By Jim Gath, Founder & Executive Director of
Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary
Cave Creek, AZ
Why a horse sanctuary?
Well, it started with a little girl.
It started with a little girl who had no name & no home. A little girl that we had rescued from the ravages of having been dropped off in the Arizona desert with no food, no water & who was nothing but a lost soul. A little girl that was closer to death than she was to life.
My friend & I had been called & told that there was a small herd of horses wandering in the nearby desert. And they didn’t look like wild horses. It looked like they had been abandoned.
After several hours of trying, we were finally able to round up the little herd & took them to my friend’s place – a place where they would be provided with all the food & water they wanted & needed. It was a sorry lot, though – seven or eight emaciated bodies with spirits to match. And, although they were still frightened out of their wits, seemed to begin to settle down & rally.
Our vet was here one morning & he & I both received frantic calls within 30 seconds of each other. Both calls said, “You have to get over here right away! One of the little mares is having a foal – right now! And I don’t know what to do!”
We both jumped into our trucks & sped to my friend’s place.
“There she is!”, my friend yelled.
And, lo & behold, this emaciated little mare was in the process of giving birth. Right there. Right then. Nobody knew she’d been pregnant – that’s how horribly emaciated she’d been.
The doc & I helped the little foal & the moaning mom. And – voila! – a little boy was born. Right there in the desert dirt & sand.
“Get the mom out of here –right now!”, said the vet. “She’s so weak, she’s liable to fall on him & crush him!”
Miraculously, I was able to get the mother to her feet. She was so weak that two or three others – including my friend – helped to hold her up & get her somewhat steady on her badly-shaking legs. Slowly & carefully, we led her away to a waiting stall. The twenty-foot walk, though, took almost ten minutes. I was afraid that she’d drop dead during the slow, agonizing trip. But she made it.
Once in the stall, she virtually fell down. And I dropped to my knees & took her head into my lap. “Easy, little mama, easy…..You just gave birth to a beautiful little boy. A little boy who’s already up & looks to be the picture of perfection. You’ve done well, little mama. You’ve done what you were meant to do!” And I stroked & kissed her forehead & gave her handfuls of hay & water. She was so weak…..so very weak. But she was trying with all of her heart……a heart that had gotten her through the hell of the Arizona summer desert.
The little girl was in such dire straits that she didn’t have any milk or the necessary colostrum that her little foal would need. My friend built a pen in her garage & she & her young daughter fed that little boy every hour, on the hour, for four or five weeks. He eventually grew into a strapping young colt, but only because those two-legged heroines had sacrificed their days & nights to him. For weeks & weeks.
About three days after his birth, my friend called me. “This little mare needs more care than I can give her, what with all the other horses here & her little boy to care for day & night. Can you help?”
“Send her over”, I said.
She was here within the hour, still weak but seemingly improving. She walked off the trailer on her own & into the stall directly next to my front door.
For days, I gave her all the food & water - & treats – that she wanted. She was happy & getting stronger every day.
But she had no name….no identity.
And I remembered an Indian friend from my youth. A person called Little Bird Sing Pretty. And I thought that name fit her like a glove. She was like a little bird. And she had given birth to this beautiful little boy. And that’s a pretty song, if not a beautiful one. She would be Little Bird Sing Pretty.
For four days & nights, Little Bird Sing Pretty seemed to rally. She loved her food. She came up to me when I entered her house. She knew in her heart that things were getting better.
Then, one evening, while my dog, Mikey, & I went out to check on everybody, Mikey looked into Little Bird Sing Pretty’s house & began to bark. “Why is he doing that?”, I asked myself. I had to almost pull him away from her stall gate.
As we returned from our rounds, it happened again. Mikey started barking. And Little Bird Sing Pretty was in the back of her house & didn’t come forward, the way she’d been doing for the past couple of days. She was eating, alright. But she didn’t come forward…….
Mikey & I went to bed & arose as usual the next morning – around 5 AM.
As soon as the door opened & Mike stepped outside, the barking – this time, mixed with whining – started again. I went in to see Little Bird Sing Pretty & she didn’t seem herself. She was dull & disoriented. Her eyes were dull. Her head was down. There were droplets of blood wherever she’d walked. She wasn’t well.
I immediately called the vet & he said he’d be here as quickly as he could, despite the early hour.
When he got here & looked at her, he turned to me. “She’s dying”, he said. “It appears that her uterine canal had been so weakened by her malnourished state that the little foal’s hooves tore it while he was being born. There’s nothing we can do.”
I looked at him. A tear rolled down my cheek. And one rolled down his, too.
“Aw, Doc”, I said. “After all she’s been through, she has to die, too?”
Putting his arms around me, he said, “I’m afraid so.” And the two of us cried on each other’s shoulders for a minute or two. Never, in all my years of knowing this doctor, have I ever remembered him being so emotional. But we were both overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all.
That little girl had been abandoned in the desert. Pregnant. And she’d been saved. And had given birth to a perfect little boy. And, for all her trouble, had to die for it. What a shame. What a crying shame.
Doc & I sent Little Bird Sing Pretty on to the Great Herd that morning. To a place where she could run free & fat & happy & without a care.
She could run on the wind.
Over the subsequent years, I’ve come to realize that there’s just no explanation for some two-leggeds’ actions. They are what they are & reality is reality. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. It is what it is.
But on that fateful morning, with Mikey barking & whining & Doc & I holding each other, I said to myself, “Son, you have to do what you can. You can’t save them all, but, somehow, you’ll save some of them. And those that you do save will have the very best lives they can ever imagine, no matter where they’ve come from & no matter the injustices done to them.”
And that’s what happened.
All because of one of the most courageous, most gentle spirits I’ve ever known. And had the honor to know & love.
A little girl who’d had no chance, but had done what she’d had to do, in spite of it all.
A beautiful little girl named Little Bird Sing Pretty.
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