Chapter OneAngels in Horsehair
* * *
Adam was so small for his
age. It was the first thing I noticed when his caseworker
introduced us. His eyes, shadowed with sadness, were too
large for his little face. He was drawn into himself, as if he
were trying to fit his diminutive frame into an even smaller
space. It was clear that this child had known more terror in
his handful of years than most knew in a lifetime.
The pair had traveled to the ranch unannounced with
the hope of simply petting the soft muzzles of my "angels
in horsehair." Even though the ranch was alive with children,
Adam stood apart, completely alone-a tiny
brown-eyed lamb lost in his own skin.
I smiled at him. He immediately looked to the ground
in retreat. My heart staggered under the weight of his
loneliness. I prayed that God would meet this child in this
place in a special way.
I knelt down and quietly tried to engage Adam in a
simple conversation. I asked him if he had ever ridden a
horse before. He stared at the ground, somber as an
ancient sage, and silently shook his head. "Would you like
to?" I asked. His little head snapped up, and he looked me
directly in the eyes with more than a little disbelief. I
smiled into his questioning face. "We have a pony for
you," I told him. "A very special pony who would very
much like to meet you."
"Really?" he asked, with more emotion than I'm sure
anyone had seen in a while. He looked at his caseworker
and then back at me. I told him where the halters were and
pointed back behind the arena to where the golden pony,
Hobbs, lived. Adam flashed us a little grin and took off at
From a distance, in that moment he must have looked
like every other child at the ranch. But from my view, I was
horrified! His grin revealed a mouth full of broken teeth.
He ran on ahead of us. I could feel my neck prickle before
I turned to his counselor and quietly asked, "Is that what I
think it is?"
It took her a long moment to answer. When she did,
her voice was choked by the grip of anger and compassion.
"It's so much worse than you could imagine," she finally
stated. "A father is supposed to love, cherish, and protect
his son. Not only has Adam's `dad' broken most of his
sons teeth with his fists, but before he went to prison, he
would get drunk and make his son run around the yard
while he shot at him with a rifle!"
We walked on in silence. Both of us watched Adam
enter the pony's paddock and begin stroking his face. "It's
a miracle he's still alive," she finally said.
Together, Adam and I led the pony back to the hitching
post and went through the grooming and tacking
process. Often I placed my hands over his to guide them. I
held Hobbs's hooves and Adam cleaned them. I lifted the
saddle into place, and he cinched up the girth. Then it was
time to put on the bridle. I showed the little boy where his
hands and fingers should be, how to hold his arms, and
where he should stand. Then I placed his hands so that
they gripped the bridle in the right way, and gently moved
him toward the pony's left shoulder. It was up to him now.
Silently I stepped back and watched.
Adam stood quietly for a moment, as if taking in all
that he had just learned. And suddenly, Hobbs did something
I have never seen any horse do before or since. As
the child stood by the pony's shoulder, Hobbs reached
around with his head and neck and pressed Adam into his
body. The pony held him so tightly in the curve of his
neck that he could not raise his arms.
For long moments the pony stayed that way, encircling
Adam's tiny body with his neck. He couldn't move
anything except his eyes. They rolled back to look at me.
I could clearly see that Adam was afraid.
What was Hobbs doing? I could think of only one thing to
say. The words all came out in a rush. "Oh, my gosh! I
think that this pony is giving you a hug!"
Adams huge, startled eyes moved in pinball fashion as
he tried to process what was happening.
"I have never seen him do that to anyone else," I added.
"You must be very special."
Adam's face began to relax with my reassurance. He
appeared to accept what I'd said. Slowly he wriggled his
right arm out and began to hug the pony back. For a brief
moment, this battered child was allowed to be nothing
more than a little boy who was loved by a pony. Adam's
head slowly dropped until it rested against Hobbs's neck.
Like a whispered prayer, more to himself than to anyone
else, he began saying over and over, "He likes me . he likes
me . he likes me."
