The Keeper of the Gate

IMG_0137Standing quietly in the barn, Jeb looked half asleep. With the sun hiding behind the thick clouds, today must have seemed ideal for taking naps. He deserved it, deserved the quiet time, for his thin and aging body has a lot of rebuilding to do.  Even though we feed him four times a day, he stays hungry. More than hunger, he wants friendship, the human kind. Jeb is simply in love with people, which offers a clue to his history. Someone, somewhere, loved this horse a lot.

A few feet away stood a yearling named Macy. She’s only been here a few months, part of a seizure we did on the island. When she arrived both she and her mom were not willing to let people touch them. That attitude doesn’t last very long around the ranch, what with volunteers carrying brushes, feed and the occasional snack. Macy is a pocket pony now, ready for belly scratches and kisses from complete strangers.

As I stood quietly, Macy walked up close to Jeb, watched him for a moment, then closed her eyes as though to take a nap. Jeb looked at her, then resumed his sleepy stance. The little girl and grandpa, in whatever horse world they lived, were taking a nap together. In that moment I was captured by the agelessness of it all – the new and the old, the first and the last years of life, the beginning and the end.

Before me stood something far greater – an overwhelming sense of responsibility.

Here stood the horse in its ultimate relationship with man, held by fences, controlled by feed and commands. Here we play gods, deciding on life and death, deciding on their futures, on who will go where.

Humans have become their rulers. We have been handed dominion over them. Our hands will dictate their lives. Through us will they live and die, for all those godlike decisions will be based on our beliefs of right and wrong, no matter how distorted those decisions may be.

Far too many see them as “livestock,” to be used and sold for meat. Others consider them throwaways, like used cars or broken toasters.

I don’t know what the best choice is for the old ones – to keep them going, to let them see a few more sunrises, or a needle in the vein, a soft sleep, the quieting of her heart. Sometimes we know the time has come, know that it’s never getting better, that the days of their life must come to an end. We know when because they tell us they are hurting and nothing we do can remove the disease that’s destroying them.

Sometimes I just don’t know. I listen to the vets, I weigh the options, but I see the life in their eyes. and the decisions are so very hard.

Just as I know of their pain, they know the final decision is with me, and I must make that decision. I will say the time and place, I will hold them, I will see the fear in her eyes and I will cry, for I’m not a god.

Macy will be adopted, will have a forever home and a loving, forever family. Thirty years from now, when the adopter’s children bring the old horse into their barn, it will have never known anything but love.

If we knew that all the horses would have that type of family, I’d be at peace. I judge when I meet the potential adopters, I look at the applications, I probe for character, I search their eyes for dishonesty, but I’ll never know for certain. I’m not a god, nor do I want that position.

Macy will leave someday, off to her own family, her own future. I don’t want her to come back as old and crippled as Jeb, destroyed by the hands of non-caring humans. 100_0661

This is a way station, a rest stop on the highway of horses. What happens here will change their lives forever. Most will go on to good homes, to be loved for the rest of their lives. Some will never leave. This is the final stop, this is the end of years of offering themselves to humans. No one will ever know their story, will ever understand all they have gone through, of their loves and pains, of the little kids who rode them and the grownups who beat them.

Some will get lost; will eventually be sold by adopters who say they will never sell. They will be sold again, hurt, abused, injured and end up either at the slaughterhouse or at another rescue, if they’re lucky. As much as we fear that end, as much as we do to prevent it, there are those that slip through the cracks.

I didn’t go to god school. If I had, I probably would have failed. I would rather be partners with them on this earth, a friend who would help make the decisions, who would share their thoughts, who would offer my opinions. I’d share, but I wouldn’t command. Somehow, that concept failed when the earth was created. Humans were picked to play gods, to be in total control. I sometimes wonder if that was the best choice.

Somehow, without any training or experience, we became little gods, Without any insight, without any special knowledge, we received dominion over the lives of horses. If I had my way, I’d just as soon give up that title. I’d rather be known as a friend. I’d ask them what they wanted, and I’d make sure it happened for them.

That’s the kind of God I have and, if I had to be a god, that’s the way I’d want to be. “I’m here to help you. Tell me what you want.”

Standing at the gates, waiting for a vacancy, waiting for our help, the horses look on, pleading. We’re not the only place, but we’re one of the few, and it’s our chosen job. It’s what we said we would do, and that’s why we need your help. This isn’t about the glory of the name, or the triumph of being published. It isn’t a country club or a social gathering. It’s about starving, close to death, forgotten, slaughter-bound horses that are dying by the thousands. I need your hands in the blood, your tears of joy when we succeed, your sorrow when we fail. I need you at the gates of sanctuary, to be pure of heart, to know the purpose, to understand the problems and to help us provide the answers.

