The below was written over the past few weeks and feels like old news in many ways. I have not yet looked at an image of the Funny Farm before it lost its sense of humour and everything else that surrounded us and the animals, but I guess by the time I post this I will have to.
With the help I have already witnessed we can rebuild and protect the horses at the farm and those abandoned elsewhere.
9 DAYS POST HURRICANE IRMA
I have had only minutes in the past days to connect with the outside world and then it was to try to reassure family and friends. I do hear though that we are international news material, however right now our world feels very tiny.
Countryside Adventures was a small, special place in the hills of Tortola where animals really did talk to children. The centre was introduced into a culture where general education programmes have not allowed past generations to appreciate the special powers of horses, donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, tortoises and barn cats in an environment where they were free to interact with visitors. I know there are hundreds of thousands of places like this all over our planet, but only one on Tortola and only in the past 4 years.
Every member of the ’Funny Farm’ as we affectionally call it, has a job to do and their pride and mine has prevented us in the past from using the word ‘Rescue’ or asking for help without giving something back in return.
Those that understand a little of the thoroughbred race horse industry know the plight of broken, underachievers at any race track and the limited and depressing choices that these very young animals have when they no longer make the grade. In the VI we have no infrastructure at all or more importantly, hope, for those fallen angels. So I guess much of our herd is made up of ‘rescues’.
As a career RYA sailing instructor I left the water to pick up an old love of ‘all creatures great and small’ and realized very quickly that horses and boats have a surprising amount in common. Throughout the devastating wake of Hurricane Irma, those two incredible vessels of freedom, respect and love have been hit the most.
The people caught in the path of the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin that called their yacht “home” – are also reeling. However there will always be one difference between my old fleet of boats and the horses that have become our family. At the end of the day – although I am guilty of shedding a tear over a lump of fiberglass that gave me hours of pleasure and learning in the past, I would risk my life for any horse that is now starving outside the concrete walls that my husband Colin and I now take shelter. Being an ‘’off the track thoroughbred’ on this rock of ours, is a hard track indeed.
Some of the herd came to the farm from the road – yes they walked here after being let go by their owners, left to starve or die of laminitis. Three are new to us this year and are very young, but were adapting to ‘Funny Farm’ life so well. – ‘Sweetie’ (track name Bittersweet Dream) is a stunning black mare and so eager to learn. She went fully barefoot just days before all their lives were ruined by a violence from the sky that sent winds to tug at them and burn their eyes, torrential rains that drove into their skin, express train noises to frighten them. As the herd fled in no particular direction, the monster ripped their barn to shreds dispersing huge sharp chunks of flying construction all over their own hill and the surrounding hills that normally sit as a comforting green cushion around them. At the same time, that unknown ‘hand’ took the small amount of stored food they had safe in the feed stall and the even smaller amount of grass growing in the neighborhood and destroyed it in minutes. There are no longer trees to give shelter from the harsh sun or pouring rain, there are no more buildings to hold gutters to catch water. Hurricane Irma has taken away their chance of being able to do their job and perhaps earn a little hay money by making visitors feel as special as I do every minute of the day I am with them.
Humans developed thoroughbreds to race faster and faster – making them ‘hard keepers’, high energy, thin legged, with hoof walls that crumble and ribs that seem to display themselves even more with just one missed breakfast. Tortola is a mountain of rock. The environment works against my team on a good day, and then nature throws an immense force against us that seems determined to finish the job off.
My pride would never have allowed me to reach out before, now I have to swallow all my principles. The retired herd of race horses that got lucky and found the funny farm and have already given back so much to earn their keep, need help – more help than Colin and I can give.
DAY 10 AND ONWARD
Today I am promised there is hay sitting waiting for my horses due to the quick reaction of Dr. Sarah Weston MRCVS and The Humane Society International who have had personnel on island for several days.
After a very stressful Friday afternoon hunt for hay and a nonexistent bill of lading, we found 50 bags of chopped alfalfa being rained on at the port. The herd has had dinner albeit small amounts as they have gone without for so long, and a weight has lifted for a few hours from my shoulders. I can sleep tonight.
During the week, more hay has been delivered again assisted through the HSI but funded personally by a generous gentleman Mr. Spencer Haber who has been working tirelessly to help get out stranded, injured and starving animals remaining within the wreckage of the British Virgin Islands. The Humane Society International team has already flown out homeless dogs and cats from the local animal shelter and are working just as hard to reunite owned pets with families that have fled Tortola.
