. I am wedged between cleaning the horse barn and homeschooling the grandchildren, so I thought I’d try to briefly catch up.

We all live with an insane amount of stress right now. We are worried about jobs, money, health, security (there isn’t any) future plans . . . whatever, nobody has time to list all the stresses of life during a pandemic, but really, who knew this was even a possibility? What I’ve noticed is it brings out the darkest parts of people as well as the brightest (while some of us just stay on the farm and keep on shoveling . . .)

There hasn’t been much said about animal rescue/sanctuary non-profits in the past few weeks. I can tell you the reason is that most of us are paralyzed with fear. The huge rescues, like Farm Sanctuary, are fortunate enough to have endowments, however many of those will be forced to tap into their principal in short time; the rest of us will just wish we had that option. The vast majority of rescues are small, backyard operations that rely on our own income to close the gap left after the donations are counted. The vast majority of us have been left without income. And on top of that, we all understand that most everyone else has, as well. How do you ask for help when so few can give it? And on top of that, non-profits are entering our fundraising season, which generally requires gatherings of large numbers of people. We have NO IDEA if any of them will actually take place. Most of us have NO IDEA if we will survive this pandemic. Most have cut down to bare-bones staff already and are making adjustments wherever we can. We are less terrified for ourselves than we are for the animals.

Locket’s Meadow has been around for 20 years. We have seen one rough patch after another, and somehow (usually an unexpected miracle . . . prayer works, folks,) we survive. How will we do it this time? Same way everyone else does. We will apply for help from the government stimulus package. We will scrimp every penny. We will wait for the economy to buck up so my husband has income again (it stopped pretty much when the Coronavirus hit the states and the stock market fell apart – it will pick up again when the stimulus money hits and companies need help putting their businesses back together.) But somehow, we will find a way because we love the animals and we will make sure they are safe.

As always, any donations are appreciated. We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts. But we also know how little there is to spare, and how hard it is to even get groceries, between finding them and paying for them. We are all on the edge together.

We are grateful for our friends who have gone above and beyond to help us get through this. Somehow they know where the gaps are that need filling and show up before we even understand we have a need. We are grateful for those who keep us in their thoughts and prayers. We are grateful for the donations that have come. Your kindness keeps us strong and hopeful. You are in our prayers. And to those who have gone into a dark place of fear and negativity, we also offer our prayers. Staying strong under this kind of pressure is close to impossible. We pray that HOPE wins out over fear, and we will all rise up and come out the other side of this together.

To all the rescues and sanctuaries out there that are clinging to the edge . . . have faith. Non-profits are eligible for stimulus money and it should be available shortly. Go for it. It’s there for us. And in the end, I believe most people are good and kind and will do their best to help. Somehow we will provide for all our “babies.”

Peace, love and wishes for health and happiness to all, humans and animals alike . . .

 

 


What He Did For Love; The Story of Sir John Falstaff

It was summer riding camp, hot and dusty, as always, and half a dozen horses carefully walked the rail of the indoor arena. Five were led by volunteers and accompanied by side walkers for safety. One large, bay paint draft walked unattended, with a small girl perched atop his saddle. Falstaff didn’t need a leader or side walker – he did the entire routine himself, from waiting in line with the other ponies, to walking to the mounting ramp, to staying on the rail while carrying a small child who had no idea how to ride. He’d then safely deliver her back to the ramp, stand still as a post while she dismounted, and not move a muscle until the next child was safely on. And then he did it all over again, perfectly. Nobody trained Falstaff to do any of this; he just started doing it on his own one day. Or maybe he read my mind, or I read his, or both . . . because we always knew what the other was thinking . . . I never had to say a word, I thought it and he did it. And vice versa. Because he loved me and I loved him. That’s the way it works with family, you see.

This particular day, Falstaff was feeling sluggish and I was going to pull him from the lesson when he finished his current lap, but he came to a stop at the far corner of the arena.

“Mama, help,” I heard him say.

I took off running across the arena.

“Hurry, Mama,” I heard. “I’m falling.”

I ran faster, reached Falstaff, grabbed the little girl from the saddle and handed her to a side walker from a nearby horse, then grabbed Fally’s halter just as his legs began to tremble and crumble beneath him. He fell to the ground, but a few moments later I was able to get him to his feet and lead him outside. I yanked off his saddle and handed him to one of the barn girls to hold so I could run grab my medical box. I listened for gut sounds, but the stethoscope was quiet – colic. A shot of Banamine, a bucket of molasses water, slow walks up and down the driveway . . . all the tricks I’ve learned over the years . . . by that evening Falstaff was much better, and two days later he was antsy to get back to work. As always, when I stopped in for night check, I wrapped my arms around his neck and whispered, “Falstaff, you’re my hero.”

