Horse & Heart's
Land & Water Healing Challenge
and Crowdfunding campaign
In January 2019, after 7 years of ongoing searching and fundraising, we – the ponies and I – moved to our own land on the edge of Dartmoor. It was truly a dream come true, and should have been a moment of great celebration.
The little farm we took on had been left in a terrible state, but hey, the Horse & Heart team is not one to baulk at hard work! So we rolled up our sleeves and cracked on with it: broken and rotten fences to replace, heaps of rubbish to triage and clear, leaking pipes and troughs to mend... you name it.
The beauty of the place shone through the neglect and the prospect of fulfilling our dream kept our hearts strong: to create a Centre for Holistic Learning around horsemanship and healing, a place where everyone could be welcome with sponsored courses and retreats for those in need, and a home for the Horse & heart Community.
It soon transpired however that we had sunk our teeth into something much deeper than I had anticipated – both physically and figuratively. The place had not only been neglected, it had been abused: every square inch of it over 1 ha within easy reach of the house had been so heavily polluted that it was impossible to keep animals or grow anything there.
Buried plastic mixed with the soil and grass in the pastures, household and diy detritus and vehicle parts protruding from the ground, hazardous substances left in the hedges, and thousands of fragments of broken glass scattered amongst the grass too... Finding a safe space for the ponies to live on became a juggling act, every hoof step or nozzle in the grass an injury waiting to happen. I understood then that living here would be a project in itself, and one I wasn't even sure we could achieve.
The task of daily land cleansing now felt a monumental one, and I needed all the help I could get – and still do! A million thanks to my friends, family and volunteers who have come to lend a hand for an afternoon or for a month, braving precarious living conditions and unrewarding work! 🙏
We made some great connections through it all, met a wonderful team of Metal Detectors, were challenged to think – even more – outside the box to find answers and learnt a lot in the process.
Many little hands make light work – but there is only so much they can achieve. The scope of the work was such that I have also had to call onto contactors with big machinery to help with some of it – and the bills soon added up. The work is not finished, but the estimated total bill is... staggering.
Estimated total bill for reparing neglect and clearing the land of pollution – (NOT counting my time and resulting loss of income over the last 2 years):
Cost = £20,000
In itself, the land cleanse was an enormous issue – but it didn't stop there.
Within 2 months of moving the ponies and I started to get ill. After weeks of desperate search for a possible cause during which the horses were in a lot of pain and in a critical state, I discovered that our drinking water was contaminated by Nitrates.
I immediately turned off the taps and am now getting clean water in as a temporary measure. For me, the symptoms disappeared, but for the horses, the harm was done: a horse's digestive system is incredibly delicate and little able to tolerate strong imbalances. In this case, the excess nitrogen in their stomachs caused their metabolism to fail, meaning that they cannot process nitrogen or sugar anymore: a condition very similar to type 2 diabetes.
In practice, this means that for the time being the horses cannot live on grass anymore. They were going to live in a "track system" similar to the Paddock Paradise model anyway, meaning that they were kept off the farm grass and had access to rough edges and hedges instead while moving much more – a system they have done very well on in the past. But in their current condition even the track system is too much for their failing metabolism, and they can only eat soaked hay, straw and supplements. Vets consider the condition permanent and irremediable, with the prospect of my horses living in a very small paddock forever after, on artificial food & excercise.
Of course, as a firm believer in natural healing I feel in my heart that there must be a way to reverse it – even if not yet known by the conventional veterinary world. It wouldn't be the first time in my life that that happened! I have plenty of ideas and have started putting some in practice, involving a detox and immue booster programme through plants, alternative treatments and exercise, and helped by the local community with donations of willow branches. But meanwhile, it is a path of research and experiments that could take many years to bear fruit.
The bill for the horses's health care and treatments through the critical phase and for the continued care for the last 2 years:
Cost = £18,000
To keep the horses in this specialised setup:
Cost = £6,000 / year
So what's with the nitrates?
Modern farming practices are too nitrate-rich, and once these have leached from the top soil they make their way into water courses. Our bore hole being relatively shallow, it took a few years of farming for the nitrates to gather there – in other words the previous occupants polluted their own drinking well. Unfortunately, nitrates don't filter well, and they don't boil out, either – on the contrary, they just concentrate. Chemical nitrate filtering units only replace nitrogen with sodium – another thing one doesn't want too much of in one's drinking water! – and flush the nitrates back onto the land, repeating the cycle of contamination.
Our best hope is a plant based filtering system, which metabolises chemicals in a natural way.
Setting up a plant based filtering station to decontaminate our drinking water:
Cost = £5,000
The alarming thing is, that this wasn't even an intensive farm: our bad luck is probably due to the geology of the place, with granite draining so well and creating flushing routes for the nitrates to leach straight into the well. So the probelm appeared "early" here, but the ginormous amounts of nitrates being liberally pumped into the soil everywhere in the agricultural world will reach the water tables – for everyone to drink – sooner or later.
In our well the level of Nitrates was tested at 80 mg/L. At this level, a baby born – or in the womb – drinking the water would have died, and so would an elderly person. A healthy adult gets symptoms similar to high altitude (headaches) but recovers if the exposure isn't too long: nitrates take the place of oxygen in the blood, depriving the brain of oxygen in the same way high altitude (or poor quality wine!) does.
And a horse's metabolism fails.
Unfortunately, the Covid 19 pandemic struck before we had time to sort all of this out and setttle in. The 15 months of ongoing struggle to keep the horses' health together without a break, on top of carrying the rehabilitation of the farm on my own finally took their toll. Between catching the virus and the stress and isolation of lockdown itself, my own health started to deteriorate. I felt very acutely the enormity of the task, and the fear of not managing to pull through.
Without being able to run courses and workshops as normal, we have had no income for the last year – and yet the bills have kept coming, the horses still needed the food for their special diet and the treatments for their detox programme, and the land and water still needed to be cleansed and healed for us all to live on. But the heavy investments of the last 2 years to set up the project have meant that Horse & Heart fell through the net of Government support.
I can say that we went through the eye of the needle – and perhaps we're not quite through yet. But we are almost there, so much has already been achieved and the farm keeps showing us its potential and what a stunning place it will soon be to live on and share with you all!
We can make it – with just a little help.
Estimated loss of income in the last year:
Cost = £15,000