The skies were deceptively blue on Saturday as several wildfires continued to rage across Southern California. I had been in a gloomy mood most of the week, feeling sad and helpless as I scrolled through social media seeing reports of the losses of barns and horses. The scenes of orange gray skies from the Lilac, Thomas, Creek, Rye, Skirball and Liberty Fires hit a little close to home. I’m technically a wildfire victim myself.
Victim seems like such a strong word.
Maybe that’s a better term.
(My horse’s home burned in Canyon Fire 2. We’re about nine weeks into our evacuation.)
Anyway, I had to do something to help and maybe ease my own sadness, but couldn’t think of what to do.
I know how to write, but all the writing about the fires was being handled by journalists.
I wasn’t that close to the fires so I couldn’t really find someone to interview to share a first-hand account on this blog.
I have a day job and didn’t feel right about calling in sick to go fill water buckets or blanket horses at one of the many evacuation locations in the southern part of my state.
I wanted to feel part of a community. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help ease someone else’s pain, just a little bit.
On Friday night I had a burst of inspiration: I realized all the things I still had after “our” fire, that I could give away!
I placed my Baker winter blanket, still fresh from its spring cleaning, folded neatly in a plastic bag, on the table designated for donations for fire victims.
“I can’t remember the last time I used a cooler,” I said to the two volunteers at the table as I kept carrying handfuls from my car to the table.
“The Baker was my previous horse’s. It doesn’t fit my current horse that well and we got donations. We were in the October fires and lost our barn–so he has a new blanket.” I started to choke up.
“You don’t have to give that away.” I heard the familiar voice of my barn friend N, say in a sweet tone. I didn’t realize she was standing there as I made my donations.
“Yes, I do,” I nodded.
N looked at the ladies accepting donations at the horse show booth at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and said, “It was her heart horse’s blanket.”
I sniffed and turned to hug my friend, tears filling my eyes. She said, “But you have Knight now,” as she hugged me back.
The kind woman at the donation drop off asked me what my horse’s name was who had owned the blanket.
Her eyes looked a little red and she told me she had a Baker blanket from a favorite horse who was no longer alive, “They just last,” she said talking about the durability of the Baker brand.
“I’m going to make sure that this blanket goes to a special horse. Was DC a Thoroughbred?” At that point I couldn’t talk but nodded.
I took a deep breath and somehow rattled off, “Kentucky bred but never raced. Lived in Illinois and moved with me here to California. Bay with a blaze.”
“I’m going to give this to the right horse. I’ll make sure it’s a Thoroughbred.”
At the time of this writing I heard there were 900 evacuated horses at Del Mar. Really any horse who needs a blanket and is about 16 hands, Thoroughbred or not will be the right horse.
It was through this conversation with the two angels accepting physical donations that I found out the 200ish hot walkers and grooms from the race training facility San Luis Rey lost everything.
They worked to save as many horses as they could but their own homes and possessions are now ash.
“They were sleeping on concrete at Del Mar last night.” My heart broke.
I wished I had my blow up mattress from home, extra comforters, or a sleeping bag with me. I would have added those to my pile which contained two coolers, two girths, a scrim sheet, anti-sweat sheet, a plastic tub with saddle pads and polo wraps and a bridle cleaning hook along with a pair of paddock boots that were just a little too big for me.
About the same time another person came over to our donation corner, “Here are riding clothes. There’s a really beautiful dressage show coat in here.” She unzipped a garment bag to reveal the jacket.
“I’ll leave that here for _____.” (I can’t remember the name of the woman.)
I felt sad for myself because we lost our barn. This woman whose name I heard, but don’t remember now lost her home and her horse’s home. How unbearable.
At that point I thought of one other thing I had in my car–actually two! I had accidentally brought home and had with me a pair of nice Roeckl riding gloves. I have three pairs! I can only ride with one pair. Maybe someone else who lost everything would be encouraged by having a pair of almost-new riding gloves.
Yes, insurance will probably cover for most people, but having to wait to buy new gloves would be inconvenient. And some people might not want to file claims–people like me.
My insurance company said they’ll raise my rates 45% for the next three years if I file a claim. At this point it doesn’t seem like it’s in my financial best interest to claim my Canyon Fire 2 losses. So I’m out several thousands of dollars. Maybe there’s someone else with my same situation or problem–not wanting to file a claim and then incur an astronomical increase to their homeowners policy.
I walked back over to the plastic bin, unsnapped the blue lid on one side and tucked the gloves inside. I felt really good. I helped.
In the scheme of all the loss, my help is small, but maybe will give another rider or horse lover some hope. Maybe the tiny, vintagey Christmas card I shoved into the bottom of the right paddock boot with the note, “I’m praying for you, and I know what it’s like to be affected by a barn fire,” will lift a fellow horse lover’s spirits.
It became really clear to me after the October fire in which our horses were safe but barn burned: all a horse girl really needs is a saddle, bridle, a pad (not even pads–you can only use one at a time anyway) and a girth. And a helmet. And a hoof pick and a couple of brushes. That’s really it. And if you’re younger and a more highly skilled rider than me, maybe the saddle and bridle are optional.
As I turned to leave, the quieter one of the donation coordinators approached me. “I have a 31-year old OTTB. I understand.”
She knew why giving up a blanket would make me cry and why I had to do it.
The tender responses from the three women–one friend, two Thoroughbred-loving strangers who “got me”–as I gave away a piece of my heart in Baker blanket form was a gift I will hold on to this Christmas and all the Christmases to come.
(A special thank you to Horseware for donating blankets to the Le Cheval family. Knight looks great in his new blanket. I need to get a picture of him wearing it! And I kept the Baker sheet since it’s the only one I have.)
You’re also invited to join my email list for very important horse lovers. You’ll get product reviews, interviews and other horsey inspiration via twice-a month emails. To get on the list simply click here.
Thank you for reading!