California Riding Magazine • October, 2009

The Gallop:
Dreams of a Fire Free Year &
George Morris visits.

by Kim F. Miller

Mary Lukins dreams of a year when her department won’t be needed.
In her 10 years as Emergency Coordinating Officer for the LA County Animal Care & Control’s Equine Response Team, Lukins has had it happen once: in 2006. Otherwise, her records reflect fires large enough to activate the extensively trained volunteer rescue team every year in the last decade.

This year’s arson-caused Station Fire wasn’t the toughest her team has faced. That would be the Pine Canyon, Acton and Foothill fires that raged for 10 days in 2004. And the Topanga fire in 2005 saw the ERT evacuate 350 horses. But this year’s blaze, the largest in Los Angeles County history, presented plenty of challenges for Lukins and the 110 volunteers that stood ready for the call to help evacuate and care for horses at three shelters managed by the Department.

The ERT’s work began on Thurs. Aug. 27, when their help was sought during the 24-hour Portuguese Bend blaze in Palos Verdes. The next day, the Station Fire, ignited in La Canada Flintridge, required urgent assistance and from there it was a full week of action with several volunteers putting in more than 100 hours.

Typically, fires last about three days, Lukins relays. When they continue for a full week, the need for rescue volunteers multiplies. The Portuguese Bend blaze only lasted 24 hours, but it required 91 hours of work from the nine Equine Response Team members who helped evacuate and care for 14 horses.

The Station Fire marked the first time the Equine Response team opened three shelters, at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds and Hansen Dam Equestrian Center in Sylmar. Together the sites held a total of 220 horses, who, by Sept. 4, had all been returned to their owners, Lukins reports. The fire’s wide geographic scope mandated the use of three shelters and spread rescue efforts thin, but the good news is that no equine fatalities were reported. Homes, structures, parks and trails in the approximately 150,000 acres of scorched Angeles National Forest weren’t
so fortunate.

If there is a silver lining to frequent fires, it’s the fact that horse owners are increasingly well prepared, Lukins observes. The high number of owners who were poised to evacuate their horses on their own, including their own shelter arrangements, is a great reflection of readiness. “Anybody who has been through a fire once is much more organized the next time,” Lukins says. “They’ve planned ahead.” Which is exactly what she advises during her frequent presentations to pet and horse owners throughout Los Angeles.

There were several evacuation sites that were not part of the Equine Response Team’s effort. “That’s exactly what we want,” Lukins notes. “It’s great if people have planned ahead and made their own arrangements.”

With the LA County Department of Animal Care and Control for 28 years, Lukins is also a registered veterinary technician and always happy to promote preparedness. For more information about the LACDACC Equine Response Team, contact Mary Lukins at 818-991-8065.

Locals Up For Worldy Awards

Show jumpers Ashlee Bond and Richard Spooner are among the stars nominated for the International Equestrian Federation’s Athlete Of The Year Award. Designed to “reward the fair play, team spirit, inspiration and prowess that equine competition espouses, the awards will also celebrate the outstanding achievements of our often-underrated athletes,” says the FEI of the reason for this new program. Anybody can vote on these awards up until Oct. 17 at Both Bond and Spooner have had a year of remarkable successes on European tours and in North America and a vote for them is a great chance to show the world how much we appreciate these West Coast winners.

In addition to Athlete of the Year, the award program’s categories are HSBC Rising Star, Alltech Development Award, Against All Odds and Groom of the Year. In the latter category, Rubin Palomera, groom for Debbie McDonald’s retired dressage partner Brentina, is one of the nominees.

Speaking of Spooner and Bond, USET show jumping chef d’equipe George Morris could not say enough complimentary things about both riders while speaking to West Coast Active Riders members in mid-September at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. In town to judge the USET West Coast Talent Search Finals, Morris described Bond as sharing many qualities with Meredith Michaels Beerbaum, the native Californian and Morris protégé who now rules the show jumping scene as a German rider. Morris recounted Spooner’s many accomplishments at home and in Europe and referred him as one of the greatest guys he knew.

In addition to his chef d’equipe role for the show jumping team, Morris is an advisor to the High Performance committee led by Will Simpson and Anne Kursinski. He outlined the plan for selecting teams for next year’s World Equestrian Games, which will be held in Lexington, KY in October, 2010, and outside of Europe for the first time in the event’s history.

“I want to see every horse jump in the selection trials,” Morris said, assuring riders that he expected little to no pre-selection of horse/rider teams before the trials. “That possibility would be very rare.”

The WEG trials will be held in Wellington, FL, with five rounds of jumping Feb. 25 through March 7. Local riders aiming for both the World Cup Finals in April and the WEG will have to accommodate the fact that WEG trials conflict with World Cup qualifiers 11 and 12, of 13 in the new “West League.” Morris said it was not the timing the USET had intended: the schedule had to be moved back a week to accommodate a Nation’s Cup class.

After the WEG trials, three teams of five horse/rider pairs will be sent off to prepare on the European circuit. The final WEG squad will be named, he said, after the Dublin Horse Show in mid-August.