It was several minutes before Hobbs relaxed his grip
on the child. Adam, seemingly so overwhelmed that anything
on this earth would choose to love him, clung tightly
to the pony with both arms, pressing his face into Hobbs's
Moments passed and the boy's hug melted into long
strokes on both sides of the pony's neck. The stony tomb
that had once imprisoned Adam's heart began to crumble
under newfound love. Finally, he looked up and smiled. It
was a radiant, jagged grin, so dazzling it was like trying to
look at the sun. With his arms still around the pony, he
turned and looked up at me. "He likes me!" he said again.
But this time he said it out loud, with a convincing sparkle
in his eyes.
I glanced toward heaven with a wink and a smile and
whispered, "Thank You."
* * *
Whirlwinds are a common
occurrence in this place we now call our home. They come
in every shape and size. Most of the time they are harmless,
but Troy and I were shocked when we first saw them
snatch up several wind shelters-each weighing more than
a ton-lift them off their foundations and hurl them
through the air. We've seen fifty-gallon drums flung over
two hundred feet. We've watched as piles of information
sheets, release waivers, and children's drawings of horses
were swept heavenward in a spiraling vertical stampede.
Most of the whirlwinds are small enough to be nothing
more than playful sprites, beckoning children to run
and catch them. Forsaking the task at hand and unmindful
of ears full of grit, kids will dash into the spinning dust
devils, squealing with laughter as their hair is snatched
straight upward in the vortex.
Although they are a bit tumultuous at times, I find the
whirlwinds a source of enormous beauty, intrigue, and-perhaps
paradoxically-of comfort. They are a visual
encapsulation of something invisible. We cannot see the
wind; we can only see the evidence of it.
No matter when a whirlwind occurs, I can't help but
stop what I'm doing to stand and watch in awe. Like the
fleeting glimpse of a shooting star or a bolt of lightning,
whirlwinds are a rare and wonderful sight meant only for
those chosen few who turn their heads and open their
eyes. They fill my heart with an intensely personal confirmation
that my Lord is near.
It was Monday morning, and calls came in like a wild train
of roller-coaster cars careening out of control-outraged
callers burning with angry fire, concerned people pleading
for merciful intercession in a case of neglect, officials
looking for answers to the legal questions. One thing was
clear: A horse was in desperate need.
When Troy and I began our equine rescue operation
at Crystal Peaks, we had no idea how much the area
needed such a place. Even before we obtained our non-profit
status, the calls for help came in like a flood.
Several came from distraught owners who had
entrusted a horse to a trainer, only to have their equine
friend returned to them untouchable after being brutally
beaten or mishandled. Some calls came from owners who
no longer wanted the bother of caring for an injured
horse. For me, that was the worst. These horses had given
everything they had through the best years of their lives-carrying
their owners to remarkable victories, growing up
with their children, creating lifetimes of adventure and
joy. These faithful companions had poured their hearts
and strength into their families, and now, broken beyond
apparent usefulness or recovery, they were unwanted and
cast aside. Many were from concerned neighbors who
couldn't stand to see a horse being abused or neglected
any longer. Such was the case of this whirlwind of calls.
Armed only with this urgent tornado of information,
I drove our old truck to the address given. Pulling off to
the side of the crumbling, twisted road, I turned off the
ignition and for a moment simply stared. None of the
calls had led me to expect what I saw. Even from a hundred
yards away, it was hideously clear that this horse
needed immediate, intensive care.
Fighting back a wave of self-conscious intimidation, I
made my way silently down the long paved drive. I was not
a guest in this place but an intercessor, an intruder who
might become the target of vicious, hurling accusations. It
would have been easy to turn and run. No one would ever
know of my flinching cowardice-no one except maybe the
hollow-eyed skeleton of a horse whose very existence
begged for my compassion.
My reluctant passage toward the rising monolith of a
house seemed to stretch out before me like a never-ending
journey. My steps were quick and conspicuously quiet as I
made my way to the main entrance.
With each step I felt the growing weight of impending
confrontation. I hated this part of any rescue operation-the
feeling that I am about to awaken some slumbering
disaster that lurks just beyond my sight.
The house loomed above me. It was neat and tidy and
showed obvious pride of ownership. The sound of my hesitant
knocking against the wood-framed door seemed to
blow away in the gentle afternoon breeze. No one answered.
No one home, I presumed-probably too readily.
