Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Moment of Reflection

Twenty years ago today the farm where I boarded my horse succumbed to a devastating fire. 8 horses were lost. I remember the day still as though it just happened... Settle back, grab a decaf, and let me tell you about the day that changed my life.

I was your typical 14 year old barn rat. Since it was summer, I spent about 9 hours every day galavanting around the farm, riding horses, cleaning tack, and generally loitering about.  That Sunday was more or less a normal Sunday at the farm. I got there around nine and got to do a lot of riding that day! I rode my own horse Bud, he was just flatting that day. I had a project pony named Short Sleeves (Abbey for short) who I also worked that day. She was a 3 year old pony and sassy as they come!
Abbey the winter before the fire. Pardon how not photogenic we are!
I remember we were practicing lead changes that day over ground poles. I also got to have a lesson on a horse that I had ridden only a few time named Step Aside (Step was his nickname).
Step and I the week before the fire during a horse show at the farm
I had a tough time with this horse, as he was MUCH bigger and stronger than what I was used to riding. But that day, I had the most amazing lesson. We jumped big jumps, made almost no mistakes, and just generally started figuring each other out.

My dad picked me up from the barn around 5 pm, and we went to our favorite local Chinese restaurant to pick up dinner. While my dad and stepmom were unpacking the food, I went to wash my hands. As I was returning to the kitchen the phone rang, so I answered it in the den. My friend Tricia was on the line. Her dad had a police scanner in the house, and she had heard there was a structure fire at the barn where my horse lived. I remember asking her if she was joking, and she said of course not! I was a bit in shock, but I thanked her for telling me. I walked back into the kitchen, sat down, and picked up my egg roll. I repeated very calmly to my dad what Tricia had told me, and he said, do you want to go over there and see what's going on? I said yes, so we got up and got in the car. My dad lives at the bottom of a hill, and as soon as we reached the top, we could see the black smoke billowing up. It was terrifying. He lives maybe 3 miles from the stable. We arrived quickly to a somewhat chaotic scene. There were horses loose and running all over the place. Some were contained in the large field behind my trainer's house. And the barn... It was all in flames, except for the newer aisle. The eeriest thing I remember from that night was this sign that hung over a doorway to the indoor ring. It was just a piece of plywood, painted white with the word PHONE on it in black paint. (Way back then only really rich people had cell phones. The rest of us used pay phones, which is what this sign was referencing.) That sign never burned. Yellow, red, and orange flames were everywhere, but that little sign shone through. So weird. I wonder what kind of paint they used on it?!

My own horse was safe, people had seen him leave the barn, and assured me hadn't run back inside. But it was awhile before I would find him. As soon as we were able, we led him and a few other horses to an old abandoned barn at the back of the property. He generally couldn't be contained with just a fence as he would jump out of any enclosure we put him on. Hence him being sent to the old barn. The others that joined him were those that didn't play well with others. We had to walk past the fire to get to the old barn, but not at all close. Probably half an acre away at least. And it was still so hot from that far away. So hot.

My friends' horses were all safe outside too. But then I realized who we hadn't seen. None of the school horses. Very few of the sale horses. Both my girl Abbey, and Step who I had just started to figure out, had not made it out safely. Nor had Daisy the old lesson horse that EVERYONE learned to ride on. Myself included. Crackers, Ben, Eddy, Jaz, and a one other who's name is escaping me were all lost that night.

The firemen were amazing at keeping the fire contained, and eventually putting it out. I stayed until about 2 in the morning when my parents dragged me away to go home and get some sleep. There would be a lot of work to do in the morning. A LOT. So I agreed and went home.

The next morning was tough. I arrived early to help and to hug my horse until he couldn't handle it anymore. There were fireman and reporters everywhere. People were delivering all kinds off food and supplies. A tent came and temporary stalls to house the horses in. There were some terrible things that had to happen, such as extricating the lost horses. The adults did an amazing job of distracting us kids while that took place. They gave us a pile of burnt tack and asked us to clean it up and see what we could save. Obviously none of it as it had so much heat and water damage, but we didn't know any better, and were spared any gruesome sights going on in the rubble. Being a "big kid" I stayed strong and businesslike about everything, right up until one of the little girls asked me where Abbey was. I didn't know how to respond... Do 7 year olds know about death? Before I could find some words or maybe utter an "I'm not sure" my eyes welled up. Well that little girl hugged me tight and said "don't worry, you can ride my pony any time you want." Honestly, they don't make kids like that anymore.

Eventually things got back to normal. We went to horse shows. The barn was rebuilt. New school horses came to work at the farm. But that night will always be with me like it was yesterday. I still think about Abbey often. Ducky has her sass that's for sure!

If you're still here, thanks for reading my story. That devastating event has been with me ever since, as I'm sure it is with many of my friends who were there that night. I can't believe it was 20 years ago.


  1. sad- cant imagine witnessing that as a child!

    1. Worst night ever. I think I was the youngest one there during it at least. I don't think any of the little kids actually saw the fire, just the aftermath.