To say that the past few weeks have been crazy would be an understatement. The weather has been schizophrenic lately, changing from one extreme to another in just a few hours. We had two rainstorms, a Santa Ana event with 60+mph winds and a major fire in the area that ended up burning almost 30,000 acres in just a few weeks. Through all of that and with the help of our volunteers, friends, and a number of very kind people, we did our very best to ensure the horses were safe and healthy.
Saturday, 10/24/20- RAIN
It was a lovely, misty morning. The rain was light and very refreshing, especially since the week before it was 90 degrees! The horses were silly and happy and had a little pep because of the change in temperature. We all breathed a sigh of relief that the horrible heat had ended.
Monday, 10/26/20- WIND and FIRE
I got a call around 7:30am saying that there was a fire in Silverado, but that it was blowing away from our ranch, so I was on alert but hopeful. The meteorologists had predicted winds of 10-15 mph. A few hours later, however, Javier (who feeds and cleans the stalls) called, saying that the wind was tearing the ranch apart. I went down to try to help clean up- the drive to the ranch was filled with downed trees blocking parts of the canyon road. The electricity had been shut off to prevent fires (ironic in that it is apparently a Southern California Edison power line that caused the fire). When I finally got to the ranch it was quickly apparent that I needed help. The winds were clocked at 64 mph, and everything I would try to pick up would be torn out of my hands and blown 20 feet away. The wind was so bad that I could barely stand sometimes- I got knocked over twice and ended up twisting one knee and skinning the other. When the wind was really bad I was pelted by bits of bark and large pieces of dirt. I had to turn away from the wind and duck down when it was really bad.
The plastic sheds, however, were all destroyed. The Rubbermaid sheds we keep the hay pellets in just collapsed and the pieces were blown all around. Our larger plastic sheds were also destroyed. One came off of their floor, one was toppled over- the other was both blown over and just torn to pieces.
In addition, two of our tables were destroyed by the wind and there was trash, trash cans, buckets, and just everything blown everywhere. My first goal, however, was to get the horses safe, which meant that first the large pieces needed to be stationery so they didn’t fly around and hit one of them. I couldn’t pick anything up without it being then blown away again; I finally just started putting rocks or other heavy objects on things that were dangerous.
Our assistant trainer, Emily, texted and asked if she could help, and I also sent a message to our Fire Tree asking for help. Thankfully Emily and a number of volunteers were able to come out because there was no way I could do much on my own.
When Emily came out I had managed to get most of the large pieces weighted down, so the next task was putting fly masks on everyone. We hadn’t put them on the previous day because it was raining, but I was concerned that the wind would blow pieces of dirt and debris into the horses’ eyes. Indeed, when I put the mask on Sapphire I noticed that her left eye had conjunctivitis. Unfortunately, the shed with all of the medical supplies had been knocked over by the wind and I could not access the saline solution, so I couldn’t help her immediately, but at least put her mask on so her eye wouldn’t get worse.
When the rest of the volunteers came, we were able to get more cleaned up. The wind started to abate a little as well, which helped immensely. We managed to put some of the Rubbermaid sheds together, but a few of them were completely in pieces and for those we just piled the pieces together and put rocks on them. We lost a lot of food as the trash cans with the buckets of pellets and grain were blown around, but that was really the last of our concern.
We divided up between different tasks, cleaning up the broken glass from one of the tables, and cleaning up the trash in the horses’ stalls, and picking up the larger pieces of metal that had blown off of the shelters until we were faced with just the large plastic sheds. I really needed to get into the shed that had blown over as I wanted to put saline solution in Sapphire’s eye, so we all got together and were able to push the shed back up. When I opened the doors, everything was disheveled and destroyed, but I was at least able to grab the saline solution and clean out Sapphire’s eye (it was fine the following day).
The other shed was more difficult- it took all of us bracing it and pulling and pushing it in order to get the shed back to some semblance of where it was supposed to be, and wrapped it in bailing twine in order to keep the doors closed.
At that point, most of the wind had started to abate- there were still large gusts, but overall things seemed to calm down and everything was battened down. The fire continued to burn through Silverado, through to Irvine, and so we put bands on the horses with our information in case we did need to evacuate, but we didn’t think it would be necessary. We thought that the wind would be the worst thing to happen this week. We were wrong.
Tuesday, 10/27/20- FIRE
The previous night the fire had jumped Alton Parkway and was closing in on Lake Forest. That morning, the voluntary evacuations had included most of Lake Forest, but our canyon was not affected. Still, I went down to the ranch just so I could assess the situation. I had all of my dogs and my squirrel with me just in case things went sideways, as my house was in the line of the fire, and I wasn’t sure if they would call a voluntary evacuation on my neighborhood.