Every single day I hugged my Falstaff and told him he was my hero. I have known and loved more horses than I could ever count, but Falstaff stood out from all the rest. Before I continue with his story, however, it’s only fair to give you a Hankie Alert; on a scale of 1 to 10, Fally’s story is about a 25.5. But to know and understand who he was is worth a whole case of Puffs. Trust me.

How did Falstaff and I understand each other so well? For the same reason we connect with any animal, or any person. We are all creatures with a soul, and that soul is made up of God, or the Great Spirit or whatever you call it  . . . if you look at the Great Spirit as being all of the space between every particle of matter, holding it together as one unit, you will understand that we are actually ALL ONE. If we are all ONE and open to each other, we can always communicate as it’s no more difficult than talking to ourselves . Our connectedness is not just a sappy Kumbaya camp song, it’s actually REAL and, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me” not only counts for how humans treat each other, but for how humans treat animals. Cruelty to any living being totally trashes your karma, and in the end, you’re kicking yourself in the ass.

Tangent done . . . back to Falstaff . . .

I believe we travel in packs, we United Souls of the Great Spirit, and Falstaff and I have traveled together for many lifetimes. This lifetime he was introduced to me by what turned out to be a rather unscrupulous employee of ours, who was secretly cruel to him once he came home to Locket’s Meadow. Fally, in return, despised her and bucked her off every chance he got, often while on a trail ride miles from home. And then he would turn around and leave her there, racing back to our farm and putting himself back into his stall. At the time I was working long hours as a journalist and trusting her to care for my “babies” and I had no idea what was happening in my barn.

Bad move. Don’t ever do that.

Eventually, Falstaff went lame. We had him checked and rechecked by vets, put on stall rest and supplements, x-rayed . . . you name it, we did it. Smart boy, because once he was useless to his abuser, she completely ignored him aside from bullying him with mean names, like “Fall Flat.” The day after we finally got her off the farm was the day Falstaff miraculously healed and was never lame again.

If I was so connected to Falstaff, why didn’t I realize he was being abused? First, I didn’t want to believe it. Finding barn help is a nightmare, and extricating barn help from a farm is a freakin’ living hell. Ask any barn owner . . . the stories you hear will curl your toenails. Second, I believe he felt he was protecting me by hiding what was happening. Falstaff’s nature was to always protect, especially the ones he loved.

Falstaff was the best therapeutic riding horse I have ever worked with. His specialty was working with autistic kids and adults. I would stand in the center of the arena and barely  think what I’d want him to do next, and he’d do it. Riders who were non-verbal, low functioning, even occasionally unable to restrain themselves from hitting or kicking . . . Falstaff was always perfectly patient, and made every single one of them feel like they were cowboys, independent riders and just like everyone else. Truly, he was a hero, and I was honored that he was my work partner seven days a week.

What made my boy Falstaff so special? Yes, he was born amazing, but I believe it was also love. He was loved and he loved in return. We shouldn’t be surprised by that; way back when humans first began to purposely breed wild horses for certain characteristics, they chose traits that are connected to love, such as loyalty, bravery, and the ability to self-sacrifice for their family members. ALL ANIMALS UNDERSTAND LOVE, BUT DOMESTICATED ANIMALS UNDERSTAND LOVE AS HUMANS DO, BECAUSE WE BRED THEM TO BE THAT WAY! They are our creations, the result of us playing God with genetics. From horses, dogs and guinea pigs to pigs, cows and goats, they are reflections of the best qualities of ourselves. Which is why they are so baffled and devastated when we turn on them. The horses who stand in line at the slaughterhouses, fully aware of what’s coming, are more than terrified; they are devastated by the complete betrayal of those who once cared for them. Humans loved them, yet send them off to auction (which has become a nice little euphemism for “slaughter” since horse meat is such big business – killer buyers purchase them in huge lots, and the best of the riding horses get packed in side-by-side with the aged, broken, wild and untrained.)

Humans place great value on their horses, as long as they can be ridden. Once they are no longer working animals, well, we get a lot of requests from owners to take their broken ponies off their hands because they can’t afford to maintain an old one once they buy a new one to ride. Oddly enough, or maybe not, with human ego being what it is, there are people who put a price on love, and are only capable of giving when they are getting something in return. But here’s what I know about horses, and every other domesticated animal; to the bitter end, they never stop loving their humans. Because animals are, by far, the most constant and devoted beings and once they decide you are their person, they never, ever forget you or give up on you. Even long after you’ve given up on them.

As I’ve said before, as far as animals are concerned (and generally other humans, as well) we truly suck.

In the early 2010s there was a virus affecting area barns. No one knew what it was, but it caused horses to spike a high fever and have severe diarrhea. They also completely stopped eating and drinking. Within days they became dangerously dehydrated, and a few would even die. It was also highly contagious. The veterinarians knew about it and discussed it among themselves, but it remained a puzzle. It passed through all the horses on a farm at light speed if the first few infected weren’t instantly quarantined. If word got out that a barn had a contagious disease, it would affect business, and with money at stake, it was best to cover it up. And so it spread . . .

