“LAFAYETTE, N.J. (AP) — Authorities say a fast-moving fire destroyed a barn, killing 22 show horses owned by a noted New Jersey equestrian family and worth tens of thousands of dollars each.

State Police Sgt. Brian Polite says the barn was engulfed in flames when troopers arrived around 2 a.m. Saturday in Lafayette. The blaze was soon extinguished, but all the horses inside were killed.

Polite says the animals were valued at $10,000 to $60,000 apiece.

Betty Hahn, whose family owns the horses, tells a local newspaper that no hay or fuel was stored in the barn, so she’s baffled about how the blaze began. Hahn says her family has competed and won awards in equestrian competitions along the East Coast.”

Man of Integrity…the Big Horse.

Man of Integrity aka 'the big horse'

A horse I owned died in a barn fire like this one. His papers said his name was Man of Integrity. We called him ‘The Big Horse’ because when he put his head up I think it towered over the  Eiffel Tower. He was fifteen hands tall, chestnut, an American Saddlebred gelding. But boy could he lift his head to the clouds.

I remember trying to clip the winter hair out of his ears once. Footstool or no, couldn’t reach them. You know that thing race horses wear that covers their face and cups the eyes so they can’t see behind them? Well I had one and for some odd reason I thought about using it that day. Oh, ‘The Big Horse’ let me put it on. No problem…no buzzing clippers. So, I put this racing mask on and had to sit on the ground to clip his ears. Yes, he thought up was down. I’ll never forget that. I still laugh thinking about it.

Before me, most of The Big Horse’s training was in harness. Slap a saddle on the ol’ boy and he was miserable. He loved harness. Even my mother, who feared horses, could drive ‘The Big Horse’. But here’s the thing, Fine-harness show horses are not allowed to break into a canter. They get disqualified in the class for that. So, for at least ten years ‘The Big Horse” was never allowed to canter.

He didn’t make it in the show ring as the Fine Harness , so they clipped his mane and made him a Three-gaited show horse. That meant cantering. He was all screwed up now. And yeah, I bought him…cheap.

He and I struggled with canter leads. He just didn’t know how to break into one. He always hesitated like he would be punished or something–a back lash from his harness days. Once he even reared up and fell over on me . He reared. I lost balance. Over we went. I survived by the grace of God.  We both saw stars.

So, I figured out the real problem. You see, one winter I decided to turn the Val and ‘ The Big Horse” out for the winter instead of working them out in the cold. Brilliant idea huh? I brought ’em in at night, fed ’em, let ’em out each morning.

Day One: I let Val out. He took off lickety-split down the lane to the pasture, took the right angle turn like a barrel horse, and off he went kicking and bucking like a spring colt.

I took The Big Horse out. Let him go. He stood there. Didn’t know what to do. Saw Val. Wanted to join him. He wanted to hurry. Tried to canter. His legs were as stiff as toothpicks. He bounced down that lane like a cartoon character. Came to the turn. STOPPED. WALKED AROUND IT.  And peg-legged it out to the pasture.

I was totally dumbfounded . He couldn’t remember  how to canter!!

Spring: Both horses raced around the right angle turn to the barn at a neck breaking speed like teenagers in a car race. Yeah, The Big Horse had figured out what he had forgotten. And the canter became easier between us.

I had another great moment with him happened in a Three-Gaited Class. Here we were, a girl against a bunch of trainers.  Four of them. Three showing and one judging the class. The Big Horse and I had all the applause all through the class and took fourth. Real shocker here isn’t it? The crowd booed first place, second and third, then cheered when I left the arena. hee hee

And then my parents and I sold him to a lady in Chicago. I had decided to marry and move on. And her trainer’s barn went up in smoke. Other horses besides The Big Horse died that night.

You see, horses won’t leave their stalls even if the stall doors are open. Smoke is out there. Flames are out there. Won’t go. That’s why you have to blindfold them. And usually a barn is wood and the floors are covered with straw or wood chips. In some cases,  hay is kept in the loft too.  So please, keep anything like cigarettes away from a barn, any barn.

It still breaks my heart that I sold The Big Horse. He was a beautiful, wonderful, kind animal with more integrity than most people.

The Big Horse and my dad doing their tricks

I’m in the background

The Big Horse

The Big Horse was… a Man of Integrity