A Divine Gift

The sight before me took my breath away, as shiny things tend to do. Sleek, regal, tall, and stunningly beautiful. She was dark bay – almost black – with a beautiful face accentuated by a long white stripe down her nose and big kind eyes with long eyelashes. A magnificent thoroughbred, Holdmesara (as it is officially written on her jockey club papers. I call her “Sara”) was a sight to behold as she walked in the post parade past the crowd of spectators at Arapahoe Park. It was the Kent Swanson memorial race, and Sara was a live contender.

As the race unfolded, Sara started to make her move on the turn for home. Her strides seemed to get bigger and bigger as she gained momentum. One by one, she passed her rivals in the stretch as she rallied to the finish line to win the race.

Over a year later, I found myself haggling with her owner while I was at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. I couldn’t help it. As usual, my heart got the best of me and I wanted the winner of Kent’s Memorial Race in my barn. It was time for Sara to retire from racing and have a new career. Her owner eventually relented, and Sara came to live at my ranch in Colorado.

In 2019, I ended up breeding Sara to a beautiful stallion named Trojan Nation. Something about the word Trojan makes a person think of condoms. So, with a name like that, you can imagine the baby names my girlfriends and I have come up with when we are having a cold brew or a glass of wine. But I digress…

Horses are pregnant an agonizing 11 months. It’s common in the thoroughbred industry to breed mares in the early months of the year. However, previous experience had helped me decide that foaling babies in the cold and snow wasn’t my cup of tea, so I bred Sara in June. While other owners were complaining about foaling in the cold and snow, I was counting down to May.

May arrived and with it some turmoil and sadness surrounding what would have been my 26th wedding anniversary with Kent. However, the day of our anniversary was absolutely lovely – sunny with a nice, gentle breeze. It was the perfect day for horse related activity, so I had my veterinarian come out for spring vaccinations and a check of the pregnant mares, Hold Me Sara and Northern Rock.

“An anniversary baby isn’t out of the realm of possibility,” my vet stated rather matter of fact as she looked Sara over.

“Yeah, right,” I replied.

We continued to visit for a few minutes then said our goodbyes. My veterinarian’s parting comment was, “I’ll be seeing you very soon.”

I laughed and waived goodbye as she drove away. Yes, there would be foals in the barn soon, but I truly doubted it would be that night. I went about the rest of my afternoon and didn’t think much more about it.

About 10:30 pm, Sara was restless. She was pacing in her stall and whinnying occasionally. While it wasn’t unusual for Sara to move about, the pacing was different and so was her breathing. I knew something was up. I continued to watch the barn monitor and saw her lay down. I could hear her groaning and her breathing was heavier than before. I quickly texted my resident friend here on the ranch, Lisa, and told her I thought that Sara might be having her baby. A few minutes later, we were entering the barn together and approached the stall at the same time. Sara had just stood up. Before I could say a word, Lisa beat me to the punch. “She’s already had her baby! We missed it!”

Sure enough, there was a foal the color of dark chocolate laying on the ground. Sara immediately attended to her motherly duties and started to groom the baby, licking her foal everywhere and stimulating it to move. Lisa and I watched in awe as the foal took its first breath and slowly started to move about. And I couldn’t help but note the time – 11:25. It was still our wedding anniversary!

For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t angry or filled with resentment and chaos. I didn’t think about the injustice of Kent’s killer being unjustly released from prison. My mind had a new focus. Life. Love. Both took over as I concentrated on the little horse in front of me and the beautiful mother Sara was showing herself to be as she tended to her baby.

I didn’t cry myself to sleep that night. In fact, I didn’t sleep. It was a busy, fulfilling night. There’s something magical about watching a newborn foal take its first breath, seeing it find the strength to stand up and take its first shaky steps, and witnessing both mother and baby as they work to sustain that life. It struck me that what is instinctual to horses seems to come harder for people.  As people, we often forget to simply stop and breathe. We find ourselves being afraid to take first steps because we feel we’re on shaky ground and don’t want to fail. And sometimes, we forget that we are resilient and can rise above challenges that are thrown our way. We can sustain.

