When hurricane Harvey was barreling down on Texas in late August 2017, Dan Solberg, owner of Solberg Quarter Horses, of Preston, Minn., followed through with his pre-arranged plans to visit his daughter there, where he saw human kindness and determination triumph.
Dan had talked with his daughter, Jamie, weeks before and made plans to visit her at her home in Richmond, Tex., as they had not seen each other for a length of time in quite awhile.
“Then we heard about the hurricane,” stated Dan. “The hurricane was supposed to kind of settle in mid-day Friday (August 25) in Houston at the airport, and my flight was scheduled so she was going to pick me up after work, so we changed my flight so that I flew in early morning instead,” he says.
After leaving the airport, although it was raining, they thought if they were going to do anything it would have to be that day since the hurricane was on its way, so they went for a drive.
“We headed out to the south and got in some rural areas and everything was shutting down and boarding up,” notes Dan. Thinking they should head toward Jamie’s house and get some supplies, they turned and headed back and found a store that was open, he says.
“You hear stuff about price gouging — they talked about being out of bottled water and stuff, and they had just brought in a truckload of it so I bought 96 bottles of water for $11,” Dan says. After a full day of rain the two went to Jamie’s house to have supper and get some sleep.
When Saturday morning came they went just down the hill from Jamie’s house to the Jimmie Stanzel Training Center, owned by Gina Winne, where Jamie boards her horse. Dan had gotten permission to ride Jamie’s best friend’s horse, so they saddled up the horses to check out the area.
“It had rained hard enough that there was a lake down by his barn that was not normally there,” notes Dan. On Saturday afternoon, “the culverts were making progress — the water was leaving so the water level was going down a bit,” he says, which somewhat reassured them.
After the rain continued all day on Saturday, “I went down there Saturday night and checked on the horses before bed and the water direction had changed — it was coming in the culvert instead of going out, so I knew that wasn’t a real good sign,” Dan commented.
“Friday night before we went to bed there was quite a bit of rain in the gauge; we dumped it out. She has a 5” rain gauge — we got up Saturday morning and the gauge was full; we dumped it. Saturday night it was full, finally you just give up. You can’t keep track anymore,” he says.
Dan and his daughter did not get very good rest Saturday night as, “The phone goes off when there is a tornado warning, so about every two hours the phone went off all night long,” states Dan.
“Saturday night the house shook pretty good,” says Dan, explaining that Jamie’s house is “a one story built in 1942, there is no basement, no place to hide and it’s pouring rain outside, so you just ride it out,” he states.
“Sunday morning is when it got interesting,” states Dan. “The trainer was at the barn down there. His truck was sitting in a lake, so we went down to help him. The first thing he was going to do was get the trailers out of there. He backed up his diesel duelie and he was blowing water bubbles; the water was already up to the bed of his truck,” states Dan.
They managed to get the trailers out and then went down and saddled up the same horses they had ridden the day before to lead the other horses out. By this time they had 27 horses and three dogs at the Jimmie Stanzel Training Center. “There was a foot of water in the alleyway of the barn by then,” explains Dan.
The water was somewhere around waist deep in the area where they had to lead the horses up and out, Dan comments. “When we evacuated the horses, the one I was riding made about 10 trips and the water was deep enough and it was far enough that he just got physically spent. I unsaddled him and saddled up a fresh horse,” he notes.
“We started leading horses, tying them to trailers and tying them to the fence,” he states, although they had nowhere to take the horses, they knew they were not safe there any longer, “So we just kept leading them out,” Dan says. A couple employees carried dogs out on their shoulders and one laid across Jamie’s saddle in order to get them out safely.
Fortunately, the Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy, Tex., had room for the horses. The Great Southwest Equestrian Center is “a huge event facility with 648 stalls and they were dry so they said we could bring the horses there,” states Dan. After hours of searching for a route that was open and not under water, 20 of the 27 horses were taken there and the other seven were taken to different locations.
“We had one day’s worth of feed. No grain, no anything else,” says Dan. They got the horses fed and settled in and, “We were wiped out,” says Dan, so they went to Jamie’s to try to sleep while tornado warnings went off throughout the night as they had the night before.
Monday and Tuesday were spent trying to find anyone that had extra hay or feed for the horses and then trying to find a route to get to those places. They were finding just enough for the horses to get by.
On Wednesday, “The cavalry arrived!” states Dan, as a couple of the roads got opened up. “It was the coolest thing,” Dan explains, as people knew there were stranded people and horses and adds, “We were at 300 horses now at the barn. We were taking care of our 20 but another barn was taking care of 60-some, another barn had 40, and then there were people that had one or two horses in their back yard,” he states.
“One lady showed up in a pickup. She cleaned her hay shed out and brought it down because she knew people needed hay,” Dan said. “Another lady brought buckets and a few square bales of hay and a few bags of feed,” and then it became “a steady stream of stuff coming in,” he states.
The Great Southwest Equestrian Center became the area hub and drop off point, says Dan, adding, “Our job went from taking care of our horses to unloading this stuff” that had been donated and then re-loading it and sending it out to those who needed it. There were people showing up from nowhere, without being asked, to help in any way they could.
Thursday mid-day, “There was a huge trailer from Dallas; the guy had donations from a hundred different places,” according to Dan, and he brought shavings, cat food, dog food, buckets, and “everything imaginable,” says Dan. Everything from bottled water, a box of t-shirts, a box of towels and more were donated.
“On Friday a couple of the boys from the high school football team came down to help load and unload,” states Dan, “and on Saturday they brought about 15 guys from the football team — they had gone back and told their buddies they need us down there,” Dan explains.
“We saw the best in people,” states Dan. “I saw no price gouging,” he says, adding that what he did see was everybody working incredibly hard and working together.
“It was an adventure,” states Dan, but he is happy that all of the horses got out safely and what he will remember the most is how well people handled adversity. The horses still remain at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center while clean up is underway.