We later traced it to a visitor who also visited a barn in the Southbury area where this particular illness had been rampant. Our first two horses who spiked fevers were Patch and Leo, the ones who greeted visitors as they entered the driveway. We separated them from the others right away, but had not yet started bleaching our shoes, which, it turns out, is how this particular disease is spread; traces of manure on shoes and boots are transferred to hay lying on the ground and then eaten. It’s like wildfire if extreme quarantine protocol measures aren’t put in place. Poor Leo’s diarrhea was so severe he developed a prolapsed rectum and we brought him up to Tufts Large Animal Clinic for treatment, which would take nearly a week. They took blood and sent it out for analysis, for all the common diseases as well as a few that had never been seen in our area, and that, finally, is how we learned what it was that had been wreaking havoc in all those area barns – corona virus.

Within a matter of days a dozen of our horses were infected, Falstaff being one of the first. By the second morning, I knew he was in desperate trouble; I could smell it on his breath. My equine veterinarian, Stacey Golub, was out of town that day, driving one of her own horses up to Tufts, so I began to call around as offices opened for the day. I knew, with absolute certainty, that if I didn’t get fluids into him within hours I would lose him. One vet said she could be at our barn by mid-afternoon, and I took what I could get, but with every hour Falstaff was further deteriorating. I could see the pain in his eyes, although he stood stoically in his stall, behaving as a perfect gentleman when no one would blame him for acting out. I tried another local vet who had once said I could call on her in an emergency even though horses were not her area of practice, but was told they would not help. I stayed in the barn and watched my horse suffer, every second an eternity while I waited for assistance. The vet finally arrived around 3pm and put a pic line in his neck so I could hook Falstaff up to fluids, and we began to dump it in by the gallon. He seemed slightly better after a few hours, but that smell on his breath . . . I stayed in the barn until late that night, just to be near him.

By the following morning, more horses had spiked fevers. We had started quarantine, but there was nothing we could do for those who had already been exposed; all would catch the virus. Dr. Stacey came to the farm early in the day and put pic lines into the most dehydrated ponies and we hung IV bags on nails up and down the aisle, trying to turn the tide. She smelled Falstaff’s breath and looked at me . . . I saw she felt the same as I did . . .

Hours later, Falstaff’s pain was so great he began to kick the walls in his stall and rear up. I called Tufts and said we were sending up another horse who was sick with the same thing as Leo and was in pain. My husband, David, had to drive him without me as I was the one who needed to monitor all of the other horses, replace their IV bags and take temperatures. Fally was in so much pain he was panicking, but he held perfectly still when I slipped into his stall and wrapped my arms around his neck.

“I love you, Falstaff,” I said. “You are my hero. You will always be my hero.”

He held still a moment more, then his eyes rolled back into his head. I had to use a chain on his nose to lead him to the trailer, he was so wild with the pain. The horse who I never had to say a word to, let alone raise my voice . . . a chain on his nose . . . my broken heart . . .

David drove away and I heard Falstaff’s hind hooves slamming against the trailer door . . .

With tear-streaked cheeks I returned to the barn to take care of my other babies. In the horse world, there is no rest for the broken; someone has to tend to the rest of the herd.

Two hours later, David called to tell me the doctors recommended Falstaff be immediately euthanized. His vital signs were failing and he needed to be put out of his misery; not even the highest-level pain meds were helping him. He was partly sedated and lying in the shavings in a stall, with Leo just across the way. I asked David to hold the phone to his ear and I told my pony how much I loved him and that I appreciated every minute he was my boy. I told him it was OK if he had to go, we would find each other again. And one last time, I told him he was my hero and would be forever. Then David said it was time, and he had to hang up.

Falstaff at Tufts

The last picture of Falstaff taken by David to send to me when they first arrived at Tufts.

I collapsed on the floor, sobbing and wrecked. I couldn’t believe I was not with my man while he crossed from this life into the next. I knew I would feel it the second he died, and only a few minutes passed when one of my friends on the “other side,” Chief White Dove, appeared (yes, I’m just that kind of whack-a-doo who has friends on “both sides.”) His creased, brown face held concern for me, but he was a chief on a mission. “May I have Falstaff as my own?” he asked. “He is a horse of high rank and is held in great esteem by my people.”

Of course he was . . . he was PERFECT! I wanted to scream, “No, he’s my baby, he’s my hero!” But what was the point? If I couldn’t have him, Chief White Dove might as well. “Of course,” I mumbled, but with little grace.

Moments later I felt Falstaff arrive and acknowledge me, and he and the chief only lingered a moment before the two of them rode off . . . gone . . . Falstaff was already back to work . . . while I couldn’t lift my head from the floor.

