My brother the car whisperer

Gary, left, shown here with brother Dave, loved cars from an early age.

When Gary Crowe was 16, his life was disrupted by the arrival of a little sister (me). Very shortly thereafter, he got sick with appendicitis. So sick, in fact, that Mom and Dad had to sign off on a not-yet-approved drug in order to save his life.

Thankfully, he recovered, but he’d missed so much school that he ended up dropping out. In the 1960s, North Central High School in Indianapolis did not have programs for budding auto mechanics like him. Gary loved cars, classic cars in particular. He worked for a number of automobile shops in Indianapolis and always had a car with which he was, or had been, tinkering. One was a red MG convertible, and I remember Gary, older brother Dave, and I tooling around in it.

He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1978 and worked for a car dealership, eventually heading its service department. For a few years, he lived on a 35-foot cabin cruiser.

I’m not even sure what this was, but Gary understood it.

Gary always answered my car and computer questions (which also gave me an excuse to check in with him) and even helped me buy a car from across the country. As the years went by and the recession threw bumps and craters in his employment path, he discovered a talent and love for cooking.

Gary passed away Feb. 25, 2021 at age 70 in California.

While trying to think through ways to celebrate my brother’s life during a pandemic, I kept going back to his high school days. Would a vocational program have kept him in school? Probably. I can’t know for sure, but I do know the folks who work on our cars deserve good training in everything from basic engine function to the intricacies of today’s vehicles. As a supervisor, Gary would no doubt have appreciated new mechanics who came well prepared to diagnose and repair.

Therefore, I invite anyone who would like to do so to contribute to the automotive services program at the J. Everett Light Career Center at North Central to help today’s car whisperers get started. Just follow the link to the online giving form, select the “in memory of” option, and type in Gary Crowe under additional gift information. The very kind folks there will get it to the right place.

Ride on, Gary.

Speaking up for neglected horses

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This is one of 16 malnourished, neglected horses taken from a northeast Indiana property in January 2018. (Photo courtesy Friends of Ferdinand)

Sixteen horses — first 10, then another six — were rescued from a Wells County, Indiana property in January 2018. All were malnourished, and some had untreated infections and injuries.

A few, including two of the six horses I worked with, did not survive. Others returned to their previous owners or found new ones, but faced a long and difficult healing process.

The case was all the more disturbing because the person responsible was known and trusted by area horse owners and rescuers. Yet, according to the conversations that followed, there were previous signs that all was not well.

What can we pull from this to create a better outcome the next time something doesn’t seem quite right, but we don’t know what to ask or how to help? How can we get better at spotting signs of animal abuse and neglect, speaking up, listening, and following through?

As I write this, winter is coming. That’s when many of these heartbreaking situations come to light, and when it’s difficult to respond.

I’m not a veterinarian, horse handler, or law enforcement officer. My job with horses is to listen to them, and to the people who love and care for them, and offer a calm presence that allows healing. But as a journalist of many years, I also wanted to offer some quality information that might prove useful to those of us in northeast Indiana and beyond. Here’s what I found.

• These two articles were both sparked by the Wells County case: When to Speak Up: Red Flags & Warning Signs for Reporting Abuse in Horse Nation; and If you see something, say something by Carleigh Fedorka, a horse handler and postdoctoral researcher who was part of the same network as the neglected horses’ owner.

• Another, Neglected, abused and abandoned horses: How to help in Equus Magazine, was written earlier but includes helpful information on staying on the right side of the law in these situations.

• Also of note: Friends of Ferdinand, which played a key role in the rescue of the horses in the above case, received a Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding in 2018. This story talks about how other rescue organizations stepped in to help.

Creating a better world for horses (and everyone else) does, in fact, take all of us.

Horse sense helps veterans move forward

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Geronimo stands with a buddy at Summit Equestrian Center. (Photo by Ann Collins)

When someone returns from military service with wounds seen and unseen, we may not know how to help. Fortunately, horses do.

This might seem counterintuitive, considering how many battles we humans have ridden horses into over the millennia, but humanity’s partnership with the horse continues to evolve. The physical tasks of caring for horses get veterans outdoors, moving, and doing something tangible that makes sense. But it’s more than that.

Horses are nonjudgmental, profoundly empathetic, and delightfully individualistic even though they are also social creatures. A horse may not comprehend the particulars of what a veteran has been through, but you can bet that horse knows how he feels. The horse likely has war stories of his own: of trauma, injury, self-preservation, and survival. When horses allow you into their world, the healing goes both ways.

Jockey Red Pollard said in the movie “Seabiscuit” that he, the trainer, and the owner — three men of very different backgrounds, each with his own demons — didn’t take a broken-down, underdog horse and fix him. “He fixed us … and I guess in a way we kinda fixed each other too.”

The therapeutic riding center where I serve as an animal Reiki practitioner and animal communicator, Summit Equestrian Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, facilitates just this sort of work with horses and veterans. We’re having a special event called Stock the Barn 6-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, to raise funds to do even more. Let me tell you about a few of our equine warriors.

Pirate, a big, red retired racehorse with incredibly kind eyes, could have spent his retirement at a stud farm but opted to come to Summit instead. He’s got a host of aches and pains left over from his racing days. When I see him walking across the pasture, I hear him say, with each step, “I’m moving … I’m moving.” This summer, as I dealt with some of my own pains, he would regularly ask: “Are you moving, too?” A horse holds you accountable like no one else does.

• When I first met Geronimo, the young mustang reminded me of James Dean … a wildly handsome rebel without a cause who felt others just didn’t “get” him. His resistance to cooperating with director Allison Wheaton, along with a few scuffles with the other horses, frequently landed him in timeout, but she continued to work with him. The skills Geronimo needed to gain, Allison says, are the same skills some veterans with PTSD need to be able to go to the grocery store. Veterans can see themselves in a mustang’s hypervigilance. Last winter, just by his presence, Geronimo comforted a volunteer through a stressful work transition. Now he’s connecting with our veterans. His journey still has its ups and downs; progress is rarely linear. They “get” him.

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Biff, like the veterans he works with, has had to work on learning new ways of responding to the world around him. (Photo by Meg Miller)

• Then there’s Biff. The Gypsy Vanner joined us this summer and proceeded to leave bite marks and bruises on just about everyone before being put in a pen by himself, but within sight of the rest of the herd. Somehow or other, Lakota — another young mustang adopted from the Bureau of Land Management who has been doing some serious training of his own — and Geronimo let themselves into the pen with Biff. The three of them have been hanging out without incident, and all three have been working with veterans. Biff has decided he wants to keep learning.

If a veteran you know is struggling to find a way forward, there’s probably a horse out there who needs a buddy, too. Let’s leave no one behind.