When I got to the ranch, I talked with our neighbor, who was told that we were given an “evacuation watch,” which means that we should prepare to evacuate, but there was no actual voluntary or mandatory evacuation order yet. We really don’t want to evacuate the horses unless there’s a real need as it can be very stressful on the horses. At the same time, we have 15 horses, and we need to make sure we can get them all out in time.
Around 11:30am, after talking with our board member, Kelley, who has property in Orange Park Acres (OPA) just 20 minutes from Hanaeleh, we decided to evacuate a few of the horses who travelled well, just in case. She brought her large horse trailer and we put Tamahome, Ruby, Hope and Grace in there with little issue. Then Leora, who has volunteered at Hanaeleh and also works with Kelley at her Equine Assisted Coaching program, offered to drive a few horses over to Kelley’s. I hooked up our truck and trailer and put Hershey and Sapphire in there to take over. Thankfully they also popped right into the trailer without a problem. I wasn’t sure if I should take another load over, or if I should stay at the ranch.
I received a call right at that time, however, saying that there was a pony who needed to evacuate. I knew that people from the Large Animal Rescue Team (LART) had been staged at the O’Neill Park arena but were about ready to leave, so I quickly called them and made sure a trailer stayed. Then a neighbor and I walked down to get the pony, while we arranged with her daughter to get a ride back to the ranch.
When we got to the address, however, we were told that the pony was already evacuated, so I called LART and then began walking back to the ranch, while my neighbor walked over to where her daughter was waiting with the car. On the way back, Leora pulled up, so she drove me the rest of the way back. I decided to send another load with Leora, with Rio and Stetson, again, who loaded without a problem and were off to OPA.
Jessica, an American veteran who comes out to help several days a week, came out right around that time, as did Lori (our treasurer) and Jocelyn (our vice president). Jocelyn came out with animal carriers, and we prepared them for the chickens and the rooster. We also put all of the totes with the grooming supplies for all of the horses, as well as the supplements and saddles in the cars and trailers. Many of our horses need measured-out buckets with grain and pellets every morning and evening, so we had to put those together for a few days at least, just in case.
A few hours later, Leora came back with the trailer- they had closed Santiago Canyon Road so she had to take the freeway, which takes a little over an hour one-way. She offered to drive one more load over, so we took Freya, Cindy Lou, Venus and Gypsy. They were a little more hesitant to load as they haven’t loaded much, but we had a trailer clinic a few weeks ago, so they had some recent practice, and got in without much issue.
It was getting dark when we were leaving, and I realized that my trailer tires needed air, so I told Leora I would meet her at a gas station along the way. My brain was frazzled from not sleeping much the night before and the horses were getting antsy, so we hopped into the trucks and left quickly. Trabuco Canyon was upgraded to voluntary evacuation, so it was a good decision to get out as many horses as we could. We left Ulysses, Quixote and Lou Dillon so they would be together- we decided that we could get them in one trip if necessary, and they do not travel or do new experiences very well, so it was best if we could keep them at Hanaeleh unless we absolutely had to evacuate them.
Everyone at Kelley’s place was awesome, and the horses were all taken care of and settled in without issue. Jessica had made sure all of the horses had been fed their grain, and since we had made sure to keep the horses with their friends, they were all calm and content. Two of Kelley’s neighbors were able to take some horses, so we had horses at three different places, but everyone moved the food buckets where they needed to be. It was as smooth as it could have been for the situation. The evacuation order on my house was lifted earlier that evening, so I was able to go back and get some much-needed sleep.
Wednesday, 10/28/20- FIRE
Thankfully, Wednesday the winds had abated and it was not quite as hot as it had been. The fire was still threatening, but it was much more under control. We were all exhausted, and had not slept much since Sunday night, so even though Trabuco’s evacuation order was lifted that morning, we decided to wait until the next day to trailer them back. Kelley and all of her volunteers as well as many of our volunteers – Kaitlin, Misa, Theresa, Natalie and others – helped take care of the horses in OPA, including cleaning and feeding them. Gypsy kept lifting her foot, and the volunteers thought she was threatening to kick them, but in reality she had an abscess, which we were able to treat later. I went back into the canyon and took care of the boys (Ulysses, Quixote and Lou Dillon), who seemed pretty calm as well, although they seemed a bit confused as to where their other friends were. My chickens, who were living in Kelley’s large coop with other chickens, enjoyed their new digs, and Darren had a covered dog run where he enjoyed attacking people who got too close (nothing new).
Thursday, 10/29/20- FIRE
The fire was still raging, but the firefighters had contained quite a bit of it and the winds had mostly died down. We were feeling pretty good about taking the horses back, but Santiago Canyon Road was still blocked off, so we had to take the freeway, so we knew it would be a long day. When we filled up the tires on Tuesday, I realized the tires on my trailer needed to be replaced, and I wanted to replace them if were were going to do a lot of freeway driving. They were unable to fit me in on Wednesday, but said that they could put the tires on early that morning, so I was the first customer when they opened, and was able to get the tires on without an issue.
