The Old Gamer

“He was tied up to the trailer out behind the stands, a blaze-face palomino gelding, roughly 15 hands, high withers, slightly ewe-necked, back a little swayed, white hairs on his muzzle,eyes sunk in with age. An old warrior with his best years long since gone away, left here baby-sitting at a small-town horse play-day.

Watched over by her parents, a young girl kissed the horse; they coached her on the fine points and wished her luck, of course. He hardly seemed to notice when the small girl took his lead; he followed without balking but not with any speed. She climbed on and walked him round some, he went without a fuss; his head was down, the reins were slack, his feet dragged in the dust.

When they called her name his ears pricked up, she sat up in her seat; trotting to the gate there was new lightness in his feet. When they got into the alley he flared his nostrils wide, picked up the bit and arched his neck, she latched on for the ride. She let him go and as they went the years melted away, and he was once again the barrel horse he’d been in younger days.

With eyes on fire and muscles bunched, raw power in his stride, blazing speed and energy wrapped in horse’s hide. He had chased the cans from old Cheyenne to the Calgary Stampede, from Amarillo to Salinas, he had lived the game horse creed: “Run to live, live to run,” it was printed in his genes, from nose to tail his big heart pumped blue blood through his veins.

Coming through the pattern they touched the last can some; it was still up on its edge when they were halfway home. When she asked him for a little, he gave her all he had; the barrel stood, the run was good, and the time was not too bad. When she pulls the saddle he’s an old horse once again, but while he’s running barrels, he’s all he’s ever been.

So here’s to that old gamer — may our golden years like his be filled with golden moments and glorious memories, Of races run and races won, of places that we’ve been, of friends we’ve made along the way and good things we have seen, And someone who will need us for what we still can do– may our needs be small, our wants be less, and our troubles be but few.”

-unknown author


Being an equine sanctuary we try to help horses in many ways, one way is to rescue before they are sent to the slaughter pipeline. Another way is to rescue at auction, again before they are sent into the slaughter pipeline. Another way is to rescue from a kill pen when the horse is already in the middle of the slaughter pipeline.

Many times horses whose owners don’t care how they get rid of them when they no longer want them is to sell to a kill buyer. If this sounds horrific to you, it is, maybe more than you realize. The kill buyer is looking to fill a specific load so he can send them in a cattle trailer to Mexico to be slaughtered and sent overseas for human consumption. Many do not survive the harrowing trip, but unfortunately, many do.

Before the kill buyer meets his load requirement he tries to sell them from his kill pen for inflated prices to the general public. Sometimes they are exactly as stated, many times they are not and very sick, some even dying en route to their new home or shortly thereafter. The kill buyer makes a lot of money whether the horses he sells for slaughter go on to Mexico or are purchased by an individual.

Aspen is a titled Mustang mare who found herself in the Smith Kill Pen near Peabody, KS selling for $550. Her photos were heartwrenching, when she was ridden to see how gentle she was, it was obvious she was in pain. She was filthy, with a defeated look in her eye. We had to help her, somehow.

I contacted a trusted quarantine/foster service that I had used before and had become friends with, they not only said they could take her but would transport her from the kill pen to their location as soon as bail was paid.

So, let the fundraising begin!

Within a little over 24 hours our sanctuary received enough in donations to bail her out of the kill pen, transport her to quarantine and allow her to start her new life.

We soon found out that this little mare had most probably been someone’s pride and joy once upon a time, sweet, docile and loving of people, Aspen was soon becoming a favorite of mine as I do love the seniors. She was vet checked, had her teeth floated and her hooves trimmed without much fuss and it turns out she is a healthy little mare.

Upon reading her brand I found her to be a 2003 Mustang mare out of the Teterville Holding facility right there in KS not far from the kill pen she was disposed at by an owner who either didn’t know any better or more than likely, one who just didn’t care.

Aspen may have stayed in KS with the people who quarantined her if her temperment had been a little less firey, but Aspen has a spoiled streak in her that made that impossible. Our sanctuary gladly decided to go ahead and add her to our little Mustang herdlet. She traveled well and settled in to the routine, but it would be three months before she would decide some of the horses that reside here were not her enemy. I have never seen a petite little mare kick and squeal as much as Aspen did to show her displeasure.

