Meda Kessler 2017-12-25 01:58:45
Safe and Sound A couple provides love, life and sanctuary for the gentle giants of the horse world. Photos by Ralph Lauer Lynn Marie Cairney is not a morning person. But a hungry horse is not to be denied; multiple peckish horses could mean a mutiny. So early every day, Lynn rouses her sleepy self out of bed to feed her “babies.” Mind you, by babies we mean thousand-pound draft horses: a Clydesdale mix along with Percherons, Belgians and shires, all gentle giants in the equine world and all rescues from the slaughterhouse. Today, there are eight drafts living at this Argyle ranch along with a couple of smaller but equally loved horses; a pair of canines, Jack and Max, both adopted from the Humane Society of North Texas; and some goats. They all are part of Thor and Athena’s Promise Sanctuary, the nonprofit Lynn and Paul Cairney created with the aim of giving draft horses a forever home where they’ll be safe and never go hungry for the rest of their lives. On this sunny morning Thor and Athena, the sanctuary’s namesakes, are eagerly awaiting breakfast. It’s striking to see how big they are in person. Thor, especially, is happy for the attention from visitors. It’s obvious why Lynn has to get a jump on the day. “The nice thing is that I don’t have far to go to feed and water everyone. The downside is that horses are close enough to the house that I can hear them getting restless in the morning while they’re waiting for me.” She notes that Paul, district police chief for the Argyle Independent School District, is an early-riser by nature. “I’m now on his schedule, but it’s still a challenge,” says Lynn with a laugh. Paul is saying goodbye to Thor before leaving for work while Jack, a friendly Lab mix, wags his tail and runs up and down the pasture’s fence line. “Paul is Thor’s favorite,” says Lynn. “They go way back, and Paul is definitely a big reason we’re doing this.” The Cairneys moved to Argyle after Paul retired from the Air Force in 2013 with more than 20 years of service. Lynn had an earlier career in media and politics in California but followed her husband around the world. They left Colorado Springs, Paul’s hometown, to be near Lynn’s sister and to start their post-military life in Texas. Lynn, who hails from Sacramento, remembers being in love with horses as a young girl. “We couldn’t afford to own one, but in exchange for doing chores for a local rancher, I got riding lessons.” Little did she know that the first horse she would own would be a rescue. While she was living in Colorado during Paul’s tour of duty in Iraq, Lynn’s boss connected her with a draft rescue group. “These big horses are a dime a dozen in Colorado. They are so obedient and love humans, but many end up being shipped to slaughterhouses. It’s illegal here [in the U.S.], but buyers sell them in Mexico and Canada.” “I started volunteering, and it really helped me cope with being alone and the fact that my husband was in a dangerous place. When Paul got home, he starting going with me. It was obvious being around the horses relieved so much of his stress. And he understood why I loved them so much. He just got it.” The couple eventually adopted a bonded pair of Percheron-mix foals whose mothers were kept confined and pregnant to produce urine to be used for hormone-replacement products for women. The foals often were sold for slaughter. “We got the horses because we really thought Paul would not get another overseas assignment, and then he got orders to go to Germany.” But Thor and Athena went with them, making the Europe trip via cargo plane. “We don’t leave our animals behind,” says Lynn. “And it was a great experience getting to ride them in the Black Forest.” Not long after moving to Argyle, the family grew still larger when the couple returned to Colorado to pick up Zena, a rescued shire, and a Clydesdale named Kia. Everyone settled into ranch life, with field trips including horse-friendly trails around the shores of Lake Grapevine. “People would give us a second look because our horses were so big,” says Lynn, who admits that even when using a box, getting up and into the saddle was an early challenge. Their Argyle neighborhood is also quite horse friendly; the Cairneys host the surrounding kids for ranch events, and it’s not unusual for a neighbor on horseback to deliver a carton of freshly laid eggs. Lynn has a flexible day job as marketing manager with Sterling Renovations & Design in Southlake, allowing her time to volunteer with the Humane Society’s equine unit. This led to more rescue connections. An especially heartbreaking adoptee was Clio, another Clydesdale. The 20-year-old horse followed the Cairneys around a pasture during a meet-and-greet for potential adopters, and the couple didn’t think twice about loading the emaciated animal into the trailer and taking her home. “Clio was in bad shape; she was underweight and had so many rotten teeth that the bacteria had eaten through her jaw bone. After she had seven teeth pulled, we had to feed her soft food by hand 10 times a day to help her gain weight.” “CLIO WAS IN BAD SHAPE; SHE WAS UNDERWEIGHT AND HAD SO MANY ROTTEN TEETH THAT THE BACTERIA HAD EATEN THROUGH HER JAW BONE. AFTER SHE HAD SEVEN TEETH PULLED, WE HAD TO FEED HER SOFT FOOD BY HAND 10 TIMES A DAY TO HELP HER GAIN WEIGHT.” Then there were the constant medications and follow-up surgeries. “But she thrived eventually, gaining about 450 pounds and learning how to chew hay without any teeth,” says Lynn. Nevertheless, the long-term neglect caught up with Clio, and she died this past November. Lynn still tears up talking about her, although she knows that she and her husband made Clio’s life better in the 1½ years she was with them. “Sadly, there are always more out there.” The early-morning sun backlights the leaf-laden trees around the ranch, but it’s hard not to notice the big horse with an almost shimmery strawberry-blonde coat. Jasper, a red roan Belgian, got a Christmas miracle in 2015. Neglected and abused, he was set to board a slaughterhouse truck before being rescued by a friend of Lynn. Draft horses don’t come cheap, even those in poor health. Rescuers often pay up to $1,000 to keep them from being horse meat, and then there’s the cost of rehabilitation and daily care. Jasper got the help he needed and, in July 2016, moved to the Cairneys’ ranch. This past year, he modeled for noted photographer Constance Jaeggi for her horse-themed exhibit, “Aspects of Power, Light and Motion,” at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. (You can see his photograph and others there through Feb. 4.) Lynn strokes Jasper’s forehead and talks to him softly. “He’s still a bit shy, but he has come a long way from the kill pen.” She remembers a time when she felt like the biggest novice in the world when it came to horses. “I was always worried about them being too hot or too cold. Thank goodness for vets that allow you to ask a lot of dumb questions,” she says. Lynn makes her way back to the house with one of the horses in tow. They have an appointment at a local horse “spa” for treatment of the animal’s swollen leg. She knows the trailer is a scary thing for some of the horses, so she talks to her quietly, reassuring her that everything will be okay.
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