Local horse community banded together during wildfire

04/12/2012 8:30 AM |

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Irish, with Catrina Tedesco, who walked the horse from Annie's Acres stables in Manorville to EPCAL.

“I went in there and it was chaos,” said “Big John” Savastano of Manorville, describing the scene at the Annie’s Acres horse stable on Wading River Manor Road as Monday’s wildfires approached. “There were 30 to 40 fire trucks that went up the road when we were there.”

The fire was heading their way.

With the flames fast approaching, horse owners at the many Manorville area stables were in a panic, using social media and other methods to call for help in moving horses to safety.

But in the end, the members of the “horse community,” as they call themselves, pulled together to make sure all the horses were safe.

“The horse community was wonderful,” said Carolyn Jolly, co-owner of Hidden Pond Stables on North Street in Manorville. “Everybody stepped up.”

Some horses were walked to safety, while others were loaded onto trailers and taken elsewhere temporarily, Ms. Jolly said.

“At one time, there must have been 200 horses walking down the street with their bridles,” said Joe Williams, county commissioner of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services. Initially, police were not letting horse trailers in because the roads were closed to traffic due to the fire, Ms. Jolly said, but the authorities eventually relented.

Hidden Pond Stables evacuated 40 of its 83 horses, Ms. Jolly said. By the time those animals were moved, the fire was under better control and, with danger no longer imminent, the rest of the horses were allowed to remain.

Ms. Jolly said word got out via email and Facebook that help was needed and, eventually, there were about 50 volunteers, including owners of horse transport companies donating their time and trailers.

She said the authorities didn’t supply any trailers or suggest ways to get the horses out.

“The horse community did it [themselves],” she said, though no stables were damaged in the fires.

Lynne Weissbard, owner of Sundance Stables on North Street, said she didn’t evacuate her horses. Instead, she rounded them up in the center of the property while the fire department wet down the perimeter. And it worked.

“If the fire came in from the side of the property, we would have had to evacuate, but the fire blasted past us in about five minutes,” Ms. Weissbard said.

With her horses safe, she sent all the people who came to her stable to help over to Annie’s Acres instead.

“The fire had moved past here, and we were OK, so I really wanted them to help where they were most needed,” said Ms. Weissbard, who spent 18 years with the Manorville Fire Department herself.

The volunteers included people who kept their horses at Sundance Stables, as well as others in the horse profession, she said.

“We all kept in touch with one another and bonded together,” she said. “It’s a small group of people with a passion for horses. I had probably 50 to 60 people volunteering here, from different professions. They were terrific.”

She said everything was under control and organized and everyone involved made sure that horses and buildings were not exposed to fire.

“Because we did that, we’re not out searching for our animals today,” Ms. Weissbard said. “They’re here.”

Catrina Tedesco of Manorville took her horse, Irish, from Annie’s Acres and walked him about two miles to Grumman Boulevard to get him out of harm’s way.

She originally started walking him along Old River Road, but the horse was getting spooked by passing cars, so she walked him through the Swan Lake golf course to Grumman Boulevard, marching the horse past an array of fire trucks and emergency vehicles.

Annie’s Acres, which boards about 60 horses, was spared by the fire, but the house directly across the street from the stable was destroyed.

tgannon@timesreview.com

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