Now 4 months later she has turned into a sweet mare who gets along well with her herd mates and is a most welcome addition to our sanctuary.

Many who rescue say we shouldn’t bail horses from kill pens because all it does is line the pockets of the kill buyers so they can buy more horses, and that’s true but true rescue, in my opinion, rescues with the heart, not with the head.

True rescue saves the old, the young, the infirm, the malnourished, the unridables, the wild ones, the fearful ones, the ones that need us most of all. When I rescue again it will most probably be from a kill pen because the horse, wherever they may be, is all that matters.

‘Who ever saves a single life, saves the world entire’

Rescue Explained

Esperanza, aged Mustang mare
shortly after  rescue

The neglect changes you.
The abuse hardens you.
The suffering breaks you.
The ignorance angers you.
The indifference disturbs you.
The injustice destroys you.

On a daily basis…your faith will be tested.
Your heart will be wounded….
Your soul will be altered.

On a weekly basis…you’ll question yourself.
You’ll question your strength.
You’ll question the world.

On a monthly basis…you’ll fall down.
You’ll get up.
You’ll go on…
On a yearly basis…you’ll look back…
You’ll see faces…
You couldn’t save them.
You’ll learn to mourn.
To grieve.
To sob.
You’ll learn to trust a little less.
To do a little more.
To fight a little harder.
You’ll learn to try.
To hope.
To pray.
You’ll learn to fail.
To succeed.
To accept.
You’ll learn when to hold on.
When to give up.
When to let go.
You’ll learn who you are.
What you stand for.
Why that matters.

Then… at times… you’ll forget why you matter.
You’ll question what you’re doing.
You’ll wonder if it’s worth it.

But…here’s the good news… When you forget…
When you question…
When you wonder…
All you have to do…
Is take a look around…
And you’ll see them.

You’ll see their faces.
You’ll see their smiles.
You’ll feel their love.

In their eyes, you’ll see their journeys…
You’ll remember their beginnings…
You’ll know how far they’ve come…
You’ll remember when they didn’t know you…
When they didn’t trust you…
When they’d given up.

You’ll remember how you healed them…
How you loved them…
How they loved you, too.
And as you look back…
You’ll want to move forward…
For them… and because of them.

In your darkest hours, you’ll look around…
To find the differences made…the hope given…and the lives saved…
Because you existed.
In those moments, when you look into their eyes…every doubt will be erased.
Every question will be answered.
Every worry will subside.
Because in that instant…in each of your hearts…
You both share the very same thought: “Every bit of pain was worth it
….for this moment here with you.”
And honestly…no matter what else happens…
Those moments hold all the strength you need…
To keep going.

Rescue is pain.
Rescue is joy.
Rescue is worth it…because they are worth it.

~ Ashley Owen Hill

2017 Reflections

Early in 2017 just after we acquired non-profit status we were made aware of the Mardi Gras Parade Horses offered for adoption by the Humane Society of Louisiana. They were being disposed of by an uptown New Orleans stable that had used them in multiple parades for Mardi Gras. Some were lesson horses but many were bought from local kill pens, brought to the stables for the parades, and then go back to the kill pens and ultimately ship to slaughter.

One such horse was ‘Gabby’ an all black mare with a small star on her forehead, emaciated, with saddle sores, the light looked like it had left her eyes some time ago. We knew we would start our very first fundraiser and bring her to our sanctuary. We were approved and were also able to adopt a red roan gelding by the name of Eli who had been a lesson horse and was now being retired.

Gabby is thriving as a sanctuary horse and is a herd favorite.

Eli is the only horse our sanctuary has ever allowed to be adopted. His adopter had been looking for a mature red roan saddle horse for some time when he heard about Eli. The fit was perfect and Eli now has his forever home, a donkey best friend and a family that loves him very, very much.

Lily, a Navajo Reservation mare was being offered by a kill pen in Peabody, KS She was in foal, obviously lame and one of the last mares to find a home out of the group. She would ship to slaughter in a few days, we couldn’t let that happen. I looked for someone locally who would be willing to pick her up and quarantine her until a home could be found. I was referred to a very good one, Lily was saved and not long after she gave birth to a beautiful colt who the foster named Caesar. Lily is a very good Mom and she and her baby will be safe, forever.

