Academy's Equestrian Center stables evacuated horses during Black Forest Fire

Charlie Dye cleans the exterior of a row of stables at the Equestrian Center in March. The Academy stabled about 27 horses evacuated from the Black Forest Fire June 11-15. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Carol Lawrence)

Charlie Dye cleans the exterior of a row of stables at the Equestrian Center in March. The Academy stabled about 27 horses evacuated from the Black Forest Fire June 11-15. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Carol Lawrence)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- When hundreds of horses needed to quickly be evacuated during the Black Forest fire in June, the Academy's Equestrian Center staff hit the road with their trailers and promptly set out to rescue the endangered animals.

The Academy took in about 27 horses June 11-June 15 at the Equestrian Center stables during the state's most destructive fire as a way to help save animals' lives and assist the community after the Academy's horses had to be evacuated to a local farm during last year's Waldo Canyon fire.

"Currently we have approximately 150 horses at the Academy, roughly nine that were evacuated during the fire," said Billy Jack Barrett, stables manager at the Academy's Equestrian Center. "I'm glad we could help out during the disaster. Many families who were affected are affiliated with the military and we're a military family here."

Barrett said during the crisis the center's staff assisted the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, helping transport horses from Black Forest to the Academy, and caring for the livestock while displaced families waited to learn the fate of their homes.

"It's one thing when you have to evacuate from your home but when you have to evacuate livestock it requires expertise," Barrett said. "We have very skilled horsemen and horsewomen at the Academy. There is a trick to loading horses into a trailer and I have a confident staff that came through during the fire."

Barrett said the Academy was affected during a 3-foot blizzard in 1997, a severe flood in 1999, the Waldo Canyon fire last year and Black Forest fire this year.

"I have 11 highly trained full-time staff members," Barrett said. "Having dealt with natural disasters in the past, I felt like we were prepared to take in horses during this fire."

Barrett said the Academy's Equestrian Center is one of the most unique and elaborate horse facilities in the military.

"We have 30 horses for trail riding and 107 families that board over 130 horses," Barrett said. "Our boarding facilities were completely full during the fire."

Kari Randle Bright, the Academy's equestrian team coach, said Academy staff and volunteers were instrumental in helping evacuees.

"We tried to make it a good experience for people who were in fear of losing so much," Bright said. "We tried to keep evacuees informed that their horses were okay and that they'd be in good condition when they picked them up."

Bright said the Academy was a good place for people to stable their horses because they knew the center's staff would take good care of their animals.

"We put them in our daily routine," Bright said. "We cleaned out their stalls and supplied the horses with food and water on a daily basis. A couple of them even put on a few pounds."

Bright said members from the Academy's rodeo team and equestrian team also helped care for the animals.

"Our staff really worked together and I was pleased with everyone," Bright said. "Cadets really stepped up which I think is important because their horses were evacuated during the fire last year."

Bright said she thinks it's essential to keep communication open amidst a disaster and thinks the Academy's team did just that.

"It's important for people to know that the Academy is open to helping out during a crisis and cares about everyone's horses, not just the military higher ups," Bright said.