I cannot help but think that Kent was behind the scenes, orchestrating this timing so that I didn’t have to spend our anniversary dwelling on chaos and negative circumstances. Instead, I was able to spend it focusing on life, love, and the incredible anniversary gift of a big, beautiful colt that I know was sent by divine intervention.

Is there timing beyond our conscious comprehension? You better believe it.

Life in the Balance

Storm to Pass stood tall and proud in her stall before the race, her chestnut coat shining and her strawberry blonde mane beautifully combed. She stood regal and proud, curiously looking me over with kind, gentle eyes. She carried herself to the paddock and the racetrack with elegance and grace. I was in awe of her beauty and impressed by how she carried herself. I was also a bundle of nerves. Not because Storm to Pass was running, but because my horse, Sizzle Factor, a stablemate of Storm to Pass, was entered to run in the race following hers, and I was starting to get nervous.  

It was pouring rain in Tulsa, Oklahoma that night. Not long before the races began, the skies opened up and the rain started. The track was sealed for safety, but the horses would still be splashing home in the water and mud. The rain continued to get heavier and heavier. It was a steady downpour when the gates opened and Storm to Pass ran her race. She made a valiant effort, finishing fourth in her race. The jockey was slowing her down and easing her up when the unthinkable happened; Storm to Pass slipped a little and took a bad step. Immediately sensing something was amiss, her jockey got her stopped and issued the call for help. Storm to Pass was vanned off the track and taken back to her stall.

A flurry of activity ensued. My trainer was upset because he didn’t know what exactly had happened to Storm to Pass and he wasn’t allowed to go with her when she was being vanned to the barn. He did know that the injury was serious and x-rays would be required to truly assess things. My heart sank. It didn’t sound good.

After a victorious run from Sizzle Factor, who won a photo finish, I found myself back at the barn. I wanted to celebrate and be happy my horse had won, but the only thing I could focus on was Storm to Pass. She was standing in her stall again, still looking regal and proud, although she was not putting weight on one of her front legs and swelling was visible in the knee area and the ankle was showing some swelling as well. An x-ray revealed that a substantial part of the knee bone was out of place. I asked my trainer what was going to happen next. My heart sank when he said her owner had made the decision to put her down.

Before I knew it, I heard myself crying out. “No!!! Please! You can’t just put her down. No!!!” I was looking my trainer in the eyes, trying to hold back tears. I could hear my voice shaking as I told him, “You have to give her a chance. Isn’t there something that can be done? Please. If she can be saved, I’m willing to do it.”

He knew I was serious. I could tell he was thinking things through in his mind, knowing it would take some doing to make arrangements and get her to a surgeon. There was no guarantee she would survive the surgery or even be a good candidate for surgery. She was also high risk for developing founder or laminitis.  It was a few moments before he responded. “Let me talk to her owner and see if he’s agreeable to that.”

A few moments later, I had my answer. And a new horse to love and care for.  My trainer did his best to make Storm to Pass comfortable in terms of pain and then went about the tedious process of getting the wheels in motion to get her to a surgeon. We were very blessed to have one of the best equine surgeons in Oklahoma agree to take her case.

In the meantime, there was no lack of opinions and criticism from many people in the barn area. Several people made it known that they thought Storm to Pass should be put down. My trainer took a lot of criticism for standing by my decision to try to save her. Two women I have never seen before nor since walked down our shed row when my trainer wasn’t around, pointed at Storm to Pass, and said it was a disgrace that she was still standing there and that the right thing had not been done in putting her down. I started to approach them and say something, but stopped myself because I was almost in tears. Instead, I waited for them to leave and entered the stall with Storm to Pass. As I wrapped my arms around her neck and started to pet her, she laid her head on my shoulder and sighed. We stood quietly together for a long time.  I knew in that moment I had made the right decision.

Storm to Pass underwent knee surgery and made it through with flying colors. She came out of the anesthesia very quietly, which is wonderful. Apparently, a horse can do a lot of damage if it thrashes about upon awakening. She now has three screws in her knee and has made it through the first two weeks post-surgery, which is a very critical time.  Her weight distribution is good and the surgical incision has healed. With time and a substantial amount of stall rest, she should be able to get around well enough to enjoy grazing and have a new career as a mother and pasture companion to other horses.   