Partway through the drive on Tuesday night my shocks on my Tahoe started going out, so it was a white-knuckled drive that evening, hoping that the SUV would make it to OPA. It did, but I did not want to trailer with it again until I was able to get the shocks replaced, so Lori and her husband Ken used their truck. We loaded up a lot of the food and supplies we had brought, and many of our volunteers came out again (as well as Kelley’s) and they cleaned the stalls and made sure the horses had food and water.
It took me several minutes to finally catch the chickens in Kelley’s coop- they were not thrilled with leaving their new friends. I finally barricaded them into a small area, but it probably looked ridiculous watching me chase chickens around for several minutes. Darren was easier- I just waited until he attacked me, then as he launched himself at me, I was able to grab/hug him in mid-air. He went into the carrier with very little fuss.
We took Tamahome, Ruby, Stetson and Rio first. They all loaded without a problem and the first trip was long, but seemed to go well. They settled into their stalls without an issue, and the boys (Ulysses, Quixote and Lou Dillon) seemed happy to have them back.
For the second trip, we were going to take Freya, Cindy Lou, Venus and Gypsy. That, however, did not go according to plan. Cindy Lou, for some unknown reason, absolutely refused to load. After close to 45 minutes, it was obvious she was not going to get into the trailer. We tried to put her in first, then we put Venus in first, then tried to have her go in with her, then we took Venus out and tried to put her in again- nothing worked. We finally loaded a very confused and a bit annoyed Venus back into the trailer, and then put Freya into the other trailer. Freya decided to act like a complete jerk, as she is sometimes, and refused to listen to me or even stop when I asked her to. It took about 10-15 minutes, but she finally loaded. I decided I was done trying to fight with Cindy Lou for that day, so we walked her over to another neighbor’s house where the other horses were. We loaded Hershey and Sapphire into the trailers, and put Cindy Lou next to Gypsy (Gypsy does NOT like Cindy Lou, but Cindy Lou just likes having company). Hope and Grace were also there, and they all seemed fine. We were tired, and decided it would be best to take the girls home on Friday.
When we got back to the ranch, we had put Hershey into the round pen next to Sapphire so she wouldn’t be alone. Tamahome and Ruby seemed fine back in their paddock, and the chickens were all happy to be back in their homes. The sheep even seemed happy to see Darren again.
Friday, 10/30/20- FIRE
The fire was still looking like it was under control so we felt very confident about bringing the rest of the horses back. Lori’s husband needed their truck, and my Tahoe was still broken, so we only had one tow vehicle, and would need to take two trips. We decided to take Hope and Grace first, since they travelled well, and if Cindy Lou was going to be naughty again, we would rather deal with that later, when the rest of the horses were safe at home. More of our incredibly wonderful volunteers came out and helped us get the rest of the food and buckets as well as helped to clean up the rest of the stalls. Thankfully, Hope and Grace both hopped into the trailer, and we had a smooth trip back home. I did give them both some electrolytes when we got back to the ranch, however, as they were sweaty and I wanted to make sure that they didn’t colic. They settled in without a problem, however, and were very happy to see Sapphire. I tried to move Hershey back to his stall, but he was not having it; he decided that since Gypsy was gone and he had lived next to Sapphire for an entire day in OPA that she was his new girlfriend, so we left him in the round pen so he wouldn’t get upset. Then we went back to get Cindy Lou and Gypsy.
We had high hopes that Cindy Lou would just get into the trailer without a problem- indeed, she had several times before. There was no good reason she just suddenly decided she didn’t want to load. We tried to load her in alone for about 10 minutes, but she was agitated because she was alone and Gypsy wasn’t there. I walked Gypsy down and she got into the trailer with little issue, but Cindy Lou still refused to get in- she would step in with her front feet but wouldn’t walk all of the way in. It was very frustrating, because these are issues we deal with in the trailer clinic, but she had loaded without issue multiple times during the clinic, so I hadn’t addressed them (because I hadn’t needed to). I didn’t want to take Gypsy out again, and Cindy Lou had been so agitated when we were trying to load her alone, so we decided the only way this was going to work was with her going in second.
Finally, I asked Lori to hold Cindy Lou’s rope at the window while I tapped her from the hind to see if we could persuade her to go in. It seemed like it would work, but suddenly she pulled back. The rope wasn’t tied, but she pulled back so suddenly Lori’s hand was pulled into the window of the trailer, and it sliced her finger open. She was bleeding everywhere, and we had to stop and bandage it. It was apparent very quickly that it needed stitches, but we were able to clean it up and wrap it for the time being.
