After surviving the catastrophic loss of beloved animals to a fire, Vail Meadows, located in Oregon, is still working hard to provide much needed services to the community.
In the early morning hours of March 21, 2013, the century old 10,000 square foot barn went up in flames. Harley, a retired Toledo Police Mounted Patrol horse, along with Cherokee, Buddy, Roxie, Mary Legs, T.J., Harley, Pusher, Midnight, Taz, and Chico all died in the fire.
According to Earnie Dickens, director of Grounds, Events, Horse Boarding, Arena Rental and Public Relations, that night is still very much alive in his memory.
“It was every horse owner’s nightmare,” Dickens said. “You feel so helpless when it happens because there is nothing you can do. We were told it was an electrical fire, but we don’t have the exact cause.”
|Danny Nelson assists Jordan Blausey, of Oregon, at an exercise class at Vail Meadows. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)|
Even after the devastation, staff and volunteers at Vail kept the horse therapy program up and running.
“We had to keep doing what we do,” Dickens said. “We kept the therapy program going because that is our purpose. We kept focusing on the therapy. I am very proud that in the midst of tragedy, we kept that program going for our clients. We just kept plugging along as hard as it was.”
Dickens said the staff and the Vail family were all overwhelmed by the support and kindness of the community and by strangers. Monetary donations as well as the donation of horses has allowed Vail to continue its programs.
“We were surprised,” he said. “It was amazing. The outpouring of support from the community was more than we could ever imagine. It was amazing how much people wanted to support us. It showed us how much Vail is appreciated. We were overwhelmed to say the least.”
Along with monetary donations and donations of saddles, Vail also received hundreds of offers to donate horses. One half of the barn has been rebuilt, Dickens said adding the other half will be completed this spring.
“We had hundreds of horses offered to us,” he explained. “Everybody really did have the best of intentions, but not every horse can be used as a therapy horse. We tested many of them.”
In the end, after running many horses through testing and classes, Vail now has several new therapy horses as well as Yuma, the lone survivor of that fateful night.
“We had seven horses donated to us and one is on loan to us,” Dickens said. “These were calm horses when they were given to us. The horses were trained to become therapy horses.
Simba is on loan from the Gentry family, from Gibsonburg, Dickens explained. Foxy came from West Virginia, Red is from Stryker, Klinger and Duke are retired Toledo Mounted Patrol horses and Cheyenne came from Michigan, he said.
Vail currently has 35 individuals involved in therapy programs. Riders range in age from 5-60 years old. The therapy sessions can help with many different disabilities including autism, Multiple Sclerosis, Downs Syndrome and developmental disabilities.
“The therapy allows those people with autism to communicate,” Dickens said. “It allows them to be like everybody else. They tell the horse to go or stop. They also do drills with hand-eye coordination as well as doing exercises and games on horseback. In fact, this was the toughest for the riders with autism. They need consistency and many have ridden the same horse every week. It was tough in the beginning.”
Dickens said he is planning a day of remembrance, possibly March 21 or 22, for the community to come out and remember the horses that were lost and to celebrate the community’s support which has allowed Vail to continue to serve many.
For more information on Vail Meadows, please call (419) 697-8960.