Some caring readers have asked about where to send donations. Right now the easiest method is to go to https://www.gofundme.com/hurricane-irma-animals-bvi and give through Dt. Sarah Weston’s fund raising. If you would like to, you can specify that you would like your donation to go directly to the farm.
Many thanks for thinking of us!
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.
None of the above are helping our cause this week! A violent storm and 17 inches of torrential rain destroyed homes and businesses in the BVI a week ago today. The Funny Farm is ok and all of its Team members came through. However communications both via the internet and cell phone systems are sketchy at best. We have created a new email for the farm as the ‘surfbvi’ address may never be functional again….
email us on firstname.lastname@example.org for info on rides, lessons, pony rides, Pets Corner fun or just to say “hi”.
Thanks to the brilliant Yacht Shots BVI for all the stunning images
How do you ride if you work full time on Tortola?
How do you have time to do something you love for an hour – outdoors – whilst keeping fit – while juggling a young family?
Well we have figured it out. Our new extended ring is the size of a regulation arena and we are about to light it up!! The trouble with the tropics is we just don’t get the time after work to indulge in most outdoor pastimes as even in the middle of summer, the sun has suddenly gone at 7.15pm.
Now at the Funny Farm we are going to extend the day by flood lighting the arena, allowing you to get away from work and still have more than enough time to ride.
This means that we can offer ‘unlimited riding time’ on a monthly basis including 4 evenings a week to adults that want to saddle-up regularly.
“One monthly fee and you are away. Its better than owning or ‘sharing’ a horse, as you have a choice of mounts and a turnkey operation… (No mucking out at 5.00am!)”
The beginning of 2017 has seen lots of action and several new faces – both great and small. Some of these characters are permanent fixtures, some guests of Diamond Estate Farm, but all doing their bit to contribute (or at least so they think) to everyday life at the Funny Farm!
As ever, stories best told with pictures, but you can perhaps see the workers and their ‘helpers’ and those that prefer to chill, play, eat, climb trees, or sleep…
Elvis as a working track pony, understands that he should put his feed containers away in the morning!
‘Sweetie’ on the other hand, is a Thoroughbred race horse and likes her morning exercise ringside.
Mento loves to ‘help’ as you can see, trouble is when he ‘puts his oar in’ you get knocked overboard!
Barney – Chief Barn Cat after a hard night on duty, likes to pick a spot high in the rafters away from pesky kittens…
Here is ‘Waffle’ trainee #2, waiting for (Storm’s) breakfast
‘Toffee’ the rabbit can usually be found under his flowerpot during the mid afternoon heat.
This little one is Tandy aka ‘Tiny Terrorist’ the smallest trainee. She makes up for her lack of height by climbing trees – BIG ONES!
‘Thunder’ the race horse, seen here meeting small humans for the first time.
This is my favourite image of all. Can you see Tandy and Waffle high in the mango tree?
Does your child LOVE animals? Then this is for your family!
After school on Mondays beginning December 5th at Diamond Estate Farm and Country Centre.
This programme is for all children over the age of 4 years that simply want to be around furry and feathered friends.
Not everyone wants to learn how to ride a horse, but this doesn’t mean our children have to miss out on the chance to touch, groom, bathe or walk with our ponies. Jamie the donkey likes hugs too!
Learning about the care and management of all our creatures great and small is a hands-on, educational experience that will help to ensure that the next generations of BVIlanders are more thoughtful and understanding towards both the domestic and wild animals around their home.
Its fun to have bunnies hop and skip by your feet and watch the Red Footed
Tortoises slowly but steadily walk around Pets Corner. Aesop told that story!
Guests come and go at the Funny Farm – tiny, fluffy kittens – too young to
venture out into the big wide world, adore playing with children! A tiny hatchling
tortoise – smaller than your child’s hand. ‘Bluey’ the Blue and Gold Macaw will laugh at the children’s jokes! ‘Summertime’ the African Grey Parrot will say “bye bye” if you are really lucky as you go home…
Students can explore the hillside on foot or by buggy and discover birds, bees and butterflies. Birds of prey hang, swallows swoop and mongoose play wild, while we swing under a mango tree.
It sounds like a poem, but it is all here, every day and we want to share this special place with many more children than we have already.
Children can learn to help and have fun on the farm in two different groups on
Mondays 5th, 12th and 19th December from 3.30 to 4.30 or from 4.30 till 5.30.
$15.00 per child per session – $45.00 for 3 weeks.
Rain is great – our herd drinks hundreds of gallons a week, but it means other issues for horses of course.
Mud is slippery – no riding, mud is wet – sticks to grey geldings! Mud causes hoof worries especially with barefoot thouroughbreds. But its great to work on the farm with cloud cover, watch the grass grow and listen to the cisterns fill…
The Funny Farm has a finished Pets Corner finally. An enclosed area of lawn where the bunnies can run around freely with the tortoises and ducks. It allows children (and adults) to go through the gate and watch rabbits hop and skip unhindered by hutches and cages. Some of the feedback I have had from young Mums however, suggests that it may have been more lucrative to let the bunnies out and enclose the children!
