Sunday, February 17, 2002

Hebron fire

No way to recover real loss

        The horses — 29 of them — killed in the Hebron, Ky., fire Thursday were not named Seattle Slew or Man o' War. They were called Nora and Apache and Rascal. Some of them were “show horses,” but the shows were mostly at county fairs.

        Maybe the only horse people you see are on TV — trainers Bob Baffert or D. Wayne Lukas discussing speed. Or a man in a hand-tailored jacket and Hermes tie holding the arm of a woman in dangerous shoes and a big hat, posing in the winner's circle with their investment/status symbol.

        Let me tell you about the rest of us.

Equine design flaws

        Pat Cronenberg parks her new car outside because her garage is filled with bales of hay. She excused herself from her high-powered job twice a day to change the bandage on her horse's neck when he was accidentally cut by wire. My friend Connie Henry got Mandy when the mare was 4, and they've been together 24 years. Longer than many marriages. When Mandy scratched the cornea of an eye, Connie applied ointment every four hours for weeks.

        Connie and Mandy do not live at the same address. So, Connie got up in the middle of the night, drove a half hour and held a flashlight in her teeth while she persuaded an animal that outweighs her by about 900 pounds that “this is for your own good.”

        We admire our horses' beauty and are slaves to their design flaws. Vulnerable eyes. Touchy stomachs. Bones the size of your index finger supporting a thousand pounds of animal. And most of us have a garage instead of a barn. We find accommodations, the best we can afford. Often better than we can afford. Because we love these animals, we really do.

        They have personalities, just like your dog or cat. My husband's horse, Zest, is like a big kid. “Hi, whatcha doing? Where are we going today?” And my horse, Magic, thinks I'm staff. “Good morning. I'm accepting carrots today. Stat.”

Licorice, Wheat Chex

        Apache was fond of licorice and Wheat Chex, which Nancy Drake was pleased to provide. Nancy found Apache nine years ago. Even then, the Appaloosa gelding was no longer young. He would have been 24 years old in April. Nancy, who lives in Taylor Mill, boarded Apache at Sandy Run Stables. He was a particular favorite among the little girls who took lessons there. A cluster of kids gathered in the yard the morning after the fire. Sniffles. Hugs.

        Murmuring from the adults: Jim Dolwick, who owned the stable, was a stickler, “a class act,” a horse-loving boarder's dream. It was, say the people who entrusted their horses to him, unthinkable that this was the result of carelessness or sloppy wiring. The Boone County Sheriff's Department is investigating the possibility that the fire was set intentionally.

        This brutality is impossible for horse people to understand. We know what happens when you walk into a barn filled with horses. Whickering, soft muzzles reaching over the half-doors. Ears tipped forward. “What have you got for me? Apples? Carrots? Where have you been?” And we imagine a horse's terror as the smoke crowded out the aroma of hay. The people in the stable yard in Hebron knew these specific horses, the paint and the bay and the gray, the “sweetheart” and the one that could make you work hard for a good ride.

        The barn was insured.

        The contents were irreplaceable.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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