Ten horses, one potbellied pig, one goat and two ducks were lost when fire ravaged the century old 10,000 square-foot barn at Vail Meadows Equestrian Center in Oregon Thursday morning.
Around 3:30 a.m. 911 dispatchers received a call from a man driving home from work who described the horrifying site. Oregon Fire Chief Ed Ellis explained, “I live about a quarter of a mile away, straight across an open field. As soon as I got the call I looked out and the fire was already through the roof. So it was quite, intense…It was very close if not totally engulfed when the man called it in.”
No other buildings on the property were damaged. The family’s house to the west side of the barn was safely evacuated by the Oregon police prior to the fire departments arrival.
|Ten therapy horses were killed in the blaze at Vail Meadows.
(Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
According to Chief Ellis, “The state fire marshal has been up to do his investigation and we have no cause as of yet.” Two ladder trucks, two pumps and anywhere from 30-45 firefighters were used to fight the blaze. There is no dollar loss determined as of now.
“It’s a terrible loss to the owners of the horses of course, for the disabled individuals they helped and for the community as well,” exclaimed Chief Ellis.
Vail family member and horse owner Mike McGee received the call around 4:00 a.m. “I could see the flames and the smoke all the way from Eisenhower Middle School on North Curtice Road,” he said. “We’re not sure what happened. We lost 10 horses and all but two of our therapy horses.” Six of the horses lost were therapy horses and the other four were the Vail family’s private horses.
The therapy horses provided Hippotherapy to disabled individuals.
“The horses were the life of the program. They allow clients to move in ways they couldn’t normally,” McGee said. As the horse moves the rocking motion triggers muscles in the clients to move that wouldn’t normally. More than just providing physical therapy the horses provide an ego boost as well because many of the riders are the only one in their families who know how to ride. “That is just as important for these kids,” McGee adds.
“We have a lot of people calling, offering us horses and they don’t understand that we can’t put a special needs’ rider on just any horse, we need special horses. They have to be calm and desensitized. A lot of special needs patients involuntarily kick their legs and you need a horse that is desensitized to that so they don’t take off.”
“I don’t know what we are going to do…We had a lot of great horses. They were just the best,” McGee said. One of them was Harley, a Toledo Police Mounted Patrol horse who was retired in 2005, and who was owned by McGee.
“Mike is a sergeant with the Toledo Police Department and he was Harley’s officer. So when a horse is retired its’ officer has the first chance to purchase it. So they had been partners for a long time now,” explains Chelsea Adeler volunteer coordinator and riding instructor at Vail Meadows.
“He was very large… and oh, he was a big baby, just a real great horse. He was about 16 hands tall and weighed about 1300 pounds and that was important because it allowed us to put bigger riders on him.” McGee said.
Along with Harley, nine other horses perished in the barn fire: Cherokee, Buddy, Roxie, Mary Legs, T.J., Harley, Pusher, Midnight, Taz, and Chico. Wilber the Pot bellied pig, Tango the goat, and two ducks, Cheese and Quackers, also perished.
They are 35 other horses on the compound but only two of them are therapy horses.
The barn was built in 1892 and was refurbished in 1997 when the family bought the property.
Vail has insurance but at this point McGee doesn’t know if it will be enough to cover a full rebuild of their program. “What’s the plan? That’s a great question. We feel we owe it to our riders to be here. We are going to keep plugging away. You know our kids, this is all they got and we’ll do our best for them. The program will go on. We will just have to figure out how. We’re nothing if not resilient,” McGee explains.
Vail Meadows has an account set up for donations at First Federal Bank located at 3426 Navarre Ave, Oregon in the name of Vail Meadows Therapy Riding. You can also donate at most Great Eastern Businesses on Woodville Road including; East Suburban Animal Hospital, Mane Event Salon, Little Wonder Day Care, Amish Country Store, School Matters, Lee Nails, The Mad Hatter, Sports Maniac, Hobby Stop West, and Deb's Body Jewelry & More.