So how do you bring your children to visit Pets Corner and meet the ponies? I am afraid it’s impossible to be open all the time for people to walk in. The farm is also our home and whilst we are just about always slaving over 39 furred or feathered permanent residents (with often around 5 more guests), there is just the odd time that I need to go clean my teeth or EAT!!
Children under 4 years cannot ride our ponies but are very welcome to say “hi” to them when they come to Pets Corner, as well as Jamie the donkey who is usually on hand to welcome families through the gate. So email, or call, or text me (notice no Facebook messages) and we can arrange a time for you to visit. If you can get together with friends who also have young children (or not so young) then its works great as a morning activity – if I know you are coming!
Spencer the foreman has been overseeing the construction and implementation of the project and I did wonder how his feline instincts would react to small, running, bunny rabbits… He has not been tempted to exert his predator status at all – in fact if I had had a GoPro pointed in the direction of Pets Corner one morning last week, I would have had the viral video of the year! A live recording of Spencer the cat as he hurtled over the grass closely pursued by a very small baby bunny, weighing all of 1/2 pound!!! See baby bunny (Fudge) above!
Activities continue into August at Countryside Adventures. We offer full or half day programs for juniors on Mondays and Tuesdays and Trail riding and lessons for children and adults at the weekends. So when August gets too much for you on the beach, come and spend some time at Diamond Estate Farm and Country Centre.
Schools are breaking up, stuff (as always) has moved on, happened and evolved at the Funny Farm. So much to tell, so little time to type, you just have to be here to witness the highs, lows and laughs-out-load of a centre supporting 33 creatures – great and small.
Mondays and Tuesdays in July we will be open for children 5 years and above (the young ones usually can only manage a morning session) from 9.00am till 3.00pm.
An all day stay at Countryside Adventures gives a little of everything, including the care and management of our members from the smallest bunny to the largest grey (monster) of a horse, through to pony riding and hiking on the hill.
We are very excited about our new and improved ‘Pets Corner’ where the rabbits can run free with the muckducks and tortoises. Also new strategically placed gates, gives us a whole new area where we can safely have children and parents wandering closer to the barn and ring.
Birthday Parties will be even more fun with the new layouts!
If you would like to book Mondays or Tuesdays in July (beginning 4th) for your child, please call or email
542 2070 or email@example.com to confirm a place.
Just in case we don’t notice that it’s raining, my African Grey Summertime lets us know. She chats away most of the day, although will go deathly quiet if there are strangers close by. Like a lot of Greys she is a ‘closet talker’. I am sure that people just nod and smile when I occasionally boast about my talking parrot, thinking to themselves that I have far too vivid an imagination…
Summer calls my name if she wants my attention – just like you would. She asks for the food she fancies at the time, if desperate will occasionally put “please” into the request! Occasionally I also get a “thank you”.
She tells the dogs off and knows who is who. If Beach barks too long she will tell him in a very stern voice that she will put his vibrating collar on! She sends Spring the Jack Russell out of the room, when she knows it’s her turn to sit on my lap.
It fascinates me that she also knows who’s who on the farm. If the donkey brays she say’s “ok Jamie” she also knows Mento and will call him by his nickname ‘Mennie’ just as often.
This morning both Mento and Shuffle were being worked, in two different areas within her view of the world. She referred to both by name, several times during this time. She has said nothing about them since they have been released to wander up the hill again.
Blue the Macaw, has a greatly scaled down vocabulary of about 4 words, but that doesn’t seem to matter, as he gets his feelings across fairly successfully. When you hear two birds speaking to each other in plain English – well there are no human words to describe that!
Guests continue to come and and go from the ‘Funny Farm’, especially lately. We had to sadly say goodbye to the 5 ‘Hillbillies’ who returned to Oil Nut Bay last month. I miss them still, badly, and so do lots of others, both children and adults that spent time with them.
Tortoises every now and again wander over a gap in the wall and head off for a sabbatical. They invariably come back, so I have learnt not to panic and of course as long as they avoid large trucks and similar sized dogs, they stay pretty safe. The latest MIA member of the gang made his way to Horse Path over the past couple of months. Not a bad effort for someone who’s cruising speed is soooo slow!
We have been honoured to look after two Necker Island residents over the past few weeks – Marley the Umbrella Cockatoo has been hanging out (!) while he is treated by Canines Cats and Critters and this weekend we are also playing host to a gorgeous Toco Toucan. She is a little under the weather, but a wonderful guest never the less. Both birds will be returning to their own island in the next few days.
I wonder who we will welcome to the Funny Farm next…