The race horses at the track have been visited multiple times by Dr. Laura Palminteri VMD from Canines Cats and Critters and the worst injured given care in the form of medications through to surgical procedures. The injuries visible on the Race horses are noticeably higher on their bodies than my herd, suggesting that they were trapped inside as the stables obliterated, throwing massive splinters and razor sharp galvanized roof materials at the terrified animals.
I know now that there are people out there that care enough about horses in countries thousands of miles away, that will spend major amounts of their energy and resources to help equine populations survive the aftermath of catastrophe’s like Irma. When I saw a text from a lady called Eve Van Den Bol president of the Cayman Islands Equestrian federation asking what I needed for the horses of the BVI, I began to feel much less alone. Eve had already gotten the backing of USEF, Equestrian Canada and PAEC who were standing by ready to fund our emergency feeding needs. I cannot begin to explain what it feels like when someone out there is not only able to help our horses but that can actually say to you “Don’t worry I will get it done”.
Hurricane Maria headed our way full guns blazing around the same time I began talking to Eve. Could it really happen again? Yes it could and it did. Many including me were frantically trying to use limited communications to figure out where the hurricane was, its strength and speed, but then I realized that it was irrelevant. We had lost our home and belongings and all the horse’s home and belongings. I was more frightened than two weeks previously; I think as I knew what was coming. The sound is the worse. At the start, there is a distant rumble of a huge freight train over the hill that you know is going to run you down no matter where you go. The difference between Colin and I and the 12 horses and 2 donkeys were the concrete walls and barricaded doors and windows we had around us. I believe that if we had not been sent food aid into the territory for the herd the previous week, they would not have had the strength to stand and take Maria’s wrath.
The donkeys heard the freight train that was hurricane Maria coming over the hill late that afternoon, and left. They walked with such intent that I have no doubt in my mind they had decided they’d go find a farm down the road that did not have these repeated hurricanes..!
That night passed in a haze of noise, terror and torrential rain. I lay for hours trying to imagine what the horses were going through (although I knew that) – it was how they would get through it yet again that kept me awake.
They did get through it and with an air of seasoned veterans they stood in the hanging cloud that enveloped more destruction and depression the following morning.
Since last week we have made tiny steps forward – thanks in part to more strangers that came as volunteers to the Funny Farm last Saturday and left as friends later that day, having done immeasurable good in the jobs they took on. One job was to cut through to an adjoining field where there is some grazing still. It worked, the next day when I came home I found the horses had ventured through our new open gate and not only taken advantage of a fresh green lunch, but found countless fallen fence posts and gone on and up to the hill, across the main road and beyond… Not ideal – wandering horses, but it is true that your ideals must alter in some ways to get through complete destruction of your normal routines and beliefs. So instead of panicking, I surprisingly calmly, grabbed a couple of halters, wandered up the road and across fallen fencing to Joey and Shuffle. Hooked them up in a tow and the rest of the herd followed one behind the other. Just like towing sailing dinghies! No one ever sees the bits you get right, I had 11 horses and ponies of all sizes following me down the road! The twelfth horse Mento is such a ‘Mummies boy’ he wouldn’t have dreamt of leaving the farm!
Today I am looking forward to distributing the contents of Eve’s container full of supplies, to my herd and the racetrack horses and those in Anegada, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda.
AFTER THE AFTERMATH
Not sure what happens next – until the entire country can rebuild we are all fighting each day to get what we need. For the horses that’s very tough, no riding or racing, no reliable source of feed. The same groups that have helped us already with food are trying their best to fly out horses where owners agree it is best. Rescue groups in the US will take on the rehabilitation of TB’s as long as they make the grade with blood tests. This is a very big ask of a lot of caring people between the Virgin Islands and a potential new and long term home for equines that have gone through hell in the past six weeks, but should have a right to a long happy life ahead, so keep your fingers crossed for them.
WE NEED TO KEEP ASKING FOR HELP
My pride again has to swallow deeply and ask for more help. One of our biggest immediate problems that we can’t seem to solve is the complete lack of dry and secure storage. Neither at the farm or at the racetrack is there anywhere to store more than a handful of bales of hay. Shipping containers are what is needed. We can use them to keep feed and we can hang guttering off them to catch water. If we are to be able to sustain these horses long term we need to be able to accept large amounts of hay and maybe one day I will have new tack for them to hang inside…
There is still no shelter of any kind for the herd, we have no perimeter fences at the farm, let alone an arena or paddocks anymore. The plans are beginning to come together a shelter hopefully is being designed this week and the wonderful Humane Society international boys are committed to helping finance this.
Yes, we have to start from the very beginning again – the basic infrastructure that we all took for granted is gone with the wind.
If you can help the horses of the British Virgin Islands get through the next few months please let us know.