My husband called. It was over. Tufts wanted to do an autopsy to try to learn why the virus had affected my horse so dramatically, but once they opened him up, we couldn’t bring his body home to bury him because he had an infectious disease. We decided for the sake of the other horses an autopsy was appropriate, but we didn’t have the money for a separate cremation; Falstaff would not be coming home. They cut off his heavy black mane and tail and sent it to me in a bag. I didn’t think to ask for one of his shoes, which I would deeply regret.

For weeks I was consumed with keeping the rest of our horses alive. All survived but Falstaff, and I’m convinced he’d taken the hit and carried the bulk of the pain for the rest of his herd so they would all survive. Because, well, he was Falstaff. And they all lived, even the ancient ones who were at highest risk of death.

Leo came home, feisty as ever. Captain, Falstaff’s paddock mate, was depressed and needed a friend. I knew that Fally wanted Captain to take over his job as a mentor to the younger horses, so we put unruly Sammy in with him. I took a picture as they greeted each other, and when I looked at it later that day, I clearly saw Falstaff’s face in front of them, in rainbow colors, but clearly my boy’s face.

Horse Image

Look at the rainbow light in front of Sammy and Captain. I took it moments after they first met. It’s shaped like a horse’s head. If you look above it, there also a puppy . . .

When it was time for me to reopen the farm and get back to work, I was lost. How would I teach without my partner? I had lost my right arm. I thought about the other horses who could do the job – Ernie, Beatrice, Sonora, Tessie – all good horses whom I loved, but none of them my soul mate in the way Falstaff was. And then there was this business of the shoe . . . why hadn’t I asked for them to remove one of his shoes for me? I had thought of it, but I’d already asked for his mane and tail and I didn’t want to be a bother. Stupid, stupid me.

One day I was walking up the hill, checking water levels in the troughs, when I noticed the same damn block of wood in Falstaff’s paddock that had been sitting there for weeks.

“Why the hell am I the only one who can pick up anything around here?” I mumbled as I climbed through the fence and removed the offending lumber. And I froze, staring at the ground, then reached down with a trembling hand and picked up the oversized horse shoe. I knew who it belonged to. It was bent the way Falstaff’s shoes were always bent when he’d catch the back of his front shoe with the toe of his back hoof as he galloped around a corner. The row of nails was still intact along one side; he’d ripped out a chunk of hoof with it the way he always did when he threw a shoe. Every single time. I used to admonish him for costing me so much money with the farrier (. . . I totally suck and wish I could have taken that back.) I dropped into the dirt and burst into tears. Again. My Falstaff had sent me yet one more gift, as if he hadn’t done enough for me in his lifetime.

“There you go, Mama,” I heard. “You are my hero.”

As if. As if I could ever be as good or true or perfect as that horse was. Hell, as any horse who is well-loved is capable of being . . . when we domesticated animals, we created living beings who surpass us in goodness of spirit. An animal’s capacity for unconditional love leaves all of humanity’s in the dust.

And yet when we are finished with them and they lose their value, we walk away. Sure, there are plenty of people who ensure their horses have loving homes when they can no longer keep them. But there are even more who send them off to “auction” and imagine they’ll be bought by someone who will take over where they left off . . . it’s self-deception on steroids. Rescues and sanctuaries can’t pull more than a few from the kill pens, and the rest endure a horrifying death.

Too many horses. Too many backyard breeders having foals that are “excess.” Too many high-end breeders looking for that “perfect” specimen who will make them a fortune at the track or in the show ring. And too many humans who are not willing to sacrifice for those animals who sacrifice so much for them.

For my hero Falstaff, and all the rest of the horses, I will continue to tell their stories.

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See also: Too Many Horses, Not Enough Love
I Am the Horse Girl

Kathleen Schurman, and her husband David, own Locket’s Meadow Rescue Sanctuary in Bethany, CT. Kathleen works as a psychic and animal communicator to help support the animals, and also writes children’s books about them. Falstaff is a constant character in her books, and even though he is no longer with his Mama in body, his spirit is always at her side, and he will always live in her books.

Visit www.locketsmeadow.org for more information, or find us on Facebook. 

 


Too Many Horses, Not Enough Love

There are too many horses in the United States. So many so, that in 2016, 125,608 of them were shipped to slaughter in Mexico and Canada. Most years, we intercept a few and bring them to our sanctuary, Locket’s Meadow, to live out their lives in safety – fed, cared for and loved. In 2019, despite a dire need for more homes for horses, we didn’t rescue any new ones, instead focusing on bull calves who were previously destined to become veal, as well as goats and sheep. Why? Because horses are the most expensive animals to maintain and we knew we couldn’t afford another, nor could we provide anymore adequate shelter. The horse section of the sanctuary is full.

While we are a non-profit, my husband, David, and I fund the vast majority of our operation, with hay and feed alone costing more than $2,000 each week. Over and above that, horses require hoof care (several thousand dollars a month for our herd of around 40,) vet care, parasite control, supplements and medicine for countless reasons . . . oh yes, and then there’s mortgages and utilities and everything else . . . but it’s what we do because I love horses and my husband, well, he loves me. Poor David . . .