I am always amazed and touched by the life lessons that can be gained through these beautiful beings. Horses can be intimidating because of their size and strength. And yet, I am reminded by Storm to Pass that like people, they can also be fragile and the slightest accident can have a life hanging in the balance. Storm to Pass is not completely out of the woods yet, but I am assured the worst is over. It is going to take a lot of time, healing, and patience in the months ahead. I am inspired by her strength and her will power. She is a tough, amazing horse with an incredible will to go on. It is my hope that she will enjoy her new life and home in Colorado once she can travel here. I feel very blessed and grateful to be able to welcome her here and be part of her healing process. When you stop and think about it, we are all healing from something.

Hope Arrives

It has been a crazy couple of weeks here at Birds, Boots, and Brews. I am starting to think of life as one giant rollercoaster, filled with endless ups and downs. Or perhaps that is life with horses – the highest of highs and absolute lowest of lows. It is taking some time for me to put the last few weeks into perspective, let alone words.

So, in the meantime, here is a small update that may explain part of my tardiness in getting a post on here.

It’s a boy!!!

One hour old!

At approximately 12:30 am on April 15, my beautiful mare, Miss Music Major, gave birth to a handsome, but very tiny, colt. The birth itself went well. Unfortunately, the baby was struggling to nurse and Miss Music Major wasn’t producing enough milk at the time, which resulted in a sleepless night for me, my dear friend, Lisa, and my veterinarian. It also resulted in a very early morning SOS call for my best friend, Raina, as I had to bring her in for further assistance.

After numerous steps were taken, which will be written about at a later date, I am pleased to report that so far, mom and baby are doing well. The colt is very small; much smaller than other babies. In fact, his size is rather worrisome and it is possible he may not make it. If you believe in the power of prayer, it is definitely appreciated at this time for the little guy.

However, he continues to gain strength and I am hopeful that he will be okay long term. Luckily, the milk situation has been resolved and he is able to nurse, although getting to this point was no easy task.  

Got Milk? The new little one has dried milk all over his face. He is finally getting the hang of nursing!

I have been calling the new edition my “little string bean” because he is tall and so very skinny! Newborn baby horses always have ribs that are showing, but he really does. I do hope that will improve in the days ahead as he continues to nurse and gain strength. He doesn’t have an official name at this time. Suggestions are welcome.

This little colt is a blessing and a joy for me. I am filled with gratitude and hope whenever I look at his beautiful face. Life is truly a miracle and a gift.

~ Sandy

Little String Bean. He is getting stronger every day.

Wings of Forgiveness

I looked to the sky one day and there they were – large, white birds with black accents on their wings, flying overhead. It took me a few moments to identify them. Pelicans. I found it unusual because I didn’t expect to see Pelicans flying over my yard. In fact, I had not seen Pelicans in this part of the state of Colorado before. I couldn’t help but follow them and watch. They landed on a nearby pond, enjoying the afternoon there, swimming around and fishing. They showed up again the following morning and again the next afternoon. I was fascinated.

A few days later, I mentioned the Pelicans to my best friend, Raina. “Pelicans?” She asked. She looked doubtful. “I don’t think we have those around here.”

“I’m telling you, I keep seeing Pelicans,” I insisted.

“That’s odd,” Raina replied. “There has to be some meaning behind seeing those. You don’t just see Pelicans every day.”

Allow me a moment to explain my best friend. Raina is incredibly insightful and more in tune with the universe and her surroundings than anyone I know. She is a gifted horse woman; I tease her about being “the Horse Whisperer” because every horse magically bends to her will. To take it a step further, I am continually impressed at her unwavering spirituality. When the rest of the world is falling apart, she is steadfast. She is dialed in to meanings, like animal behavior and bird sightings, unlike anyone else.

Raina left the room for a moment then re-emerged with a book in her hands. The book was about the spiritual meaning of animals and what seeing these creatures represents to you and your world at the time you see them. It is an ideology that is Native American in origin. I was intrigued. If the Pelican sightings meant something, I wanted to know what. I had been searching to answer a myriad of things since my husband passed away, so I was looking forward to the insight. Or so I thought. I wasn’t prepared for what she told me.

