Back in the early ‘90’s, we had our handyman, Joe, build some run-in shelters in two corrals. They were both 12’ x 24’, designed for two horses. Since we are up on a ridge, we designed them to withstand strong Santa Ana winds. They were made with strong, large lumber for the supports, well concreted into the ground, and had open eaves for wind escape. They did a good job, housing many horses over the years.
In December 2004, the forecast was calling for a strong Santa Ana wind event. There was a large and strong high pressure ridge over the Great Basin states which was forcing air to the California coast, compressing through the canyons and passes into a major wind event. The winds are notional here; sometimes we get little to no wind while other areas of So. Cal. are being ripped, and sometimes it is the other way around. This time, the winds had been howling in other areas all day but did not start here until late afternoon. It had become apparent that I would have to move the back hillside lot horses into the barn; their hay would blow away before they would be able to eat it if I left them out. I got the barn set up, putting hay into each stall, filling water containers, then moved the horses. By the time I was done, it was dark and I still had the run-in shelter horses to go feed. By this time the wind was so strong that I could scarce walk into it, and I was cussing at myself that I had not started sooner. I got up the hill to the two top pens and was able to look up and see—nothing. I did a double take and sure enough, there was no run-in shelter in the one corral. It was in the next corral over, which had an 18 foot aisle way between the two.
The two mares in the now shelterless corral were huddled in the far end staring at the wreck. The stallion in the other corral was huddled in the far corner looking at the wreck that had tried to get him. I blew back down to the tack room for halters and figured out where I could put these horses. I could not leave the mares with no shelter as they would not be eating if I did that, plus who knew what dangerous wreckage was still in their corral. I could not leave the stallion by himself with dangerous wreckage in his corral. The two mares had not been with me all that long, so I hoped that they would be easy to catch and lead in the dark howling wind. I went into their corral with the attitude that they would come through for me—and they did.
With them settled, I went back for the stallion. He had been here even less time then the two mares and we scarcely knew one another yet. Plus, his gate was right near the wreckage. He was easy to get and so we headed towards the only way out. When we got nearer the wreck, I felt his hesitation, so I stopped him and backed him up before he could stop himself. Then I stepped him forward one step, then back one, up two, back two, giving him something else to think about. When he was ok, we moved forward again, until he hit his threshold. Did the dance again, shorter this time, and went forward again. This time, he did a sort of half-halt and we cruised right through the gate and out to a temporary corral for him. He, too, came through for me. I was pleased with all three horses, but then I had expected them to come through and I have found that horses very often do live up to one’s expectations when handled with some thought and feel.
The next morning, the wind was still blasting, but I headed into the wind and went for a look at the wreck. The shelter was totally demolished, splatted onto the ground into many pieces. The wind had pulled concrete anchors right out of the ground, and then flipped the thing over the v-mesh fence, 20 feet into the next corral. There were nails, shattered lumber and sheet metal pieces everywhere. Once the winds were gone for this time, it took Joe and his helper Mike most of a morning to pick up the mess and move it out of the way and run a large magnet over and over the area, checking for nails.
What I most strongly recall about this incident was not the destruction of a perfectly good shelter and the ensuing clean-up, but how good the three horses were that night of wind and flying buildings.
Ryegate Rob Allen 1-2/75 TMH
20 hours ago