A couple weeks ago the Lassen County Times sent me to a ranch on the high desert, about 40 miles north of Reno, Nev. to visit Gino, a rancher who had called about his Arabian, Star. She had just given birth to a blind foal.
I went with a friend. We turned off the dirt road and up the driveway where Gino met us.
I did some research on blind horses before heading out to Gino’s ranch, and a lot of what I read was grim. Most insisted a blind horse should be put down. A horse that went blind later in life was no longer useful. A horse born blind had even less of a chance.
Would Gino have something to say about it? He led us to the corral where Star nuzzled her four-day-old foal.
While many ranchers might have been discouraged at the birth of a blind horse, Gino chose to see it as a “gift from Jehovah.” I don’t know much about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it was clearly a bedrock for Gino. That and his wife, who passed the previous year, had been his lifelines. Now it was only his faith.
He and his grandchildren, Ryan and Angie, christened the filly, Stormy, and Gino said he hoped to teach her to pull a cart, so they could offer rides to blind and handicapped children.
She can serve as an inspiration, he said, that no matter your handicap, everyone has a purpose.
“She might not have eyeballs,” he said. “But she gets around by instincts. Just like we have instincts. The water, trough, for instance. She knew almost from the beginning how to go right to it like she could smell the water or something.”
As if on cue, Stormy ambled over and Ryan cupped his hands and let her sip out of his hands.
He said, “You don’t see that often, this trust of humans in a foal so young. But Stormy, she loves to be around people.”
We walked into the corral and Gino stroked Stormy’s gleaming chestnut coat. “I call her the golden cross,” he said. “A perfect Arabian in every way except she can’t see.”
Born on the south side of Chicago before anyone had heard of nuclear weapons and people thought terrorism had to do with Halloween, Gino grew up in foster homes and orphanages. As soon as he started getting comfortable in one, it seemed, he was moved someplace else. Finally, when he was 12, he left for good hitch-hiking across the country in search of his mother who he never found.
It gave him a hardness, but also empathy, and he feels a connection with Stormy; he knows what it feels like to be an outcast. He said he’ll keep her and Star together. They’ll both be well cared for. Although they’ll be leaving the ranch, Gino has made arrangements to board them just outside Reno.
Since his wife died, he’s finding it harder to keep the place together, so he’s planning to sell everything and move to Reno. He also wants his grandkids to have more opportunities, although he wonders if uprooting them from the ranch and taking them to the city is the right move.
As we talked, he leaned on the wooden gate and looked out over the ranch, acres of high desert, sage and creosote bush stretching out to the Fort Sage Mountains. He showed us the scar on Star’s neck where a mountain lion had clawed her and the patch of desert where alfalfa once grew.
“I’ve looked for this place my entire life,” Gino said. “And now I’m leaving it behind.”
But Gino’s not one to dwell on the past. He reasoned moving to Reno will give him more opportunities to work with Stormy, fulfilling their mission of inspiring the blind.
Probably his biggest fear, and a justifiable one, is that the ranch will turn back to desert and in a few years all signs of its existence will be an abandoned house, barbed wire snaking across the ground and fence posts used for target practice.
“Land is a gift from Jehovah,” said Gino. “It should be used and appreciated. I hate to leave all this but I don’t know what else to do. I just can’t handle it all any more.”