Raina started to read the pelican description from the book. “Pelicans represent forgiveness. Pelicans signify a situation that you need to come to terms with…” She continued reading, but I didn’t hear another word because my mind was racing, and I felt sick to my stomach. Forgiveness. That was the one thing I wasn’t ready to grasp at that moment in time. Quite frankly, I had been struggling with forgiveness.

As I drove home that day, I got within a few miles of my house and there they were again. Pelicans. Dozens of Pelicans. They were flying all around me, and I felt as though the walls of my car were closing in. I was being swarmed by Pelicans, and I was starting to hate them and their message of forgiveness. They were showing themselves to me because I needed to incorporate forgiveness in my life or I wouldn’t be able to move forward. But how do you forgive the unforgivable?

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There were a lot of things in my life that this applied to. I was struggling to forgive the young man that had killed my husband, an impaired driver that lost control of his car and hit my husband head on. I was filled with resentment, frustration, and overwhelming sadness for his irresponsible behavior and actions on that fateful day. I was also worrying about the sentencing and the justice system, thinking that the justice I wanted would not be served. To say that my world was upside down at that time was an understatement. I was traumatized by the situation and unable or willing to accept that my husband was truly gone.

Sadly, I had also been dealing with “Pigeons” since the night my husband died, and it had taken a serious toll on my health and overall well-being. For those of you not familiar with “Pigeons,” they are defined here as creatures that fly in, crap everywhere, make a huge mess while trying to nest in your space, wreak total havoc on everything and everyone around them, and are extremely complicated to eradicate. Any horse owner will tell you that pigeons are a nightmare if they set up shop in your barn. Once they are in, they are nearly impossible to get rid of and cause a type of frustration that is beyond measure. Sadly, there are people that behave like pigeons; everybody knows one and every family has a few. Pigeons appear in our lives in many forms.

But I digress. How does one find forgiveness when the actions of others are truly deemed unforgivable, especially those that are narcissistic in nature and take place within hours and days of your spouse passing away? Dealing with these “pigeons” is an overwhelming burden that breaks you mentally and physically when their wants and expectations are unfairly placed upon you when you’re trying to grieve, understand, and accept an insurmountable loss that is beyond comprehension.

Grief is a difficult journey, and I have learned that forgiveness does go hand in hand with it. But let me be clear – I am not going to sit here and preach the old “forgive and forget” adage. Not even remotely! If you are looking for that kind of writing about “forgiveness,” what I have to say here probably isn’t for you and we will have to agree to disagree.

My thoughts on forgiveness are quite different. Quite frankly, if you have a grudge against somebody, go ahead and hold it if you want to. It is yours, after all. I say this because there are circumstances where a grudge is warranted and can be healthy, specifically if forgiveness is simply going to open a door that allows the same abusive behavior to take place repeatedly without any change. I don’t see the point in forgiving someone if they aren’t sorry, and in my particular experience, the “pigeons” hassling me after my husband’s passing are repeat offenders and they are not sorry for their behavior. I have learned the hard way that not everyone has remorse for their actions. Furthermore, there are some doors that are meant to be closed and it can be healthier if this occurs and it stays that way.  Why allow the “pigeons” back in if you finally have their crap cleaned up?

So how do you find forgiveness? For me, I had to find the type of forgiveness that would allow me to accept the situation “as is” and move forward in peace.  Forgiveness was (and still is) a difficult journey that has required a lot of introspection. I wholeheartedly admit that I tend to be very hard on myself. I beat myself up internally for my flaws and imperfections. I acknowledge that I am my own worst critic, and I do tend to allow the negativity of others to have space in my head sometimes. Unfortunately, other people know this and take advantage of it. Acknowledging this about myself has allowed me to move forward in a positive manner with respect to my feelings about the “pigeons” that were wreaking havoc in my life amidst the tragedy of my husband’s passing. 