But back to the problem of too many horses. Those of you not in the rescue business may not know this, but the issue of excess horses and what to do about them is a matter of massive, angry and bitter debate. In fact, the very existence of horses, or any domesticated animals for that matter, is also up for debate (but I will save that for a later rant . . .) The tragedy is that most of the people wrestling over the situation all agree they love horses, but most every one has a different opinion as to how their population should be “controlled.” For example, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) believes the solution to “excess” horses, including their breed-of-choice, is slaughter. In their statement about their support of horse slaughter they talk about animals starving, neglected, abused . . . but they never mention money. Which is a shame, because in the end, it is only about money. Quarter horse breeders pump out tens of thousands of foals each year, looking for that perfect performer (hopefully a stud who will continue to make bank for them after retiring, siring lots and lots more horses) knowing full well that thousands of foals won’t be up to snuff and will eventually end up meat after a really terrifying, brutal and painful last few weeks.

As an aside, I find it interesting that people breed millions of unwanted dogs each year, but we never consider slaughter the answer to that problem; rather, they are humanely euthanized. By the truckload. Hell, if I’m gonna go on this particular tangent, I may as well add that when we watch videos of live dogs in Asian countries solidly packed and stacked in trailers on their way to slaughter, we are HORRIFIED! We would NEVER ship our millions of unwanted dogs to slaughterhouses and then to Asia as a meat product! We LOVE our dogs! Yet we profess to love horses while thousands of trailers, just as solidly packed with them . . . many of them sick, injured, pregnant . . . haul them to slaughterhouses every year. They are slaughtered and butchered, then shipped to Europe and Asia while most people turn a blind eye . . . I mean, like, they aren’t dogs, or anything . . . sigh . . . OK, tangent over, back to topic . . .

It can cost several hundred dollars to humanely euthanize a horse. Depending upon the weight of a horse, their flesh can be worth hundreds of dollars at market . . . money . . . money!!! It’s always about money . . . and how dare we ask people to take on the responsibility for offing their own beloved (or income producing) animals when they are no longer wanted when they can make a few bucks as they send their unwanted carcasses on their way?

To be fair, there are a lot of other organizations aside from AQHA, horse and otherwise, that are pro horse slaughter, and again, to be fair, it’s still all about money.

You might think animal rescue organizations would work together to find the solution to this enormous problem, but you’d be wrong. I’ve been at this rescue business for almost twenty years, and wow . . . nope . . . not so much. I was so naïve in the beginning, thinking that “loving” a horse meant the same thing to everyone. I have been well educated since then, thank you very much! It’s insanity and totally senseless, with organizations standing on principles that have nothing to do with reality. For example, the following excerpt is about two groups, both of them declaring they love animals. Below is an article about their all-too-typical dispute. This is a quote from CBS Boston, December 20, 2019:

“A non-profit horse rescue is shutting down. Online criticism may be to blame.

At Blue Star Farm in West Brookfield, the owners started rescuing horses years ago. Now, they have 28.

They are mostly draft horses that spent their lives working. Most pulled carriages, some were in police mounted units and some worked in fields. So in retirement, their new owners at Blue Star made sure the horses continued to work.

But some animal rights groups disagreed, saying the horses should simply run free. So the groups slammed the farm on Facebook, managing to convince the social media giant to remove the farm’s page, which is how they raise money to support the animals.”

The Facebook account was shut down just before Giving Tuesday, a fundraiser that we in the non-profit rescue world have grown to depend on. Blue Star normally would reap at least $15,000 in donations that day, but this time they only raised $1,200. They didn’t have the funds to make it through the winter, nor the heart, and after years of battling with those who advocate for letting the horses “run free,” they finally gave up. As I write this, Blue Star is in the process of placing 28 horses, a monumental task, and these horses have gone from complete safety into potentially dangerous situations (few people are as amazing as they like to say they are on their adoption applications.) Organizations who claim they love horses did a very bad thing . . . and they still didn’t achieve what they wanted, because all of these animals are going to homes where they will still be “captive,” and many will still have jobs. WHAT WAS THE FREAKIN’ POINT? They were never gonna get to run free! (This is why, when people ask me how to start an animal rescue organization, I advise them to become independently wealthy and then go for it . . . something we neglected to do in advance . . . doh!)