In late summer we were told of a little Mustang mare that was adopted from the BLM specifically to be trained for the Mustang Magic to be held in Ft. Worth, TX that fall. Her trainer had fallen behind schedule and wasn’t going to be able to compete so it was sell her on reassignment or send her back to the BLM. The BLM advised her owner to try and find her a home. Problem was the reassignment fee was only $125 so there were a a lot of people interested but an ideal home was a must, and hard to find. We approached her owner and offered her a home at our sanctuary. Sweet Seven is now a member of our little herdlet and runs with the Mustang gang.

In late October we rescued our last horse of 2017, an older Mustang mare out of a KS kill pen. She was in bad shape, emaciated and lame, we knew we had to try and save her. I contacted my now trusted quarantine/friend and asked her if she possibly had room for a tiny mare if the sanctuary started a fundraiser for her, the answer was yes. Donations came in fast and by the next Thursday she was on her freedom ride. Aspen came to live at the sanctuary on December 2, 2017 She is now buddies with Gabby, our former Mardi Gras Parade horse and also is part of the ‘Mustang Gang’

Ballad Of A Runaway Horse

Say a prayer for the cowgirl her horse ran away
She’ll walk till she finds him her darlin’ her stray
But the river’s in flood and the roads are awash
And the bridges break up in the panic of loss.

And there’s nothin’ to follow nowhere to go
He’s gone like the summer gone like the snow
And the crickets are breaking her heart with their song
As the day caves in and the night is all wrong.

Did she dream it was he who went galloping past
And bent down the fern broke open the grass
And printed the mud with the well hammered shoe
That she nailed to his feet in the dreams of her youth.

And although he goes grazin’ a minute away
She tracks him all night she tracks him all day
And she’s blind to his presence except to compare
Her injury here with his punishment there.

Then at home on a branch on the highest tree
A songbird sings out so suddenly
And the sun is warm and the soft winds ride
On a willow tree by the riverside.

Ah, the world is sweet and the world is wide
He’s there where the light and the darkness divide
And the steam’s comin’ off him he’s huge and he’s shy
And he steps on the moon when he paws at the sky.

And he comes to her hand but he’s not really tame
He longs to be lost she longs for the same
And he’ll bolt and he’ll plunge through the first open pass
To roll and to feed in the sweet mountain grass.

Or he’ll make a break for the high plateau
Where there’s nothing above and nothing below
It’s time for their burden the whip and the spur
Well she ride with him or will he ride with her.

So she binds herself to her galloping steed
And he binds himself to the woman in need
And there is no space just left and right
And there is no time but there’s day and night.

Then she leans on his neck and whispers low
Whither thou goest I will go
And they turn as one and the head for the plain
No need for the whip oh no need for the rein.

Now the clasp of this union, who fastens it tight
Who snaps it asunder the very next night
Some say it’s him, some say it’s her
Some say love’s like smoke, beyond all repair.

So my darlin’, my darlin’ just let it go by
That old silhouette on the great western sky
And I’ll pick out a tune and they’ll move right along
And they’re gone like smoke and they’re gone like this song.

– Leonard Cohen

This Old Horse

“This Old Horse”

This old horse, the Rancher said,
she’s seen some better days,
she’s eating up my profits,
and costs a lot for hay.

Another horse would suit me,
a stronger one at that,
shes seen a lot of miles
just like my cowboy hat.

This old horse, the Rancher said,
she helped me herd my steer,
I’m pretty sure shes magic,
I know I hold her dear.

Another horse would suit me,
one that can run fast,
maybe one that’s younger,
or maybe one that lasts.

This old horse, the Rancher said,
she’s long and far in tooth,
my children do remember,
her fondly from their youth.

Another horse would suit me,
a gelding in his prime,
one that needs less fixin’,
that helps me save a dime.

Why, they asked, then keep her?
why not trade her now?
bring her to an auction?
replace her with a cow?

The Rancher’s brow grew heavy,
he took a staggered step,
his eyes did show his hardships,
in wrinkles, as they crept.

His breath, he took in deeply,
as he poised to say his words,
it’s as if the earth grew silent,
that his message should be heard.

