After days of warnings that flooding was imminent in Harris County, some horse owners apparently still missed the point. Or at least that's what can be surmised based on the fact that dozens of horses were stranded in high waters on Monday as one of the worst floods in Houston's history swept through the area.
On Monday morning, more than 70 horses were trapped at the Cypress Trails Equestrian Center by the rising floodwaters, according to a video posted on Facebook by Spring Happenings. When news of the trapped horses broke, people arrived with boats and horse trailers to rescue the animals. People were jumping into the swiftly moving water to try to bring the animals safely to higher ground, according to the video and various reports.
The video shows horses up to their chins, swimming and struggling to keep their heads above water. Cypress Trails is perched right on the edge of Cypress Creek, an area in northwest Harris County that has repeatedly flooded over the years, according to Houston SPCA spokesman Brian Latham.
The news of the horses at Cypress Trails led many people to take to social media to express their outrage that the horses were apparently left in this situation to fend for themselves.
The owner of Cypress Trails, Darolyn Butler, rebuilt her home and Cypress Stables after a 15-foot flood swept through the area in 1995. She has allowed people to rent her horses for riding lessons while also training long-distance racehorses since rebuilding in 1995, according to the website.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett posted on social media that about 70 horses had been rescued as of Monday afternoon:
The Harris County Sheriff's Department Livestock Division oversaw the rescue of the horses from Cypress Trails, the last of which was apparently pulled from the water just before 5 p.m.
Our calls and emails to the Harris County Sheriff's Department media relations team have yet to be returned. We'll update when we hear back.
A spokesman with the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said the horses had been moved to higher ground and that there were no horses drowned or killed.
It's unclear if Butler or Cypress Trails employees were on the scene today. The Houston Press has attempted to reach Butler to inquire as to how more than 70 horses were left in a stable in an area that is known to flood in the face of a storm that weather forecasters have been warning about since last week, but our calls and emails have not yet been returned. We'll update as soon as we hear back.
The horses at Cypress Trails weren't the only ones in need of rescue on Monday. Latham says HSPCA sent out two boats and a rescue team comprising five people to help with the Cypress Trails rescues. When they found the sheriff's department had it under control, the team went to aid other horses in the area reportedly trapped by the floodwaters. The HSPCA team rescued 12 near Humble and was working on getting a few more clear of the floodwaters on Monday evening, Latham says.
He says this often happens when there's a flood.
“We’ve been out there before in this scenario. That area floods often and often has horses trapped around there,” Latham says. “It happened so quickly, and it’s not easy to get the horses out of there, especially in floodwaters, trying to get them where they need to go.”
Update at 1:45 p.m.: Katie Jarl, the Texas state director of the Humane Society of the United States, gave us her advice on what horse owners should do when they're facing bad weather:
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"If it is not safe for you, it is not safe for your equines, so evacuation plans are imperative for horses and other large animals just like dogs and cats. Make certain that your inoculations as well as Coggins [a test that checks for equine infectious anemia antibodies in a horse's blood] are up to date and saved electronically. Working through plans with friends or family members that have stables is important, so that you have a safe place to shelter with your animals. If you do not have a plan or your horses are not able to be loaded onto a trailer, identify a safe area on your property that your horses can be contained. If this is your option, you want to make certain that it truly is safe and they have enough food and water. Microchipping is important for these animals as well. If your horses are not chipped, ID them with non-toxic paint so that they can be reunified. Always having a plan in place is imperative, but if you don’t have one and need to leave quickly, consider how your animals will manage without getting stuck. If you are not loading them on a trailer and they are on your property without a safe area, cut your fence lines so that they can find safety as well."
So yeah, if you have horses and are about to deal with foul weather, the above is how you're supposed to handle it.
Update at 5 p.m.: Harris County Sheriff's Department Spokeswoman Tebben Lewis says that there were about 80 horses in the flood waters on Monday. One was confirmed dead and five or six are still missing. Sheriff's deputies helped get the horses that survived untangled from fence wire, out of the water and onto higher ground. From there, the owners of the horses — and it's unclear right now if there is only one owner, Darolyn Butler, or if there are numerous owners that came and claimed their horses. It's still unknown how the horses came to be left at Cypress Trails Equestrian Center as the flood waters rose up.
Butler has yet to respond to our calls and emails inquiring how this happened. We'll update when and if she does.