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TRF Horses & Humans withstand January Blizzard - Thoroughbred Retirement FoundationThoroughbred Retirement Foundation

TRF Horses & Humans withstand January Blizzard

by Francis LaBelle

Retired racehorses at TRF Montpelier enjoying hay after January Blizzard

Retired racehorses at TRF Montpelier enjoying hay after January Blizzard

The blizzard that hit the East Coast on the weekend of January 24 wreaked havoc at an historical level. According to the Associated Press, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York City received more than two feet of snow during the event. Philadelphia received just under two feet. All four major cities shattered daily records for the most snow on January 23.

Icy roads, snow removal and infrastructure repairs became problematic days after the snow stopped. The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has the greatest concentration of its farms on the East Coast, and the organization, experience and dedication of the farm managers and their staff helped the horses weather the storm.

At Eastham Farm in Front Royal, Va., Edwin “Butch” Eastham, Aimee Leach, Brian Conrad and Clarence Waddell had their hands full tending to the needs of 103 horses. The biggest problem was getting through the more than two feet of snow that fell from Friday afternoon until Sunday.

“To prepare for this storm, Butch and Clarence put out enough hay in round bales in front of the run-in sheds for the horses,” Leach said. “Our auto waters were set to a temperature that kept them from freezing.” Leach also takes pride and points out the hardiness of the horses themselves and their “fabulous and fluffy” winter coats functioning at optimum level.

The humans actually had the tougher task of coping with the storm.

“Getting to the farm was difficult, but luckily, I live close by and Butch came and picked me up in the tractor,” Leach said. “We then made our rounds, making sure everyone was okay and the water hadn’t frozen. By Monday, I was able to get around carefully with a big round bale in the back of my pickup. I couldn’t make into the field, so I’ve been parking outside the gates and doing quite a bit of knee-deep trudging to get out to everybody.” Preparation is always the key to dealing with such conditions. The glaring problem is that farms just can’t shut down. Horses have to be fed, watered and checked on regardless of weather.

Business as usual, even if circumstances aren’t.

“Our terrain is very hilly, so we knew ahead of time that getting round bales out to our fields during and after the snow would be a real challenge for our two-wheel drive tractor,” said Melissa Jensen of the Second Chance Program at James River in Crozier, Va. “So, we added extra round bales to each field. It is a good thing that we did, as it has been a week since the snow and we still cannot get our tractor into the pastures. All of our horses have the use of large run-in barns so they were able to get out of the wind and the precipitation. A couple of our older residents were brought down to the barn to weather the storm.

“Since we do not have electrically-heated troughs, there was a lot of work to do in breaking ice and keeping water available. As always, our men did a great job even when they didn’t have water themselves because of a water main break at their dorm.”

It was also fortunate at these men were equipped with winter boots, gloves and thermal socks that were provided earlier in the year by the TRF’s James River chapter.

“The men are very thankful that TRF James River is so supportive of our Second Chances Program,” Jensen said. At Montpelier Farm in Virginia, about two hours south of Washington, D.C., snow wasn’t as plentiful as in other locations, but it certainly made its presence known.

“We got about 15 inches of snow, and it was blowing horizontally,” said Farm Manager Kim Wilkins. “But we got lucky because we did not lose any power. When we lose power, we lose water. Pipes freeze and there’s no water, and horses just don’t like to eat snowballs. They must have water, and when there is none, then we have to haul it to them.”

In preparing for the storm, Wilkins, along with Ron Churnick and Roman Pizmoht, put out extra hay, plenty of water and blanketed the older horses. “We have 10 stalls and 47 horses, so our horses are outdoor horses,” Wilkins said. “They were tired when this storm was over. When the sun finally came out, all the horses fell over and took a nap. It looked like someone machine-gunned the paddocks.”

Some farms escaped the blizzard, but still have to contend with new problems when snow and ice give way to quickly warming temperatures.

Last weekend, New York City got two feet of snow, saw its airports closed, The Great White Way darkened and the Long Island Railroad knocked out of commission. Yet, an hour north of New York, the TRF’s Second Chances Farm at the Wallkill Correctional Facility, completely missed the blizzard.

“New York City got clobbered with snow, and even 30 miles from here, they got clobbered,” said Jim Tremper, Wallkill’s farm manager. “But we didn’t get anything and it’s nice to have an easy winter for a change. I hope it stays this way. But we have a lot of fencing to do later on this year, and we can’t do anything right now. One of our biggest problems is mud. When everything starts thawing, that becomes a real tough thing for us. We have a heavy, clay soil, so mud is always a very big problem. It’s tough on the horses and it slows down any work that needs to be done.”

Added Leach: “Butch and I still I love this job. When it snows, the landscape becomes so beautiful. The horses are happy to see me and snuffle my hair when I go to them. But now, the snow is melting so fast that we’ll soon be knee-deep in mud. But we’ll save that fun for when it gets here.”

To help TRF farms cope with the expenses incurred during the blizzard, please consider sending a donation to https://trf20546.thankyou4caring.org/Make-A-Gift or call (518) 226-0028.

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