How A Small California Horse Community Came Together To Save Horses and a Few Other Living Things

Friday, September 4, 2020
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Scott and Kathirin Dancer traverse the USA and Europe having competed their driving horses in multiple World Pairs Championships. They recently purchased and developed a winter facility in Ocala, Florida, but as native Californians, their roots run deep in the northern California horse world. Kathrin and Scott are the owners of Woodside Stables. Kathrin has run the Woodside Junior Riders’ program (est 1947) at the Kiley Equestrian Center for 21 years.

Scott Dancer ©Kristen Schlegel
Scott Dancer was elected the Captain of the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County ©Kristen Schlegel

Scott Dancer was elected the Captain of the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County, where in his new position Scott and the 100 members in his unit sprang into action during the recent fires.

Rare Lightning Storm Started it All

Kathrin shared a glimpse of the community’s recent efforts in managing animal rescue needs after the "CZU Lightning Complex Fire" spread throughout the region.

Kathrin Dancer: Every year in the late summer Californians are on high alert for wildfires. It is something we all worry about, especially if you have horses. Recently Northern California had a very rare lightning storm, the likes of which we haven’t seen in thirty or forty years.

Redwoods on fireSkies Lit Up In A Rage Threatening The Beloved Redwoods

On the night of Sunday August 16th, 2020 the skies lit up and raged all night long. Several wildfires were started in our surrounding counties.

The “CZU Lightning Complex Fire” began just on the other side of the hill from us in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

The redwood trees here are heritage trees. Many of them are several hundred years old with trunk diameters of 12 feet or more!

These are areas that we have ridden our horses through on many happy trail rides. In the small town of Woodside there are no stop lights or sidewalks, but the restaurants and bank have a hitching rack in front to accommodate the active local and visiting horse population.

By Monday the fires were all over the news and we could see the smoke wafting over the hill tops.

Pony Clubbers on the Job
Pony Clubbers on the Job

The Phone Started Ringing

My phone started ringing: “I’ve got several horses that we need to evacuate, do you have room?” Normally during the summer I run a children’s riding program with 60-70 children and 20 to 25 horses, but due to Covid 19 our facility was empty. I unlocked the gates and called the local veterinarians and farriers to let them know I had space. Across the road is the Mounted Patrol that could also take in horses.

Then more calls started coming in: 
“I have 20 retired horses that I need a place for, they all need to be able to see each other- do you have spots available?” The phone would start ringing at 6 am with horse owners looking for paddocks or stalls to keep their horses safe. Neighbors called neighbors. People were opening up their empty barns or offering to trailer horses.

The days started to blur together. I was up until midnight reading up on the latest fire reports. Our former fire marshal organized relief for the evacuated horses. In a matter of 24 hours our community foundation had raised nearly $30,000 to help feed and care for all of the animals. I say animals because at this point we also had two miniature Zebu (Brahma).

A Generous Community Provides


The stream of trailers seemed endless.

People who I had never met before showed up to help trailer, unload animals, hold traffic, gather owner information and get the horses settled into a paddock with fresh hay and water.

Many of the horses had not been in a trailer in a very long time and the day time temperatures were in the high 90’s.

They were immediately hosed down and cooled off. Bags of freshly picked apples began appearing at my front door.

We were happily overwhelmed with bottles of fly spray and snacks for the many volunteers. The senior Pony Club kids from our town had stall charts made and schedules for hand walking all the horses.

At its peak we had 56 horses, not counting others that went to farther off evacuation centers.

It’s been a little over two weeks now. All but three horses have returned home. Their barn burned, but the owner’s home is still standing.

The fires are almost contained and the air is not thick with smoke anymore. Many new friends have been made and we have all learned what is truly important to save in a fire: each other.

“Stuff” can be replaced, but not lives… four legged and two legged.