While I cannot, and likely never will, forgive the “pigeons” themselves for their inappropriate behavior, I do forgive myself for not setting boundaries with them and standing up for myself sooner. I thought I was being a good person by showing them kindness and tolerating unacceptable behavior that was a norm for them. Instead, I was enabling them, something I didn’t realize at the time but can see clearly now. Looking back, I should have set boundaries with them years ago instead of allowing myself to be bullied for years on end. I was continually criticized, put down, disrespected, made fun of to my face and behind my back, and belittled. While this sounds like some bad childhood trauma, it wasn’t. I was an adult, and I allowed this to happen. I often look back and wish that I had been a stronger person. However, it was easier at the time to try to blend in with the wall paper than it was to defend myself and set firm boundaries that didn’t allow this to happen. It was too uncomfortable to set boundaries, so instead, I endured things I never should have and paid a high price for it with my health and sanity later.

Sadly, there were times I used to resent my husband for not defending me. Looking back, I realize he was in a difficult position – defending me would mean setting boundaries that made him uncomfortable, and let’s face it – it would mean starting an endless battle that couldn’t be won on dysfunctional ground.  For him, it was easier to try to make a joke and diffuse the situation, a talent my husband had in spades that I can only dream of possessing.  I used to be angry with him for not defending me and trying to play everything off as a joke, but looking back, I understand why he did it. Most importantly, I forgive him. I understand and respect his desire to “keep the peace,” even though it often came at my expense.

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As for finding forgiveness for the young man that killed my husband, that has been extremely difficult too. He expressed remorse in court, and I do think he was sincere. He is also serving time in prison. And while many people may not feel the sentence he received is just, I was steadfast in my resolve to see to it that justice was served. I did my best, as did the amazing people in the office of the district attorney. I am forever grateful for their tireless effort and their kind, caring support throughout the legal process. Justice does not come easy, and I have a new-found respect for the job these people perform every day.  I know it is something I could not do.

For what it is worth, I have learned and accepted that there is the justice you want in your heart and your mind, and there is the justice the court can give you. They are not one and the same. As soon as you can accept the justice the court can offer, you can move forward. It sounds simplistic, but it isn’t. It’s actually a very big step emotionally. The endless hours I spent focusing on justice would now have to be filled with something else. The judge that resided over the case told me this would happen, and he was right.

As I was contemplating forgiveness, my mind kept coming back to one question. I found myself asking if my husband would forgive the young man that ended his life and if he would be accepting of the sentence he received. That question went through my mind repeatedly and robbed me of countless hours of much needed sleep. I thought repeatedly about the remorseful words spoken in court and the sorrow showed by the young man. I also thought about the many mistakes I have made in my life. They are plentiful. I acknowledge I am not a perfect person, nor will I ever be. And as amazing as my husband was, he wasn’t perfect either. No one is.

A few months after the sentencing, I was taking a much-needed walk with my camera at a small lake near my house. I was thinking about forgiveness; I was contemplating my husband and the court case, questioning his acceptance of the verdict and sentencing and wondering if he would have forgiveness.  I was searching my mind for answers when my thoughts were interrupted by a pair of white birds with black winged tips swooping down to land in the water in front of me.

Instinctively, I picked up my camera and started snapping away, not caring what type of birds I was photographing. The birds reminded me of a pair of figure skaters on ice, their wings moving in sync as they glided onto the surface of the smooth water. A few moments later, I realized what I had just taken pictures of – Pelicans. I was photographing Pelicans! Tears filled my eyes as I watched the birds swimming in the water. I knew then I had my answer from my husband, sent from above on the wings of Pelicans – forgiveness, acceptance, and perhaps even peace.

I have learned that forgiveness is a rather powerful entity. I have forgiven myself for a lot of past mistakes. I’m also trying to be less critical and harsh on myself. What can I say? Old habits are hard to break. I have learned to forgive myself for feeling broken, having moments of weakness, and being too trusting of people with less than honorable intentions. I like to think that there is good in everyone, and that is a principle I still try to embrace, although reality has punched me and my naivety in the face with that one more than once. All creatures exist for a reason, even pigeons. I forgive myself for not setting boundaries in the past, and I am working on being strong enough to set boundaries now when they are needed.

I am learning to forgive myself, and as crazy as it sounds, the pelicans are leading the way. Now when I see the pelicans, they are a sight of beauty and peace for me. They also serve as a reminder that forgiveness starts from within.