And while I’m here . . . why not let the horses run wild and free? Well, the two biggest reasons are these . . . where will they run free? And WHY? THEY AREN’T WILD ANYMORE AND THEY CAN’T SURVIVE THAT WAY! Ahem . . . sorry . . . I will calm down . . . But first, let’s visit the wild mustangs of the American West. So beautiful, so romantic . . . so . . . doomed. Why? Because they compete for land with beef cattle, and the beef lobby will win every single time . . . you know, money . . . so the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, the organization in charge of equines living on public lands, rounds them up using helicopters and ATVs, (a terrifying and heartbreaking event that many mustangs don’t survive due to broken legs from panicking . . . Google it, if you dare) herd them into crowded corrals and . . . just keep them there, baking in the hot sun, far from the cattle grazing on mustang land that was rightfully theirs. Some are shipped around the country to be purchased at auctions. Some languish in their corrals, and many die from the crowded, unsanitary conditions as well as injuries received in their pens. But Americans want their beef, and if they don’t know that wild mustangs, a national treasure, suffer and die so beef cattle can graze on our public lands (put aside partly for the reason of sustaining aforementioned wild horses) well, whatever . . . bring on the burgers!

Did I digress again? Sorry . . . I will try to behave, but . . . you know . . . horses . . .

So, now that we know there really isn’t any safe place for horses to run free, let’s talk about domesticated horses that actually are turned loose and allowed all that freedom some humans believe they deserve.

Let’s take a quick visit to West Virginia, where thousands of domesticated horses run free on thousands of acres. Idyllic! Inspiring! And yet . . . the following excerpt about these horses is by Tinia Creamer, Director of Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, INC:

 

“Many were dropped off, some had ‘owners’ who turned them out or claimed them all while using land illegally and dangerously and not providing any or enough care. They were reproducing across these lands.

They were injured, emaciated and reproducing. Few thrived, and almost none did well for long.

People were shooting them for sport, chasing them on ATVs, they were being hit on road ways, they were falling into mining locations, they were starving because the re-claimed land and active mine lands weren’t growing anything nutrient dense, and no one knew this was happening in West Virginia outside of the counties experiencing this, let alone nationwide.”

She went on to explain that there are fewer horses now, all for very bad reasons.

Tinia Creamer has spent ten years advocating for and rescuing these horses from their “wild” environment and adopting them to safe homes because horses ARE NOT WILD ANIMALS ANYMORE AND THEY CAN’T THRIVE, NEVER MIND SURVIVE! They need adequate nutrition, hoof care, safe pasture, and dare I say it . . . LOVE and COMPANIONSHIP to thrive and be happy! They are no different from domesticated dogs, who would probably fare better than horses if we decided to set them all free (aside from the obvious road carnage, and the problem of dogs scratching at front doors to be let into people’s houses for dinner . . . because we can’t actually undo domestication! Well, aside from cats, but . . . you know . . . cats . . . always defying the odds . . .)

And we go on and on . . . Some horse rescuers believe horses should be trained, as a trained horse is a safe horse (trust me, this is the truth!) and training can keep them safer from slaughter. Others believe they should be given space and have their autonomy respected, even if they don’t know what that is. There are those who believe no animals should be paid for, even in a rescue situation, as it demeans them as property (although I don’t know a single horse pulled out of a kill pen who ever quibbled about an idea as trivial as an exchange of money for their life – if it’s ransom or death, they are all gonna choose ransom.) Locket’s Meadow has been harshly criticized for giving pony rides at our fundraising events because animals “should not be used for entertainment,” even though our horses love pony ride days and all the attention they get from them . . . And we go round and round and round and round, but meanwhile, these horses that we LOVE with all our hearts, are suffering because we all believe we know what’s best for them (and in most cases, best for our wallets because horses are definitely big business from breeding to slaughter) and almost nobody is asking them what they want from life.

Except . . . I can. I have been talking to horses, and they have been talking back to me, for my entire life. As each horse comes into our rescue, we work though their issues (or not, especially if they come from the Amish world . . . more on that another time . . .) Some love having a job, contributing to what they see as their herd, or family. Others worked enough, thank you very much, and want to hang around and eat hay all day. Some start out thrilled to be a part of our programs, but there comes a day when they decide they are done, and we say, sure . . . go chill with the other retired ponies. Because we are a self-funded rescue (but don’t get me wrong, we are happy to accept donations!) we have the luxury of allowing our horses the freedom to choose. Hell, we have a few horses who’ve decided they don’t want to be in paddocks anymore, so I made them promise to stay on the property if I let them loose; they have never crossed the borders of our land.

What do horses want? There are as many answers as there are horses. The biggest crime we commit against them is the one where we lump them all into one group and decide what’s best for the whole lot. Sure, we created them thousands of years ago, but just as many of us believe we were created by a kind and loving God, and pray for mercy and justice, horses look to their creator “gods” for the same mercy and justice. We seldom measure up. In fact, we are a pretty crappy bunch of gods who seldom do right by the animals we have brought into this world.

Truly, we suck.

I can’t tell you what all horses want, at least not the ones I haven’t met. But I can tell you the stories of some of those that I have known . . . their loves, their passions, their sadness and regrets.