We still had to find a way to get Cindy into the trailer, however. I finally had to use a rope as a butt strap- something I hate doing- but that encouraged her to not back up. We didn’t pull with the rope- that can create rope burns. The rope is just to try to let the horse know there is something behind them so they don’t back up. I also worked with her on the ground, backing her up and making her listen to me, which she really does not like to do- she has had a lot of abuse in her past, so we have done a lot of work so gain her trust, but we really haven’t pushed her very much in training because, frankly, since she was not going to be ridden, we really didn’t have to. Unfortunately, this situation proves that we are going to have to focus on some more training so she knows she not only can trust us, but that she has to consider us the leader. After several minutes of backing up, asking her to go forward, then backing up, then going forward, we asked her go to into the trailer. With a slight pressure from the butt rope and some tapping on her rear, she finally walked in and we were on our way.
The trip was relatively uneventful from there. Cindy Lou came out of the trailer without a problem, and we walked her and Gypsy up to their stalls, where they seemed perfectly content. Cindy Lou and Venus exchanged a few greetings, and I moved Hershey back to his stall, where he seemed happy to have his old girlfriend next to him. We fed everyone, and Lori left to go to the local urgent care to get her hand stitched up.
Saturday, 10/31/20- FIRE
The fire was still raging that Saturday, even though it was mostly under control, and it was HOT. This was our 12th anniversary out at the ranch, and it was Halloween, but we were all exhausted and overheated. We did our daily chores at the ranch, and gave the horses baths to keep them cool. Gypsy had an abscess, which the farrier cut out the next day, and we wrapped it and put a boot on it.
Lori’s husband, Ken, and our volunteer Dan fixed one of the large plastic sheds and created a new, level floor and secured the shed both to the floor and to another shed. Dan and Russell fixed our other Rubbermaid sheds, and things seemed to be mostly back to normal. Later that week I fixed the other plastic shed enough so that it would be OK for the rain that was forecasted for the following weekend.
Saturday, 11/7/20- RAIN
We were just kind of recovering from the fire and the evacuation, and we had a number of projects that we needed to complete, but when we got out to the ranch, it was POURING rain. It was cold and the rain was coming down in torrents. When I got to the ranch, the volunteers were huddled under one of the shelters. I found one volunteer an extra jacket so she wouldn’t freeze, but everyone else seemed OK. We fed the horses their breakfast and the volunteers began cleaning the stalls. All of our lovely mulch that covers the property had been blown away during the windstorm, so the rain just ran straight down the hill, taking out part of the driveway, but there was nothing we could do about it.
It was chilly, but none of the horses seemed uncomfortable and they all have shelters to stay dry, so we didn’t put any blankets on the horses. We made sure the horses all had dry shavings, and they seemed perfectly content under their shelters as long as they had their food.
I also put some shavings in Darren’s house. He thanked me by trying to attack me while I was putting them in there, and he didn’t seem to care that I was thinking only of his well-being and ensuring he was safe and dry.
Thankfully, the rain seemed to abate a little after about an hour, even though it still stormed off and on all day and night.
Overall, it was a very hectic few weeks, but all of the horses are safe. We have an incredible network of people who are so generous and who have helped us. We cannot thank them enough. Our volunteers were there for us during a horrible wind storm, they helped us evacuate and take care of the horses at OPA, and they were willing to work during a rain storm. We are also very thankful for Kelley and for her volunteers and her incredibly kind neighbors who allowed us to keep the horses at their house while we were evacuated. We would have had to go all of the way up to Los Alamitos (50 miles away) otherwise, which would have been very stressful on our horses.
We did realize a few issues with our fire evacuation plan, which we now know for future reference. It was very much a literal trial by fire, but thankfully we were able to take the horses back after only one day, and we almost had no casualties (Lori was able to get her stitches out a few days ago, and she says her finger is doing well).
We are going to invest in a Tuff Shed, however, as the plastic sheds are obviously not tough enough for the elements out at the ranch. It will cost around $4,000, but we were able to get a donation from two of our very kind volunteers, so we will use that money for the shed. It’s a lot of money, but it will be a good investment as they are very sturdy (and the guy at the Tuff Shed office promised it wouldn’t collapse with the wind- and if it does, they will replace it).
We will need to get another order of mulch to replace the mulch that blew away, hopefully before another rain storm. If we don’t, our driveway will erode to the point that it will not be passable. We are looking to get some delivered in a few weeks. We would be very grateful for your donation to help pay for that. Click here to donate.
Finally, we are going to have another trailer clinic for just Cindy Lou and Freya. They obviously need the practice, and it’s best to be able to get them comfortable and used to the trailer when they DON’T have to actually go anywhere, so the next time we do, they hop in without a problem, and without hurting anyone.
Overall, even though these past few weeks have been difficult, they have also solidified our faith in our friends, neighbors, and in humanity. Thank you to everyone in our Hanaeleh family- we literally could not have gotten through these past few weeks without all of you.