The Worst Nightmare

Guest Blog by Heather Bailey Like most of the eventing world, we woke up this morning to the kind of news that makes your heart thump and your blood run cold. A barn fire had raced through the famous True Prospect Farm (home to Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin, among others), claimed the lives of six horses, and left two in intensive-care unit at the New Bolton Center and two more in the regular hospital there. Three of the riders training there?Ryan Woods, Caitlin Silliman and Lillian Heard?were treated and released for injuries they suffered running in to the barn to try and get the horses out. As horse owners, and barn owners, nothing is more terrifying to contemplate than a barn fire. You can’t help thinking of your own animals and building, and if you can’t turn your brain off, you eventually can all but feel the heat, smell the smoke, and hear the screams. A tragedy of this magnitude is extremely difficult to get your head around, and for the average horse owner seems as though it would be the end of you. For some of those affected by this terrible turn of events, it may be. But one thing I’ve learned over the years of being a farm owner is that you rarely have the luxury of simply curling up and crying. As much as you may want to, it just isn?t a possibility?because you have other animals, other horses, and other creatures who are relying on you not to fall apart. They still need care, and their bellies won?t understand that you’re grieving. While I’m blessed to never have experienced something so awful as this, I have seen and experienced some fairly horrific things?gory, life-ending injuries, horrible colic, trailer accidents. What has always struck me as a bit odd is, that if you ask, most people who?ve been involved with horses over the long haul have seen such horrifying things too. But we don’t talk about it, really. I’ve found often it is a very surreal experience to have something horrid happen, then have to go out and do something mundane but necessary, such as get groceries. Inevitably, the clerk will ask the standard, ?How are you today’? and I’m sometimes tempted to answer truthfully, ?Well, terrible, I had a broodmare drop a horribly premature foal this morning, and it had no hair and couldn?t breathe on its own and its bones were soft, and . . .? But I refrain, smile and say, ?Fine, thanks.? And then I think about emergency room doctors, who surely must see horrifying things day in and day out, and have families, and go shopping, get gas, etc. I wonder how often they’re tempted to answer the clerks with something other than, ?Fine, thanks.? In 2009 when I was pregnant, I had gotten extensive prenatal testing due to my ?advanced maternal age? (they say that right to your face!). It just so happened that when the doctor called back to discuss the results with me, as I was watching my beloved broodmare Lizzie being sliced open for emergency colic surgery. we’d left her three-week-old filly sedated in the barn. Although the news on my baby was good, the news on Lizzie was bad. (She ultimately wouldn?t make it, and we’d raise her daughter as an orphan on a nurse mare.) The doctor was growing increasingly agitated at my lack of joy over the news that everything looked great and we were having a boy. So I had to explain just where I was. My exhaustion and illness and worry probably made me explain a bit too much detail, because eventually the doctor was completely silent and then said, ?Make sure you tell the vets you are pregnant, and call me next week if you have any other questions,? before she hung up. She later told me that she had been torn while talking to me, because pregnant ladies are supposed to avoid ?shock? and ?stress.? But she could also tell by the detail and fairly dispassionate explanation that I was familiar with such terrible occurrences. So she let it lie. In this modern age of suburban living and ubiquitous hand sanitizers, most people are incredibly removed from the true face of life and death. There are a few professions that keep you up close and personal with it, and sadly, anything to do with animals is one of those. We accept that price, because the good, usually, does outweigh the bad. The bad is the price we have to pay for our relationship with horses or almost any animal. Still, I keep thinking of one of those folks from True Prospect, picking up coffee for their shattered crew, answering the guy behind the counter, ?Fine, thanks.? The prayers and best wishes of everyone at Phoenix Farm, and everyone at the Horse Journal, go out to all the people and horses of True Prospect Farm affected by this terrible tragedy.