I am a Horse Girl, kissed by the soft lips of a pony long before I was born, and my job, or so they tell me, is to speak for them. So, sit back and have your hankies ready . . . their stories will be coming shortly . . .

I may not know what horses want, but they sure do.

Kathleen Schurman, and her husband David, own Locket’s Meadow Rescue Sanctuary in Bethany, CT. Kathleen works as a psychic and animal communicator to help support the animals, and also writes children’s books about them.

Visit www.locketsmeadow.org for more information, or find us on Facebook. 

 


I am the Horse Girl

I Am the Horse Girl

I didn’t call to the horses. They called to me.

I was born to love them. My first dreams were of horses; when I was still in my crib I would wake with visions of prancing ponies in my head. My first word, much to my mother’s confusion, was “horsey.” We lived between Interstate 95 and the railroad tracks – no ponies in sight – why would “horsey” come before “Mama?” Or even “train?”

When I was 3-years old, I taught myself how to read using Dr. Suess’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. I was driven to learn so I could read our book, which had a cover engraving of a little girl riding a pony. It was titled, “All Around the Neighborhood.” Oh, to be the little girl riding her pony around the block! When I could finally read it, I was devastated to discover there was not a single horse story between its covers. (I have not yet recovered, and this happened in 1964. . . inaccurate book covers should be banned and burned!)

I endlessly begged my Daddy to take me for pony rides. On Sunday mornings in Southport, Connecticut, they could be had a few miles away, 25 cents for three laps around a small ring. It happened so seldom, but when it did, it was the only time I felt completely happy and complete, five minutes of bliss . . . and I believed my being there did the same for the ponies. Horse girls and people ponies recognize and need each other!

Why are there horse girls? Some people say it’s a genetic predisposition, but I never knew of another in my family. However . . . I have some insider information about this; ponies, contrary to popular belief, are not born of little girls’ wishes. Horse girls are born of the wishes of ponies. THEY NEED US MORE THAN WE NEED THEM! (Which, to a horse girl, seems impossible as how could anyone need anything as much as we need horses? Really . . . HOW???)

Thousands of years ago, humans began domesticating horses. Over the centuries we tamed them and made them completely dependent upon us. We created domesticated horses, and now they need us to love and protect them from the bad people who would hurt them, and those bad people are legion (visit a livestock auction and watch terrified ponies load onto the trailers headed to Mexico and Canada and certain death – you will never be the same.)

The horses choose their horse girls long before we are born, en utero. They gently kiss us with the softest of noses, a feeling we never forget and always crave, then tap us with a tiny hoof and anoint us with the sweet perfume of horse sweat. They declare we are one of them, then trot away to leave us to our gestation while we dream of a sunny, grassy hillside where we are surrounded by grazing ponies.

We are born searching for long noses and soft eyes. We sniff the air for pony-scent and instead are greeted by talcum powder and brewing coffee. We love our parents and families and are content to be with them, but we are always, always searching over their shoulders for our true soul mates, the fuzzy, whinnying family members who touched our souls long before we ever gazed upon our human mamas’ faces. We are obsessed! We have been touched, and are, by any psychiatrist’s evaluation,  seriously “touched.”

Not all of us find our way to our ponies, no matter how desperately we try. I had encounters as a child, never enough, and was always searching, always sniffing the breeze. I didn’t get my first pony until I was 39, a little paint named Cressida whom we adored. My sensible self told me that was enough, but my pony soul would not be denied. A magnificent paint/draft cross, Falstaff, was right behind. Within a year we had established a horse rescue, and every pony I had ever wished for on my birthday, each horse I had called to as the first star of the night sky, finally found their way to me. It turns out when a pony first chose me, they chose well; I was late to the party, but I compensated well!

Over the years I have loved many animals, all of them so special. Every rescue I’ve taken in . . . dogs, cats, hens, roosters, goats, sheep, pigs, llamas, geese, ducks, steers . . . so many more . . . have held a special place in my heart. My love for them was so intense that despite serious concerns (and rather severe annoyance) by my family, I became a vegetarian in 1982, and a vegan several years later. I think of myself as an “animal person” because I love them all, from spiders and worms to whales and elephants. But when I take a moment and think about where it all started, I can’t help but remember my dreams of ponies, and awakening to gaze though the bars of my crib, searching . . . sniffing . . . and I know in my soul . . .

I am the horse girl.

See also Too Many Horses, Not Enough Love
What He Did For Love; The Story of Sir John Falstaff

Kathleen Schurman, along with her husband, David, own Locket’s Meadow Rescue Sanctuary in Bethany, CT, where they care for nearly 150 rescued animals, more than 40 of them horses. Visit www.locketsmeadow.org for more information, or find us on Facebook. 

 


Things to be Grateful For – By an Animal Rescuer

We are grateful for:

Our Animal Friends, who give us more than we could ever give in return. Many of them have seen a hell that we pray we never experience, and yet they still find room in their hearts to live, love and forgive. Every day they remind us of why we’ve chosen to do this job.

