Sunday, August 26, 2012

Animals in my life have made me a happier, healthier and stronger person.

I was going to write about some of the special animals in my life but as I reread my blog I find that I have written about most of them. From the time I can remember, I have always loved animals and I soon began to bring home strays, orphans and just about anything I could find. The first animal that I truly loved was a new born lamb that my mom brought home because the mother had died and it needed to be bottle-fed. I was around five years old. When I was a tween I got my first real horse: I had had horses my whole life but never one that was just mine. His name was Jiggs, he was a barrel-racer and I had called about an advert I saw in the paper. I thought that the girl said he was for sale for a hundred dollars. I went to see him and fell in love but it turned out she said four hundred dollars and I didn’t have that much. After many offers, all to stables, she decided that she would rather that he had a loving home with me than to be ridden by hundreds of people so she sold him to me. I had no tack or money to buy any so that is how I started to ride bareback and with just a halter and that is the way I have ridden since then. Jiggs was my friend that I could confide in and my transport. At that difficult age, where peer pressure and fitting-in are so important, I think my horse saved me a lot of tears and kept me out of trouble because he was more important to me than anything else. I kept Jiggs all through university then finally gave him to a little girl that loved him the way I did.
When I moved to Spain I started collecting animals again. I was living in a house with my two girls on some land on the hill above the pueblo. I bought a horse that I couldn’t afford, on a payment plan, and she came with a three week old foal that remained my foal well into her twenties. Whenever people would see her they would say “that is Barbara’s foal” even when she was close to twenty. The mare, Oli, would extend on command until her belly almost touched the ground so that I could get on. I thought that she would be great for the kids since she was older and that I would train the foal for myself. It turned out that even though she was older she had quite a strong character but she learned to love us and became a great horse. One day, I saw a shepherd pass my office and went out to talk to him and came home with two lambs and then to add to the gang, I bought a seven day old calf. I have written about all of these animals individually on this blog. The sheep, Negrita, the calf, Petite Suisse, and the foal, Casi, grew up together in the baby area which basically meant running free around the farm. They remained fast friends into their old age.
Me with Casi
I used to go to the old mill nearby to buy feed and that is where I started to learn Spanish, with Juan Sanchez, the miller and baker in a nearby town. We became great friends and every time I went I would come home with a duck or a rabbit or a dove and so my farm grew. I eventually opened my farm up to the school-children so that they could learn about farm animals since they now all lived in apartments and didn’t know much about animals and where food, milk, eggs and wool came from. I went to a Feria de Bestia – an animal fair - with some old Gypsy friends and bought an old mule and started Mojácar’s first donkey taxi. It was my first job here and I loved it plus the kids and I would take the mule down to the fountain to wash our clothes and hair and bring home water. It was a great social event and a good place to meet people and find out what was going on in town since no one in those days had phones.
I had a dream one night that I had a center for Animal Assisted Therapy, training animals for all types of disabilities and with the help of my husband and children, made it a reality. We ended up with twelve horses, four donkeys, pigs, sheep, boar, ducks, turkeys etc. Because I had a zoo license by then I was brought things like eagles and owls and other animals that were found injured or abandoned. ÁNIMO was born. We were soon running a center with over forty physically disabled children and a petting zoo. Qualified volunteers started showing up having worked in the field of therapeutic riding in their home countries like, England, Germany, Hong Kong and with them they brought a wealth of information and ideas. For fifteen years Ánimo functioned every day of the week and was free to all of the children. Even the doctor, nurse, psychologist and the physiotherapists all donated their time and my husband plus some necessary fund-raising paid for the upkeep of the animals.
Now comes the hard part. I got ill and we were running out of money so I had to start to find homes for all of my animals because I was unable to care for them physically and financially. Do you know how hard it is to find a good home for a 200 kilo friendly boar where they don’t want to eat him and just keep him as a pet? I finally gave Theodore, the boar, to a farmer who used him as a stud for his pigs so he could get better meat. It wasn’t perfect but it was the best I could. It took two years to find suitable homes for my large menagerie. For me this was almost harder than facing the fact that I had to have many operations, spend years in hospitals, be left permanently disfigured and to have an incurable disease that no one knew or knows how to treat.
Now comes the happy part again. After eight years of hell and antisocial behaviour I started to ride again, and then I met a wonderful woman called Loli who started working with me on finding a therapy that would help my illness. Since then I haven’t looked back and am again strong enough to work with the children in therapeutic riding, I have started Ánimo again but this time with a new board of directors and at Loli’s riding center in Los Partidores, just on the edge of Almería. She also has a farm school, so I don’t have to have the problems of all of the paper work or preparation of all of the animals; I just volunteer. To make the whole thing perfect, I was donated the horse of my dreams, a Friesian mare that I fell in love with but was unable to buy. My mare, Frisona, now called just Sona, makes every day special and together we are learning and making each other happy and I am able to lead a fairly normal life. I don’t worry about how I look any more and I am happy with who I am and what I have. My husband has been through hell and back staying by my side through all of this and kept me positive and feeling loved.
Since the fire in Bédar over the weekend, I started to remember a terrible fire we had three years ago. I sometimes get the feeling that maybe this strange disease helped to save all of these animals I loved so much, because there is no way I could have saved them, the fire was just too fast. It also has changed the way I live my life, I may have problems, which I do, ones that would make most people quit, but I try to live every day to its fullest and not keep wishing I had something else or was somewhere else.  The best thing about animals is that they have no prejudice, they don’t care what you look like or how you dress - they just want to be loved, cared for and respected and they will give the love back ten-fold.

1 comment:

Paz LeBon said...

Wonderful! Glad I stumbled across your blog. I'd love to be involved in something as rewarding, I suppose animals are my first passion but never a right career move or timing or something you know? Animals for therapy...great stuff, what are your thoughts about people for animal therapy too? :)