LA Mare 11“Rescue me,” they cry.

We must. For their sake, for their life, we must honor our values, put aside our differences, our cutting remarks, our egos, our sense of self-importance. We must gather around them as a family, hold them, bring them, if we can, back from the brink of darkness, and make them whole again. We must find them a home of their own, one of love and respect, then we must stand at the gate and do it all over again.

2013 is upon us. In the months ahead we’ll be dealing with many more horses like Jeb and Macy, like the little baby donkey, Joseph. Literally hundreds will pass through the gates, into and out of our hands

Through this website, through these stories, we will laugh together, and we’ll cry.

We can’t do it alone.

We need you.

Your donations heal them, your support heals us.

You – each of you – are the gatekeepers.

Together, let’s make 2013 a year like no other.

Jerry Finch

Habitat for Horses



AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • So well said.

    December 28, 2012
  • Suzanne Dunham

    Thank you for all you do.

    December 28, 2012
  • Sue

    When a horse tells you its time to pass, they are not afraid. They trust you, their god, their keeper, their friend, to let them go, to make the right decision.

    I especially love the Old Ones; their shared wisdom and their patience with me.

    Thanks to all the volunteers and you, Jerry, at HfH. There is far less suffering in the world because of what you do.

    December 28, 2012
  • Marcia

    The horses who make it to your care are lucky. I just wish I were Bill Gates and could donate accordingly.

    December 28, 2012
  • colleen

    Thank you for your words, yes I agree and I refer to it as
    “quality of life” no animal should have to suffer. And all we have is hope is that all animals caretakers will keep them safe & fed & loved for the rest of their lives, I know I will do everything in my life to make my wild mustang have almost as good as she did when she was free. I know one thing she will never be hurt afraid or hungry and she will be with me for the rest her life she will never be sold – we are one now & forever.

    December 28, 2012
  • Kathy Michney

    That was a very moving article. I so feel the same way. I give you credit for trying to do the best you can. Have you thought about consulting an animal commumicator to hear what the horses are saying? It might give you some peace inyour mind

    December 28, 2012
  • Janet Garcia - Gramas Cottage

    Just when I thought I’d emerged from a crying spell. I’m ok though! Reading these stories and comments too only helps us to be stronger in our commitment to be there! Standing at the gate, watching for what else we can do. Thank you! I’m inspired because I am reminded on how badly the horses depend on us! There are many more who care that have yet to hear and connect… keep sharing and caring everyone! Hugs to all!

    December 28, 2012
  • As a lifetime lover of horses and all animals, I write this through tears. Your heart is so evident in this article and my heart is overflowing as I read it.
    God bless you for all you are doing!

    December 29, 2012
  • Judy Grimes

    You care so much, it’s so obvious. I once was lucky enough to have horses and loved every minute of everyday that I had them. I’ll never understand how people can be so cruel to animals and especially horses. God Bless you for all you do. Thanks for sharing.

    December 30, 2012
  • Annonymous

    You have an unmatched ability put into words exactly what you see in their eyes and to convey what their souls must be feeling.

    December 31, 2012
  • Being a gatekeeper-you have my word that I will honor this priviledge until I cross the bridge and join my fallen a legged family.Sometimes this mantle seems nearly too heavy to bear-but we must.i adopted a senior arab mare last year and promised as long as her fire burned within her I would care for her and give her a resting place when she passed -and all the love and safety that I can muster until that day-we are soulmates.The most rewarding thing in my life is the priviledge of horse rescue and foster .You are not alone Jerry-We are everywhere-we just need more of us-Bless and keep you-would like to meet you and family someday-and give you a hug and warm handshake.

    January 6, 2013
  • Linda Sue

    God has blessed you with a gift unmatched by any I’ve ever seen–what you guys do for animals over there is a blessing. I have 6 horses one is 34 and still beautiful and hanging on with spirit in her eyes. I know some day she will leave me! She was a starved rescue when she was just 3 years old–she has been my friend ever since. She will be buried next to my other friends that have passed over the rainbow bridge before her. To me she is a gift from God–he put me on the path to find her–to help her trust people again–to love her, and I do every day! I love all my animals big and small–I don’t understand how people can do the evil things they do to animals. Animals give you unconditional love–they expect nothing but a gentle hand and a kind heart, a warm stall out of the elements and of course clean water to drink, food daily , and fresh hay. I wish I could give you millions of dollars for what you do! May God Bless you and help you through all you do, because what you do is amazing! And Thank you for saving so many of Gods beautiful creatures throughout the years!

    January 11, 2013