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Birthday Remembrance

Deadlines.  We all have them, and for one reason or another, we have all missed at least one. Life happens. It can get in the way with overwhelming obligations and expectations placed upon us by other people. This week has been no exception for me. I try to have a new blog post every Tuesday, but for whatever reason, life got in the way this week.

This is a very hard week for me, and the weekend ahead will be challenging too. More snow and frigid temperatures are scheduled to hit my home state of Colorado, and I am dreading that. I have a mare that could give birth at any time, and as any horse owner will tell you, things like a full moon or bad weather will bring about the blessed event with the force of a freight train that has lost its brakes going downhill. But I digress. While the weather may create challenges for my weekend, something else is weighing heavily on my mind. Friday, March 1, is my late husband’s 51st birthday.

As my husband’s best friend has said numerous times, “We are the ones serving a life sentence because we have to live without him.” Those words ring true in my heart and my mind as I write this. I find myself bursting into tears at random times, and I keep hearing some of his favorite songs in my head. This is the third birthday of his I have had to celebrate – and I use that term loosely – without him, and it is not getting easier. If anything, this birthday is bothering me worse than the others, and I am not sure why. I cannot get him off my mind, and I cannot help but wonder what we would be doing to celebrate his birthday if he was still here. Not that we always had extravagant birthday celebrations, but we did try to do something special for one another.

As I was watching one of our horses buck and play in his paddock this morning, a horse that my husband was particularly fond of, Ichabod, I was reminded of one of the last trips we were able to take together on his birthday several years ago. We only had the weekend for a getaway, so we were pressed for time, which ruled out going anywhere extravagant or warm, like Hawaii, and we had a limited budget. We did agree that we wanted to get out of Colorado if it was possible, so we started looking online. After a quick search, we found affordable tickets to fly to Kentucky and boarded a plane shortly after work on a Thursday night.

You are probably asking yourself, “why in the world would anyone choose Kentucky the first of March?!” We chose it because it was an opportunity to take in live horse racing at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, a track we had never been to before. We had made a pact a few months before to try to visit as many tracks in North America as we could, and this was as good of a place as any to start.

While Florence, Kentucky, may not be everyone’s idea of a dream weekend getaway, it was for us. The hospitality at our modest hotel exceeded our expectations. The kind people at the hotel had their shuttle take us to and from the track so we didn’t have to worry about driving, and the hotel manager was kind enough to help me surprise my husband with a bottle of champagne and some birthday carrot cake cupcakes in our room when we returned from the races.

We were able to take in one evening of races – something that was foreign to us since none of the tracks we go to offer racing at night – and 2 days of afternoon racing. Thanks to a wonderful family friend, we had a nice table in the horse owners’ section with seats near the finish line. It turned out to be an incredible experience. My husband was amazing at handicapping races, and this trip was no exception. His long shots were coming in, and we basically ended up eating and drinking at the races all weekend on his winnings. We shared so many laughs that my sides hurt, and I couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of the best trips we ever had, and quite frankly, it was one of the simplest and most relaxing.  

We returned to Colorado after our weekend feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. Our only regret was that we couldn’t stay in Kentucky longer, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. We were both back at work on Tuesday morning and normal life resumed.

I never dreamed I would be celebrating his birthday by myself. I wish I could go back in time to that particular birthday in Kentucky, as well as a few others, and enjoy our adventures again a second time. I would hold my husband tighter and laugh even more during our escapades. Those are the moments I miss the most.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. There is no going back in time. Instead of enjoying life and celebrating, I find myself overwhelmed with grief and sadness, longing to hear his laugh again. Words cannot describe how much I miss him.

As I was walking from the barn to the house this morning, my heart was heavy and I had tears in my eyes as I thought of my husband. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a bald eagle, sitting in the field in the snow, its sharp eyes surveying its surroundings. I stopped and watched the magnificent bird for several minutes until it flew away, tears streaming down my cheeks. Hello, my husband! I immediately thought about how he used to tease me about my struggles to photograph bald eagles, and I found myself laughing through my tears.

I believe my husband is still with me. Like an eagle, he is watching from above.

Happy Birthday, My Love.

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