Three years ago while sitting in the hospital with my dying mother, I received a telephone call.
“We’re on our way into the city, driving right now. We’re going as fast as we can.”
I whispered, “Okaaaay? What’s up?”
My stomach plummeted and I slipped from my chair onto the floor. “NO!”
Scrambling, my fingers flew across my phone screen as I struggled to pull up news of the blaze. Cisco was there, in the city with three other horses. I couldn’t, not now. I couldn’t face the loss of someone else in my life. He was my buddy, my rock, the anchor to which I clung as I helplessly watched cancer’s assault against my mother.
The news coverage horrified me. Smoldering skeletons of several carriages lay scattered in the snow-covered yard. Flashing lights from the first responders cast an eerie blue glow on the background lending a strange beauty to the stage of destruction. My God.
“The horses. What happened to the horses?” My voice sounded strangled and pitched in fear.
“They’re fine. Only the carriages burned.”
I cried, clinging to Mom’s hand. Her skin was pulled and dry—I must get lotion.
Within a few hours, the sun rose on a devastating blow against two of Chicago’s three carriage companies. The flames completely destroyed all but one carriage, leaving thirteen blackened hulls in smoking ruin. Blankets hung in soggy black tatters across melted upholstery. Carriage whips folded into jagged shapes like the leafless branches of winter trees. Burnt rubber tires dripped from wheels without all their spokes. Duffel bags of drivers’ ashen coats, hats, and gloves lay scattered and filthy across the soot stained snow.
We had no carriages. We had no gear. We had no way to pay our rent, put food on our tables, or replace our destroyed equipment. The owners feared the loss of their businesses, and the drivers mourned their jobs. We were adrift.
And then we learned about the graffiti.
Once the smoke cleared, arson investigators quickly found the scrawled yellow messages:
“Save the Horses”
Someone did this. Someone invaded our barn and set fire to our lives. Did they know horses were upstairs? Did they care?
Forget about the carriages for a moment and understand that someone who declared “freedom” and “save the horses” dropped a lit match in their stable. Fire is a horseman’s worst fear. New riders are taught from the very beginning that a horse will never leave a burning barn, not without a fight. We must be prepared. We must have a plan, special halters hanging in easy-to-reach places so maybe, just maybe, we might get the horses out.
And someone inflicted that terror upon us, upon our horses.
Carriages and gear weren’t the only things we lost in the fire. We lost our sense of safety. We felt violated by a faceless assailant who willfully endangered our horses. Forget about the carriages. Someone risked our horses’ lives because they disagree with the horse drawn carriage industry.
Who does that?
Today I grieve not just the loss of my mother, but also for any hope that animal rights activists care about the animals they want to “save.” They do not care. Someone lit that match. Someone dropped it.
I hope they are found, if not by the FBI, then by their own conscience.