This old horse, the Rancher said,
has given me her life,
I wouldn’t trade for anything,
nor either, would my wife.

Another horse would suit me,
and perhaps someday will come,
but this old gal, I love her,
she is the chosen one.

This old horse, the Rancher said,
her service she did lend,
her and I, have seen the years,
this old horse, she is my friend.

Another horse would suit me well,
but her home is here to keep,
I owe her sanctuary,
my love for her is deep.

Another horse would suit me well,
and younger days for me,
and I will keep my promise,
until our last breaths, set us free.

Sirius Black

Sirius Black

May 1, 1998 – September 29, 2017

“We who choose to surround ourselves with lives more temporary
than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached.

Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way.
We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully
understanding the necessary plan.

The life of a horse, often half our own, seems endless until one day.
That day has come and gone for me, and I am once again within a
somewhat smaller circle.”

– The Once again Prince

The Comfort of Ordinary Days

The herd at Grey Oaks Equine Sanctuary experience the comfort of ordinary days every day. They are fed at the same time, every day. They explore the pastures and munch hay at the same time, every day. They are free to be individuals unfettered by stalls, pens, halters, saddles, and the will of man.

Our newest arrival, Cinder, was most probably never afforded that privilege so even though she has been here 3 months she still hasn’t really experienced the pleasure and serenity of the comfort of ordinary days. Cinder is unfortunately typical of horses that have been abused, they are always in flight mode.

Every night I go to the barn and tuck the girls in, that is Cinder and Abby. Every night Cinder is eager to get back in the barn, settle down with her barn buddy to munch hay and review the day. There is a gate between the two corrals that the girls stay in when weather permits, they are separated because Abby is an aged mare who enjoys her solitude and her food.

When I arrived at the barn last night Cinder was running back and forth in both corrals, sweating, Abby was not happy about having her space invaded.

The gate had become unlatched and Cinder didn’t know how to react, she knows Abby is grouchy, it was getting dark, hunger was setting in, she knew she had to run from the fear, the fear of losing what she was just beginning to understand, the comfort of ordinary days.

The gate is now secure, I brushed Cinder while she ate to soothe her and let her know that her best days were still in front of her. She calmed down but was still showing some fear from her ordeal, ears alert, ready to bolt if need be.

I will always be there to catch her…

King Top HMA – Delta, UT

Cinders is from the King Top Mountain HMA near Delta, UT not far from the Conger Mountains. She was foaled in 2000 and was gathered as an 8 month old in an emergency removal. There has not been a gather since.

‘The original source of the animals is unknown.The King Top horses tend to be a bit smaller than the Conger horses. The herd is dominated black, bay, and brown colors. Light colors are uncommon. The wild horses on this HMA average 13 to 14 hands tall and weigh 700 to 900 pounds.’

She was adopted out of the Ewing, IL corrals and was titled in OH The paper trail runs cold until she showed up at the Bastrop Kill Pen in 2016.

Where was she for those other 14 years or so? We will most probably never know but she is home now, forever.


Gabby is an 11 year old black most probably Quarter Horse mare with a white mark on her forehead. She has no other distinguishing marks or characteristics. She is a little head shy and although she has been trimmed by our farrier on the front, she would not allow her back feet touched, possibly an old injury or fear. She is quite friendly with other horses but a bit shy of humans although its clear she wants to trust.

She was purchased by Cascade Stables in uptown New Orleans to be used as a parade horse for the 2017 Mardi Gras. After the festivities she would go back to the broker she was purchased from and most probably ship to slaughter in Mexico.

The Humane Society of Louisiana stepped in to make sure these ‘parade horses’ would not go to slaughter and worked tirelessly to get each one adopted to approved homes. When I saw Gabby I knew she was going to come to our sanctuary and retire, and indeed she did. She is settling in and learning what it means to have food, companionship and love.

Gabby has no history that we can find prior to her purchase by Cascade Stables for Mardi Gras. Her coggins was pulled on 1.31.2017. We know she was purchased prior to that by the infamous kill buyer Anton Wald of Kenner, LA and was then run through Dominques’s Livestock Market in Opelousas, LA where she was purchased for Mardi Gras.

Gabby’s history is vague but her future shines with hope!