I retreated down the walk and followed the path that
led down the slope to the barn. I had to know. I had to see
I felt rather than heard the groan that escaped my lips
as the horse's horrific condition came into closer view. He
was too weak even to acknowledge my presence. His jagged
spine jutted three inches above his sunken ribcage. His
hip bones protruded so sharply that they threatened to
burst through his shriveled hide. His eyes reflected nothing.
All his remaining strength was somberly focused
inward, on the mere task of staying alive.
The ragged remains of his winter coat, which once
must have been a rich caramel color, did little to maintain
his sparse body heat. An obviously extended bout of diarrhea
had left open sores over most of his rump and hind
legs. Closer examination revealed that he was so emaciated
that his rectum had receded within his body more than
five inches. The abnormal tunnel that now exited his body
was horizontal, so that his own runny waste had collected
there. This grotesque buildup was literally rotting an
infected hole into his ravaged body.
Anger and sorrow twisted violently together within
me. A storm of emotion gripped my throat until I felt like
I was choking. Caught somewhere between shouting and
screaming, raging and crying, I began, instead, to run. I
raced past the immaculate house and back down the long
paved drive, trying to outrun my fury. Confrontation can
become a monster that I prefer to avoid. But this time the
monster was swept away by the ferocity of my outrage.
A flurry of telephone calls followed my visit. The necessary
information was exchanged, the paperwork
completed. And at last Troy and I repeated my earlier trip
down the cracked and twisted highway-this time pulling
our trailer behind us.
I spoke quietly with the owners when we arrived. They
appeared pleasant and kind. Their deadly flaw, it seemed,
was a crippling lack of observation. With my sunglasses in
place, I watched over their shoulders as Troy gently guided
our new charge toward the empty trailer. Their polite
words fell short between us as my attention was focused on
the ravaged gelding.
Every step was so hard for him. But, amazingly, when
he saw the open trailer, his head rose slightly, and he
reached more with his legs to close the distance. He knew.
With an enormous display of pure will, he gathered his
remaining weight, and with one great effort lunged off his
hind legs into the horse trailer. He was like the survivor of
a shipwreck, giving all he had to leap into a waiting
lifeboat. Afterward he stood motionless in the trailer,
gasping from the exertion of lifting his own weight fourteen
inches off the ground.
Back at the ranch, we carefully unloaded him in the
common area and began the excruciatingly long journey-seventy-five
yards-from there to his recovery paddock.
Twice we had to stop and rest as he swayed with utter
exhaustion. "You're going to be okay, big boy," we coaxed
him. "Everything is going to be all right. Just a few more
steps . you're almost home." I stroked his neck and reassured
him constantly as we waited for him to catch his
The sun had already slipped below the serrated horizon.
Long shadows melted into inky pools that silently
converged in a rising wave of twilight. I glanced at Troy
over the geldings sagging neck and saw my grief mirrored
in his face. We had no words, but our unspoken communication
was enough-in such a moment, what truly can be
Two and a half days passed, and I felt growing concern
for our sweet gelding. Physically he was progressing,
thanks to good nutrition and medical care. But his attitude
was still inward and depressed. He had not yet
acknowledged my presence or anyone else's.
I studied him through the fence, thinking, Somewhere
I'm missing the mark. I'm not getting through to him. He seemed mentally
trapped in a downward spiral, still under the weight
of imminent death that had threatened him for so long.
Even with that threat removed, he had given up hope. His
light was going out.
Suddenly, I couldn't stand to watch this sickening
process any longer. I realized that, despite all we had
done, this horse was going to die.
I wanted him to know that he was cherished. With
measured deliberation, I led him back down to the hitching
post. After tying him off, I put together a special tray
of all our finest grooming aids. He deserved the best we
had. In silence, I massaged a special mix of oil and fragrance
into the hair of his black mane. Working carefully,
I separated each strand until the once matted and tangled
web lay smooth and flat, glistening under the warm rays of
the afternoon sun. Then I did the same with his tail.
After that I began brushing his body. His ragged
buckskin coat literally peeled back like a rotten carpet.
Overwhelming sadness filled my eyes with tears. Instead of
revealing a glossy summer coat underneath, his skin was all
but naked. The total neglect he had suffered had robbed
his body of the ability to grow normal body hair.