Our Patient Families, who still love us in spite of ourselves. We know we suck. We know we are always feeding, cleaning, feeding, mucking, feeding, dumping grain bags, etc. etc. until we pass out at night before we get around to answering that last text. We mean well, but . . . we are asleep, often before our youngest grandchildren. Thank you for understanding when we miss important events because there is nobody else to feed and muck. Our hearts are there, and we love you always.

Our Patient Friends, who, like our family, know the best way to have any quality time with us, is to show up, pick up a muck rake, and follow us around. Again, we know we suck. We wish we could do the social scene the way normal people can, but . . . we can’t. I haven’t sat in a Starbucks for at least three years . . . maybe four . . . who knows, it’s a blur. Those who stick it out with us, thank you. Those who continue to invite us to social events despite knowing we will have to decline, thank you. It makes us feel “normal,” and that maybe one day . . . we might just be able to say yes . . . we are grateful that you still hope we might . . .

Our Volunteers, who come out and help us to do a really hard, crappy job, for the sheer joy of being near the animals. You rejoice with us with every new rescue, you cry with us when we lose a dear friend. You make us feel we are not in this alone, and for that, well, there are no words to describe our gratitude.

Our Donors . . . we know there are so many other things you could opt to do with your money, and we know how hard you work to earn it. That you choose to help us feed and care for nearly 150 rescued animals is humbling; we never feel we are worthy enough, doing enough, rescuing enough . . . the fact that you believe in what we do inspires us to keep slogging through the mud, both metaphorical and physical, every single day. We are grateful that you love our animals . . . and all animals . . . and we stand in awe of your generosity and kindness.

Our Veterinarians, who probably think we are crazy, but are kind enough not to mention it, at least not in front of us. You are patient when we are panicked, you risk your lives and possible speeding tickets to get to us in emergencies, you are gentle when we have to say goodbye to our dear animal friends, and sometimes even cry alongside us. You are patient when we struggle to pay our bills, and grateful that you know we always will, no matter how long it takes or how much harder we have to work. How you put up with this crazy animal rescue farm, we will never know, but . . . for you, we are deeply grateful.

Our Strong Bodies, which, by all rights, should have given up on us a long time ago. They go above and beyond, shoveling miles of knee-deep (and sometimes hip-deep) snow so we can get to the paddocks with heavy feed buckets and water. They lift dozens of 50-pound bags of grain, push a thousand pounds of manure to the pile every day, carry 150 pound ailing goats and sheep into the barns, carry and hammer fence boards, and so much more. Every single day, despite their age and wear and tear. My quads should just say no when I ask them to help me trim a herd of goat hooves in an afternoon, and yet they hang in there with me until I’m done . . . doing their best to stay as willing as my heart.

Our Battered, Shattered Hearts, which should have run screaming into the night years ago. We ask them to fall in love over, and over, and over again, knowing we are only setting them up for a fall, as we will almost always outlive our rescued babies. The pain never lessens . . . in fact, it get more intense with time and loss. As we age, we only better learn the value of each perfect life that we have pulled from kill auctions, high-kill shelters, abuse, neglect, abandonment . . . every single one of them is precious to us and saying goodbye is always a knife to our hearts. Promising them as they leave us that we won’t give up, that we will stick it out and continue to save and care for as many as we can, is the next knife to the heart. And worst of all, the pain our hearts endure when we have to say “no,” fully aware that we have doomed a perfectly perfect and deserving living being to a terrifying and painful fate. Holy crap, the biggest dagger to the heart is when our trailer is full and we see the eyes of those we have to leave behind. And for them, we steel our hearts and keep going forward. What we ask of our hearts is impossible, and yet they valiantly keep beating.

Open-Minded People, who are brave enough to allow the animals to affect them, change them, and maybe even alter the way they move through this world, choosing to be more humane, caring and compassionate to our fellow Earthlings (because every living being is an Earthling, not just humans . . . we share this planet!) We know you are setting your hearts up for a lifetime of injury when you allow yourselves to feel how humans treat animals in this world. We also, however, know the joy you experience when you make a meaningful and deep connection. YOU are the hope for the future of our planet, one in which all of us, human and animal, live in harmony, caring for each other and our Mother Earth. And you are the ones who might someday make our jobs obsolete, so that my husband and I can maybe . . . just maybe . . . accept those social invitations that still trickle in on occasion from those who haven’t given up on us.

For you, and for all of the above, we are deeply and sincerely grateful, and we wish you joy, love and peace, on this holiday of gratitude, and always.

Kathleen Schurman and her poor, long-suffering husband, David, are owned by the animals of Locket’s Meadow in Bethany, Connecticut. They will be very grateful for a vegan Thanksgiving dinner with their family later today (yes, there will be roast tofu!) Of course, only after the animals are fed and watered . . .