Friday, January 19 , 2018, 6:27 am | Overcast 54º


Volunteers Come to the Rescue When Disaster Puts Horses At Risk

During the Gap Fire, the Santa Barbara County Equine Assistance and Evacuation Unit stepped in to relocate about 100 of the animals.

Diane Solomon, a volunteer member of the Santa Barbara County Equine Assistance and Evacuation Unit, comforts Hiliani, skittish after returning home from his evacuation. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

There was that time last week when they tried to wrangle three mustangs from a property in West Camino Cielo as the flames grew closer.

“It was a mother, a baby and a gelding,” said Gene Granaroli, a retired auto shop owner. “It took a lot of work, but we were able to get them out of there.”

Then there was the time a horse owner called them up directly, desperate. “He was crying,” Granaroli said.

He and his colleagues with the Santa Barbara County Equine Assistance and Evacuation Unit, a group of volunteer horse owners, trainers, handlers, horse lovers and veterinarians whose job is to move horses — and sometimes other large animals — away from the danger, rescued them, too. They might not exactly have waited to get their orders from the county to do it, but that decisive action paid off.

If you’re a horse owner in town, you never want to have to call them, but you’ll always be happy to see them.

In the past week alone, about 100 horses were transported away from their homes when the flames got close. Some went to the Earl Warren Showground, where they were kept for a few days until more permanent refuge could be found. Others went to UCSB, Hope Ranch and stables as far south as Ventura.

The horse community is a tight bunch — aside from the nearly 40 members in the group, Equine Evac has an extended network of people, such as Earl Warren CEO Scott Grieve, ready to step in with boarding, equipment, supplies, labor and general care and feeding if needed.

Gene Granaroli, left, and horse owner Barbara Wolf unload El Niño, now home at Glen Annie Ranch. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

“The community really stepped up to the plate,” Granaroli said. “People called me up saying, ‘I have space for three horses,’ or ‘I have room for five horses.’ UCSB has been very gracious — they had space for 10 horses, I believe.”

The group is split into two strike teams. Members do all of the heavy hauling and driving, while others are assigned to keeping track of the horses and administrative tasks such as bookkeeping. Local veterinarians, such as Drs. Steve Goss, Robert Saunders and Karen Blumenshine, make sure the animals aren’t injured or too stressed from the moving.

“We’ve had one horse that had an inflamed eye this time, and that was about it,” Granaroli said.

For Equine Evac ,a subgroup of Santa Barbara County Animal Control, it’s a labor of love. They’re all volunteers who work with horses or just love the animals, and often spend their own money to transport the animals. For this emergency alone, Granaroli has spent about $250 to buy fuel, with two or three other members shelling out about the same.

Things are slowly returning to normal on the South Coast, but for the Equine Evac team, it’s not over yet. Members need to take the equine refugees back home, and should the fire reach Refugio Canyon, they’re on standby to help evacuate the 40 or so horses at the Circle Bar B Ranch as well as other horses that may live in and around the sparsely populated canyon.

Barbara Wolf and her horse, El Niño, are reunited. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

For the Equine Evac team, it’s all hard work made easy by the community.

“Everybody that has pitched in is a hero, including the people who offered their properties and helped to keep the horses,” Granaroli said.

Because wildfires are a seasonal part of life in California, there are several things the Equine Evac team suggests horse owners should know:

» Get your horse used to the trailer. Granaroli said many horse owners don’t train their animals to go in and out of the horse trailer, which makes it more difficult and stressful when the time comes to load them up for evacuation.

» Evacuate as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the fire rages down the hillside to get your horse to safety. Call 805.681.4332 to talk to Santa Barbara County Animal Control, which gives the Equine Evac team its assignments, although the Equine Evac team has been known to take the initiative in dire circumstances.

» The Equine Evac team will take the occasional large animal that is not a horse, such as pigs and burros. Ostriches are less welcome as they tend to fight the handlers.

» Where possible, have supplies handy for your animal: food, blankets and gear. Also, be ready to compensate the people who are taking care of your horse if they use their supplies. It’s an informal code, but one that keeps the network running smoothly.

» Equine Evac is funded solely by donations. The team welcomes cash donations, and in this case, a donation of a slant-load trailer. The money goes to equipment upkeep and the purchase of new equipment. If donating money for fuel, specify the request and the amount will be split among the group’s drivers. Send donations to: P.O. Box 60535, Santa Barbara 93160.

Click here for more tips on preparing for disaster. To volunteer (training is provided), the Santa Barbara County Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team can be reached at 805.892.4484.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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