Flight engineer rescues unwanted, abused animals from a cruel fate
By Pamela S. Nault
Midnight Escape craves attention. In fact, he gets downright surly when he has to share the affection of his owner with his six stable mates.
The 8-year-old black stallion snorts, stomps his hooves and jerks his head back and forth, in a fit of pique, when Bob Barrett gently strokes the silky white mane of My Girls Dream, an Arabian mare, in the stall next door.
Enough, Barrett said, as the powerful stallion nudges him, then makes a feeble attempt to nip or bite him on the shoulder. Hes very possessive and knows who takes care of him.
Considering the environment where he came from Barrett and his family rescued the horse, close to death, after years of abuse its easy to understand Midnight Escapes jealous behavior.
His comfortable new home is Crossbridge Stables, a refuge for abused and neglected horses that Barrett, an Air Force Reserve master sergeant, and his wife, Mary Lou, established in October 1998. They teamed with Carpe Diem, an equine rights advocacy group in Staten Island, N.Y., to adopt horses that have been mistreated or that are headed for slaughter.
Midnight Escape came to us in July 2000 with cuts across both eyelids, open sores on his chin, cracked hooves, and gashes on his back and hind quarters, said Barrett, an air reserve technician with the 514th Air Mobility Wing, McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. He was 150 pounds underweight, and his ribs were visible.
Today, Midnight Escape is happy, healthy, has a family that loves him, a stall to call his own, stable mates and plenty of pasture to roam.
Weve worked with him on ground and under-saddle training and trust, which is key to developing a relationship, Mary Lou said. Hes given us so much more in return and has qualified for the New Jersey State 4-H horse show (scheduled for this month).
Crossbridge Stables is a labor of love that resulted from a 4-H club project gone awry, according to Mary Lou. Three years ago, the Barretts and their two teenage daughters, Malynda, and Amanda, lived in a Victorian home, built in 1847, in Vincentown, N.J., 30 miles from McGuire AFB. Barrett, a KC-10 Extender flight engineer, and Mary Lou, an operating room assistant for general and vascular surgeons in Moorestown, N.J., were heavily involved in their daughters school and extra-curricular activities.
They owned a pony, Rocky Road, that they kept at a nearby stable for their daughters involvement in 4-H.
We learned about Carpe Diem and the need for foster homes for neglected horses, and we found our calling, Barrett said. We made a family decision to dedicate our lives to horse rescue.
The Barretts moved to a smaller home on a 30-acre farm in Southampton Township, N.J., where they added an eight-stall stable to an existing 20-by-20-foot barn. The family grew to include seven horses, all adopted through Carpe Diem; two dogs, from the local animal shelter; three cats; five chickens; and a goat.
Malynda, 16, has qualified to participate in the Eastern National 4-H Roundup in Louisville, Ky., in November, while Amanda, 14, is representing the county in dressage (a competition in which horses execute maneuvers in response to barely perceptible movements of the riders hands, legs and weight) at the state horse show this month. Malynda is planning a future in equine law, and Amanda has her sights set on horse training and breeding.
As herd animals, horses need to be with other horses. By partnering with Carpe Diem, the Barretts agreed to adopt several horses and are inspected regularly to ensure certain standards are met.
A recent addition to the Barrett herd is Mr. Tardy Zipper. Zippy, as they call him, is a registered quarter horse that suffers from arthritis. He was headed for the auction block and certain slaughter before Carpe Diem came to the rescue and the Barretts adopted him. His meat would have been sold for 45 cents a pound and shipped overseas for human consumption due to the outbreak of mad cow disease and hoof and mouth disease in Europe.
Some horses are orphaned when their owners can no longer afford to keep or take care of them. Such was the case with Bubba Hyde, a 30-year-old Palomino the Barretts adopted in April 2000.
People create bad habits that horses develop through neglect or abuse, Mary Lou said. So its up to people to correct the bad habits. Thats what we do here at Crossbridge Stables. We provide TLC and consistent training. Its rewarding to see the progress they make in a short period of time.
Rescuing horses and providing them a place to live is not cheap. Barrett estimates that he and his wife spend approximately $85 per horse per month for feed and hay. And that doesnt include farrier and veterinarian costs.
In addition to the financial investment, the horses require a significant time investment as well. The Barretts spend 30-plus hours each week maintaining, training and caring for their herd.
As a full-time technician, Barretts stability hes not subject to frequent reassignments provides a settled home life conducive to the horse business. However, his duties as a KC-10 flight engineer instructor and evaluator often take him away from his family for weeks at a time.
Mary Lou and the girls really take care of things while Im away, he said.
We all pitch in to keep the stables running smoothly, said his wife of 18 years. Its a lot of work, but when its your passion, it doesnt seem like work.
Barrett has more than 3,000 flying hours in the KC-10, 1,500 as an instructor and evaluator. He has flown more than 100 sorties in support of Operation Southern Watch, the multi-national effort to enforce the no-fly zone in southern Iraq. Also, he flew 15 sorties in support of Operation Deny Flight, refueling NATO aircraft patrolling the skies over the former Yugoslavia.
After serving four years of active duty in the Navy, Barrett joined the Air Force Reserve at McGuire AFB as a C-141 Starlifter flight engineer. He achieved flight engineer instructor status and more than 2,000 flying hours, including 75 missions in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. In 1993, the New Jersey native transferred to Barksdale AFB, La., to become a KC-10 flight engineer. A year and a half later, he returned to McGuire when his unit relocated to the Garden State.
The Barretts hope to one day build an indoor arena for year-round horse rehabilitation and possibly facilitate a hippotherapy program for people suffering from movement disorders.
Hippotherapy, which is physical therapy on a horse, is effective for patients with cerebral palsy, developmental delays, multiple sclerosis or other neurological disorders, Mary Lou said.
A horses pelvis moves in the same tri-planer motion at a walk as a humans. The movement helps facilitate a normal gait pattern in patients.
Riding a horse is liberating, said Mary Lou, a highly qualified horse handler. For someone who is wheelchair bound, its therapeutic and healing, but the sense of freedom must be overwhelming.
At 25,000 feet in the air, it takes patience, skill and experience to instruct and evaluate flight engineers on KC-10 refueling missions. At Crossbridge Stables, Barrett uses those same talents to train horses and riders for competition. His commitment to military service and horse rescue is matched only by his familys dedication and support.
Family is the key, Barrett said. My service to country and passion for horses would not be possible without it. Its truly a team effort.
(Ms. Nault is chief of the Community Relations/Environmental Division in the AFRC Office of Public Affairs, Robins AFB, Ga.)