“…She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak. She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence,
who carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts. She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection. She had some horses.”
~ Joy Harjo (Creek Nation)
How do you explain where the wind blows? How do you speak to the broken? How do you convince them that you will try your damnedest to make this horrible wrong a right? How do you assure them that YOU are the human who won’t let them down…again? You learn to speak horse, and in time if you listen long enough you might understand more than you ever imagined.
When I first met Jules she was just a fragment of a horse, not really a horse at all—the spirit had been silenced in this small, river-type pony that carried such sadness in her eyes. The sweet little white star on her sun-bleached, bay, skeletal body shone through the herd like a diamond in the rough.
Jules was starved to the bone, and I mean skin hanging off, hips sticking out, the whole deal, riddled with wounds, she had strangles, all a horrible combi- nation. She had been through God knows how many auctions and was left with a herd of misfits in the July heat on the border of Mexico to die—and some did. Jules and her herd, whom we called The West Texas 25, were kill pen rejects. Some breezy evening in the summer of 2011 Jules and her herd mates went through our sleepy community, with no one the wiser, headed for slaughter on the border of Mexico, like they do here every day. I have often wondered what it was like for them star- ing out the slats of a big semi in the heat, going to hell.
I believe that horses know when they are going to die. I have seen it in their eyes, wide and bewildered, or broken and low. The West Texas 25 were just that, broken, low, no energy, some gave up, some were almost there, and others kept hope alive.
Jules and her herd came to our ranch in a flurry of media, naysayers, critics, but most of all an amazing community of family and friends. The Big Bend area stepped forward to help us with this herd and the others that trickled in every now and then over the months. We aren’t a rescue; we are just a family in the film and photography business who happen to have horses as cowork- ers in what we do. We believe in the spirit of the horse and the healing they bring. We know horses, so we thought we could help this herd and we opened our gate to all 25 of them. After the first week, between the moves from the pen to Marfa via the Sheriff, then to the ranch, we were left with 19 after illness had taken its toll on the youngest ones. It took months to get Jules and the herd up to snuff. Little by little they came around. I knew we were getting somewhere when I heard a nicker come from the makeshift quarantine pen just a few days in. It wasn’t a big nicker, but it was a nicker, a flicker of hope and one that made me smile.
Some started to raise their heads, others still walked by me like ghosts. My husband is a Crow Indian stuntman for the movies and a sought-after horseman in his own right. With his help and the help of amazing local volunteers we were able to get them back on the right track. Rain, sleet, snow, heat, dust storms, you name it we encountered it, but they all lived and lived well.
As with anything that is as frightening and crazy as their story was, filled with law, out- laws, crimes against animals near the border of Mexico (someday I will write that story), they got some press.
Facebook was in a frenzy; it had some angels who followed the story and adopted. One is Connie from Iowa. She watched it all unfold, and unbeknownst to me, was falling in love. I got a message late spring of 2012 from her asking about Jules. I just smiled and got kind of teary that someone would want this tiny little girl, who was blossoming, but had had such a hard journey. Connie and I exchanged many emails over the spring and she made plans to come down here to see us for a few weeks in the summer. I wanted her to know everything I knew about Jules and having her come to visit was the best option.
I asked Connie if she would like to participate in this article and she gladly wrote this, which I feel says it all:
“The Jules Experience—I grew up having horses in the pasture, playing with them every day. Ponies came into my life about age 13, a pregnant mare that subsequently had two fil- lies for us a year apart. The ponies grew up with my hands on them every day. One day I woke up and they were gone: Dad had hauled them to the auction without a word to me. I never had the chance to tell them goodbye. Where they ended up I never knew. It has tormented me since 1967.
“Fast-forward 44 years, I had spent time with horses owned by others but never had one of my own. Maybe it was too hard to think I deserved another one. Until I was scanning Facebook posts one day and seeing a post about Firelight South Ranch and there was Jules in rehab, looking at the camera, looking into the crack in my broken heart. I immediately replied ‘I NEED HER.’ I’m sure Rachael has heard this a hundred times before. She didn’t know me, I knew nothing about her rescue, but Jules was speaking to me. So we found acreage, added stalls to the barn, replaced the fencing around the property and I drove to Texas in July 2012 to visit. And found a horse heaven.
“The group that Jules and Willow were with had been there in rehab for almost a year, rescued from the death pens at the slaughter station, their bodies were back, their spirits were back. Jules walked up to me, we looked each other in the eye and sealed the deal. She was to come home to me, bringing Willow along as her companion, to continue to repair all our hearts. Willow has felt the betrayal of humans more than Jules; Jules has been an “in your face and pocket” kind of girl, loving, “pet me, look at me,” a strength in her heart that pulled her through the darkest of times. Willow is beginning to believe she can trust again.
“Firelight South Ranch, with Rod, Rachael and Cheyenne, and all the volunteers and family friends, gave them their life, their hearts, their souls back. And I have benefited the most—healing my heart as well. These horses have truly had the hands of angels on them. May they all live the life a LOVED horse deserves to live.” —Connie
Last October we brought the girls to their forever home. With much fanfare and love we got them settled in. When it was time to leave the lovely farm they now call home, I smiled as I looked back at them one more time and with a tear in my eyes I said, “Fly free in love and beauty girls. You have your whole life ahead of you.” With my hand on the window of the truck on a chilly October day we headed for home, back to the herd and the journey of those that are still searching for their forever home.
My part of their journey was over and I was passing the baton to Connie. It was time for them to fly and grow and feel love from her. Bittersweet is an understatement, with all the nights we spent with headlights on, pulling them up as their frail bodies wanted to give up, volunteers helping day and night, getting their heads together and their bodies, moving toward the moment when we could hug them and they would hug back, it was a journey, one I will never forget, nor will anyone who has been along for this wild ride since day one.
Willow and Jules now live in my home state of Iowa, where rainbows bend over their pic- turesque red barn and green grass blows gen- tly in the wind. Where the wind is explained, nickers are loud and proud, and hearts are still being healed. Most of all, horses found their heads, their hearts, and peace on this path from our barn to hers. For that, we are forev- er grateful.
Our work here is daily and endless, but worth it. This past spring we gathered togeth- er and made prayer ties to honor the ones who had died. Their bones are under an old oak tree here at our ranch. Children, volunteers, and neighbors joined us to honor the little souls who lost the fight but died here in love. There is a swing in the tree now and I often find myself sitting in the morning and just swinging. I swing for them; I swing for me, always with a view of a herd that made it.
Since their deaths in September of 2011, every September yellow wild flowers spring up under the old oak tree where they are laid to rest and make a run to the little mountain and over the hills here.
I like to think it is the babies running free. This year I will swing in yellow wildflowers and remember them all, like I will every year and for the rest of my life.
Much love goes to Joanna Barnett, Georgia Waller and Carla Lowry who were my strength, help, and always had my back. From day one they came and helped me with the herd. Both are amazing women whom I couldn’t have done this without.
To date we have found homes for all but six of the 19 horses.
Jules is named after a dear friend, Juliana Johnson, whose spirit and love of life is a blessed gift to the herd.
To learn more about the horses at Firelight South Ranch or to adopt /sponsor one of our beautiful horses in need, email Wallerrachael@yahoo.com or visit our Facebook page: Firelight South Ranch.
Rachael’s fine art photography can be found at: RachaelWallerPhotography. smugmug.com. All proceeds from sales go to the horses in need at her ranch.
From Fall 2013 edition.